Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Second vote

Well, it didn't matter. Just got a call from the hospital. Dog got there ahead of me.

This is


This is my mother, at least she got to hold her greatgranddaughter a few times.

Sorry, I could not leave these things up and keep seeing them. (edited 09/02)

Cannot forget Clare’s Three beautiful things. Well, sorry but rather than beautiful things how about things I am just grateful for?

1. For my mother, that I’ve known for fifty years.
2. For my granddaughter, that I can hold in my arms.
3. For all of my friends that are so kind.

Monday, August 29, 2005

More Monday

Oh, sorry, forgot my three things for today:

1. The warm wind on my face when I drive in the morning.
2. The sunrise behind the towers of New York, New York.
3. Sitting on our patio drinking morning coffee watching the birds chirp around the back yard.

Monday other funny images

Not an enjoyable weekend here. But came across some things last week that were interesting. Only a few months away -

All of the stores are starting to move from back to school decorations to the next big ‘buying’ holiday. This one looks like it doesn’t take too much talent. Should be laughed at by all of our trick or treaters. Oh – since moving in, for the past two years we have had absolutely zero come to our door on Halloween. Until the triplets across the street are walking better it will probably remain the same.

And for those of you that always refer to this diety, it looks like nonsequitur agrees with you.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Three things

Bouncing around, Skuds pointed to Three beautiful things, which sounds like a great idea. Don’t know if I can do it daily, but for a start:

1. Pulling into the garage and seeing our two dogs hopping up and down in unison as they bark hello.
Jump – jump : bark - bark
Jump – jump : bark - bark
Jump – jump : bark - bark
+ repeat until we pet hello.

2. Hearing an old song on the radio, closing my eyes and being back where I first heard it.

3. York Peppermint Pattie – the cafeteria started selling small bites at 10 cents each. Get the sensation.

Test of counts

test of lives

end of test lives

Hay - it works! Thanks to Michael at icasualties.org (now just add a link in the javascript)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

More counters

Thanks to lorem ipsum I get to build up my counters.

If you've been reading here you know by now that I am not supportive of the current president of the US. Notice I didn't say 'my President' as I didn't vote for him and want no association with the current administration. I found the money counter, and now lorem pointed me to the 'days until replacement' countdown. Thanks LI.

Now I still need one that lists our war dead - or maybe a place that lists the names. Perhaps PBS - the News Hour lists the most recent at the end. I'll go look.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Story time - California move

Story time – gather ‘round my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Joe before he got to Vegas.

My first job out of college was with Xerox Corporation, back in Rochester, New York. I went to school at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) and was able to snag a local job up there. As discussed before, I was a Photo Illustration major, and became interested in what the programmers were doing. After doing well in some evening classes, because they would not let an ‘art’ major take technical classes, I was allowed to take some grown up programming courses. I really liked the assembler programming, making all of those bits and bytes jump around.

Most of the firms in the area advertised on campus for work, figuring to get some technical people cheap, back when there weren’t too many around anyway. The Xerox listing asked for people with Fortran and Basic experience. We had a Xerox computer at RIT – their major customers were colleges, had a good system for multiple terminal users back then. And I took Basic as part of my ‘non technical’ classes, a course designed for business majors. Real programmers back then didn’t do Basic. So I was able to get in because I wasn’t a Comp Sci major.

The group I worked for had the job of converting new customers over to Xerox computers. We had our own sales staff, and after the big guys sold a computer our salesmen would go in to sell our conversion services under separate contract. This is back in ‘mainframe’ days, when computer contracts were for big bucks for just one machine. Programmers in the group were responsible for moving computer code off of an old computer system being replaced and putting on the new Xerox machine. We became good at tape drive manipulation, and strange data and code conversions. We had three levels of conversion: the most expensive was exactly matching inputs and outputs from the old system to the new; middle level was getting programs running with no errors and a semblance of similarities between the systems; and cheapest was just getting clean compiles from all programs. The last was the easiest – when time was running out we just commented out everything that caused an error. This resulted in very few executing lines, but clean compiles. For you non-programmers, this is like having your kids clean their room by stuffing everything under the bed or in the closet. The floor would be clean, but really there was still a lot to do.

Being single, and the new guy, I was sent off to Phoenix, Arizona to work on the Motorola contract. They were the ones with a lot of Basic programs on an old IBM computer. Sent from Rochester to Phoenix in July. Stepped off the plane – back when planes just pulled up to a terminal and they rolled steps out to the plane, and you walked across the asphalt to the terminal. It was 11 at night, and raining. Thunderstorms in Phoenix in July – very typical. And probably about 100f. To me it felt like stepping out of the plane into a really big shower stall, with clouds and thunder and lightning. I did like it.

Two of us were out there, I ended up doing most of the Fortran stuff. A few weeks into it and the salesman came up to me and said that management had complained to my boss back in Rochester about how slow I was going with the Fortran. I explained I was a Basic person, and was not very familiar with Fortran. They ended up finally using me on the Basic stuff. I did well, and really liked the warm. Met my wife while there, but that’s another story.

Finished up just before Christmas. Supposed to be a three month job, but ended up being almost six. I did drive around the southwest, getting my first weekend in Vegas, staying at Caesar’s Palace and seeing Alan King and Carol Channing on stage back when she was doing Hello Dolly. Flew back to Rochester, from 80f days to a snowstorm closing the Rochester airport and typical upstate New York freeze. I had originally told my boss I wanted to move to California within a few years, but after a week back I told him he didn’t have a year, I probably couldn’t last another winter in that place. But fortunately our group was opening an office in LA, at the main manufacturing plant. I talked my way into that – no one else wanted to move anyway (idiots). And Xerox moved me from New York to sunny skies.
They packed my place, put my old Jaguar on a truck, and hauled away.

