Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Spanish Anthem?

I try to avoid ‘political’ topics, not because I don’t have political views, but because I find they trigger to many emotional, not rational, discussions. Today however, I feel the need to talk about a situation that’s become very political, but that I feel is really societal in nature.

I was doing a bit of blog surfing this morning, and came across a post that dealt with the recent controversy about a version of the National Anthem recorded in Spanish.

He said, exactly what I’ve been saying for over a week now when ever I’m asked about it. Read what he had to say here.

I have a couple of thoughts about that specific issue…

First, if it were a book being translated into another language, the author would be delighted that a wider audience would be able to read their work.

Second, why on earth are we so troubled by the fact that a song, words put to music, will now have those words in another language? Are we Americans that insecure, that fragile, that this simple thing sets us off?This country we have, and you all know I love this country, has many strengths, and weaknesses.

Our greatest strength, in my opinion, comes from the fact that we are, for lack of a better term, a ‘melting pot’. People from every corner of the planet have come here, in hopes of building a better life for them, and their families. These same immigrants have built our country. Our roads, our skyscrapers, our industries,

They got up every morning, went to work, did their jobs, and in doing so, literally built this country. Their children, grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren continue that process today. I know, I’m a great-grandchild of immigrants.

No group of immigrants has ever been ‘welcomed’ by those already here. You can look back through history and see the stories of outrage against the Irish, the Germans, Asians, Polish, Russians or the Italians… pick a country and you’ll find when they arrived here in numbers, there was ‘national outrage’ from those already here.

They all stayed though, despite feeling unwanted in many cases, because they believed, in their hearts that they, and their families would ultimately have a better life. In the vast majority of cases, they were right.

I know it’s popular to be concerned about ‘illegal immigration’, and I am concerned about it. Concerned not because the majority of folks illegally here are from Mexico, but, because we’re doing such a poor job of managing the borders!

I’m of the opinion, that if someone wants to come here to build a better life we should let them do so. Grant them access, require that they meet a set of standards we apply to all Americans (essentially obey the law), become citizens (pass the tests and get ‘sworn in’) and build their own dream life.

If, on the other hand, they don’t meet the standard, commit crimes etc… they should be deported… The border patrols should be sufficient to keep out those who don’t make the proper application for entry and pass a standard background check (as in let’s not give immediate access to criminals and terrorist type individuals).

We’ve got this big sign, at the statue of liberty…

“Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”

Hell we’re so proud of it we put it on the back of the 1986 silver dollar!

That sentiment is one of the reasons I love, and am so proud to live in, this country.

We’re a nation of misfits, and adventurers. Our ancestry is filled with people who had a dream, and went after their dream, people who often arrived here with nothing, or next to nothing.

They spent their only savings on that one-way ‘ticket to America’; sometimes entire families pooled their money to send just that one person here. All of this risk in the hope that they, eventually, could build a better life and send for the rest of the family.

Is it all that hard to understand, that we, one of the richest nations on the planet, would be a desired place to live for those in less fortunate circumstances? I for one am proud of the folks who risk giving up what they know, move to a country where they can’t speak the language, risk failure, losing what little they had to begin with, all to live in a country I was fortunate enough to be born in. I’m frankly flattered they’d do that. We have people in this country who are afraid of moving to another town, or state, to get a better job.

Of course I had that good fortune (to be born here), because, my great-grandparents took that very same risk! Yes they struggled, they were hated by some, and they worked for low wages, but despite it all, they believed they were better off here, than from where they came. I was only the third person on my Dad’s side of the family to get a four year college degree, but all seven of my siblings did so as well… We, like our parents went one step further up the educational ladder. It’s what they raised us to believe we not only could do, but, should do!

One last thought… Do you know how difficult it is to legally immigrate to America? It’s incredibly difficult. I had the opportunity to work with two young men, both from Russia, who were educated here in the states, one was valedictorian of his class at Elon University, and each of them faced a long, expensive and protracted legal process to get a ‘green card’. They both did so however, and both are citizens today.

I remember thinking at the time that the process had to be flawed. Here there were two, college degreed young folks, both with bright professional futures, who would be good ‘earners’, pay taxes and contribute positively to society and they were all but being told, “go home”.

If the laws were changed, made it easier for folks to come here legally, our ‘illegal’ problem would go away, and fairly quickly. We could then turn our attention to where it belongs, keeping those folks who want to come here to cause trouble, out.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

We Made the Trade Press. . .

I get a number of business related trade newsletters everyday, more than I can really read. I do scan the headlines and try to look at the articles that interest me. In the e-stack today, was an article in “ComputerWorld” that actually addresses one of the initiatives going on where I’m working.

One of the newer industry buzzwords (or TLAs) is SOA (Service Oriented Architecture). To hear most folks talk you’d thing it was the next wiz-bang, going to solve the world’s problems, process.

It’s not all that new really; it’s more an extension of what many of us have been doing for well over a decade. Most of us in PC based development that is. The “mainframers”, those “big iron” guys, you see have been developing application under what they now call the ‘waterfall’ model. Large monolithic applications built with little or no component reutilization.

Us “PC” guys, using tools like Visual FoxPro, Visual Basic, C++, and now all the .Net languages have been building libraries of reusable components for years. Some, like me, started doing so out of self-preservation, and to construct a toolbox and framework, from which we could quickly, and cost effectively build custom applications for our clients.

At first, we called them Procedures, then Functions, UDF’s and now in the object world of application building they’re called ‘methods’. This next step in the evolution and it is evolution, not revolution, is placing these functions on a server where your application can place a ‘call’ to them, and receive back the desired result.

Ten years ago it was called “Client/Server” computing, today it’s been given a new lease, a fresh paint job, new terminology and some help from the server architecture and it’s been transformed into ‘Web Services” or SOA.

It’s always nice to be on the front lines, and this article isn’t at all far from the truth. There are folks embracing this fully, and folks dragging their heels, but SOA, is here to stay. It makes far too much sense, especially in companies who have large investments in mid-range and larger hardware.

Security and authentication for data access can be handled for the application at the server level (like the mainframe folks like), access to applications can be handled at the desktop level and the servers handle all of the, often complex, data location and retrieval for the application.

We’ve extracted the need for a developer to know ‘where’ the data store is, what driver is needed to get to it, and replaced it with a ‘black box’ that simply responds to a request. I’m sure when Greg stops in, he’ll remind me we were doing very similar things with PC networks in the 80’s… and we were… the point is, not much really changes, just what we call the process, and exactly how it’s put to work.

You can read the actual article here, in keeping with my stance on not naming my employer; I won’t mention which of the companies in the article it is. I think even the non-detectives among you will figure it out though.

The big central customer file and Dun and Bradstreet sync process I’ve been working on for nearly a year, kicked off in production mode today. The first day went flawlessly, we had a couple of tense moments very early this morning, but once we got everything restarted properly, all phases scheduled for today ran, completed normally and within our estimated time frames. We’ll start the message generation for distribution to the industry tomorrow, and that will run though mid-day on Sunday.

I have the Midnight to 8:00am shift Friday night, and, with any luck at all, I’ll be a pro at navigating the mainframe screens by morning!!

If I have a chance, I’ll update you all on our process and how my POL process worked in the final analysis. That tool has a lot of potential, even working on remote datastores, and making approximately 1000 character comparisons per record, it was still processing at a rate of five records per second. I’d estimate that 60% of that time had to do with the fact that ODBC remote data calls are on the very lowest tier of the priority list. That means that every other non-ODBC request to the server was processed before mine.

All in all, I’m very pleased!

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Surf’s Up. . . and legal!

I read today where a judge in NYC ruled “that on-the-job Internet use is equivalent to reading a newspaper or talking on the phone”. Imagine that… surfing the web at work is now legal!

You can read the whole story here, and to me, this is a pretty amazing ruling.

There are all sorts of possible down stream repercussions to this ruling, from expansions in employment agreements, additional chapters in the “Employee Handbook”, removing internet access from all but specific personnel, to all sorts of lawsuits from folks who were unfairly treated for surfing the web while at work.

The case in question involved a governmental (education) employee, who was reprimanded for surfing the web while on the job, but between phone calls…

I don’t know if I could do my job, or be nearly as productive as I am, without the web. The instantaneous access to online help, discussion groups and research material is like working side by side with experts in every field.

