Posts belonging to Category Personal Life Stuff

Truth In Labeling

I updated the picture since the old one was taken about three years ago. 

Yeah, I’ve been letting my hair grow out.  This picture is from March or April, so it’s grown even more since then. 

So far, no long-hair hippy comments. 

Popping My Head Up

I’ve been busy over the past month working on the plan phase for a project.  While it’s been pretty busy, it’s also been interesting.  The project I’m working on is intended to be an enterprise-wide service (including both web services and reusable UIs) for all applications that need to access data in this particular area of the business (in keeping with my policy of not identifying my employer, I have to be careful not to give too many specifics).  What’s interesting is that working on this project has given me some exposure to things at an enterprise level that I haven’t been able to see before. 

Previously, we’ve had problems where different divisions or business units would create their own applications that pretty much did the same thing.  Of course, each unit would claim some unique requirement, or that there was no other service available.  In addition to this project, my current job responsibilities have me reviewing other projects that are coming forward at the enterprise level in my particular area.  In particular, I found it interesting that one of the other projects that came through this week was one that consolidates an application that I worked on three years ago with those from two other business areas to finally create one unified service that provides this particular function.  In the past, whenever I heard of some other business unit or division creating a similar service I always made sure to inform them of the one I worked on, but up until now it seems like no one was willing to listen.  I’m not sure why it took so long to get to this point, but we now finally have a single board for this area of the business that reviews projects across business units and forces them to work together.  It’s probably kind of annoying to some who have the “not invented here” syndrome, but I’m sure it will eventually save money, as it’s certainly more efficient to pay (for example) $1.5M for one service than $1M each for three services that do the same thing.  It just takes more planning up front to make sure all requirements are covered.

KellerFEST Carnage

A tale of wind, rain, mud, twisted metal, sweat, sunburn, and heatstroke avoidance…

For the past three years Keller’s CERT has put in an appearance at KellerFEST.  Mainly we’re there for minor first aid and whatever other support may be needed (usually this means hanging out at the barricade and verifying that people trying to drive in front of the town hall really have a reason to be there and aren’t just looking for a parking space).  This year, however, turned out to be different.

Most of the vendors who set up on the lawn used either EZ-Up or FirstUP tents (the kinds with the metal collapsing accordion frames).  The thunderstorm that rolled through on Sunday morning made quite a mess of these, as it appears that an EZ-Up becomes a kite in 60mph winds if it isn’t very securely anchored.

The call went out at about 9:30 on Sunday morning for CERT members to come to KellerFEST to assist the vendors in salvaging their equipment, or at least try to mitigate the safety hazards.  After a safety / incident briefing at 10:15, we set out to assist the vendors.  Mainly this consisted of helping them disassemble their mangled EZ-Ups to the point where they could be carted off to the dumpster.  I would estimate that 25-30 EZ-Ups were destroyed, and we had a large construction dumpster full of mangled metal remains at the end of the day. 

The day had started overcast, but by 11:30am had cleared and we were exposed to the full sun as well as the full effects of the humidity rolling up off the over-saturated ground.  By this time we were also assisting some vendors move their tents (those that had survived) from the mudhole of the west lawn over to the traffic circle.

By about 2:00pm, the worst of it had been handled, and we were able to take a break.  I found that between the sun, the humidity, and wearing my vest that I was just about as soaked as if I’d been caught in the rain.  Further, despite applying sunscreen on several occasions, I was still burned in a few places. 

Anyhow, a few interesting things come to mind after considering what we encountered:

  – First, anyone with a big, heavy piece of equipment (such as a Harley motorcycle) should never be allowed to set up on the lawn.  It took two KPD officers and me to push that monster across the lawn, through the mudhole, and back onto the pavement.

  – Because of fear of damage to the lawn due to the water and mud, the organizers weren’t allowing golf carts onto the grass.  This meant that in many cases vendors (and us on their behalf) had to hand carry items from the old location to the new.  At one point we had a team of 8 people moving someone’s junk (she had a ton of metal items she was selling).  I remain unconvinced that a golf cart would do more damage that 8 people making 5 round trips each. 

  – It might be good to have someone designated as a safety officer to check on people’s tents for obvious hazards before opening.  Someone on the east side of the circle was using gallon cans of oil-based deck stain to hold down his tent.  Not only did the tent blow away completely, the cans came open, spilling the stain not only on his tables and equipment, but splashing it on other tents as well.