Xerox had purchased Sigma Data Systems (SDS) manufacturers of the Sigma line of computers. Changed the name to Xerox Data Systems (XDS) and kept making the old computers with slightly different name plates. In Manhattan Beach, just south of the LA airport. Several really big buildings, and about 6,000 employees on site. Using my GI Bill and some expense coverage from Xerox I bought a house just a few blocks from the plant. Being California I bought a skateboard to commute on. The only problem I had was that there was a grammar school between my house and the office, and I had to put up with the kids laughing at the ‘old’ guy on the skateboard. But most of my work was at night, in order to get time on the computers, so I could skate by when nobody was there. I also got to use the skateboard inside, flying in the empty building from my desk to the computer room to get printouts. Back when there was a big noisy chain printer clanking out those green bar wide fan fold pages. (come on, stop laughing, I know that Rob knows what I’m talking about if he does Cobol). We used to program in printouts that would make the printer ‘play’ songs, and do those character based pictures that no one now seems to know anything about. I’ll have to see if I kept any. Probably some packed up in the attic.

Xerox eventually created a new computer model of their own design, the first non Sigma designed machine. Supposed to be bigger and faster and more expensive. Ended up being bigger and slower and much more expensive. A few months after the release everybody realized that the new machines were not as good as the old ones. As IBM was starting to come out with copier machines to compete with Xerox, Xerox decided to stop competing with IBM and was going to stop making computers. Didn’t discourage IBM from making copiers, though.

We had heard rumors that we were closing, but nothing positive. I was having problems getting support from my manager, the same guy all along back in Rochester. He didn’t seem to care much about the four of us in California. I made an appointment to see his boss, in an office in a high rise just off the LAX runway. Went to see him on a Wednesday morning, and he basically said that after Friday it would not matter anyway. I took this to mean that Friday was the day that the computer division would close. Nobody else in the office believed this. But I started to pack up my desk, taking copies of the programs out on tape (big nine track tape reels) along with my notes and samples. Sure enough, in to work Friday morning to find two guards on every door, telling everyone to just go home and we would be contacted. In one fell swoop (who made up that phrase? What the heck is a ‘fell swoop’ anyway? Say it three times fast.) four thousand people were out of work. They kept on some to manufacture the machines already on order, but locked out sales, design and development people. Xerox had security people pack up all personal stuff on desks and ship it to us – I was the only one that got all of my stuff, and books, and code, out of there thanks to my boss. Teach the rest to listen to me.

Xerox gave us all a good salary continuance, and help in finding jobs. I learned how to do a resume correctly, and how to interview. I found one not too far away, with a firm that processed medical bills. Ended up buying a big house in Temecula, and starting my move further south.

So that is the story of my move out West. Skipping over the Navy and college tales. But those may come later. Again, no pics this time. Guess I can haul out some old shots of those days – I do have my Xerox ID, with my big hair picture on it. Not too sure if I want that one passed around.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Two sides of town

Just a short one – some photos from two different sides of town.
The Bellagio is starting on a new addition. They’ve torn down the big greenhouse and move employee parking over to the south side – I just like shots of the big cranes. These photos are taken from Frank Sinatra Drive, just west of the hotel property.

I think this first construction is to make a big employees parking garage. The big project that they are about to do is going to be about five times larger than the whole current footprint of the hotel and casino.

Supposed to be in the ‘new’ Vegas paradigm – a unified project , with condos, hotel rooms, shops and workspace, so that you never have to leave the place. You can live work and play right nearby. There are two other combined projects currently under construction, so we will get to see if this concept really works. I bet that the people that live there will drive off to work elsewhere, and employees will drive in.

Up in the far northeast is Nellis air force base. Besides all of the military there is a large Hispanic community there (in addition to most of the rest of LV). Ahh, the strip mall - one of America's gifts. Little shops that come and go - most strip malls usually have an empty space, with a 'coming soon to serve you' sign in the window. Indicating something new to come, but also something old didn't make it. Always makes me feel sorry for the owner that tried, sitting behind the register wondering what to do to get the customers to come in, and not quite figuring it out. Must be hard to own a business and wait for people to come by.

You can just see the top of a tent - they had a DJ playing music, to attract people into the new Mexican restaurant. One of the stores in this shopping mall is the consulate for one of the South American countries – I tried a photo, but it’s too blurred even for here. I’ll try again.

The Ranch Market is a chain around town - a little different than our white bread Vons.

Mom update - my mom spent a week in intensive care while they tried to figure out why she keeps falling down. No results. She is now in a rehab facility, and after a week they still can’t even get her to stand up, much less walk around. We have to meet with the social services group, and see what type of long term care facility her insurance will cover.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

August weather

Seems like the July heat is gone and the nice summer August days are here. Vegas has a summer ‘monsoon’ season that usually hits during August. This results in higher humidity, lower temps than July and frequent thunderstorms. Sunday evening was really nice – clouds in the afternoon, probably around 90f, and rain started around 6 at our house. It continued a fairly regular light rain for several hours. We sat around out back, under the metal patio cover, and enjoyed the breeze and the sound of the rain on the roof. Sometimes there were flashes of lightning in the distance, but not much thunder.

We probably ended up with under a half inch of rain, but usually different parts of Las Vegas get different amounts of water. The official weather station down at the airport registered only a tenth of an inch of rainfall, while parts of the northwest had an inch and a half come down in under an hour – probably in a quick fifteen minute water drop.

This morning it was 72f when I got up, and felt really nice. Yesterday it didn’t get over 90f, and today is supposed to be only a little higher. Warming up forecast for the weekend, with highs around 102 for five days straight. Humidity right now is 55%, but has been sitting around 30%, should drop to our normal 7% by the weekend. We are aclimatized to the temperatures here, and 85f at 30 humidity feels really really nice. Back east I remember summer days where it got to 85f with 98% humidity and it felt like you were sweating to death, with the temp going up a degree or two after dark.

