Tuesday, February 28

low man on the totem pole

The DFW-SJC flight last night was mostly uneventful. It's the first time I've flown on business in about 2 years; at one time I was spending a week in California every month, so yes .. this is a novelty, although I did "practice" a trip to the same DFW Terminal D earlier in the day (to fetch Jill-Bob).

Most of American's flights on this route are MD-88s, which have about 30 rows of 5-across seating, and I heard the Flight Attendants [FA] saying that nearly every flight except Saturdays are full lately. This was no exception. I don't know if anyone was denied boarding (I wasn't in the gate area long enough to hear them say it was oversold, looking for volunteers for the next flight). Once we pushed back from the gate, the FA instructed us to turn off "anything with an on/off switch" which was better than the long list of stuff they used to read .. while I hoped they missed one/more of my omnipresent gadgets.

The worst thing about the Travel Gap is that I'm back to "Square One" in the Frequent-This and Frequent-That programs (airline, car rental, hotel, parking). This means I now must sit in the back of the bus (seat 28F on the outbound and 26F on the return) with the rest of the rifraff, and can't even qualify to use the upgrades I bought years ago, until I reach a minimum of Aadvantage Gold (unlikely anytime soon).

Some good things have happened since I last flew frequently: American Airlines' Rapid Check-In machines are a welcome departure from dealing with a Human ticket agent (which seldom speaks English). The machine which scans boarding passes at the gate have finally become fast (I used to groan whenever a flight was assigned The Boarding Pass Machine .. meaning the boarding would take twice as long as those conducted by Humans).

First, there was the obligatory TSA scan (metal detection; X-ray of my rucksack, shoes, laptop). Once on the plane, I found myself sitting next to a female "terrorist" - the only woman on the plane wearing an hijab. I was prepared to stab her with my plastic butter knife if she made any wrong moves. I must get some better noise cancelling headphones .. the earbuds I have from Turtle Beach are effective, but didn't shut out the nearby malevolent Demon Child shreiking for an extended duration at a pitch slightly less annoying than fingernails on a chalkboard.

Due to the (HR-induced) delays in marking me as an Active employee, I didn't get in an early queue for hotels in TBA* so I ended up at a $60/night Zero Service Hotel .. no daily maid, no room service, no onsite dining (I defy you to find anything open other than Denny's after 10pm in TBA!) and .. (gasp!) .. no Ethernet (just a quaint analog modem plug). They did offer wireless networking for $4/stay, and the hotel had indoor plumbing. I avoided the room's phone: 75¢/minute for long distance (and $2.78/minute for international calls .. after the first $14.62 minute) struck me as an absurd ripoff. The Ford Fusion rental car -- in the rain -- wasn't awful .. it's just not like JAC (Just Another Car) here at home.
* The Bay Area

Sunday, February 26

yet another Texas embarrassment

In the past two weeks, I've been bombarded with direct mail pieces from Republicans running for every contested office. It's obvious the only real campaign is the March primary; it is acknowledged that even the most feeble Republican will easily defeat an opponent in the November general election. So, the various RINOs (Republican In Name Only) are pouring their money into this race.

In this state, you can vote in either primary (but not both - legally, anyway) so it's possible that Democrats wishing to sabotage an election could vote for a weak Republican in that primary (although .. believe me .. they're not organized enough to pull off such a stunt). The converse is also true.

I've received exactly nada from the Dallas Democrats, who have apparently decided to hibernate, knowing that Texans will vote only when they don't have to think. It all goes back to the sorry state of education here (50th in the nation).

One of the biggest wastes of space is Texas Republican Congre$$man Pete $e$$ion$, who participated in the Tom DeLay Republican Redistricting $candal that forced (very credible) Martin Frost from office. Since then, Congre$$man $e$$ion$ has done exactly nothing but collect a paycheck .. big surprise, huh? Well, I shouldn't say he's done nothing, $ince he did $end me a nice color brochure when it came time to re-elect him. He's unopposed in the primary, so his color brochure is another example of Republicans throwing money away.