On the other hand, almost I never, and I mean very, very, rarely browse for anything not directly related to my duties while I’m on the clock. Maybe it’s because I know I’m a contractor and my actions and production are being not only watched, but analyzed and evaluated weekly. Maybe it’s just the way I was raised, and the work ethic I learned when young, but to me, work is work, not ‘play time’.

(For what it’s worth, I’m tele-working today, and I’m off the clock right now!)

I know several of my regular readers stop in from work, and I know that the DoD, and other governmental visitors are not stopping in here to get answers to our national problems, so my question to you all is:

Do you surf in here from work? If not, why not? If you do, are you stopping in on you breaks, or just when you have a break in the work ‘flow’?

What’s your take on the ruling?

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

The DotNetNuke experiment. . .

It’s been an interesting day.

I got notification this morning that the new Hosting Account was ready so I went ahead and got started with the DotNetNuke (DNN) installation. If you want to have a look at the type of skins and modules that are already available, you should check out SnowCovered they seem to be the spot to go for that stuff.

I took advantage of the Hosting Company’s “Auto Install” feature, which worked very, very smoothly (automatic you could say!), for this initial testing phase. It was as easy as clicking some items on their menus and watching the install roll by. It was sort of reminiscent, of our old Accounting enhancement installs, a ton of messaging by to let you know it’s running, and a very comforting ‘Installation Successful” message when it was complete.

One nice feature, or at least I thought it was, is that the default page that launches when the site comes up for the first time has all of the default username and password combos right there for you. No fumbling through the documentation trying to find them, and, with them displayed on the home page, you pretty much either have to clear the home page or change them!

The basic config work took only minutes… and I spent the rest of the day, off and on, between running a couple of batch jobs for work, tearing apart a toilet and talking to some friends on the phone…. building, and destroying the same 5 page website, at least 5 times.

This tool is indeed pretty slick.

Doing that in any other web development tool would have taken much, much, longer, for me anyway.

The basic package has all sorts of ‘built in’ pieces in the core. Modules like account login, User registration, Banners, contacts, User accounts, discussions, documents, FAQ’s, Events, Announcements… and more.

There’s even a RSS feed module that you can install on a page and link to a news feed for topical stories, events and so on. You can even place two or three different feeds into separate modules, on the same page. They can be set to be ‘open’ or ‘closed’ when the page is rendered, as well as hidden until the user logs in.

The real proof to me though was that my wife also found it intuitive, while she’s not really had much web development experience, she found the interface clear, and fairly straightforward.

This thing has a ton of options; most of our time today was spent searching out ‘where’ to turn on, or off, the feature in question.

Yes, we did, ‘blow it up’ a couple of times, but that might have had more to do with both of us making changes to the same site, at the same time…. SQL can be funny about that sometimes…

All in all… it was a day well spent.

The tech support folks at the new hosting company continue to be outstanding, helpful as well as knowledgeable!

I’ll keep you posted, but I fully expect that by this time next Sunday I’ll have two sites in pretty good shape and being ‘served up’ from this one web application. This is pretty slick stuff indeed. Right now, my biggest concern is the hassle of moving the domains to a new provider!

Well that… and graphics!!

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

CyberSpace Moving. . .

I’ve been working on a new ‘look and feel’ for my personal and professional websites.

Until lately it’s been mostly a ‘back burner’ type project, something I’ve tinkered with when I felt I had some free time.

With the recent developments on the job, I've decided that I need to move the project to the ‘front burner’ and begin moving forward with it

I’ve had some serious design concepts in my head for the move. That’s generally the problem with projects I want to develop for myself, grand plans and limited time.

Some things I wanted to include were:

  • Fully develop the site using .Net and ASP.Net 2.0 and Microsoft SQL Server
  • A consistent yet different ‘Look and Feel’ for each site
  • A method for managing the ‘content’ that involves placing the content in a database for later storage and recall.
  • That the 'database driven' method would mean content on the site becomes driven from database contents, not static HTM pages.
  • Allow for multiple domains and sub-domains to be hosted through the same account and front end portal
  • Provide a way to incorporate the blog when/if I ever decided to move it from “blogspot”
  • Allow the look of the site to change without requiring a full underlying change to each and every page.
  • User registration/Login to provide a subscriber area for uploads/downloads as well as for content not available to casual site visitors.
  • Include a discussion forum, possibly linked to the blog where extended conversations could grow from a blog topic.
So, last evening, I decided to start doing a little research on how I could accomplish these goals, and several more, with the least amount of time and effort on my part.

I rediscovered a .Net ASP framework called “DotNetNuke” that unbelievably has most, if not all of my wish list already in the package! That’s right, despite having a ton of already completed components; I’m going to utilize a framework as the underpinning for the new portal. Imagine, a hard core, write everything from scratch, developer, like me planning to use a framework… what with that?? It’s hard even for me to believe!

One of the reasons I’m going to give this package a try is that it’s an “Open Source” project. That means it’s free, that if I make any useful improvements those cahnges can be added to the project, and, tested by the entire community. It also means that anything anyone else adds to the framework can be added to my site’s functionality as well.

Another reason is flexibility, the framework has many, many embedded features that it would take me weeks, if not months (or longer), to develop, and even then I’d be several more months sorting out any bugs.

Last, but certainly not least, is that the framework is based and located on the server, which means content updates can be done ‘online’ and from anywhere I have internet access, not only from a PC where I have FrontPage, Macromedia or another web development tool installed.

Once I’d settled in on DotNetNuke as the base of the revamp, I started looking for any problems others had encountered with the installation.

I found out a couple of interesting things. First, my current hosting provider, has had a lot of problems with folks attempting to install, and get new DotNetNuke sites up and running, without incident. Second, that there are providers who specialize in hosting DotNetNuke based sites.

This morning I found a host who not only provides an ‘Auto-Install’ option, but also includes multiple domain hosting, full .Net 1.1 and 2.0 support, component and web service registration as well as providing SharePoint collaboration services as well!

Having access to SharePoint, might not mean much to many of you, but, it’s a very powerful online collaboration tool. You can schedule online meetings, route documents for review and approval, or just simply build an online document library and grant access by user to individual documents, or entire groups of documents.

Considering I’ve also been working on a ‘virtual company’ concept, where I’d bring together other IT/IS professionals to form teams, and solicit projects, this is a very big bonus for switching. It was available from my current provider, but only through an ‘add-on’ service, not as part of the base package,

All of this, for the same price I’m currently paying for hosting.

Yes, I checked, they do provide daily backup of both the site and the databases (on site and remote site), and they include a tool for backing everything up locally to one of my machines as well.

So, I’ve signed up with the new hosting service, and shortly, hopefully later today, once I receive my temporary URL and get everything set up I’ll start porting the sites. The first one I intend to port is the family site I started almost a year ago and never really finished, once that’s up and running, I’ll point you all there for some feedback. Why that one? Well, it’s got a fairly limited audience, and moving it will have little or no influence on my financial situation if it’s not successful!!

If any of you would like to know the hosting service I settled in on, drop me an email and I’ll send you a link.

So, the “cyberspace move” is on. Like any other move, I’m sure there will be problems, I’ll temporarily lose some items, or forget where I’ve put them, finding them again only after I’ve rebuilt them. Also, like any other move, there’s excitement, and anxiety, but, in the end I’m sure it’ll all work out!!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A BlogMad... "Hic-Cup". . .

Verizon UPDATE: I went to the Verizon store, and fortunately for me, Erwin was there. First, he offered me a 'loaner' phone until my renewal date, then, he went one step further and reviewed my account. Once he'd done that he said, you can upgrade whenever you're ready... It turns out the 26th was the day I got my last phone, so I could have upgraded two months ago!!

Once again, when I actually got to talk to the right person, I find my faith in customer service restored. So now I have a loaner phone, and we'll go in and revamp our accounts later this week.

Now here's the original post.


That's what they're calling it... this 'corruption' that ate my Blogmad account...

Yep, that's right, the user name, password and the account, blog statistics etc... all gone, or so they claim. According to the front page of the site they have backups from ‘about’ 20 days ago... 20 days!!! WTF is up with that? Even my piddly web sites are backed up daily as part of the fees my hosting service charges... they do backups at Blogmad once a month??

