May 2004


I ran into some trouble with the law the other day.

I went up to the state capital to drop off a proposal that I had prepared for a project sponsored by the state agency of transportation. The proposal was a grind; I figure I put eighty hours of unpaid time into preparing it. It ended up looking quite nice; forty bound pages not including the Microsoft Project document which is just on CD.

Hopefully they’ll like it.

I’ve been to Montpelier twice in the past few weeks. If everything works out, I will be going up there frequently.

And that’s okay, because if I am going up frequently, it will mean that my company is doing a lot of business up there. And if that is the case, going to Montpelier will be a snap, what with me flying up there from the airport three miles away and billing the state for my travel time. Not that it’ll be gouging; they’ll be paying my hourly rate for half as much travel time (two hours by car, one hour by car/plane/car). That’s the way I like it; win-win.

I’m actually going up again on Monday to talk with the state agricultural department about a completely different project proposal that I submitted a few weeks ago. The department of agriculture called on Thursday, left a messaage while I was at a (or rather, ‘the’) client site, and said they wanted to speak with me immediately, in person, Friday or Monday. That sounded good, I thought.

I ruled out Friday since I’m on call for Cavendish. So I left them a countermessage saying I’d be up to see them Monday.

I managed to touch base with them by phone today. They told me that my proposal was the most expensive by far of the ones that they had received, that they felt I had overestimated the number of hours for the project, that they really liked the requirements-gathering process I had outlined, and they were hoping that we could get something together. I think that’s what they said. They surely said that we were the most expensive proposal by far. Oh, and they for sure said they wanted me to come up and meet with them and their computer folks on Monday. So that’s got to be positive, or at least not negative.

I don’t feel bad about overestimating. This is what they said about the project:

Beekeeping. 7 tables, 27 programs, 4,343 lines of code. Medium complexity. Convert from system ‘x’ to system ‘y’.

Really. No kidding; that’s the information I was given as the basis to write a proposal for a major database conversion (the apiary applicatioin is the pilot for the overall project).

I got together with my droogie, John Varady, and we kicked it around and came up with what we thought was reasonable.

I’ve been around enterprise relational databases for a long, long time. I’m good with them. Not as good as I used to be, perhaps; lately I’ve gone into deeper parts of the tech stack and now tend to root around in the transport and protocol layers. But I’m still good with databases.

John Varady is excellent with databases. If I was going to write a database (or really, write anything to run on a computer), I’d want John to validate my design.

John and I met while working at the Burlington Coat Factory. I was put off by John at first; he thought I appeared to be the only other cool person there while I felt that anyone attempting to engage me in non-work-related conversation was not to be trusted.

I did some high-profile bit of code there. I worked on it for weeks and weeks. I was really pleased with it (and, to be honest, still am). I had worked out a way to communicate from within SQL*Forms to a specialized tag printer, back in the day before the DBMS_PIPES or DBMS_OUTPUT packages were available. I think it was pretty much patentable, for whatever that is worth. I used a ‘C’ userexit callout to open a file handle and pass the handle back into the form as an integer, then used that integer as the file handle in subsequent calls. Simple, really.

John took a look at that code and discovered the design mistake I had made. The mistake is so esoteric that I won’t bother to describe it, and in actuality it had small impact since it really amounted to saving a few extra empty rows in a particular data table. The fact that John discovered it, though, really impressed me. It was not at all obvious; I had missed it in my design and implementation, and other more senior developers who looked at it hadn’t seen it, either.

So, John and I worked on the task list and schedule for the proposal until we agreed (he thought my initial proposal was too conservative), then we mailed the thing in.

So, we’ll be able to get a better impression of how long the project will take after we see the code, and I made that clear in the proposal; from the information given, it was hard to estimate, but here’s the tasks and process for the solution.

And I guess they liked it.

But again, that’s a different proposal.

The one for the agency of transportation is so cool and so perfect for me that I knew I had to apply for it. It’s a data collection project for automobile crash data. It deals with XML interchange between the agency of transportation, the DMV, and the state police.