Make no mi$take: Texans will re-elect him in the fall, unle$$ he'$ caught in a Real Doozy Of A $candal between now and then. Competence doesn't matter in this state.

Well, at lea$t he didn't take credit for doing anything (in his brochure). The cover $lam$ Democrats (as does the inside - in the vague, unsubstantiated way that Karl Rove ha$ taught them), but the inside repeats the phrase "Pete $e$$ion$ and the Republican-led Congre$$" a few times, while skillfully avoiding taking credit for anything other than fogging a mirror. Yee, hah ...

Me, well .. I'm saving myself for Kinky .. and have no plans to vote in the primary. It'll be the first one I've sat out in what .. 30 years?

Friday, February 24

cry me an IVR

There are some things that can be effectively outsourced at work, others .. I'm still not sure. Human Resources is one of those iffy areas. For the past two weeks, I've been fighting HR (which has been outsourced to a third party) to get added to The Database. As of today, that finally happened .. but not without a lot of phone calls to their IVR [Interactive Voice Response] system.

I feel like I'm on a first name basis with the female voice; I've memorized the IVR menu. "Internal or external?," she asks .. then "new hire questions" .. I've been through this every morning for the past week.
"This call may be recorded for quality control purposes."
.. which is probably a gentle reminder not to use profanity while interacting with the live human who will eventually take my call.

It's been over twenty (20) years since I worked for Texas Instruments, when their first generation of Speech Recognition products were sold at ComputerLand (remember them?). For the price of the PC itself (well over $3000 for even a basic model) you could add a board which would act as a Macro Processor when you uttered pre-trained phrases. Each user had to train the system with their voice (whatever you do, don't try to use this when you have a cold). Words/phrases had to be discrete .. separated by a Moment Of Silence: say "Open .. Spreadsheet" and it would do the Lotus 1-2-3 "File Retrieve" (ESC ESC /FR) command: WOW. I recall making a House Call to a quadriplegic who bought one of the first models; his stress-testing was significantly more demanding than the sales guy who wanted to impress his clients with a command to "Get .. Email" or "Call .. Hooker".

IVR has improved since it first appeared (the airlines deployed them, to handle routine questions from travellers wanting to know our gate assignment). I remember the euphoria I felt when Delta Airlines asked me to "press or say [ONE]" as a choice. I said "[ONE]" and it understood my (thick Nebraska) accent, without spending an hour or more training the system: WOW.

Evidently, the systems may be customized for a target audience. The IVR at Virgin Mobile (cellphone) is named Amber, and I can tell that she wants to smack her chewing gum, each time I call. I envision a saucy redhead with a few tattoos, and piercings here there and everywhere.

By the way .. the I in IVR is important: Interactive. Don't confuse this with the (thankfully relic) automobiles which told us "Your Door Is A Jar" but didn't expect a response.
The White Zone is for the immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. No parking.
Someday, I'd like to meet the woman who records the IVR system; I feel a certain bond with her. Will she be tall or short? A redhead or brunette? Will her eyes sparkle with mischief when she tells me to "please hold for the next available operator"? My heart goes pitter-patter at the thought. I'll bet she smells like lilacs after a gentle spring rain. Hopefully she won't pick her nose while we sip lattes alongside the Champs d'Elyse.

Perhaps the airlines will replace Flight Attendants with IVRs?
"I'd like a pillow, please" and poof! it'd drop onto my lap. "How's about another 7-and-7?" and it'd be sitting on my tray table .. shaken, not stirred.
"Please raise your seatbacks to a fully upright and locked position, stow all your carryons under the seat in front of you or in one of the overhead bins. Try not to whimper when you arrive at baggage carousel 3 and find your belongings ripped to shreds by our automated system."
Will all future customer service interaction be handled exclusively by IVRs - negating the need to converse with someone (code-)named Daisy in Bangalore? Time will tell. Until then,
Have .. A .. Nice .. Day.

Wednesday, February 22

you want fries with that?