The higher humidity has caused the local sage brush to bloom. Some desert plants bloom as the days get longer in the spring, some when it gets cooler in the fall, some all summer long, but the sage all comes out when the humidity gets over 30%. And all the sage brushes just bloom at the same time across the valley. The photos don't bring it out, but the color is nice and deep and really stands out.

We planted a strip of fifteen along the front street last year when we pulled up the grass and went low water landscape. We left a small spot of grass out front in the driveway area, and some in the back yard, just to have a little green. The sage went in around April of last year, most in one gallon pots. They are up to four feet tall now, and turn this nice purple several times a year. We have other varieties around the yard, each with a little different shade of purple, from fairly pale to really deep. The blooms only last for a day or two, then fall off. If the wind is low this results in a nice circle of purple under the bushes. You can see some differences between these three.

The clouds and humidity also cause nice sunrises and sunsets. Here is the sunrise yesterday from our front yard.

A little later we got some jet trails up high. As I have said, I really like the open feeling out here, how there is nothing confining around. In San Diego it always seemed a little hazy, which made it seem smaller. There are mountains around the valley, but far enough from our house that they don’t seem like a wall.

And the two large olive trees were covered in flowers in the spring. We sprayed twice with some stuff that is supposed to stop the flowers from setting, so we only have a reduced crop of olives.

Since we don’t eat them, they just turn purple and drop all over the driveway, attracting hoards of pigeons that love to eat them. And lots of purple spots on the carpets if you walk on them on the way in.

And of course we need a grand kid update.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Weekend on the way! I'm ready. This was a full week around here.
We ended up spending last evening in the hospital emergency room. My mother fell down Monday before I left for work. She had her knees replaced a few years ago, and has no strength in her legs, and just can't get up. (flash back to that old TV commercial 'I've fallen and I can't get up!) She can't. So I helped her up, and she continued on her way. When I got home I found the front gates open, and my wife said the paramedics had just left. She got home and found my mother on the floor in the kitchen, where she had lain all day. Scraped her elbow going down and there was blood all over the floor where she tried to pull herself up. Wife called 911. She refused to go to the hospital, and the paramedics could do nothing to force her.

She has been slowing down all week, fell again yesterday (while we were home) and just wasn't eating or moving around much. I've been trying to call her doctor for three days. Just get voicemail. The assistant calls me back (the next day sometimes) and offers nothing. We hit urgent care on Wednesday, they just bandaged her elbow (still bleeding, she takes cumadin, which prevents clotting). Finally called a different office where she was treated for something else specific, and after two hours a doctor from there called. He just suggested a hospital for evaluation on why she keeps falling. So when I got home yesterday we took her to the hospital.

Vegas is having a 'medical crisis'. Not enough nurses, or emergency beds. They closed the 'mental hospitals' several years ago and cut funding for that, so now half of the emergency beds are filled with people with mental problems, either brought in by relatives or by police. No facilities, I think the county only has 23 beds in a small mental health facility. Finally got funding, and are in the process of building one finally, after lawsuits from the 'Not In My Backyard' neighbors. But that's a ways away from opening. Still need funding to staff the place.

So she was in bed 'back hall B', as opposed to 'east hall B' or 'west hall B'. More beds in the halls than in rooms. Several hours, finally see a doctor, and it looks like it's time. She probably will not be coming home. They will do evaluations, then call Social Services for evaluation and entry into an 'assisted living' facility. When we finally got home our one little dog that always sits with her kept running from door to door looking for her to come in. He spent most of the night just wimpering because she isn't there. Hard to tell him she will not be coming back. Poor Max (yes, very unique dog names in our household). Hard to tell myself.

Oh, but in the morning before I left I got the department's Employee of the Month award. Looks more like 'of the year' as it's the first 'of the month' given since last September. Guess they were paying attention when I stared closing all of those old work orders.

OK, back to work. Off at noon to go to the hospital and see if they did any tests yet.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Britcoms & Sci Fi

Looking at recent posts, it seems that I have been putting down lots of words. Maybe short ones more often would be better. I so like it when I browse my favorites list and come upon new writings.

Some of my favorite TV programs are the British mini series. When we lived in Temecula I used to sit up until midnight (Ok, I am an early to bed guy at times, though when on a programming roll will stay up all night at keyboard) to watch The Red Dwarf on KPBS. I just couldn’t get enough of Cat and his little fishies. Until recently PBS was the only place to see these shows – most stations seem to have a Saturday Night BritComs run. Vegas PBS has, but it’s filled with endless Keeping Up Appearances and Are You Being Served. I can only watch so much of Mrs. Bookay. (always be bucket to me.)

But now with Cox Cable I can get BBC America, and at times they have lots of my favs. And I found that Amazon now sells DVDs of them – I latched on to several, and need to get more of each series.

One of the shows I liked was Dr. Who. Over the years there have been many actors playing the part – it seems that at the end of a year, when the actor wanted to go on to other things, the good doctor died in the last episode. Then in the first episode the following year he was reborn, of course looking a little different (with a new actor in place). My favorite is Tom Baker (Doctor # 4). I think there were at least 9 reincarnations of the doctor.

Now thanks to Lisa (added to my links on the right) I find that there is still a Doctor Who on BBC. She provided a link to the new doctor. So now I have more to look forward to.