Clogged Head

Head at capacity
Pollen over 4000
Claritin collapse

[With apologies to fans of traditional haiku…]


It seems that I’ve been tagged.  The “meme” seems to be to disclose five things people don’t know about me.  Hmm… but if I write about them then someone will know and they won’t be things people don’t know about me…

1.  I used to play drums and percussion instruments (tympani, marimba, etc).  I played from fifth grade all the way through college.  I also did a little bit of drum set and Latin percussion work, but I always preferred marching band (despite the backaches and the heat).  I’ve played in front of audiences up to 50,000 as part of a large group (ETSU marching band at a Thanksgiving Cowboys game) and up to 1,000 solo or lead in an ensemble. 

I still find myself in a strangely restless mood in late August, and especially hearing the click-track from over at Keller High’s practice grid.  All that experience also gave me a pretty good internal metronome, so I can tell time fairly well, even without a watch.  I also have the ability to judge good percussion work from bad, although I rarely comment on it so as not to offend anyone involved.

I sometimes get the urge to take it up again, but a) I don’t have room for a drum set in the house and b) I’m sure the neighbors are glad I don’t have room for a drum set.

2.  I’ve never quite understood people who flatly deny that “paranormal” events are possible or that think everyone who experiences them is having some sort of mass delusion.  Of course, they’d probably think I was delusional, but I’ve experienced things that many would consider paranormal.  My belief is these things are all natural phenomena, but that our science isn’t advanced enough to explain them yet. 

I hope to live long enough to see some of these secrets revealed by science.

3.  Many might judge my choice of clothing as sloppy (although I prefer the term comfortable).  I especially hate tucking in shirts.  But despite that, I’m very fastidious about personal hygiene.  I wash my hands frequently, and I can’t abide someone who stinks.  I especially don’t want to be that person, so I make sure to shower every day or more often (I once showered three times in one day, after a couple of separate outside work sessions on a particularly hot day). 

4.  I very rarely drink alcohol, and when I do I usually confine it to one beer or a single drink.  I long ago recognized that drinking more than one or two drinks can quickly cause things to get out of control.  Somewhere between number 3 and number 4 all hell breaks loose and the next thing I know it’s 4:30am and I’m banging on a hotel room door wondering why I can’t get in (even though it has my number on it, dammit!) until I realize I’m in the hotel next door.  Yes, that really happened.  It was an incident involving most of a fifth of Jack black and a chunk of missing time.  The wrong door incident is the first thing I remember after about 2:00am.  Fortunately no one was in that room, though.  Some other time you’ll have to remind me to tell you about the time I got lost in a bathroom and couldn’t find my way out.

It’s much simpler to be the designated driver these days.  It keeps me out of trouble and provides opportunities for future blackmail.  smirk

5.  Whenever I go to events or travel to a new location I almost always end up buying a hat or cap of some kind.  It’s funny in a way, in that I’ve got 20 or 30 caps on a special hanger in a closet but I have to scramble to find a cap to wear when walking the dog because I don’t want to get any of the “special” hats dirty.


I came down with the Avian-SARS-Monkey-flu or something last week and haven’t been useful for much other than taking up space and expelling CO2(*).

Normal operations will resume shortly.

(*) Possibly thought by the State of Kalifornia to contribute to potential global climate change.  Your mileage may vary.  Not valid in jusridictions where real science is still used.

What’s That Smell?

I hate shaving, and if I could get away with it, I wouldn’t bother.  But since the wild-man Grizzly Adams look tends to put people off (No, ma’am, I’m not a thug/psycho killer/robber/rapist, so you can relax the hand on your purse and put away the pepper spray.), I put up with the irritation and annoyance.

I forget exactly where I saw or heard about it, but someone recommended Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel for those who have trouble with nicks, cuts, and razor bumps.  It sounded like it’d be worth a try, so I bought some and found that it worked fairly well.  When the can ran out I went to the store and saw their Positively Smooth Shave Gel sitting next to it and its claims to let you shave less often and to reduce irritation caught my eye.  So I bought some of it.

So far, it works great.  It claims to be “lightly fragranced,” and it isn’t too strong.

But something about the scent kept bothering me.  I’d smelled it before, but it was bugging me that I couldn’t place it.  Then it hit me.  It smells like Play-Doh!

I’m guessing that Aveeno didn’t set out to make it smell like Play-Doh.  But, interestingly enough, there is such a thing as Play-Doh Cologne.  The mind boggles.

Connecting Remotely

A recent Slashdot post referenced this article from Network World about telecommuting and career advancement.