I've emailed them, but I'm expecting no good news... if they've lost the info... they've probably lost me as well... too much time and effort 'building up' my internal 'BlogRank' to have carelessness wipe it all out...

Of course this is but a ‘part’ of, one of those weeks....

Just when you thought…

Everything was finally running along as smooth as silk, a little drama gets inserted, just to keep things ‘interesting’.

My cell phone died at some point on Monday night… as I was driving to work on Tuesday morning I realized I’d forgotten to tell my wife something and tried to call… nothing… Nada… zilch… then I notice the phone is ‘searching’ and has dropped ‘off the network’…

I thought, no big deal, it’s done this before, usually it’s an ‘upgrade’ issue of some sort… so I dropped my wife an email when I got to work, and asked her to call Verizon for me.

The tech folks at Verizon confirmed my belief that it was an upgrade issue and gave us instructions…. They also said, “…if that doesn’t get you connected, you’ll have to stop in to one of the Verizon centers” to get it resolved”… The instructions to fix it, didn’t, she took the phone to the store, I called last night, their verdict… the phone is DOA.

Ok, not all bad… I’m using my wife’s cell in the meantime… so I ask if I can get my “New in Two” upgrade credit now, instead of in 8 days… the answer,

Her: “No, let me give you the tech support number…”
Me: I’ve already called them, it was tech support who suggested I bring the phone to the store.

Her: Sir they would not have said that.
Me: So, you’re saying I made it up?

Her: Let me give you their number.
Me: I have it (read it back to her from the call list) and I’ve already talked to them

Her: well they can send you out a replacement if the phone is still under warranty
Me: I’m 8 days from the end of the contract, how could it still be under warranty

Her: Oh, then it wouldn’t be

Me: So… why don’t I just ‘renew’ my contract a few days early
Her: We can do that, but you can’t have the $100 off

This cycle repeated with slight variations about 4 times… until I said:

Me: “I’ve been a Verizon customer since Verizon started!... It’s only 8 days… do you really want me to go elsewhere to get a new phone and service provider?”

Her: “I’m sorry sir, we can’t do that… and Sir, no other carrier will give you $100 off on a phone…”

Me: “Really… you wouldn’t want to place a real money wager on that, would you? “

I ended the call… and I’m headed over there shortly… but I find myself wondering…

What happened to:

“If you have a problem, call us and we’ll make it our problem”

… or …

“You’ll have the power of the Network behind you” ???

Then, If that wasn’t enough there’s the “Oh shit” factor of the week…

What am I talking about?. . . More drama… Work this time… No... not personal drama, but a little professional drama. Nothing like something that could interfere with your ability to pay the bills to keep life interesting!

There’s been an executive decision, at the company I’m under contract to, to get out of one particular aspect of their business. Not an unusual business decision, as this type of thing is done every day in companies all over the world.

This particular decision though, leaves a number of the developers, systems and business analysts and some managers with jobs that will no longer exist once the exit is complete.

Kudos to the company, in that their primary focus is on reassigning existing employees into other jobs throughout the company. The first on the ‘gone’ list will, of course, be the contractors. This is, in my mind anyway, how it should be.

Despite the fact that I think the company should be commended for looking for ways to retain all full time employees first, and that it is the right thing to do, that decision still leaves me feeling very vulnerable to the “Thanks but” meeting.

I’ve mentioned in many posts how I believe this is an extremely well run company, this is just one more example of their commitment to their people, their belief that it’s the employees that make everything ‘work’.

If I fall under the axe, I know I’ll be disappointed. This has been one of, if not the, best contract I’ve ever worked. I’ve learned a ton about an industry I knew little or nothing about a year ago, and along the way I've built some interesting and useful applications.

Above all though, I’ve actually felt appreciated. Those of you who stop by here and are contractors know, it’s pretty unusual for a company to make a contractor ‘feel’ appreciated. I’ve gotten several letter (emails) of commendation, from my manager, as well as from the folks she reports to.

I know that these same folks are doing what they can to see that I’m still there when the dust settles, but, the stone reality is, they can only do so much.

I’m thinking I need to have a chat with my ‘contract house’, let them know what’s going on and see what they might have in the works, just in case.

It’s been a very interesting week so far… and this is only about half of it…

Anyone have a cell phone carrier they really like? I may just switch regardless of the final result at Verizon… At least I can make that decision for myself!!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

My stories… tales… whatever…..

A few of you have commented from time to time, that there should be a book deal in writing about my life. I wanted to take a moment here to thank each of you who have done so.

Being paid, to write, about anything has been a life long dream of mine. Not so much because I’ve ever wanted the ‘fame’ that can go with that, but because I’d like to get paid (well) for doing something I love to do, write.

I’ve said, often, over the years, that one of the reasons I like being a software developer (oh, wait… I need to start referring to myself as a “software engineer” as I read today they make up to 5 times what I’m making) is that I’m getting paid to write.

Writing software is not all that different from writing anything else. There are language rules, most often called ‘syntax’, about the placement of words, punctuation and so on. There are also rules about the ‘characters’ (they’re called ‘variables’) in that, in most languages, you must introduce (define) them before you can use them later in the story (program).

Also, despite years of effort, and millions, maybe billions, of dollars in research, it’s still a very creative process. There have been huge studies, and resultant software packages aimed at removing the creative process and turn it into more of a science than an art.

Regardless, for the most part, the process remains, for the actual developer (sorry, “engineer”) a creative one. Yes, there’s been a ton of standardization, constraints, guidelines, rules and regulations imposed, mostly on a company by company basis, but all that has really been accomplished is making the maintenance process simpler due to a ‘standardized’ code base. Essentially making it possible for anyone who knows the language, to read the code easily, it’s just the language standards we take for granted in ‘English’ for example, applied to say Java, FoxPro, C# or COBOL.

With all of that being said, I still fantasize that eventually, someone will stumble across my musings…. Find something marketable in my style, and initiate a dialog with me that will culminate in a deal to write something, anything actually, for publication and profit.

I haven’t been around, and visiting all of your blogs as much as usual. There are a number of reasons… First, work has been very busy, but I hit both deadlines this week and managed to book almost 40 billable hours in 4 days… meaning I didn’t have to burn any PTO hours for the holiday!

Second, I’ve been working on improving and updating my ‘TimeClock” application.

It’s a small app, I initially wrote almost a decade ago when I would often be working for several different clients throughout the day. It allowed me to log the time I spent by client/project/task and produce a summary at the end of the week to generate the appropriate invoicing.

I’d all but forgotten about it until a few of weeks ago when I stumbled across a copy of it on a old hard drive.

So I ported it to VFP 8, cleaned up the interface, and added a report generator that produces the report in HTML, the report can also be exported to Excel if desired. I added some color shading for the different sections of the report, and a “colorset” maintenance utility to make picking and choosing the report colors a bit simpler.

I started using it on the job, and submitting my generated report as my weekly time summary to the project manager.

Interestingly, I’ve started getting requests from her, and some other folks in the company, for a copy for their personal use.

So, I’m curious, is there a demand out there for a small, stand alone time tracking system that sold for say under $50? Please let me know if you think so. If there’s interest, I’ll build a demo version and make it available for download to anyone who’s interested. The first 20 who download it and provide me with suggestions for improvements will get the full version, when it’s released, for free.

My point… I always do have a point… is that, sometimes, we get what we’ve wished for, just not in exactly the way we thought we would. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll end up being an author… but a software author. Instead of writing novels, I’ll build my little publishing ‘empire’ writing little useful applications that actually help folks with small tasks… Then again… maybe not!!

The difference is though… I’ll keep writing, both stories, and software, because I love doing it. I still enjoy working on, or building cars, trucks and motorcycles, despite being ‘out of the biz’ for over 20 years, I love it, so I still do it, despite the fact it no longer earns me any money!

Oh, for those of you who remember… I told you I had a picture of me, the Blue Max Funny Car, Raymond Beadle and some other folks in the winners circle at Indy. I scanned it the other day, and as promised, here it is.

From Left to right... I do not remember the name of guy on the far left, next is Raymond Beadle, Fred ‘Waterbed’ Miller, Mike Clark of Amalie Motor Oil, and on the far right, is a 22 year old “me”.