And yes, I do also like the comedies, not just the sci-fi stuff. Who could not like The Good Neighbors. And Hitchhiker’s Guide? But the Red Dwarf – every happy Lister, the last human alive on a giant space ship three million years in suspended animation. I’m sure he was the inspiration for the lower deck crew on the first Aliens movie. Always bugging Rimmer. Just love it.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Police story

OK, nothing exciting seems to be happening here, so I thought I’d pull up some old stories, in the hopes of providing some amusement. Start up the Way Back machine, Sherman! (come on, there have to be some Rocky and Bullwinkle fans amongst us)

Back in San Diego I once had the pleasure of helping found a computer software company. Bill was the money man, had a good idea for a computer program, and somehow I was forwarded as the programmer that could make it happen. I still have 100,000 shares of stock, so if this company ever rolls over again I might at some point make some money (dreams of $$$ - well, make that Euros, as we don’t seem to be doing that well globally). (What is the keyboard symbol for Euros? Not on my US standard keyboard it isn’t).

The programs were designed for police departments, to help street officers with their paperwork and forms. Most US police departments are active consumers of paper, and most officers spend hours daily filling out said forms. Our primary example is the local city police officer that might arrest someone for drunk driving. Drunk driving is a popular activity in America, some statistic I read says that if you are driving after midnight probably 20% of the cars along side you are being driven by someone legally drunk. If an Escondido officer, for example, arrests someone he then has about four hours worth of form filling to do. This is basically the same form for the city of Escondido, the city of San Diego (being big they want to know everything that happens near by), the county of San Diego, the California Highway Patrol and the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Of course, each agency asks for the same stuff – who, what where and why. But they each make you use their own forms, the other guy’s not being good enough.

So I designed a program that just asks an officer questions, then prints out the required forms. Using an HP LaserJet printer I was able to make pretty good replicas of all required forms, except for the colors. The Highway Patrol had multi part forms with pink and green and yellow pages. So on the bottom of their forms I printed ‘yellow copy’, ‘green copy’, etc. My reproductions were good enough that we were able to get all agencies to accept them. This was a first, as until then each agency wanted you to by their forms, and fill them out directly.

Several positives to this approach: an officer just asked simple questions, and the computer picked what forms to fill out. A spell checker was used, to correct any strange entries. The department didn’t have to buy and stock all of those forms, which of course they ran out of quite often. Each page printed out, so handwriting was not important. And since each form had a big essay section, the poor officer did not have to print out the same multi page story multiple times. By the fourth telling there were sure to be differences, in addition to being illegible because the officer was really tired of writing the same stuff over and over and by now he was falling asleep and getting hand cramps, and when the case eventually went to court a good lawyer would pull out the multiple forms and point out the differences and get the case thrown out. (I’ll tell you about Mr. Ticket and Mr. DUI – other customers - someday)

Oh, gd, an aside – I’m listening to the local radio, and just heard an ad from “the Medical Spa at Summerlin”. It was a story of Sleeping Beauty, whom the prince refused to kiss because of her skinny lips. So if she only had called the Medical Spa at Summerlin they could have given her “lip enhancement surgery” and made them kissable. I can only picture Pamela Denise Anderson Lee (Pammy to those of you that know me) who originally on Tool Time looked pretty hot, but now after who knows how many surgeries has been so enhanced in so many areas that I am surprised she can talk, or even walk with so much plastic up front. At least if she falls down she probably bounces right up again. (Sorry Pammy, couldn’t help it) Back to our program, which is already in progress.

I worked for almost a year with the Escondido Police Department, and the Oceanside Police Department, to make a pretty good program. Officers would have a laptop computer in their car, and could fill out forms there, or used computers back in the office. Then I worked with the Anaheim Police Department to hook laptops up to cell phones (yes, quite a few years ago) and be able to contact the office computer for information and to file forms. They were so proud of this, a first in the country I was told, that they wanted to show it off at the Chief of Police convention that year. Side story: the Anaheim Convention Center, across from Disneyland, was the site of the convention. The big hall was used for demos – it was full of booths of vendors. The Anaheim PD got a big booth, and put a patrol car inside with a laptop and officers to demonstrate. Co-sponsor was Airtouch Cellular Service (now part of Verizon) because they wanted to sell air time and this was a good place to do it. Setting up the booth the night before the convention we found out that because of the big metal building cell phones did not work inside. Not too good for demonstrating how good cell phone computer communication was. So Airtouch technicians spent the night putting antennas and a repeater inside, so that their cell phones would work. This is now standard equipment in big halls (and the London tube I understand) so people indoors can make calls. But it was hot stuff back then.

As part of our sales effort Bill wanted to create a demonstration CD. This would let people see how nice our program was. By then the company was up to twenty people, but I still liked to do most of the low down stuff. I created a demo version of the program, and Bill, being the talker and up front guy, created a bunch of demo situations that he put into the program. We created a stack of CDs, and the marketing guys created nice brochures and mailed a bunch out to police departments across the US.

Bill was up in Washington state a while after this, visiting his parents and making sales calls. We had sold a Washington State police department the program, and created the forms that were required up there. Each state took quite a while to program for, and get approval for the forms we printed. Like California, Washington had it’s own versions of everything. While driving Bill was pulled over by a police officer for speeding. Bill did like to push his foot down when driving. The officer started filling out a speeding ticket, then remembered seeing a notice about Bill and his car – he had driven his own Lexus up there and was not in a rental. So he proceeded to handcuff Bill and take him back to the office. Being a small station, they did not throw him in a cell, but just had him sit in the office while they tried to figure out where they had read about him. After going through all the local flyers, and state wanted information, they were proceeding to the FBI national database of ‘wanted’ people. While talking Bill, ever the salesman, started discussing their computer use and how he had a program that might help them with their arrests. Suddenly a light came on; the officer in question had recently tried out our demo program. One of the cases that Bill had put in involved himself, using his real name and address, and his car, using his real license plate number, and a drunk driving accident and arrest. The officer was remembering this information, and not something off of a wanted poster. They pulled out the CD, and sure enough, there was Bill in there as an arrest example. So Bill was unlocked and driven back to his car with an apology.