Over 60% of 1,320 global executives surveyed by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International said they believe that telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers in comparison to employees working in traditional office settings. Company executives want face time with their employees, the study said.

I suspect this is true to some extent, but it probably depends more on an organization’s culture than anything else.  Some organizations deal better with it than others.  When I moved to my current division it quickly became obvious that they weren’t used to dealing with remote workers.  The majority of the people in my new area were co-located.  So there was a definite bias to walk down the hall or go over to the next building to deal with a local coworker before calling someone who was remote, even if the remote person was responsible for the thing in question.  I also frequently saw meeting notices that listed a conference room but without a call-in number. 

What helped was some initial face time via a visit to the site to establish people and roles (i.e. a series of “all hands” meetings in the area).  Once they established you as the person responsible for something they tended to be more likely to reach out and contact you.  But it’s a two way street, in that you, as a remote worker, also have to keep your “eyes” open and maintain contact with people, so as to reinforce your place in the organization.

Management also recognized the cultural clash and took steps to make changes, such as organizing “best practices” sessions on remote work and having some managers work from home from time to time to get a feel for it.

Granted, working remotely is somewhat less efficient than being able to walk down the hall and have a whiteboard discussion over some design point or technical issue.  But I don’t see it going away anytime soon, especially for people in technical professions that don’t absolutely require a physical presence.  Companies are putting together more and more teams that are geographically dispersed, because the people with the skills are likely to be in different locations.  This is especially true if the work is project-based.  Teams form and reform over time as different projects come through.  It simply isn’t cost-effective to move people to one location for a single project.

As for career advancement, I don’t think it’s a problem, at least since the organization I’m in is working to make sure to include remote workers.  I guess we’ll see.

Passing On Costs

Back when my office was moved to a more distant (and frustrating) location, someone intimated to me that the move was done on purpose to shake out more people and make them work from home.  It saves the company significant amounts of money in freeing up office space, since they were leasing and paying by the square foot. 

While they give you reimbursement for internet and phone costs, it turns out that there are some other costs that you don’t really think about until later.  While I’ve decreased my gas costs and wear-and-tear on the Avalanche significantly, my electric bill has been murderous this past year. 

What got me to thinking about this was a recent article I saw somewhere (can’t remember where, though) about how people could better conserve electricity if they had access to up-to-the-minute rate information and if rates were varied based on time of day.  Some industries already do this and they get a break on the rates if they move their consumption to off-peak hours.

If I were not working from home, I might be able to take advantage of this sort of arrangement.  Most programmable thermostats come programmed to do this automatically (the default program increases the temperature during the day (in cooling mode) and decreases it in the evening).  I have one of these (and it works great in the winter), but I had to override the default programming since I’m here all day, every day.  And given our Texas summers, it’s just impractical to move much consumption to off-peak hours, since our peaks are driven by the heat.  Even if you turn your thermostat way up during the day and have a well insulated house, the air conditioning will still have to run during the hottest part of the day just to keep up with solar heating.  At most you’re going to shave a few percentage points off your usage during the morning hours. 

I guess it’s more useful for other parts of the country where air conditioning isn’t pretty much mandatory.  For me the reduced driving costs had offset the increased electric costs up until this past year.  But that’s mainly due to the way Texas handles electric rates (i.e. TXU was able to set its costs during Katrina when natural gas was through the roof and has continued charging those rates even though gas has come down).

However, another thought occurs to me:  If more and more people are beginning to work from home (driven by corporate cost-cutting and high fuel prices), we may end up increasing overall electric demand, as more and more homes have higher peak-time usage because those homes are used for offices.  In general, I’d think that an office building would be a more efficient user, as cooling is consolidated in one building that houses multiple offices, rather than having to cool the equivalent number of homes (i.e. trying to cool one big box as opposed to thousands of little boxes).

I guess all this is moot to me now anyway, since I have a dog that is unsuitable to hot weather.  Even if I worked in an office again I’d leave the air on for her while I was away.

Coffee IV, Stat!

I went back home to visit my mother for New Year’s, since she had that time off (after working over Christmas). We had our Christmas and New Year’s celebration rolled into one. And with the recent rains we were able to do our own fireworks, which we hadn’t been able to do in quite some time.

The only downside to all this is that my mother lives on a different schedule. She usually doesn’t come home from work until 11:30pm, and doesn’t go to bed until 12:30 or 1:00am. Since I’m usually in bed by 10:30pm and I’m up at 6:00am, it’s a killer switching back from her schedule to my own.

I’m going to be seriously draggin’ for a while until I readjust.