Wednesday, March 29, 2006

17 years

Stardate 59032.9
For 17 years, since March 29th, 1989, I have worked for essentially the same company. It seems weird if I think about it. I never applied for a job there, and I didn’t do an interview. I was working for a local game developer when a high school friend called me. He wanted to know if I would do some consulting work in the evenings; mainly wiring new terminals and printers. After about a month and a half, the manager was waiting for me one evening. He asked if I wanted to come to work for them as a full time employee. I didn’t even think about it. So here are a few items I have for memories.

First Job: Wiring new Wyse 50 character terminals for an Alpha Micro minicomputer. IBM AT personal computers with 80386 processors were still a novelty, although most of the ones I set up had Turbo switches.

First Technical Coup: We sold medical payment guideline data, distributed on 9 track reel to reel tapes. These are the big tapes often seen in old movies spinning back and forth when a director wants to show a computer in operation. We had two formats: our own, which was five relational files, and one used by a competitor that used one file where the information was repeated over and over. The first format could fit on a 720K floppy, but the second was 177 Mb. That’s not large today, but huge at the time. A new tape machine that ran off of a PC and did not require us to manually thread tape was a major improvement. My manager wrote a program to write out the second format from the first. It took three days to run in a language called Foxbase. I took a look at it, and found that he has a loop to look at each of the 1.4 million rows, and a loop inside of that to look at each of the 133 bytes of each row to determine if a zero was needed. I added a string to preset the zeros (the positions didn’t change), and fill in the amounts over the zeros as needed. That eliminated the need for the inner loop, which meant the program looped 1.4 million times, instead of 186.2 million times (1.4 million rows times 133 times for each row). It ran in hours instead of days. I still refer to Larsen Loops from time to time, although nobody is left that remembers this.

Employee when I started: 30
Employees now: ~ 34,000 (Parent company as a whole)

Number of Managers: 18

Number of CEOs: 8

Number of different names for company: 7

Highest pressure day: One morning around 6, I got a call that the accounting server was down. I found that the hard drive had crashed, and needed to be replaced. I can’t remember where I found a replacement, but I did. I reinstalled the SCO UNIX OS, and restored the accounting software and data from a tape backup. Payroll was due the next day, and I am sure to this day most of the 150 employees came by that day to see if they were getting paychecks the next day. I got it operational around 8 that night, and the HR manager was done with payroll around 2 AM. I feel more pressure about letting down friends than people I don’t really know.

Least favorite airport: Atlanta. There is nothing wrong with it, but every time I have been through it, I have had problems. One time on my way to Tampa to do a conversion for a new client, I was held up for 6 hours there as they located a new aircraft because the one we were taking had ‘mechanical problems’. I arrived at the client site about 4 AM the next day. Another time we went in for the landing, only to bank and go back up again. The pilot came on and explained that another plane was in the runway and he thought it best to abort and try again. I don’t think anyone on board disagreed. Kansas City comes in second, but I’ve only been there once. A storm was going on, and it was a roller coaster all the way in. I don’t like roller coasters.

Technical Achievements: I’ve written a couple of TSRs (Terminate and Stay Resident, for those of you who remember the MS-DOS 5 and 6 days) that did database lookups. I wrote scripts to automatically rebuild and deploy updates to a test environment as soon as an updated was checked it. This was a few years before I heard the terms Continuous Integration and eXtreme Programming (XP).

Graphs are the way to go: A client complained of slow performance in a server application. I wanted to be able to demonstrate improvements to both the client and the executives, so I spent a day or so putting together a group of programs and macros to read the server logs, collate the information, import it into Excel, and generate page with graphs and totals showing the gains. This was so persuasive that I spent the next few months generating graphs for various clients before crying uncle. The main reason I couldn’t keep it up is that the logs were coming to me compressed via email. For security, Outlook would not automate saving and decompressing the data. I did learn a lot about Excel and Visual Basic for Applications. The process was used for years after by various tech support personnel.

Fun times: I had an office next to the systems admin for about a year. He’s a LotR fan. We get along very well. Several times, he would come over and have me shut down unapproved services (FTP, Telnet servers, snoopers, etc), because corporate was coming. I set up some tripwire programs, and when they were set off, I would shoot an email off to him asking what day the audit was because he had run a port scanner.

Frustrations: Years ago, we were looking for a new technology platform. I spent about a week working with a vendor, and one day demonstrating the technology to the executive staff. The next day I found out the decision had already been made some weeks before, and a consulting company had started work on it. I’ve never understood why I was allowed to waste time on something that didn’t have a chance.

I also had a VP who called a staff meeting for input on an ‘important’ decision. The issue was what file cabinet drawer the floppies should be stored in. The staff was very irritated.

Worries: I am always concerned when I fill out job applications, and I come to the part about listing your job history for the last 5, 7, or 10 years. They provide 4-6 boxes, but I can only fill in the top one.

The obvious final question is how long will I stay. My final answer is: I don’t know. I didn’t anticipate staying this long. I do not subscribe to the grass is greener theory, and my employer does give me a lot of leeway and flexibility. There are a few other reasons to keep on going. However, if someone was to offer the same pay with a significantly reduced commute and a good technical challenge, I’d seriously consider it.

End of Entry

Monday, March 27, 2006


Stardate 59032.7
Last week seemed to go by in a flash. I just can’t remember much. Tuesday was the indoor soccer playoff. Patrick’s team lost. Defensively they made a lot of mistakes. The other team was good. Where our team chased the ball, they had a player in the middle, and passed to him. I yelled at them to cover the guy, and Patrick moved over when he could, but it just didn’t sink in. I did notice that Patrick played the whole game, and every other kid was subbed out. Tonight is the last game. The coach has gotten a little intense, so we are glad it is over.