The pic above (even if you click here to see it enlarged) is the ‘small’ version, anyone who would like the ‘full sized’ version, it can be found here. They’re approximately 5 and 11MB respectively.

That’s about it for now… I hope you all had a great weekend, and that you’re spending as much of your time as you can, doing something you love to do. Remember, no one when faced with dying has ever wished they’d spent more time “at the office”.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

It’s Our Anniversary Today. . .

Interesting that Tax day is actually the day after our anniversary this year, normally it’s the day before! Easter doesn’t normally coincide with the day either. It’s also unusually warm this weekend, with temps here hitting 90 yesterday, all these things make this a sort of unique year.

Then again, our relationship is pretty unique as well.

The year we got married, the weather the week before, and after, was unusually warm. On our motorcycle honeymoon though, it was unusually cold with daytime temps rarely getting above 45 degrees (F).

The weather didn’t stop us from having fun though, we laughed about it as we huddled (cuddled) in motel rooms in the evening, and around a big coal stove at a hardware store in the mountains. (We’d stopped in there looking for some additional cold weather apparel).

We laughed about how cold we were as we attempted to warm up over a cup of coffee, or soup… the point is, we laughed. There was no complaining about the weather… there were some jokes about how hard I’d have to ‘work’ to warm her up once we settled in for the evening… but no complaints.

That’s one of the things I treasure… the lack of complaints… we seem to be able to find humor in nearly everything… or if not humor, at the very least, a bright side.

We started laughing together the first time we talked… and we’ve been laughing ever since. Through high, and low, points… there’s always been something to make us laugh.

We chuckle about our own stupidity and that of others… We have fun at the grocery store (a chore I used to hate), and even when going alone (as I do more these days) I find myself smiling as I remember our previous antics…

We’ve had more than our share of challenges in our five year marriage… two injuries and subsequent surgeries as well as a job change and subsequent financial uncertainty for me. Three surgeries and an ongoing problem with back pain, and potentially another surgery, for her… sometimes it feels like we’re constantly at a Doctor’s office or medical facility… regardless we’ve always laughed, joked, and sometimes, cried… together.

There have been no arguments about money, no finger pointing, no accusations… instead there’s been support, understanding, collaboration and laughter.

We’ve laughed during sex, meals, home renovation, watching the news, sex, working in the yard, motorcycling, sex, long car trips… and well... doing just about anything you can imagine.

We have had arguments… but they’ve been rare, and mostly precipitated by outside factors… like the pain (and frustration) of my injuries, or hers, not due to actual issues we couldn’t resolve.

To me… all of this makes my bride a truly unique woman… our focus is virtually always on how to find laughter in even the worst of moments, not to place responsibility. I think most folks try to do this, I know I do, and it’s difficult to accomplish at times. However, when your partner is encouraging you to laugh, making jokes about the situation, it’s pretty hard (for me) to work up a good “pissed off”… instead, I find myself working to laugh as well!

So, when I say these are the best years of my life… it’s due in no small part to her ability to help me see the humor in everything, the good, and the bad. I only hope that I’m half as successful at helping her to do the same!!

Happy Anniversary Baby! I Love You!

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Friday, April 14, 2006

A Surprising Phone Call. . .

Yesterday afternoon as I was wrapping up my coding efforts for the day my cell phone rang, actually it vibrated as I don’t answer it when I’m on the clock.

So, as is normal for me, I started checking the voicemail as I headed for the car and the commute home.

Mostly, as usual, the voicemail(s) were either Headhunters, Investment sales calls etc., but one stood out. It was from Liz Goguen, she was calling, after having done a little research, to see if I’d at sometime, known her husband.

Two things struck me about the call. First, her name was Liz, Liz was not the name of the woman Bruce had been married to when I’d known him. Second, she was Bruce’s wife, calling me, and I’d, only a day or two previous been wondering how he was doing.

I called her back immediately.

We had a nice chat. She and Bruce are living in Michigan, he’s got a video production business, and is having a birthday on Sunday.. his 60th!

It turns out; she was hoping to get some statements, from folks from his past to share with him during the party she’s planning.

I’ve mentioned Bruce, mostly in passing, in previous posts (which is how she found me).

I don’t recall ever talking about Bruce in particular.

Bruce was (is) a very interesting guy. Incredibly smart, with a lot of vision, good entrepreneurial skills, and maybe most of all he’s a man with boundless energy for anything he’s passionate about. That’s how I remember him, and his wife confirmed he really hasn’t changed that much.

Take the way we met for instance. I’d gone to see Bruce, I thought, to spec a project, in less than 20 minutes, he’d decided I was someone he felt had skills and he told me he wanted to buy my company.

No long ‘discovery’ period, just his gut instinct and his belief in his judgment.

He did buy my company, and for a couple of years things went well, the business was growing. Bruce did everything he’d promised, within any reasonable measure. He funded our growth, encouraged me to hire people before we had the cash flow to support them, confident in both my, and his, ability to find the work.

We found the work, and things were just rolling along, improving day by day. Until that day in January of 1991 when the first Gulf war started, that event spelled the end of our ‘merged’ relationship, but not the end of our relationship.

Bruce was a self made man. His core business was making ‘Air Wound RF Coils’. The way I understood it, prior to Bruce starting his business to automate the process, the coils were made primarily by hand. He purchased some machines that were originally designed to make springs, and along with some folks he hired, converted them to make these coils.

They were tiny, and sold for fractions of a penny each, but Bruce was making, and selling, millions of them, a month!

Originally, when you purchased cable TV, they ‘filtered’ the signal, at the pole, using these RF coils. The company (or one of them) that made the filtering devices, was Eagle Comtronics in Syracuse. Bruce met the folks from Eagle when he was a salesman for TecTronics. In meeting with, and getting to know those folks, he discovered their need for the coils, and their problems with supply.

Now most folks would have been content to sell them equipment. Not Bruce, he saw an opportunity (the vision thing) and set about to find a way to fill it, and make a little money along the way.

Initially he had a small ‘cottage industry’, where, like others in the business, he had folks winding the coils by hand. Eagle’s needs though, were far behind his ability to find people to meet it. So he began looking for a more automated solution (vision again). That no one had done it before didn’t stop him from believing he could do it.

He did, and became a prime supplier, to not only Eagle, but to may other firms with similar needs. Goguen Industries was born, it started to make money, and along the way, he became fairly ‘well to do’.

The money never impressed Bruce though. He was a very down to earth kind of guy. He enjoyed the money, don’t get me wrong, but he enjoyed it not because of the ‘money’ but because of what it made possible. He had regular company outings… taking everyone for a dinner cruises, picnics and so on, there was a real sense of family within the business.

Bruce also recognized that the RF coil needs of the industry had a limited life span that eventually digital electronics would replace those little coils (and they did).

So he attempted to diversify the business. He bought, or started up several divisions, a mill shop, custom hose division, an electronics assembly division, a Mexican operation, as well as my company the “Micro Applications” division. Some of these operations had anything to do with his ‘core’ business, unlike may folks who would stay close to their initial success, he chose a different path, planning that through diversity he’d find stability and continued growth. The electronic assembly operations, built specialty components that involved the RF coils though, and as such were a natural vertical integration.

I recall his unfailing confidence in his ability to make each and everyone of these ventures succeed. He never got discouraged, just kept at it. Unfortunately for Bruce the three unrelated ventures I’ve mentioned were all closed. It wasn’t for a lack of effort or talents, for most, like my division, it was simply a matter of timing. When the market slowed in the coil division and the cash flow dried up, like any other good businessman, he had to make hard choices. He chose to save the core operation, and cut each of the unrelated divisions loose.

I think it hurt him, at least as much as it did us. Bruce hated to lose, at anything, and he sincerely liked all the people who worked with him, letting any of us go was like letting go of a part of his family.

I lost touch with Bruce after I moved to North Carolina and he’d moved to Arizona. In talking with his wife yesterday I discovered that this second Gulf war had a similar effect on his business, and this time the effect was too much and they had to close and sell off the entire operation, buildings and all.

I was saddened to hear that, but, she followed right up by saying he’d started a video production company and while it wasn’t making the “kind of profits he’d like to see” it was doing well and growing.

Her statement made me smile as Bruce was also never satisfied with the ‘business’, he worked hard, every single day, to make each and every area of the business better than it had been the day before.