Moral of this story: if you ever have to make up a story, or give a presentation or fill in sample forms, do not get lazy and use yourself. Putting in your own information is a standard computer programmer testing technique – after all, you know your name and address and social security number, and can easily see if the program you are testing messes things up. And after putting in dozens or hundreds of sample people you often get tired of making up so many variations of John Smith at 21 Main Street, Anytown USA (common dull US names/addresses). So you put in yourself, which is what Bill did. Fortunately he only lost four hours, but did not make a sale there. I can picture him being locked up for days as they try to find out why a cop remembered reading about him. ‘Cause officers usually remember the bad people: better to keep yourself out of trouble.

I was just in a demonstration here last week, where the programmer showing off his new program had put himself in. Since we do credit card stuff here at the bank he was down as being refused credit for a bunch of reasons. I can just see that application accidentally being sent to our credit bureau, and getting stuck on his permanent credit history. Never being able to buy a house or get a loan again because of he couldn’t make up a person that he could remember easily. Standard test person here is named “Bob Cardholder” – except we now have about a hundred variations on this name since the computer always remembers, and when you need to create a new application you need a new name and address: Bob Cardholder II, Bob A. Cardholder, Bob B. Cardholder, Bob Cardholder Junior, etc.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

1985 and a Swedish story

Listening to local radio. There is a group they say comes from Vegas, but on Amazon they have 8 Cds listed. Group is Bowling for Soup, and the song on now is 1985 – it’s a story about a woman with her mind in the past – ‘her two teenagers in high school say she’s living in the past – back in 1985’. And it goes on to discuss the plans she had, things she wanted to do with her life and now all she has is a family, and a yellow SUV, and just remembers what she wanted as opposed to what she has.

Guess I’m getting old – starting to look at things like that myself. Look around at where I am and thinking of the things I wanted to do, but just realizing that there really isn’t much I wanted – guess I didn’t dream big.

I majored in Photographic Illustration in college – I really liked taking pictures. Went to college at Rochester Institute of Technology, in upstate New York. Didn’t like school, went in the navy for four years then back to the same place but with a different attitude. Photo majors back then had one of two dreams to make it big, either work for Life magazine as a staff photographer, roaming the world taking pretty pictures of pretty places, or work for Playboy inside a studio taking pretty pictures or pretty girls. OK, make it three, National Geographic was pretty good also. But reality was a little different – Life and NG only hired replacements, about one photog every five years. Playboy was even worse, using their same old men for the centerfold shoots. And hundreds of RIT photo graduates usually ended up in malls at the ‘shoot your kids’ centers, or in Kmart photo departments. Not much reality there, or probably too much.

In the Navy I worked on electronics and computers. Had a summer job after the first year in college teaching repair of computerized systems. I wondered what those programmers were doing, and back in school took some classes, and really liked it. It’s like doing puzzles and finding clues, but with some creativity. Not being a computer science major I had to take the business oriented classes, starting with an intro to Basic. I did well in several classes, and then took some more advanced ones in night school – RIT’s ‘continuing education’ – open to about anyone. Did well in those and was allowed to take the ‘real’ classes after getting permission from regular instructors. Was hired on to Xerox because I knew Basic – Comp Sci majors didn’t take that ‘beginner’ language, so I was unusual in having it, and I also knew Fortran. That moved me into a programming job, and I’ve been at it for almost thirty years (wow, do sound old).

Trying to remember back to school, except for the magazine job (OK, it wasn’t Life or NG) I guess there weren’t any really big dreams or goals. I’ve got the big house (well, big for me) and family and good job. Now our expenses are so used to the salary it’s probably impossible to change careers. I’m getting a little tired of the same stuff over and over (see last post, what prompts this) but looks like I’ll have to work forever. Social Security doesn’t offer enough, if it even is still there. Maybe when I start collecting I can become a WalMart greeter. But I hate WalMart and refuse to shop there, so perhaps Home Depot – I can wander the aisles answering questions. Seem to be younger women at the checkouts, grey haired men in the plumbing and screw areas. With stock options some of the older workers have quite a nest egg built up. But now even Home Depot is going cheap, with minimum wage checkers, a row of do-it-yourself checkout stands (which I refuse to use) so there is only one live checker on duty, and fewer people manning the aisles to answer questions. Guess I’ll have to move to India and become a tech support phone person.

It must be a lot more difficult for a woman, maybe staying home and raising the kids, needing the main income to keep things going. As in the song, what can she do? I am impressed with women (or anyone) that goes back to school to grow and become different. I talk about hitting the local junior college – pretty close to my house – and starting on a degree in something else. I can get an MBA and a starting salary of $150,000 (some publication said that) and in a few years make up for what I’ve been missing. Or maybe pay for the educational loans.

Wow, deep stuff. Better lighten up Joe.

With the typical summer temperatures I was thinking of our friend in Sweden. I think I’ve talked about Ulf before. When we lived in Temecula – small town on I-15 about 60 miles north of San Diego – about 25 years ago we started taking in foreign exchange students. These weren’t kids here to spend time in school, but students that were coming to the US for a month or so. I don’t remember what group we hooked up with, but over the years we had kids from Sweden and France and Australia and Japan. I still periodically write some of the girls from France, but for some reason Ulf really loved California and has kept in touch.

He came after his last year of high school. He was accepted into college, wanting to become a doctor. He really liked California and somehow managed to come back and stay with us for several summers. Eventually he became the youngest cardiologist in Sweden, and now is famous for some of his research, speaking at conferences all over the world. He wanted to marry a tall blond California girl, and move to where it was warm. Guess he watched too much Baywatch, but never was able to hook up with Pammy (she’s short, anyway). He spent a year at Stanford for postgraduate classes, and became engaged to a San Diego girl (yes, tall blond). Fortunately he took her back home one winter. She saw what Sweden was like in January and decided on staying in SD. Eventually he married a tall blond airline stewardess (Swedish) and now has three kids. We went to Sweden for his wedding a few years ago, and really liked the place. Of course it was in May and not in January.