I had to go up there for a meeting a few weeks ago and was surprised to see that we are bidding against big players like EDS. I’m not scared, though; we can do it better, cheaper. Plus, I have good references in the state and local police; a big feather in my cap, I think. Plus, I’ve been working in XML since ’99 or so, and have designed XML transactioning systems for big online Oracle b2b transportation exchanges. Plus, we’re a Vermont corporation, and the cash the state would pay us would stay in the local economy for the most part.

So, I was coming back from dropping off the proposal. It had to be there by four on Monday; I worked on it all weekend, had it printed and bound Monday morning, and drove it up there to arrive by three. I may have been the last proposal dropper-offer; there was another person dropping off her box of twelve bound copies and one set of unbound originals as I got there, but I didn’t see anyone else coming up the steps with a box as I left.

I decided to eschew the highway for the ride back and drive home on the blue routes by feel and sense of direction.

I stopped at a picturesque general store for a sandwich.

Here’s more information than you care to know; my intestines have a ‘scram’ function. It’s usually triggered when I eat red meat that has been insufficiently processed since it left the cow, but sometimes it’s triggered by other unknown things (crank used to do it to me… ah, those were the days, weren’t they?).

So, I was driving home, and ate the sandwich.

About fifteen minutes later, my intestines announced scram and went into the associated fault condition.

Which is weird; the sandwich was smoked turkey, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato. All safe ingredients. But there it was.

I found myself in the middle of nowhere Vermont in a very uncomfortable condition. Strychnine and compressed air, if you will.

I’ve been through this enough to know that squatting on the side of the road would not be the right move. Sure, Vermont is rural, but I had no toilet paper (and, of course, the snow is gone for a few weeks).

So, naturally, I hit the accelerator.

After an eternity, I got to the tourist hub just north of home; Woodstock. I was almost saved.

Somewhere in here I thought to myself how much it would really suck if I were to get pulled over. Not that I slowed down; at a primitive level, I think I wanted to be at the potty more than I wanted to sterilize the car upholstry.

I got through Woodstock, or thought I did. Just as I got to the outskirts of town on my way out, blue flashing lights appeared in my mirror.

The cop took a while to get his act together. Sure, I know what he was up to; first, he had to report 10-75 and give his location, then request 10-28 to get the facts on the vehicle registration to make sure that he felt safe coming up to speak with me as an individual officer. But it did take forever.

The good part was that after a while, my cramps went away, or mostly so.

He eventually came to the window. He didn’t tell me what I had done at first and I didn’t ask him. After a small bit of ‘license and registration’ conversation, he asked me if I had happened to notice the school zone and recreation zone signs I had gone through. I had to admit that I hadn’t, but I chose not to share with him my reasons for driving at a rate that he appeared to consider excessive.

He took my paperwork and went back to his car. I watched him in my mirror and noticed that on the way to his car, he did this curious jump-run-twitch thing. I realized that I might not be the only person with intestinal issues. It was cute, though; grey-haired old town officer doing the Macarena on the way back to his cruiser.

Of course, it took eight years for him to run my 10-27 and fill out the ticket. At first I hoped that I’d escape with a warning (like my last two run-ins with the law) but the amount of time he was taking made me realize that my good pig fortune had waned.

Finally he came back to my car. He gave me the nicest speech about how he had mixed emotions about ticketing a volunteer EMT, but that something had to be done. I told him that I agreed that my EMTness did not make it okay for me to speed through school zones, and that I was sorry for his inconvenience. He told me that he had knocked off as much speed as he could, but that he was still giving me forty in a twenty-five school zone.

How fast was I actually going? No clue. I feel that I was driving prudently for the conditions, but I have no idea of how fast I was going.

He gave me an envelope, asked me to drive more slowly in the future, and went back to his car.

I waved and pulled out. As I drove, I used my teeth to extract the ticket from the envelope. $194, three points. I almost drove off the road.