So my friends, Bruce is another one of those people in my life who had a very positive impact on me. He showed me that hard work and determination does work. That any setbacks do not take away from what you’ve achieved, they’re simply new challenges. I saw through him that it’s not simply reaching the dream that’s important, that, the path there, and what you with it once you’re there, are at least equally, if not more, important!

So Bruce, I’m very glad Liz called me! I’m pleased to know that you haven’t changed, that life is something you continue to enjoy each day. I’m happy for you that you have a woman, like Liz, in your life that loves you and is looking for ways to make you smile.

It would make me even happier to hear from you after all these years, and to catch up with one another again.

Happy Birthday Bruce!! Remember, it’s not the calendar age that’s important… it’s the age of that little kid in you that’s important!!

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Calling North Carolina Home. . . (Part #7)

So, I hopped a plane, flew back to Burlington and had that meeting.

As I recall, we talked, argued, laughed and negotiated for about an hour and a half. At the end of which, I’d agreed to become the company’s Vice President of Information Management Systems (VP-MIS).

I remember that one of the first comments I made regarding this possible outcome of our meeting, was “Why would you want to hire me? We argue all the time!” His reply had something to do with that was one of the primary reasons he wanted to hire me. That he could count on me to “Tell him what I thought”….

So, I flew back home that night and broke the news to my wife… I’d taken the job, and we’d need to move. The plan was for me to head down in the next few days, rent from Kent again while I found a place for us to rent, and for her to join me in Burlington a few months later.

The drama started the next day…

I got a call from the ‘boss’ informing me that their RPG/FoxPro guy had quit. It seems someone had told the guy that I’d been hired to replace him (I hadn’t)… and he’d decided a pre-emptive strike was in order. The boss wanted me to call him and get him to change his mind.

Tim Shields and I had actually become pretty good friends during my contracting stint, and I was pretty surprised that he’d bailed. I gave him a call, and convinced him to stay on, at least until I got there, and that after we’d talked, if he still wanted to leave, I’d see to it he was able to do so, but he’d have a job until he decided to leave. No one was going to fire him.

He did stay, for a couple more years actually, but eventually he got a gig up in Boston, and like I’d done… he followed the money.

If I thought the contracting pace was intense, the pace after they’d hired me was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. I dug in though, and went after the ‘prize’ as I’d done most of my life, believing that light I could see, was the end of the tunnel.

It wasn’t, it was the train!

By 1998, I was dangerously close to burnout, my marriage was in trouble and I’d been seeing a therapist for a year to cope with my increasing depression.

In May, I got a call from a contract house in Greensboro with a very attractive gig. I looked the project over, talked to the project manager, accepted the project, and turned n my resignation.
To say, the boss wasn’t happy, would be, at the very least, an understatement.

He accused me of planning to do this from the get… using him, and his company to move to North Carolina… I listened to it all, and calmly told him I was doing what was best for me, that he didn’t see it that way, well… I was sorry about that.

The gig? It was with SABRE, in Winston-Salem. The project was to develop an application that would interface with USAir’s ‘Call Accounting’ system in their various reservation centers around the country. It would gather up the records for a particular center, process the events against a very long list of rules, present the results to the Center manager in the form of a ‘TimeSheet’ that they could approve as is, or adjust as required.

Once all the timesheets had been approved, the application would reformat the data into a specific format and transmit it to the central MainFrame at USAir for payroll processing.

Six months, start to finish, that was the deal. No chance for an extension on this gig, as the entire USAir IS/IT operation in Winston-Salem was being moved to Texas as a result of the transference of those operations to SABRE.

Shortly after I started the project, the old boss called and asked me to have lunch with him the following Saturday. During lunch he offered me 25% of my old salary, and full benefits, if I’d come in and work for them one day a week, and return after the contract was over.

The folks at SABRE were fine with me working four 10’s, so I took the deal. The gig was paying e more than I’d been making, I’d just gotten a 25% raise, and I still wasn’t working as many hours as I had been.

Professionally, things were fine.

Personally, things were deteriorating. I’d taken an apartment in Winston when the project started as the 75 minute drive was just a little too much for a daily commute. We’d been alternating weekends between the house I Burlington, and the place in Winston.

One Saturday, we hadn’t been together an hour and we were already arguing… I remember something inside me just ‘snapped’… what ever it was, it must have been the string that was holding the relationship together, because I looked at her and said “I want a divorce.”

We’d been together close to 22 years… and it just wasn’t working for me any more.

It probably would make a better story if I told you I got “back with the girl” and lost the job, but just the opposite happened… I lost the girl, and got back with the job.

In January of 1999, I returned to the old job, but not my ‘old life’. I was back in an apartment once again… buying a little furniture each payday… and trying to find some common ground, something equitable so I could settle up with my soon to be ex-wife, and start moving forward again.

I’d like to tell you things improved on the ‘job’, and they did, for a year or so… but little by little the timelines shrank, the pressure began to rise and the boss wasn’t buying any of the time estimates.

Some good, incredible things happened outside of work though. I met the woman who is now my wife, we bought and remodeled a home together and are continuing to build a wonderful relationship… There is indeed, life after divorce!

I lasted another four years though on the job… until I blew out that cervical disc and all but lost the use of my left arm (I’m left handed) in early 2003… I had one surgery in March, got through that and the recovery, and then blew out another in July.

That second injury (both just happened, there was no trauma associated with the event) really took the wind out of my sails. I found myself not only dealing with the physical side, but undergoing a pretty severe case of depression along with the pain and incapacity.

The second surgery was a success, as was the first one, and I recovered nearly 100%, physically. Mentally, this was like a wake up call. I started to realize I was not having any fun at work, that nothing I was doing was at all satisfying. All this despite the fact that I’d been promoted not only to Chief Information Officer, but, to Chief Financial Officer as well!!

I hung in there though, although I know I was becoming increasingly vocal about the fact I was unhappy with the way things were.… until June of 2004, when the company and I parted ways… We worked out a severance agreement that covered a three month period where I’d be available to them as a consultant if needed.

I went home that day, struggling with a variety of emotions. On one hand I was glad to be ‘free’ of that job, yet at the same time I was feeling like a loved one had died… add to that the anxiety of not having a job… Hell I hadn’t even looked around for one…

I did have options though. I’d been talking with AIG about a small application and now I could just go after it. I made a couple of phone calls, and it was set up to start the following Monday. I know it gave me a great deal of satisfaction, that when that next week the old job called and my wife was able to tell them I was onsite with a client all week!!

I did that job, and several other small ones, but nothing sweet came my way.

Then, a week or so before Thanksgiving in 2004, I got a call from ITI in Morrisville, NC.

They had a small, six week contract with a firm in Cary (about 50 miles from my home), I remember the recruiter asked me “Are you sure you’re Ok with a contract this short?”

My response was “There are worse things than knowing I’ll be earning over the holidays”.

That six week contract, has been extended several times, and is, in fact, the gig I’m still working on.

So, there was a short period of reduced income, some struggles, but not really too many, and as I look back making that change was the very best thing that could have happened to me. My wife comments at least once a week how much happier I seem now, how much less stressed I am…

I think about it every time she says it too… You see the work, and the pressure is even higher now than it was. The difference though, and I think this is a critical difference, is that I’m having fun again. Yes, there’s pressure, tight deadlines and scope issues… but, now when I deliver... it’s appreciated. The other big component is that I’m ‘creating’ again as well. I don’t even know where to begin to attempt to quantify the importance of that to a ‘developer type’ like myself.

Well, that’s the story, for now.

The entire time I’ve been writing this, that one line “What a long strange trip it’s been” kept creeping into my head… I couldn’t escape it.

It has been a long strange trip. One thing is for sure though, I wouldn’t change a second of it. Every single step I’ve taken along the way has me exactly where I am, right now.

I know this has been a long series… and I’ve enjoyed remembering, and writing it down. I hope reading it has been at least amusing, sometimes thought provoking, and maybe just once or twice has shown you something that will help you avoid a costly mistake!

I hope your life is one “Long strange trip” as well!!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Life hurts… Get a helmet!

I think I first heard this phrase watching a Dennis Leary comedy special… he was on one of the rants that are the reason I like his brand of comedy… Coffee flavored coffee, beer flavored beer… If you’re a fan of his you know what I mean.