We used to talk about our visit to Boston, and seeing the old houses back East. About how Paul Revere’s house was 100 years old when he lived in it. Ulf would laugh, and tell us how the dorm building at his college was 450 years old. The church he was married in was over 600 years old. Can’t match that over here. Especially since we’ve moved to Vegas – nothing here is very old, and they keep blowing up and replacing even the relatively new places.

To save money he had the wedding reception/dinner at a large hall near his house, and relatives made the food. I think there were around 150 people there. He is a really friendly guy, and his wife had a lot of friends too. We showed up in Sweden a week before the event, and his parents drove us around the country for a few days, and then Ulf took us up to Stockholm. We had a hard time finding something made in the US to bring as a wedding gift, but eventually picked up some Nambe stuff – made in New Mexico. Before the wedding I hit a local mall there and bought a dozen Kodak disposable cameras, then passed them around at the reception and asked everyone to take pictures. This way he would have a lot of different perspectives of the event. Most people there had never seen a disposable camera, but despite a few misunderstandings the cameras were all used.

As Americans we were popular people there. Everyone wanted to talk to the Americans, and practice their English. OK, it’s not really English, but close. In Sweden most of the TV shows were American, and most of the movies on TV were also American. Instead of dubbing into Swedish they left the shows as made and put in Swedish subtitles. This made it relatively easy for people to learn English – they could read the Swedish and hear the English. They dubbed everything in France, and it was strange to hear some of the voices chosen for familiar characters. I remember being amused at the voice chosen for Arnie Schwarzenegger in one of the movies. And in Sweden everyone watched Baywatch. MTV was from London, and most of the radio stations were from Britain, and a lot of people would go to London for vacation. So most of the people spoke English with a British accent. They would kid Ulf because he ended up with a California accent instead of a British one like everyone else.

At the reception we sat across from two girls from England, one had been a stewardess with the bride. We were the only Americans, they the only British, but at least we had somebody to talk to during the evening that could understand most of what we said. One of the traditions at the reception was for everybody to stand up and tell a little story about an experience with the bride or groom. Of course, the stories were all told in Swedish, but periodically after a story was told and everybody laughed the speaker would look at us and try to translate a little of it into English so that we would understand. It seemed that the idea was to tell something amusing, I guess kind of like an American ‘Roast’, but without being vicious. As each person stood up I tried to think of something I could say. When my turn came I settled on a short tale of when we first met Ulf.

He came during the summer, and the weather in Temecula was similar to that in Palm Springs, not quite Vegas, but over 100f every day. Ulf thought it was warm, but did not realize how hot. Some of the kids took him to a fast food place for his first Mexican food, and had him use the ‘hot’ hot sauce. Sweden is not very big on spices, white sauces being popular, so he had no familiarity with jalapenos or hot sauce. They all laughed at how he burned his mouth on the hot sauce, (I thought it rather cruel) but it did not turn him off on Mexican food. It did take a little convincing to get him to come along to another Mexican place, but there we did get the mild stuff and since then he can’t get enough of it. We still mail him Mexican spices and other items.

But one day we took him to another town nearby. Temecula at that time had a population of around 1000, so we had to drive a little way to go to a supermarket, or when shopping for about anything. We were in the town of Hemet, had the windows down, and drove past a bank. The bank had one of those signs that displays the time and temperature, and eventually the temperature was displayed, first in Fahrenheit, then in Centigrade. He did not understand the first display, it was around 105f, but then it showed 41C. That he understood. He looked at the sign, said ‘wow!’, and immediately started sweating like crazy. Sweat stared dripping off of his forehead. We looked at him, and he said that it didn’t feel that hot until he saw what it was and understood it.

The story got a laugh – but we knew that except for Ulf probably nobody in the room had ever been in 41C weather. I hope they were laughing at the story, and not just making the American feel welcome. But most people did seem to understand.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

How to tell a local.

Haven’t put up photos in a while, more of not taking the time to Photoshop ones in the camera, and not carrying the camera around as much. But here are a few to catch up.

We recently had a ‘heat wave’ here in Nevada. It is supposed to be something unusual, but weather report today calls for a high of only 99f. During the recent hot weather we ended up with 9 days of over 110f, matching a past string, and five days of over 115f, which is a record. One of those days we had a nighttime low of 93f, which again was a record warm night, and a high of 117f, which tied the 1942 record high temp ever recorded in Vegas.

But with thunderstorms last evening it cooled off a lot. At sunset at our house it was down in the 80s, so I pulled out the Ipod and took a walk, something I haven’t done for a while due to the heat. It’s usually around 100 at sunset, but 87 now feels real nice. I listen to music and walk for about an hour – the range that the diet group I worked with in SD suggests. For all of the walk I could see the thunderstorms off to the east. There was a flash flood alert for that part of the county and northern Arizona. It was almost continuous lightning. Looked very interesting, looking past the well lit strip hotels at the lightning in the distance.

Here’s a little test – how do you tell a local from a tourist? Usually on the street it’s hard – but possible. Most locals wear the free t-shirts from the locally oriented casinos – the Stations, etc. while the tourists get the t-shirts from the big strip casinos, or the ones that say ‘Las Vegas’ on them. That’s ‘cause the locals get the t-shirts free off of assorted promotions while tourists buy them to show off.

In the parking garage? Look at this car and notice some things.