A minute later, I was stunned to see the cop pull into view in my mirror again with his lights flashing. Did I leave too fast?

I pulled over. He came up to the car and told me that he had overcharged me. I gave him the ticket and he gave me a $70 discount. $124. Still three points.

He went back to his car. I was pleased to see him do the Macarena again.

Ayup. So, now I’ve got three points. That means, for sure, no more warnings; I’ve listened to the cops enough to know that if your recent history includes points, no warning for you, pal.

Harrumpf.

I almost never talk about politics in this forum. As my friends know, I’m pretty conservative on just about everything but social issues; I love <plural homophobic slur> and <plural ethnic slur> and think chicks should be able to get good jobs, too. And that everyone should be able to smoke dope and drive fast as long as they don’t bother other folks. I don’t care to debate my beliefs; I’ve been a pseudo-neoconservative with a dash of libertarianism since I could put thoughts together.

I think the last time I actually posted anything with political overtones was on the first anniversary of the WTC and Pentagon bombings; I quoted a blog account by a dad who was considering the last moments of an unrelated three-year-old girl who died when the airliner she was riding in was crashed into the WTC. I also quoted a Shanksville firefighter who had been on-scene at the PA crash.

http://www.livejournal.com/users/bxiie/1912.html
http://www.livejournal.com/users/bxiie/1658.html

9/11. So, some people seem to have gotten over this pretty easily. My company lost six employees that day between the WTC and Shanksville crash. Even discounting that fact, I love NYC and loved the WTC (I’d been up there three or four times… And ever since I was a little kid, I’d always gaze at the towers whenever I’d drive by on the turnpike). So, I’m still pretty bent about the whole thing.

Back to the first paragraph; I think everyone should be able to do what they want. And you know what? Not just people lucky enough to be born into the luxurious heaven that is America (arguments? Name me one place that’s better to live than the US, then explain rationally why you do not live there).

I’m sick and tired of hearing people who have never had to nor chosen to give anything to support their freedoms bitch and moan about the fact that the US has a moral agenda to spread freedoms to other people. It is as though these people think that life under Hussein was more or less like life where they live, except with pictures of Saddam here and there.

I don’t care to debate the DNC/ANSWER talking points. They are specious. No blood for oil? That one sounds good, doesn’t it? Tell you what, let’s drill ANWR, then. No WMDs? Why wouldn’t Hussein comply with the thirteen UN resolutions demanding documentation and inspection, then? And what about the Kurds? What about the gallon-or-so of sarin that showed up the other day? (I know, it was a Haliburton plant to prop up Bush).

Of course, the DNC/ANSWER agenda is silent, oh so silent, on comparative human rights. It’s much more of an affront to humankind that we don’t allow gays to marry than it is that the Chinese stifle peaceful dissent with violence. It’s far more important to secure the rights of minors in America to abortion than it is to support the pursuit of rights for any women in the middle east to walk without a hajib, to drive a car, to pursue education or business, or to own property. And it undermines the whole role of America in Iraq that .025 of the troops behave like idiot frat boys and girls, to the point that it would have been better to leave Hussein in charge.

Let me ask you this. It is by no means assured that we will win our fight against Islamic fundamentalism. Will we lose our freedoms and culture faster under Bush or Kerry?

Fundamentalist Islam, in my book, seems a little more dangerous than Christian fundamentalism. Sure, the Christians would prefer that you not have abortions and do not practice homosexuality, but the Islamics have the same tenets. I haven’t actually worked the numbers, but I don’t think the occasional clinic bombing or shooting gets close to the severity of attacks by Islamics. There’s certainly nothing as high in profile over here as the 3000+ killed in September ’01. And while the Christians would support the ‘American way’ as they know it, the Islamics would replace it with Sharia. I’d rather live in 1950’s America than 1990’s Iraq or current Saudia Arabia.