Everytime I get a new PC*, I end up buying a few hundred dollars of peripherals to make it work gooder [sic]. This time, those goodies included some wireless-G (802.11G) stuff; a gigabit switch (replaces a 10 Mb hub that was manufactured when Teddy Roosevelt was President); and a Bluetooth mouse (for my PowerBook).
* defined very loosely .. includes everything from a Palm PDA to an Apple PowerBook. I figure that if it done got a CPU, it kin be kalt a PC.
If computer manufacturers were smart (and I now put Apple to the top of that list after my recent positive experience) they'd include incentives to buy more of their peripherals, soon after the PC purchase. Maybe they do, and I simply haven't noticed (which is as good as not doing it). Then again, sometimes a 3rd party peripheral is best (example: the Rhino case I selected for my PDA, after the Palm-branded one proved to be terribly inferior).

Also, I continue to be impressed/amused with Buy.com .. I ordered one of the wireless components through them, then opted for "FREE Budget Shipping" instead of Standard. The stuff arrived the next day (good thing I didn't pay extra for Next Day Delivery). To be fair, it shipped from Carrollton, Texas which is an easy drive from my home, so UPS didn't have to work too hard to pull that off.

Monday, February 20

a new addition to the family

Well, this was easy. I'm entering this blog posting from my new PowerBook G4 which arrived either 7 or 3 days early, depending on which shipping story you believe. I ordered it on my 2nd day back at work, long before my badge or LDAP entry was up. The setup was trivial; it didn't even ask for my timezone yet seemed to figure it out without any problem. Ditto for the Maxtor Shared Storage box, which is my home (300 GB) fileserver .. it found the CIFS/SMB workgroup and all I had to do was login. Windows XP itself should be this easy.

Photo: two currently popular laptops:
Apple's PowerBook G4 and Acer's Ferrari 4005

The Blogger interface is missing a few buttons but I'll probably figure that out in a day or so. I have a few networking issues to settle here at home, including upgrading my Ethernet hub from a 10 Mb variety to something of this century, and slapping a Wireless-G network atop my ADSL circuit. That can wait a few days, while I learn more about Mac OS X.

Saturday, February 18

Mystery solved!

Someone finally explained to me what these bumper stickers mean (I've been seeing them on SUVs for the past few years). They identify the driver as mentally handicapped, and others are advised to maintain a safe distance between your vehicle and theirs.

Friday, February 17

the danger of Too Much Information

There are times when it's wise not to say too much. Such was the case when I went to get a document notarized this morning.

I was attempting to complete an affidavit for my attorney; it's for a small claims issue and is only a single page long. It states a couple facts and is targeted at mom's bank, which (due to acquisition) has branches here in Dallas. So, I thought it would be proper to have this notarized at one of those branches, since they could verify the account balance as stipulated in the affidavit.

I ran into a roadblock in the form of the branch's Vice President*; she refused to notarize the document, citing confidentiality laws. The trouble is that the role of the Notary Public is not to attest to the (presumed) facts in a document; rather, they are simply confirming that the person who signed the document in their presence is who he claims to be.

I left the branch and proceeded to another bank. This time, I simply advised I was there to have my document notarized. This Notary Public asked to see my Driver's License, watched me sign the document and then affixed her official stamp. Done. Was that so hard?
* Banks are notorious for paying small wages, and they compensate by giving grand titles to most folks who work there.

This morning (~8:30am) the weather forecast was:

As such, the town's in a massive panic, and the lines in the grocery stores are long. There's nothing like fear to motivate the locals, who might otherwise run out of pork rinds and chicken wings during this impending catastrophe.

Thursday, February 16

Thursday: short sleeves. Friday: parka?

As DMN columnist Alan Melson opined:
"Just 24 hours after temperatures in Dallas-Fort Worth reached the mid-80s, forecasters are expecting a high Friday afternoon of just 39 degrees - and a good chance that freezing precipitation will hit the area as commuters make their way home."
Indeed, it's 84F as I publish this entry, but a strong wind started at 17:38 which may signal The Cold Front coming through town. I suppose I should do what all Texans are trained to do when the temp drops below 50F: go to the grocery store and buy anything remaining on the shelves.