Anyway, since that program, I’ve thought about, and applied that phrase often.

I think about it when I hear the environmentalists rant on about global warming…. The earth lives in cycles, for a million years or so, about every 100,000 years there’s an “Ice age”, it’s always proceeded by a period of global warming, then cooling for 10,000 or so years, then warming again.

Keep in mind, “mankind” wasn’t around to influence this for anything but the past 50,000 years or so… and, only began ‘polluting’ the environment in any globally significant (and even what is actually significant is debatable) manner, in the past 100 years.

What makes these folks so completely sure we are the ‘root cause’ of all of this? What has convinced them, beyond any level of reasonable doubt that ‘we’ are that powerful; have that sort of global impact? So skewed their sense of self-importance that they think if we all suddenly started walking to work the earth will not slip into the next, regularly scheduled’ ice age?

Get a grip… Life hurts, get a helmet!

Then… there are those folks who seem to think the legislature’s reason for being is to prevent them from suffering a “negative emotional impact” as the result of the actions of others? That non-smokers be shielded from smokers, non-drinkers from drinkers, members of one belief, from members of another… that if my idea offends you, you shouldn’t have to suffer the emotional ‘hurt’ of hearing/reading it.

It seems there’s a belief that children should be shielded (via legislation) from the types of television programs “they” deem unacceptable, or immoral… or simply those that doen’t agree with the particular point of view they hold (at the moment).

Where did this belief that the government is responsible for the choices their children are allowed to make come from… What’s the source of this feeling that somehow, there’s some bill of rights entitlement of subjecting the rest of the universe to their particular rules and guidelines? Whatever happened to ‘parenting’, being the responsibility of the parent?

Get a grip… Life hurts, get a helmet!

Of course we can’t leave out the anti-god folks. Those folks who want to take the ‘separation of church and state’ to a level of granularity unheard of until recently. Towns/Cities banning Christmas trees because they ‘might’ offend someone… then the Christians want to ban Jewish symbols of Hanukah… The Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists then want to ban both.. The next thing you know you’ve got all the fun stripped away, the symbols that have become important to generations… gone.. and we settle in on a generic “Season’s Greetings” type card and still don’t know what to actually say to another human being for fear we’ll somehow offend their delicate sensibilities…

Get a grip… Life hurts, get a helmet!

We’re now worried about the conditions, under which someone is executed for a crime. They’ve been convicted, sentenced and through (in most cases) 20 years of appeals, so we’re as absolutely certain as is possible they’re actually guilty, and now, at the final moment we’re worried about how much pain they might suffer as the sentence is carried out? Please… what about the pain and suffering they inflicted on their victims? Where’s the outcry, the public support, the funding for therapy, emotional, physical or other… for the victim, or their family?

Oh, and let’s not forget the group(s) that want to govern how chickens are treated, the folks who we need to be more sensitive to plants, and how it feels to a corn plant to be harvested…

Get a grip… Life hurts, get a helmet!

Sometimes I think we’re just too blessed in this country. That we’ve become so far removed from ‘life’, that we’ve forgotten how things really work. We’ve shielded ourselves from the fact that the majority of the people on this planet have much more to worry about, like food, water, clothing and shelter, to even give consideration to these types of issues.

It’s no wonder they think we Americans are a little ‘nutty’… They’re trying to find a chicken to eat, and we’re worried about how the chicken we’re about to eat was treated before it was killed and shipped to our table.

They’re trying to find a cave for the night, and we’re worried about the forestry conditions and how environmentally responsible the harvesting was, for the lumber in our homes.

Get a grip… Life hurts, get a helmet!

Don’t get me wrong… I’m very glad I live in a country where we have the luxury of even contemplating these questions!

In fact, I applaud their energy, dedication to purpose and perseverance!

It’s just that I think all, or much of it anyway, is misplaced. I find myself pondering where we’d be if those same energies were brought to bear on poverty, hunger, illiteracy, child abuse, crime or any other problem with real, tangible human victims.

Well, hell…. Maybe I should just shut up and take my own advice!!

Get a grip… Life hurts, get a helmet!

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Things Change, Once Again . . .(Part #6)

We were very busy after the COMDEX trip, we’d met, and hooked up with several SBT dealers who’d liked our enhancements and were beginning to buy, sell and install them. It was looking like we might finally turn the corner and have a growing profitable dealer based business on our hands.

I remember getting the latest release of SBT, and how finding every one of our top selling enhancements as a part of this version, just sucked the wind from my sails, and Greg’s as well. We’d labored for several years, struggled to build a repeatable process we could employ to merge them into new releases of the core product… had finally actually begun to make a profit from our efforts, and now, there in front of us was a killing blow.

You see, during the show, SBT had attempted to ‘buy’ the code from us, for $5,000… a fairly laughable sum considering we were grossing at leas that every week or so with it then. We talked, argued and debated the price, and who would actually ‘own’ the code, but never reached agreement. I remember leaving that meeting wishing we’d never installed our code on their servers… but, what was done, was done.

Greg and I discussed suing the company, but we neither had the funds, nor the stomach for a long protracted ‘copyright’ battle with a company who could certainly wait us out financially. Maybe, they’d had the stuff in the ‘works’, and were attempting to ‘cover their bases’ when they made a thin offer to buy our code, maybe give what they were paying an offshore operation, they thought the offer was generous, besides, we had no real proof they’d grabbed our stuff, just our suspicions, and in the end, regardless, what we’d built, was gone.

We looked for new ‘gaps’, places into which we could build useful features for their new product, but when all was said and done, the sad fact was, we (maybe mostly “I”) simply didn’t have the heart for it any longer. The same folks who had created our market, had now, effectively ended it as well.

We continued to build complex, custom systems for our ‘retail’ customers, but the volume and the profit was simply not there, at the time, to sustain us, in and of itself.

I returned home for the Holidays in 1994, Greg and I discussed many options, none of which looked especially promising, and we were both wondering what direction we should take next.

I’d closed up the actual ‘office’ over on Goguen Drive, and remodeled a section of the Liverpool house into an office for the business. I’d installed multiple phone lines, pulled in the extra electrical and lighting (Greg actually finished the design for me) and had moved in. I was preparing to ramp back up, and figure it out as I went….

In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve I got a phone call. It was John, (the client in Burlington) and he told me there was an ‘open’ plane ticket waiting for me at the airport, that as soon as I could ‘clear my calendar’, he’d like me to come to Burlington, and talk about taking a position with the Company.
I told him I’d think about it.

Eventually, a few days later, I agreed to fly down and we’d discuss things….

That meeting changed the course of my life, for more than a decade.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

It’s Another One. . .

Birthday, that is. Yep, today’s my birthday and I’m 18, but for the 3rd time!!

I don’t know why, maybe its been the ‘reflecting’ as I wrote up some of my career experiences, maybe it’s the inevitable assessment that I seem to go through as this day approaches, but, whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking about the 3rd ‘18’ coming to a close.

The 1st eighteen years were pretty typical I think. The first half filled with play and fantasy, the second filled with the wonder of women, and anxiety about how to get closer to them. Add to that the awkward late teen period where I’d figured out how to get close, but not quite how to keep them close (or maybe more to the point, close enough)!

The 2nd was a ‘heady’ time, joined the Navy, got married, finished college, bought my first house, found my love of firefighting and learning, landed my first ‘real’ job, started my first business, went on to start a second, and third business.

I think I learned far more in the second 18, than I ever did in the first… Maybe that’s the way it is, the onset of adulthood bringing with it a rush of new experiences and learning… maybe it was because I really did not have a clue as to where I “fit” in the scheme of things… I know on many days I felt like an outsider, looking in on, life.

I wonder sometimes, is it the same for everyone? That “Phase II”, where they seek out and attempt many different paths, until they find one that feels good to their feet? Or was the struggle I went through… uniquely mine… one other folks are spared the pain, and joy of?

This third leg has been fairly busy too… I bought my 2nd, 3rd and 4th homes, got divorced, and remarried, found a way to get back into motorcycling. Took the kinds of motorcycle trips I’d always wanted to. Reach a ‘pinnacle’, of sorts, in my career… then turned my back on the peak to return to an earlier spot I liked much better.

All in all, this 3rd leg has been the best so far.

Not that the other’s weren’t great, because they were, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of them for anything.