Okay, so the crusades are an example of Christianity attacking Islam? Mmm-hmm. So, if the middle east was ruled by Rome (which is to say, western civilization) at the time of Christ, why were ‘we’ (which is to say, western civilization) fighting the turks and moors there a few hundred years later?

Also, you wouldn’t know by reading the MSM, but there’s a big scandal going on over at the UN. It seems that billions of dollars were diverted from the oil-for-food program. Guess who collected? You won’t believe me, so do your own research. But it certainly seems from where I sit that there were good cash reasons why the French and Russians opposed our Iraqi action.

There are two hundred thousand US troops over there. These are people who put their lives on the line every day, even while they sleep, so that other people may have the opportunity to travel freely, work and play as they like, and not live or die at the whim of tyranny. These people are making real sacrifices.

The media has been having a field day with the Iraq prison scandal. Some bad people did bad things to some Iraqi detainees. Bad. We all agree. We are punishing the bad guys (and girls. I know you feminist-american types like to think you don’t have it in you, but Lynndie says you do. So, there you go).

The media doesn’t care to consider that under Hussein, these same people, or people like them, would have been fed to wood shredders, gang raped, or electrocuted as an institutionalized practice. And their families. And their clans, if they happened to be Kurdish. And their town, if they happened to back the US in Gulf War 1.

I know the hate-america-first crowd would like to claim that there was an institutionalized culture on the part of the Americans that led to these horrible abuses. I think that is asinine, but even if true, it hardly rises to the level of evil shown by the Iraqi government under the Husseins. In actuality, though, these people involved with the prison scandal represent a diminishingly-small percentage of the troops we have there. Hands up. Who here would ‘torture’ prisoners? I wouldn’t. I served in the active duty military, so I empirically reject the notion that there is a culture in the military that supports such idiocy.

I’m reminded of an NYT article on the prison ‘scandal’. I don’t usually read the NYT as they are pretty biased, but some koolaid-republican site that I look at linked to the article. Anyway, this prisoner had been humiliated by the Americans who played loud music and forced him to remain naked for a while and put a woman (a *woman*, for garsh sake!) in charge. He was so humiliated that he could no longer face his neighbors. The Americans owe him restitution for the grave harm they had done. He suggested that a reasonable reparation would be to be moved to America in order to not have to face his neighbors in his humiliation. Yep, we’re so darned evil and have treated him so badly that he wants us to pay to move him here.

Now, of course, people are up in arms that Bush is actually trying to honor the turn-over date he proposed way back when. He just can’t win, can he?

Right. So with that introduction, here is what I really have to share with you today.

A little pro-America propaganda. Don’t bother to read it; it’s about moms of soldiers deployed, or about to be deployed, to Iraq.

http://tennessean.com/opinion/columnists/chavez/archives/04/05/51619119.shtml?Element_ID=51619119

Back to me. I am teaching my children that the freedoms that they enjoy are at constant risk from forces within and without.

You may consider this hyperbole on the face, but you would also accuse Bush of trying to turn America into a theocracy; that would certainly be a risk to our freedoms, would it not? So we agree.

Also, once the liberals give the country to Islam (since it is uncivilized to actually resist), things will certainly change. Take a look at France for an example of what attempting to appease Islam brings; in parts of Paris, women can’t walk the streets without hajib or risk being attacked by street gangs. Don’t take my word for it; do your own research. I don’t want that here. Remember; I’m big into freedoms. Worship or not as you choose, but don’t bother me with it.

I also teach my children that people who serve in the military are to be honored and respected for the choices and sacrifices they have made. The old saw about it not being any big thing because people are being forced into the military for economic reasons doesn’t work; for every person serving in the military due to perceived economic necessity, there are several in civilian life depending on welfare and medicare and doing no work whatsoever. Let me tell you; it is way easier to collect welfare than it is to serve in the military. No one is forced into the military.