Unrelated: I went back to work Monday, after "a few weeks off" .. but haven't been able to do much because I'm not yet In The System. I've been able to gather information on the teams I'll work with, but not much else yet. Maybe by President's Day (the Holiest holiday in the USA).

I was told that I'd need a laptop, so .. throwing caution to the wind .. decided on an Apple PowerBook G4. If shipping schedules can be believed, it'll be in my hands next week. I've never owned a Mac before and I anticipate a steep learning curve. I suppose I should set it up on a wireless-G net here at home? Maybe one of my ever-so-thoughtful neighbors has an unsecured network that I can tap into? Hmm. Decisions, decisions.

Saturday, February 11

liked it so nice, they named it (more than) twice

I often use both the Mozilla browser, and Internet Explorer. Lately, MS-IE is really starting to annoy me, in that it fails to exit properly when I File/Close it.

Today, the system seemed sluggish so I checked Windows Task Manager to find 17 (yes, seventeen!) copies of the iexplore.exe image in memory. Oy, veh. Who writes this crap?

speak-o Spanish-o, anyone?

on the southeast corner of Coit/Spring Valley (near Fiesta Mart)

Friday, February 10

road trip : day eight (final)

My roadtrip of 2,153 miles (through seven states*) is complete. I was too tired to make it all the way to Dallas, and spent the night at a nondescript motel in Lindale, TX (according to the receipt). I didn't stop for The City Tour, which included yet-another Cracker Barrel restaurant and yet-another catfish restaurant.
* Texas; Louisiana; Mississippi; Arkansas; Missouri; Tennessee; Kentucky
While in the car (4 days of about 500 miles per segment) I survived on a diet of lots of hot coffee, assuming I couldn't find Starbucks doubleshot (espresso & cream) and Moon Pies in the various truck stops and/or gas stations.

While making my way down I-55 to Jackson MS (before hanging a right onto I-20) I used the AUTOSCAN feature of my car radio, which finds the 6 strongest signals and programs a special bank of buttons. After deciding I couldn't stomach either country music or rightwing talk radio, I happened across an NPR station, affiliated with Mississippi Public Radio. I was amazed to find voices of reason amidst the flatscape that defines the Mississippi Delta.

I made a brief stop at a Love's Truck Stop in Van TX, hoping to find a ballcap with their logo for sale: no such luck. It rained (lightly) the rest of the way into Dallas, which included The Morning Rush hour at about 7mph.

This afternoon, I went to the post office to retrieve my "held mail". I wasn't asked for any ID before the postal worker just forked over the week's worth of mail. So much for protection from identity thieves!

Miscellany #7: two businesses didn't comply with the Credit Card Truncation regulations (a flower shop in Mississippi and a hotel in Texas). Eight others were in compliance. I wonder if that 80% compliance score is a nationwide average: I hope not!

Miscellany #83: My car requires premium unleaded fuel. I paid between $2.38 and $2.62 per gallon during this trip.

Wednesday, February 8

road trip : day six

The hard part of the trip is now behind me; now there are no schedules to keep, other than being in Grenada tomorrow to handle various financial details.

This morning, I stopped at the National Corvette Museum (Bowling Green KY) for about 90 minutes. I took quite a few photos, but wonder what I took that thousands before me have not.

1958 Corvette in the Mobilgas exhibit

En route from Memphis TN to Jackson MS (on I-55), I passed through Batesville MS (known regionally for a factory outlet mall that has The Usual Suspects -- clothing, china, books). Nearby, I passed the Batesville Casket Company, where both my parents' caskets were made. I wondered what happens if anyone ever stops in for a "factory tour".
Deep thought: I visited Costco last year and noticed they sold caskets, but I didn't inspect it for the manufacturer. I wonder how their sales have been, and if the market will soon be flooded with low-cost imported caskets from China.
Not having constant access to the Internet on this trip was a pain; the local public library in Grenada MS (which I'd used before) had a sign in the window that said "NO INTERNET" with no additional explanation; maybe they didn't pay their ISP's bill? When I get back, I'll have to investigate "sepsis" to see what it's all about.