This last 18 though, has been special, to me. I think I really came to grips with “me” in this period of time. I sort of found my groove as they say…. I stopped living for the approval of others, and started living, working and playing in ways “I” approved of. In some ways, I think I’m harder on myself than anyone else ever was, but, when I meet my own expectations there’s a satisfaction I never felt back then.

I’ve discovered that I really don’t care about what other people think about my career ‘level’… that, for me, it really is about the ‘work’… it was the work when I was an auto mechanic, a firefighter and now a developer.

I recall the minion of a previous employer alluding to the fact that the company desired to move me away from development, and more into the ‘financial’ aspect of the business saying "The company has far better uses for a man of your intelligence." My response to him was “If there’s no development going on here, there’s no place for me here, developing software, is what gets me out of bed in the morning, not the financial stuff.” I remember that look on his face as well, one of shock and astonishment that I had no desire for the path he was mapping out for me.

That day, coupled with several other events, led to our parting ways, and my current role as a contract developer. Those of you who are regulars here know how much fun I’m having with this new (renewed?) career. I only hope he’s as happy with his choice, as I am with mine. Yes, there are still things I don’t like, and things I love, but, the difference is, I’m doing what I want to do, not what someone else wanted me to do.

So what will the next 18 bring? I remember thinking I’d never survive the first 18, that I would live to see 21 was not something I thought would ever happen… but it did. I find myself wondering if I’ll survive the next 18, and if I do what life will be like then. Will I ‘settle in’ to retirement? Will I actually be able to retire? Will I manage to gather up enough in savings to ‘enjoy’ retirement?

When all is said and done, I don’t know any more about the next 18, than I did about any of the previous phases… One thing has changed though; I know I’ll be walking through the next 18, not running. I’ll still approach everything with the passion I bring to everything I do, a sort of anticipation, a wonder, of, “what will happen if’ kind of thing.

I hope, that I’m around 18 years from now, to reflect once more on the events and achievements that have marked the period in my life. There’s only one thing I’m sure will go unchanged. I’ll walk my path, my way.

I hope you do the same.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Some Thoughts On Internet Scams. . .

I'm probably thinking about this because yesterday I got at least 15, maybe more, emails, purportedly from a bank, that threatened to limit my account access if I didn't take "immediate" action, in the way of logging in to my account and verifying something... Funny thing is, I don't do business with the bank in question, never have....

I’ll admit it… I’ve had momentary flashes of what I could do with the money… But I don’t know anyone in Nigeria, let alone any wealthy royal family members, besides, if they have that much money, and are royalty, what in the hell do they need to email *me* for?

These things fall into several categories… I’ve put some thoughts on the more common ones I see, in what follows. . .

The IRS… (we can included any tax collecting authority here) they’ve contacted me in the past, when they felt I owed them money, in fact a New York State Sales Tax collector came to my house once. They’ve never called, or emailed though… I think they like the ‘tangibility’ of an actual paper letter, or the visual impact of that ‘revenuer’ at the door… not to mention all the people it involves to actually get the letter (or the person) to my door. Taxpayers every one of them, it keeps the coffers filled in a way email never could.

Trust me on this, the IRS won't be emailing you to tell you they have your money, and want to give it back.

Banks... A bank might send an email announcing a new service, if you signed up for those notifications, they might even email you in response to an email you sent them. They will never, and I repeat never, notify you about your account(s), by email. Why? Well liability for one thing, it they did, and the email was intercepted and you subsequently lost any money, they’d have to reimburse you.

A case in point, recently RBC Centura was notified that a group of their card numbers were compromised, the list included both credit, and debit cards. They sent out no notification, they simply cancelled ALL of the effected cards. That’s right, no call, no letter, and definitely no email… we got notified when at the local grocery store, the clerk was instructed to ‘take the card’… a phone call to RBC from the store’s office was all it took to let us know what was going on. Inconvenient, yes… irate customers, yes… email? NO!

Women… That I don’t know, who want to do unspeakable sexual acts with me… That might be common someone else’s reality, it’s not in mine! Besides, I learned a long time ago, when I used to chat on IRC, that the person typing (or emailing in this case) might not be ‘exactly’ what they claim to be… If all that wasn’t enough… my wife and I are only up to the “E’s” in the unspeakable sexual act alphabet, and quite frankly, I’m having trouble keeping up with just her!

Prescription… (or maybe without a prescription) medications… I have trouble affording meds *with* insurance… and none of these emails mention anything at all about what insurance plans they accept. Beyond that, I want to know who’s been telling them I’m a depressed, overweight, hyper, anorexic, small dicked, steroid injecting bodybuilder, with ADD, in chronic pain, who wants to re-grow hair, with an erectile dysfunction, who desperately needs to refinance a home I no longer own (or never owned)…

For the record... I do NOT have all of those issues, then again, maybe Google sends them a list after indexing the blog?

All kidding aside, these scams all share two things, what they appeal to, our greed, or our fear.

Do two things with all of them, add the sender to your ‘junk mail system’ and delete them unopened. Despite some improvements in email clients, some of these folks can gather a lot of info, depending on your security settings, even if you view them in the ‘preview pane’.

One thing you should never do… is click on the unsubscribe list, that just lets them know for sure you got the email… and virtually ensures you’ll get ten more as a result.

So… what scams (notice how it rhymes with spam?) show up in your ‘In Box’?

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Comdex.. Las Vegas.... 1994

By mid-1994, not only did I have an 'engine' under construction to generate insurance policies, I (well we, Greg and I) had an engine, not a fully tuned, or debugged engine, but an engine all the same, for the MOOP process. For those programmers out there, this was what I (again, it's really "we", or "I" in the plural sense) called our process. Meta-Object Oriented Programming.

I’d written many implementations of it over the years, but, the first real working model I had, that brought it, out of the lab, and into the ‘real world’, was the Lazer-Prn application we had been selling.

This application stored all of the formatting for various forms, in HP PCL code, in a database, and referenced it as needed, streaming it to the printer as part of the overall printing job. The language we had then FoxPro 2.x, wasn’t exactly an object oriented language, it was however, extensible enough, that you could ‘sort of’ treat database contents as though they were ‘tangible’ objects.

We’d also used another version to build the ‘Shutter Calculator’ for the firm in Naples, and adapted yet another version to allow customers (or their computer folks) to build their own ‘solver’ application, by building in the parameters and then referencing them.

I (we) really felt we were on to something. The whole “Object Oriented” concept was coming to the mainstream; I’d implemented an extension on the concept, that truly allowed everything we could imagine to become an object. The whole “everything is an object” we now see in the .Net platform, we were using, in 1994. Microsoft handled it differently in their implementation, differently enough that, the original model we had then, is still applicable, and still adds value and intelligence to the coding process.

It was on the tail end of this kind of ‘heady development’, and a growing acceptance into the SBT dealer community, which encouraged us to make plans to attend COMDEX, as a vendor, that year. We felt we’d be able to reach an even wider dealer audience, interact with folks in a way that simply wasn’t possible on the phone.

What follows next here, is a piece originally written by Greg, back when we both had a ‘group’ on MSN. I like it because of the way we interacted as he wrote it. I commented, he commented… it is representative of how we interacted, always. The original piece is on Greg’s website, but it’s buried on a page with several other pieces. I’m presenting here, as it appears there, Greg’s original words are in ‘black’, my comments in ‘red’ and Greg’s comments, to my comments, in ‘green’.(All of Greg's copyrights apply)


Hot Dog in Las Vegas
p(HE,I) = p(HI)*p(EH,I)/p(EI)

In the beginning, the COMDEX show was the epitome of things a 'computer person' could do. I'm not sure when I became a computer person. I used to be a human being, well, I think so. Possibly it followed the alien abduction.

[Bill's note: Interestingly enough.. both of us wound up in the profession... although through different circumstances... We ended up square in the middle of that 'revolution'... could well have been an abduction I guess!! Certainly, we found ourselves in the middle of something far bigger than either of us... yet far to fascinating to just let it slip by!!]

Bill and I planned this excellent adventure, our programs tuned, or computers tweaked. We thought this the high point, the pinnacle, the grandness of grandness, of our little careers. Setting up for bet!

The reality, always reality, is we still haven't reached our high point. That will come when the computing process we invented becomes the way things are. Of course, I think it was all my idea...silly me. It will probably happen long after we're dead. Recognition of art is the truth of art.