To the people serving over there, I would say, thanks for serving from the bottom of my heart. It makes me proud to know that there are Iraqis, the vast majority, who today have freedom. It makes me proud to know that there are people, Americans, who risk all, who leave their families for months on end, to secure rights for people they don’t even know. Stay the course; it took seven years to stop the axis and forty years after that for us to get out of Germany and Japan; you people are doing a great and speedy job. I thank you, my family thanks you.

I’ve been thinking about wireless access a lot recently.

I first got involved with wireless via a cellular modem for my Palm III several years ago; I bought a cradle modem in 1998 or 1999 at a Palm Source convention in Santa Clara. Ah, the crazy dot-com days. Anyway, I ended up buying a second one for some reason and then canceling my contract since my local connectivity (Connecticut at that time) sucked. So I’ve got two of these monsters on the shelf that I never really used.

Oh, well.

Later, I was issued a laptop that had wireless, probably 802.11b, not sure. I never, ever used it.

My most recently issued laptop (about two years old) does not have wireless as the corporate IT folks have not yet decided about campus wireless policies (they are thorny, as will be illustrated below).

and I have had an 802.11b network in the house for a year or so. It connects the family PC with the head of the buried 100BaseT cable that connects with the office network. That has worked out pretty well.

Last month I bought a laptop to support my consulting activities (I can’t use my day-job laptop for obvious conflict-of-interest reasons). This little gem came with embedded 802.11g, fast wireless. At the same time I upgraded the household network access to ‘g’, as well.

I like wireless. It enables me to work on things at the kitchen table, in bed, or out on the deck without worrying about cables.

I had a meeting with a potential client several weeks ago. Before the meeting, I was in the parking lot and fired up my laptop to check some detail… Lo and behold, my laptop discovered the potential client’s unsecured wireless network. I was able to surf the web and review the potential client’s network resources. I went in to the meeting and used the vulnerability to illustrate some point I had to make. The client agreed to my proposed contract details on the spot… DTG’s first client.

I love wireless!

So, unsecured wireless networks are an issue. When you buy your wireless access point, take it home, and stick it on the network, the communication between it and your device is unencrypted and unsecured by default. You have to configure the access point and your device to secure the link. Most people do not do this, as I have found.

Is my home network secure? Not at present. Do I expect random wardrivers in my neighborhood? Not this decade. Will I secure our network anyway? Yes, real soon.

I have never had network access in my SF place. The roommates split the cost of a DSL connection for a single slow desktop machine; I use it to check mail from time to time, but that it all. The other night I opened my laptop in my room and discovered three separate wireless nets. Given the 500 – 1000 foot range and the residential apartment neighborhood I live in, these things could be anywhere in a five block radius. No way I can figure out who owns them.

Ethically, I know that accessing the Internet through a connection that someone else pays for is wrong. However, I went through an intellectual exercise to see if I could rationalize piggy-backing on someone else’s deal.

I tried to rationalize with a wasted bandwidth argument. Most connections utilize only a fraction of the allowed bandwidth at any given time, even as an average of the total connectivity. The rated bandwidth is typically used for short periods of time. If the bandwidth is not used, it is wasted. This is a sunlight analogy of sorts, in that the photons I do not absorb fall on the ground and are effectively wasted (a simplistic view, yes, but we are talking about information technology, not ecology). This breaks down as the amount of bandwidth I would consume limits the bandwidth available to the legitimate network user.

Yep. So, I can’t use my found networks. But it’s nice to know that if I’m trapped in my room, I will be able to order pizza on-line in a pinch.

It’s also interesting to think about places with free access. If I lived within RF range of a coffee shop, I could theoretically never pay for Internet again.

Here’s some things I haven’t done in a really long time.