Tuesday, February 7

road trip : day five

Today was the second funeral (this one, for the Kentucky crowd) and burial. It was cold, but the sky was clear. I saw one cousin whom I hadn't seen in 35 years or so. Lots of faces at the funeral home, most of which I remembered (although some have weathered time a lot better than others).

Tonight, one of my cousins took me out to eat : at the local Cracker Barrel restaurant. I was mildly surprised to find a low-carb section, amidst their mainstream offerings of artery-clogging this and artery-clogging that.

Monday, February 6

road trip : day four

It was cold (45F ?) and rainy here in Grenada MS, so it's good there's no outdoor service today. The weather probably kept quite a few people at home, although mom spent the last two years in a nursing home and didn't know many people other than neighbors and relatives. I spotted several of my cousins, whom I see every few years at other funerals. It seems like that's the only consistent time that families gather. The last family reunion here was probably 20 years ago.

The "default route" from Memphis to Louisville goes through Nashville (I-40), but since I left Mississippi at noon, that would have put me in Nashville at 5pm. To avoid that, I took I-55 north of Memphis TN, which parallels the Mississippi River in eastern Arkansas and Missouri. I then took I-155 into western Tennessee and caught up with the Purchase Parkway in western Kentucky, passing through Fulton and Eddyville (state prison) for the first time. This led to I-24 and then the Western Kentucky Parkway.

Weird roadsign of the day: Eddyville Fun Park. Where better to put a Fun Park, than in the same city as the state's maximum security prison?

Even though it was The Dead Of Winter, the drive along the Kentucky parkways was picturesque (until after dark, when the only light is provided by oncoming cars). A bit more planning's required on this route; there aren't gas stations every five miles, like on the interstates.

I haven't done a detailed mileage calculation, but it doesn't appear to be a lot further than the I-40 to I-65 route (Memphis-Nashville-Louisville). It was certainly a much less strenuous drive, through lots of rolling Kentucky farmland.

I guess I should get out more. Or pay more attention to the signs imprinted on the 18-wheelers that prowl the interstate highways. This one ("MOLTEN SULFUR") caught my eye, somewhere on my recent roadtrip. Needless to say, I didn't follow it very long. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, February 4

road trip : day two

My aunt and I met with the funeral director this morning, and everything's in motion. The next available day for a funeral is Monday, so now we'll simply notify everyone, and wait.

This smalltown funeral home handles about 90 funerals a year, and (Murphy's Law) now they have four scheduled in four days.

Long ago, we decided it would be best to hold two services: one in Mississippi (mom's side of the family) and another in Kentucky (dad's side, where she lived for 42 years). So, we'll hold one Monday morning here in Grenada MS and another the next afternoon in Louisville KY. The cost to transport mom is about equal (flying versus driving) so we opted to use ground transportation. Mom always hated the idea of flying, anyway.

Friday, February 3

road trip : day one

gotta git me some-o-dat flavored syurp (at the World-Famous Canton, TX Dairy Palace)

I got The Call this morning at about 6:30, soon after I'd fetched the morning paper. I'd already made plans for an urgent trip to Mississippi, since mom's health was deteriorating rapidly.

It takes about an hour longer to drive door-to-door, than to fly (drive to DFW, park, take an airport shuttle, wait, fly, rent a car @ JAN, drive 2 hours) .. and you're at the mercy of ATC. I opted to drive, especially since a lot of schedule uncertainty would be ahead.

It rained hard today, for about half the drive. I encountered snow (on the side of I-20) about 10 miles before Vicksburg MS, and again a few miles north of Jackson MS. For about a minute, I was hailed on (no obvious damage from the pea-size hail). And there were several nearby lightning strikes. I didn't spot any toads falling from the sky.

Although I knew there was hail in the area (from a few quips on the CB radio) I wasn't able to dodge it. All I saw was a dark black cloud .. but where would it go? It's not like I could knock on someone's door and ask if I could park my car while the hailstorm passed.