[and *I* like to think it was mine {grin}... truth be told.. for us it was the logical result of the tiresome effort required to bring programs to clients...] if I were to say Bill it came from the amalgam of that need of yours and my need to find some way to tell the story...its our differences often that is the beauty of our relation...logic is all yours my friend. [Well.. Greg... you *are* the story teller, of the two of us, after all... I'm a fair novice compared to you!! Suffice it to say... we certainly *knew* it when we hit upon it.. and watched it work for the 1st time!!]

Just an aside. Bill (at least, of course much more) named our process, Meta Object Programming Procedures. It's a method of dealing with objects (in our method an object is anything that can be named...that is anything/everything that can be imagined) and viewing them from their true context that is from inside the object looking out. I think this is how we humans really think, a limited universe only as far as the eye can see so to speak. We have a bit of information and we spiral out from it until it is defined. Curiously only as far as necessary to achieve the definition required for the situation. We all have situational ethics.

Application of these methods of thought to computer programming could achieve true 'intelligence'. I think the Bayesian's are idiotic in their approach, why probability? why not certainty? even if limited. The Chaos theory requires belief in the truth of the initiating proposition...but I'm all about be here now. Of course, I'm talking about the smartest people in the world...sorry Mr. Hawkings...from the vantage of one of the dumbest. I've tried to read their stuff....I haven't a clue.

It may be that because my world is so tiny and theirs is universal. I can't imagine how you harness the universe, that intelligence. Seems to me its like trying to build artificial intelligence from a God's eye view. Confronted with the contradictions, God and artificial, looking down and being, I fall and stumble. It seems to me to be useful for humans, intelligence must be from the perspective of humans. I also do not perceive that machine intelligence is any more or less artificial than any other form of intelligence. I actually tend to think the Bayesians view 'human' intelligence as artificial...maybe that's why the God's eye view? Or maybe cause Bayes was a minister first and a mathematician second? It's not that I don't see the place for probability theory just not in...but, I really haven't a clue.

[and *that*.. the lack of a clue.. was, and is, the true beauty of our system... it doesn't take a rocket scientist, or a Bayesian, to apply it.... just common folk like us... I think it may well become common before we're dead... but long after we've lost interest in 'pushing it home'...] maybe thats what I'm doin' here? part of this started on the beach in Isla Vista in 1971...a wonderful young mathematician named Mike Carroll and I walked in the sunshine and cold breeze and argued the probability theories as initiated by Bayes inference...talkin the wonders of nature...the wonders of youth..its goin' on 21 years since I first talked with Kolp on this...21 years and we still haven't written it down...and now a decade since we clarified the concept... 8 years since we talked about whether our concept was patentable as a process... remember?... maybe its time to 'push it home'... bro... I think you of all people, understand, there is so much I, we, have to push home... time is short. [It's funny, as we sit here and attempt to relate the tale, how far back these thoughts go.. into our respective pasts I mean, I was 'extensing' data from programs as early as 1980.. trying to remove the 'knowledge' from the code, and place it 'outside', in the universe, where it belonged... I think maybe we should 'push it home' bro... I think I'd forgotten the length of this particular journey, for both of us.... and time, my friend, is the one precious commodity we'll never have enough of!!]

So obviously this leads to the Unabomber and The New School for Social Research. Now it may seem to you that there is no correlation between a whacko anti-technologist, a bunch of Marxist-feminists and Las Vegas. Well, there's me.

I recall how often these city folks, would decry the de-humanizing effects of city life. Yet here we live in a world where well over 95% of the populations live in the city. This would seem to be the 'human' condition. Farm life is 'de-humanizing'. Living on the Amazon is 'de-humanizing'. Maybe better for people, maybe more quality but not the way of our species today. Sure my cultural-anthropologist buddies would take their trips to the wild. But they always came back to humanity. Kinda like Dick Cheney bein' from Wyoming...he lives in Texas.

But contrarily they espoused the collectivism of modern society and the true feminist ideal. Poor Ted cries to be held by his family and decries technology. He worships his earth mother and hates his remote father and wants so much to be him.

But technique is feminist at its heart, it is collectivist. It is feminist to plant the field and control nature, to build hives, to control wealth, for the greater good of the family. The masculinist confronts and conquers, the individual, man above nature all that domini, dominance, dominate, lord above stuff, accumulation...for the greater good of the family. Poor Ted is very confused...mother controls the family, he loves her and yet wants to kill her. Our poor anthropologists are equally confused. And so am I.

Off to Las Vegas. Wizards, gurus, priests, of this religion are Bill and I. Off to the High Temple for the annual High Mass. We carry the secrets, know the rites and ritual. This technology that is and will destroy society as we know it and yet it is creating a new social order. Better? There will be less freedom, there will be less individuality, more boys will get methylphenidate...will the world be better? Ted I feel your pain. It doesn't suprise me that the altar is in New Sodom. Will I look back?

[I recall us talking about this exact idea on the way to LV, and at the hotel when we got there.... We justified our presence as a 'necessary evil'.. maybe the only way we could bring our ideas to the public eye, given our rather limited budget... For all the things it wasn't... our trip to LV tought us many things.. among them, the duplicity of our compatriots... and the true limited scope of our universe.. oddly enough... that didn't dissuade us, but only served to strengthen our resolve.. and our belief in our idea]...yes thank you, Bill, thank you, of course this is the story of that adventure and you are the reason I'm writing it. [You're very welcome Greg... you may be writing it for me... but this is truly the one thing in my life, I fully know in my heart, would never have happened, had we not had that original conversation, from 3,000 miles apart, to discover we lived less than 100 miles apart!! I had the 'notion'.. the seed... but it never fully germanated until we'd met... worked together... built a trust.. and began to have those wonderful 'what if' conversations!!!]

Why so thoughtful, so morose, so melancholy, Bill and I as we make our way to our Mecca? Could be we are sentient beings after all? Reminds me of dear David....came to see the cultural revolution...can't see it...can't chronicle it...all are part of it but it is all pervasive and hidden. Some get an illicit Ted...and are overwhelmed. Some like Orwell are like the prophets...protecting the name of the divine, 'Big Mama' My initiation began in 3rd grade, by seventh grade I was an acolyte. At the age of 16 I was allowed to communion at the plexiglas gate. I rebelled, I lost my faith, apostate...but still I was called back and I came.

[*I* think, we'd not only seen the revolution, we'd seen beyond it.... and knew that while we held the key(s) in our hands (or in our process).. we also knew that while we'd win a disciple or two, the risks we were taking, equalled or exceeded our potential rewards... Our trip to LV, was at least as interesting as being there... I know, so crowded was our plane, I kept looking for that woman with the 'chicken' you always see on the crowded bus in a 'B' movie]

We finally arrived at our hotel...the Lucky Lady Casino. It was way cool...noise, fools and lights! Finally...inside a real casino...and all this free shit. Like 2 foot hot dogs. We were hungry.

Now these weren't some skinny little Kosher sausage...they were more like those balloons that clowns shape into pink animals only in reverse, animals shaped into balloons. A little grayed lady was attempting to shove one of these monsters in her mouth lengthwise. I was simply amazed at how much sausage she could get in her mouth, must have had lots of practice. She choked...Bill turned red and headed for the elevator. Apparently, while studying this beast, arms outstretched as required to get the whole picture of bun, mustard, relish and bright catsup so red...I most philosophically said, "I knew a horse once...."

[But is this not but the beginning of the Las Vegas trip? The hours spent discussing the process, smoothing the transactional nature.. and listening to the offerings of idiots? Suspecting a devious intent, but not sure of it until months later? Mr. Suzuki, who was unable to speak with 90% (maybe more) of the people passing through the booth... Many interesting incidents occured for sure! ]


I’m hoping to put together some further memories of that trip for tomorrow’s post. COMDEX was about a week, maybe four days, but I recall it felt much longer by the time we got home again.

A ‘red-eye’ flight at both ends of the trip, long days and nights working the show, meeting people and getting our hopes pulled higher and higher… We really thought we were at the top of our game then… little did we know how the game would soon change, and not for the better!

If you liked Greg’s piece, leave a comment and let him know… better yet, why not visit his blog, and let him know?

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