– Dialed a rotary telephone (click-click-click)
– Tuned a radio with string-driven ganged capacitors
– Tuned a TV with shaft-drive ganged capacitors
– Pressed the button on an electronic watch to get it to display the time
– Used a pay phone
– Changed the direction of the roof-mounted antenna via servos to improve reception
– Dialed a telephone connection by hand and then manually initiated carrier signaling
– Entered the starting address for a program in binary-coded-octal
– Loaded program sources from punched paper tape
– Saved my program sources on a cassette tape
– Programed in BASIC, FORTRAN77, or FORTH
– Utilized a ‘dumb’ terminal except through emulation
– Used a ‘pocket calculator’
– Switched a diskette so that an application could read program instructions or data from a different floppy
– Used a floppy disk for program or data storage

As to that last point, my Atari 520 STFM had an external 360k single-sided floppy drive. I now have a stupid tiny 128M USB solid-state drive on a lanyard. The thing is smaller than a pack of gum, but holds the equivalent of 355 single-sided floppies. At the time my Atari was my primary and only system, I had a library of about 120 program and data disks. The diskettes themselves were probably worth $300 and were very sensitive to heat, magnetism, and dust. My $40 USB drive has three times that much space and I can wear it around my neck and go for a jog (if I want to… Not that I will). And that’s hardly cutting-edge technology.

Dude, I thought I had hit the big time when I added a second(!) external floppy drive. Then I didn’t have to swap disks as often. My second system, a 286-based thing, had a 20 Mb internal hard drive. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

When I was a kid, the TV had glass tubes in it. I can remember my uncle coming to tune it up (you had to do that, you know, or the receiver would lose the signals) and opening the back of the set. I spent some time looking at all of the glowing shiny parts under the watchful eyes of my uncle… This must have been in ’70 or so. Sure, transistors existed, but they were rare enough in consumer deployment that if something had a transistor in it, it was considered a selling point.

It just amazes me. It all amazes me.

Interlopers!

I arrived at the Forbidden Lab this morning to find new garbage strewn about and post-its stuck to the monitor I usually use!

As I investigated further, I found a note stating that a particular machine was ‘reserved for qa’ from March something until June something.

Continued research revealed my indicator napkin in the corner; ‘Floor not swept since before August 7, 2003’. So that’s good, I guess. Not everything has changed.

About an hour and a half after I got here, I heard the plaintive beep of the door lock and turned to see a bunch of indians come in; the transient qa team, apparently. I went back to my news reading and they went back out after milling about in surprised confusion for several minutes. They left a jacket and backpack at one of the machines, though, so I must assume they will be back.

Saturday evening I went on a fire call. It was mutual aid to Springfield. I went over to the station. One of the officers was about to take the truck and asked me if I would mind driving by his house and picking up his turnout gear from the back of his truck and then driving direct to the scene. I said I would… This meant that I got to drive at high speeds through my town and most of Springfield in my private vehicle. Everyone else on the road had to defer to my emergency lights and let me pass. Mostly people saw me coming and moved out of the way, a few others I had to honk at before they’d notice me. Must get a siren.

Ah, the power! It’s like Tolkien’s ring of power, though. The lights whisper to me as I’m stuck in traffic on my way to Walmart… While I’m on my way to the bank, traveling at 50% of the speed limit behind dawdling tourists. I must resist!

As an aside, although drivers from Myassachusetts are among the worst in the nation in many respects, they *fly* out of the way of my little red car when I’m running my lights. I wondered about this for weeks until a member of my department clued me in; in Myass, the cops use red and white lights.

In any event, there wasn’t much to the fire as far as we were concerned… Our truck was situated between a four inch hose coming from over there and a four inch hose running up that way. Our truck boosted the pressure of the supply line running from a pump at the river to a unit up the road that was supplying the firefighters at the scene itself. We spent an hour or so standing around and chatting while minding the pump.

I did get to go up and take a look at the scene with our chief’s permission.

The fire scene was interesting. Some guy’s detached garage had burned to the ground. There was a blackened car up on a blackened lift in the center of the blackened ruins. Springfield firefighters were hosing the place down with water and foam. I took a look at what was going on and then disappeared back to my own department’s place on the scene.

I went home, went to bed, vomited a few times (got out of bed for those, actually), got up, and went to California.

And here I am.