Two things to note – first is the window tint. You will find that most people in the southwest pay for the tinting. Not like LA, where they do it to hide, but here to block the sun. If you buy the good stuff it blocks 98% of the UV rays. In this example the back windows have the real dark stuff and the front windows have a little lighter coating – that’s what is legal here, but some people go for the dark on the front too. It will get you a ticket if stopped, but you can hide behind it at traffic lights, and when you cut somebody off.

The other item in this shot is the towel on the steering wheel. You can’t tint the front windshield, and the sun here will make the seats and steering wheel too hot to touch after just a short while. Most people get cars with cloth seats to avoid having skin come off when wearing shorts. Sometimes you buy a cloth steering wheel cover, but some people don’t like them so they usually cover the steering wheel when parked. Sometimes you will find one of those reflecting folding screens in the front window, but not always.

Our second shot is inside the car.

Here you will see an assortment of sunglasses and a bottle of water. The water will get hot sitting in a closed car, but it’s better than nothing when you are dying of thirst.

On to other topics – we put a large trumpet vine in the back a few months ago. It seems to like the sunlight –

and the hummingbirds really like the flowers. We will be training this one up the post and over the top of a little open area between covered sections. You can see our bushes are doing well too. The purple sage are starting to bloom. I'll take shots of those when they are more colorful.

For those of you that are Buffy fans, or Lord of the Ring fans, I came across this trailer last night: Lord of the Rings (with Buffy) I don’t know how they were able to merge the new people, and can’t imagine Sarah working for this, but it seems to complicated to fake so she probably did it as a joke.

And back to my local updating – granddaughter Eli. Here with grandma

and here with great grandma

14 more

Ok, just a few hours and my last post is out of date. Heard on the radio this morning that 14 more marines were killed in western Iraq, bringing the three day total up to 21 in that area.
Nothing else to say about it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Walking through the cafeteria I stopped to the news - there is a TV there kept on CNN. US casualties in Iraq are now up to 1806 - one thousand eight hundred and freekin six military personnel. And growing.

No count of Iraqi casualties - we don't keep those numbers. I don't know how many British soldiers have been killed, or military from any of the supporting countries. How many in the London bombings now? - come on, you know they were because of the Iraq support, so they have to be counted. And the Spanish. And how many more?

I think it patriotic to support our troops - yes, I hope all of our soldiers (all soldiers, not just US) do well and live through this. But bring them home. It's just as patriotic when you see something wrong to protest and complain and ask our president 'Why?'. As Doonsbury said in Sunday's comics, W has problems sleeping at night thinking about those poor babies who died for their stem cells, but what about our soldiers? They have faces and families and people who care for them.

Swept away (about to be)

Uh oh, looks like I’m about to be swept up. – Yes, another job related problems post, no pictures and no funny stories.

I started this job in January. I’m a computer programmer, specializing in FoxPro, which is a language used on IBM PC type computers. I used to work on big machines in Cobol and Fortran and Assembler, but moved to the PC when it first came out because I could be in control. I worked in several languages, with Assembler being my favorite. For you non-techies, assembler is a really low level language, really figuring out how the computer hardware works and directing things one itsy bitsy step at a time. Very few programmers like it because of the detailed computer knowledge required.

But I drifted to FoxPro because it made it very easy to keep thousands of pieces of information, and tie them all together. In Southern California there were lots of bigger companies using FoxPro. In Las Vegas there are very few. The biggest employers in town are the casinos, and they mostly use big computers with accounting programs they buy and have been using for years. Usually in Cobol, they employ some programmers to make special reports and keep things running. With the Internet now some casinos bring in programmers that can make fancy web sites and take hotel room reservations, so they are expanding.

I was hired here at the bank because they have FoxPro programs that have been around for years. The main one I work with is used to keep track of credit card applications. The bank decided a while ago to move forward and rewrite this system in one of the new languages, C#.net, and make it a web based application. In one way this is going backwards in time, to where one computer did everything and people just looked at what that one machine was doing.

So a team was put together to design this new system. There are seven people on the team, myself included. Of the other guys there is one Oracle expert, one business analyst, and the rest are .net people. I wanted to learn .net, since it’s the ‘latest and greatest’ craze, and most of the jobs around here are going that way. Time to move forward, give up the buggy whip carving and learn how to make car navigation systems. But I’ve been so busy fixing problems with the current system and making changes there that I haven’t had time to learn the new stuff. I’ll have to, because when it replaces this system I will have to keep the new one going, and need to know the new stuff.

Started back in April, I was involved in the design meetings as I know the current system, and what users need. But when it got into queues and starting up services it quickly became too detailed, and I just concentrated on current problems. There were group meetings three times a week, Monday Wednesday and Friday at 4. Management was shooting for a September installation, which seemed quite fast for a system this complex. I was to learn a new reporting style, using Microsoft Reporting Services. So I hit the web and spent a few hours getting suggestions. Stopped by Amazon and bought three books (yes, the $75 books but only $55 each at the big A). But then ongoing support problems kept me away. The new reporting services shifted to other team (our tech group has two ‘teams’ of six programmers each) and Rod kept coming by to borrow my books – MRS is a new thing for almost everybody here. The boss read about it, so that’s what we will try.

Three weeks ago my boss came around and said he wanted me to work on a specific part, and when I was free please come by his office. I was inundated with fixes, and did not get time to go – but he came around every two or three days saying he was waiting for me. Last Thursday past I finally went to see him, and he brought in the project manager and he talked about three pieces I could do. Not understanding most of what he was saying I responded that since I did not know anything it didn’t matter what piece he put me on. Then I attended the Friday meeting, my first in about six weeks.

At this meeting the boss laid out the August schedule, with demos the second week, customer testing the third, and people running live data the last week of August. From listening to everyone talking around me in the cubes for the past several months I knew this was very ambitious, and probably not possible. At the end the project leader, John, got up and said that in order to meet this schedule we would probably be working twelve hour days, including weekends. Great – my first meeting and I get hooked into this. Of course it is not a spontaneous idea put out by the project manager, the boss was right behind him, and they always plan things out in advance. But the boss was shifting the feelings down to the PM as if it was all the John’s idea.