Drive time: 7 hours 45 minutes. No major delays.

I stopped by the funeral home this afternoon and got the form they use to gather all the information; it'll be the basis for the Death Certificate; newspaper obituaries; and sundry other documents. I completed it tonight:

Vital Statistics Record
residence address
education level
marital status
spouse's name
social security number
telephone number
veteran? Branch:
service number
enlistment date
discharge date
father's name & birthplace
mother's name & birthplace
church membership

list of surviving relatives

funeral service information
place of funeral service
date of funeral service
time of funeral service
place of visitation
date of visitation
time of visitation
final disposition: burial/entombment/cremation/other
Bible/literary passages
musical selections
pall bearers
clothing preferred: own/funeral home/other
jewelry: on/off disposition after service
glasses: on/off disposition after service
use of flag: yes/no/folded/drape casket/present to:
memorials or donations
newspapers to contact
military discharge papers
cemetery property deed
insurance policies
additional information or requests
casket: outer contai ner:
person authorized to arrange final details

record of death
date of death
cause of death
place of death
pronounced by:

Thursday, February 2

human-animal hybrids

Tuesday night, President Quagmire told the nashun that he wants "a constitushional ammemmunt" to make human-animal hybrids illegal. Although it may not have been obvious, He's (no doubt) talking about this trio:

human-fish .. human-wolf .. human-?? ..

Okay, so he really just said he wants the Congress to Passalaw.

Boris & Natasha in 2006

did the Nigerians finally give up? This gem landed in my inbox today. The emails and URLs have been removed to protect the innocent (you).
Name:Borris Olga(Mr)
Email: (removed)

Dear friend

I am Mr. Borris Olga a personal treasurer to Mikhail Khodorkovsky the Richest man in Russia and owner of the following companies, Chairman CEO: YUKOS OIL (Russian Largest Oil Company) Chairman CEO: Menatep SBP Bank (A well reputable financial institution with its Branches all over the world).


I have a profiling amount in an excess of US$100.5M, which I seek your Partnership in accommodating for me. You will be rewarded with 4% of The total sum for your partnership. Can you be my partner on this???


As a personal consultant to him, authority Was handed over to me in transfer of money of an American oil merchant For his last oil deal with my boss Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Already the funds have left the shore of Russia to an European private Bank where the final crediting is expected to be carried out. While I was on the process, My Boss got arrested for his Involvement in politics by financing the leading And opposing political parties (the Union of Right Forces,led by Boris Nemtsov, and Yabloko, a liberal/social democratic party Led by Gregor Yavlinsky) which poses treat to President Vladimir Putin Second Tenure as Russian president.

You can catch more of the story on This website:
(3 other URLs removed)


All I need from you is to stand as the beneficiary of the Above quoted Sum and I will re-profile the funds with your name, which will enable The European bank transfer the sum to you. I have decided to use this Sum to relocate to American continent and never to be connected to any Of Mikhail Khodorkovsky conglomerates.As Soon as I confirm your readiness to conclude the transaction with me, I Will provide you with the details.Please reach me through this email address: XXX for further corresponding.

Thank you very much.

Borris Olga(Mr)

Wednesday, February 1

an alternative to The Spin

Instead of watching President Quagmire spew more lies, Jacquie-Bob and I moseyed down to Celebration Restaurant for dinner last night .. I'd never been before. Three of her friends joined us, in what's become a monthly event. None of us gave a flip about the State of the Union address.

Celebration reminded me of a cross between The Black-Eyed Pea (home cookin') and someone's home (several small rooms, with one to six tables each). I munched on blueberry muffins, pot roast, spinach and carrots. All were .. well, okay .. but not spectacular. For home cookin' I prefer The String Bean (not a chain).

Now, my big challenge is making a serious dent in the piles-o-paper that continue to grow at home. Each room is developing a pile, with its own personality. I hope the piles don't become sentient (like Adam & Eve did 6000 years ago, after shifting the continents and burying all those dinosaur bones), and attack me or the pets.