Now I have no problem in working strange hours – most computer people are used to coming in to fix things when they break. I’ve worked many nights and weekends to recover from problems, and make things work. I have no problem in putting in many hours to do something I promised to do. But this is replacing a system that has been in use for years, and still works well. The only reason for getting the system installed by the end of August is so that the boss can get a check box on his review. He worked with his boss at the start of the year, laying out his goals, and I am sure that he promised a new system back then. I bet a big bonus check is based on meeting goals, that being the motivation system used by big companies like this for management.

So here are seven people, expected to put in 90 – 100 hour weeks for the next two months. One guy is planning on going back to India to get married on August 20th. The analyst has been planning a big family reunion in LA for this week (which he has cancelled). Sorry, but I’ve been dong this for thirty years, and have had deadlines like this many times in the past. The flunkies are never rewarded for all the work – OK, maybe a three day weekend and an ‘at-a-boy’ certificate. All this so the boss can get his big bonus, which of course is never shared. I am not about to do these hours, and kill my weekends, for a management check box. But I do know well enough to keep my mouth shut.

Normal hours here are 8am – 5pm, with an hour lunch. I shifted things forward an hour so as to be available to the night operator who works from midnight to 8am. We have been working on new printing programs, and figuring out some check printing problems he has been having. So I usually leave at 4, when the meetings start. I just left when this one was over, and did not have an enjoyable weekend. I did pull out the Sunday newspaper employment section, figuring I might need it when I don’t put in the time.

Last week the PM never came around to go over the new stuff on my list, and I did have a pile of problems to fix. The rest of the team started staying to midnight, and worked last weekend to prepare for a big top level management demo yesterday. I put in my normal 7 to 4 (well, 6:40 to 4:20, but since we don’t punch a timeclock who knows? After the demo one programmer came by to ask when we could get together so he could teach me the new reporting stuff, one of the areas I was scheduled to learn. I said first thing this morning would be OK.

So it looks like I’ll be drawn down. I am on one hand looking forward to learning the new language and style of programming. But on the other hand I am not about to put in the hours discussed. Since I will be doing back end reports that are not critical to the flow of the system I will be kind of isolated. So I will just smile and nod when John says they missed me over a weekend. I’ve got vacation scheduled Aug 17-21, trip back to San Diego, which I do plan on making. But I guess some extra hours will be required. Drawn down into the dark side of the new Microsoft philosophy. Sigh. At least I won’t need a light saber, just my trusty keyboard and mouse. OK, I’ll admit it, don’t use a mouse but a track ball.

So here I am, waiting for Rod to come by and review Microsoft Reporting Services. I’ve got a new C# - a Programmer’s Introduction book to read and a stack of the others I bought from Amazon. Only have one work order reporting a problem on the existing system to fix. So I thought I’d take time here to complain.

All I could picture is Dilbert’s pointy haired boss. Just read about something new, promised management a new system and a delivery date, and the group just has to do it. Can’t back down and say that November would be more practical, no, just wear everybody out meeting a schedule laid out a year ago. Unrealistic then, even more so when people were not taken off of ongoing tasks in order to spend time on the new system. So fewer resources up front can be compensated for by whipping people at the end. Kind of like a horse race, but keep the old nag over there plowing the field, and when time is about to run out take of the harness, get out the whip, and if you whack hard enough maybe he will reach the finish line and the master can get his check. Then back to the plow. But what usually happens is that technical people start taking those calls from the recruiters, and remember what happened, and in a year there is a whole new team that has to learn what was lost. Good management style.

But that is how it has been at almost every job I’ve been on. Guys down at the bottom making the one at the top look good. That’s why he’s got the office and I have a cube. I never wanted the headaches and a** kissing it took to keep upper level management happy. Always figured out good work and competence would be better. Just keeps me where I am.

Maybe it's time for a total change. How are the programming jobs in Scotland? I’ve always loved Paris, how much French would I need to know before getting a job there? In most of Canada they speak the same, but it’s cold up there. Australia is an option – maybe it’s time to give up on W and the Republican atmosphere and take off like I talk about. Probably time for something new. I’ll learn the .net stuff and see what happens. Or I could switch to a totally new field - I'm good at plants and gardening, but really can't afford to give up the money I've moved up to and start back at beginner's salary, so it looks like I'll compute forever.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Phone message idea

I sit in an office filled with cubicles. I’m sitting here right now listening to the person over two rows listening to his voice mail on speakerphone, turned up LOUD so that we can all enjoy the messages left for him. This brings to mind a story I read about – might not be true, but it sounds like something that would be appropriate right now.

Somebody in a similar office situation had a person that would always listen to voice mail on the speakerphone, turned up loud. Since it was very disturbing, some type of motivation to get this guy to stop was desired. The concept: get a girl who’s voice was not known to the office to phone in and leave a voice message for this guy. The message something like: “Hi Bob, I’ve got the whipped cream and handcuffs, were you able to line up the midgets? See you tonight at the regular time!”. I don’t know what would be better, using somebody with a real sexy voice (might provide too much motivation for the guy) or somebody that sounds like an old grandmother with wavering voice and all.

This might be amusing for the married women to do: find a friend with a really sexy voice, and have her leave this message on hubby’s voice mail, even if he doesn’t use the speaker phone feature to listen. Just be sure he doesn’t have caller ID turned on. Then wait and see if he says anything to you about it.

The more I think about this, the better it sounds. Think I’ll find somebody, and have her leave a message on Sean’s phone here at work (he’s the balloon guy). He doesn’t use the speakerphone, but might give him a thrill.