After the game Patrick and Thomas went with the Cub Scouts to the mini-golf and bowling place in Roy. This is the place that has blacklight painting, and if you wear white, you glow. Thomas did better than Patrick. They were loud, but there was no one else there, so we let them go.

Outdoor soccer starts on Saturday. No schedule yet, which does not make the coaches happy. I did manage get all the practices on Friday at 5 for Rachel, Patrick, and Thomas. This means I only need to drive out to Ogden once. The commissioner wants to move games out of one area they call ‘The Pit”. I’ll applaud that decision because the fields there are a swamp. He also wants to post the schedule and playing fields on a bulletin board. I’m following the gondola thing in the paper, because they all practice and play at Mount Ogden Park. There is talk about doing away with the golf course, and the public recreation there. I’m not sure what the plans are, or if anyone really knows, but I don’t know of another park big enough to handle all the games. I was looking at the mountain last Friday, and I don’t see where a west facing ski slope would fit. I’m sure someone has an idea, otherwise they would not be considering it.

Thursday and Friday Patrick was sick. April and I were questioning if he was actually sick on Thursday, but we gave him the benefit of the doubt. Friday he was pasty, but insisted he could go to school. I told him he was stuck home after he threw up in the kitchen. I went to school to pick up Thomas, and talked to his teacher about homework. She thought he wasn’t that sick, and wondered what happened. After I told her, she said “Thank you for not sending him here”.

I worked from home Friday, basically working on a CBT for Microsoft Solutions Framework. The CBT was structured in a strange way. It did a pre-assessment, then a quick tutorial, then back to testing again. It won’t let past the first module, even though I answered all the questions correctly.

Saturday was the first in a long time where we did not need to go anywhere. At least that’s what I thought. It wasn’t until Sunday morning we remembered Thomas was supposed to go to a birthday party. Rachel did go to a schoolmate’s birthday party at Layton Fun Center Saturday night. The parents rented the whole place.

Sunday I bought a portable basketball hoop. Patrick played with it for hours, and only gave up after it got dark. I am looking forward to warmer weather, although the forecast doesn’t have much hope for the next couple of weeks. Cabin fever is setting in, or maybe spring fever.

So much for ‘real life’, as Erica put it on the Tico message board. As for the Mountain-Con site, things have been vague about what everyone wants done. There have been a few emails, but there needs to be a get-together about it. It doesn’t help that I am occupied most nights.

Next Monday the kids and I start a fishing course in Clearfield, so dinners with my dad will move to Thursdays. Fencing is on hold for a while. We feel that Patrick is a little overscheduled. I hope to pick it up again in the summer.

I didn’t get on the scale yet, so I don’t know how much I weigh.

Music: “Get your head in the game” from Disney’s High School Musical.

End of Entry

Monday, March 20, 2006

Master Bath

Stardate 59032.0
The master bath is once again mostly functional. The shower needs a lot of work, but that requires breaking up the mud bed and getting down to the bare floor. We are not sure how all this is supposed to go together. A guy at Home Depot said the shower pan is supposed to be right underneath the tile, but it is not. I am confused as to what goes where in here. The bathroom itself has been repainted, and a new set of towel racks installed. The toilet is back in place.

Friday Thomas spent his allowance on a Lego Slave 1. I was out at the Senior Officers Meeting, and it was left to me on Saturday morning to build it. It had 537 pieces. Four hours later I completed it. Patrick bought the Darth Vader Voice Changer; something April conceded is kind of neat. The changer does not make you sound like James Earl Jones, something that kind of disappointed me.

The kids have discovered the games on the EyeToy for the Playstation. These are pretty good in that you don’t sit there wearing out your thumbs on a controller. You need to get up and move. And with some of them, you move a lot. This was a good investment from my point of view, especially since it’s been raining or snowing much of the week.

Saturday was the Girl Scout Cookie booth. The weather was tolerable; at least it didn’t rain until they were almost done. The good part is all the boxes of cookies have been sold.

The downside to the weekend is that I didn’t check some of the blogs. Scott Adams wanted examples of mob rule where the majority did not think the rule was moral. That’s kind of a conflict. When I thought it over, I can’t think of that many laws or rules that are a result of a majority. Most of the ‘majority’ rules are a minority with the majority being apathetic. It’s a little late to comment on his blog now, but I think Scott’s parameters were vague, and his conclusions based on the absence of information.

Weight: 190 lbs (I put a new battery in the scale)

End of Entry

Friday, March 17, 2006


Stardate 59031.7
XO, move over! Monday we had the linoleum replaced in both upstairs bathrooms. The one in the kids bathroom was cracked and protruding up at the edges. The installer would not move the toilets because that was plumbing and intruded on union lines. So Sunday I removed the bolts with a cutter because they were stuck, and moved two toilets out of the way. The one in the kids bathroom has been put back, but I also needed to remove some of the baseboards in our bathroom which took some paint with it. That meant repainting. April put the first coat on Wednesday; the next coat should go on soon.

Wednesday as well we had a washer and stove delivered. The washer was making noises and not spinning well. The repair guy said it was the control broad, and showed me why. To repair that would cost $300, so we decided to just buy a new one to match the dryer. The stove was fine, but as long as they were delivering a washer, they might as well bring a stove. Why wait for that to die?

The D.I. came that day, and picked up my 3 foot tall speakers, our old bed frame, a bunch of old clothes, a TV stand, and some stuffed animals (Thomas had 50 in his collection on the bottom half of his bed according to Rachel). They were a little surprised at the amount of stuff. I helped them load it, which they said I didn’t have to, but I explained that I wanted to put the van back in the garage. Rachel was home sick that day with stomach problems.

I drew the ‘Duty to God’ achievement for Scouts on Tuesday. I find it ironic because I am not particularly religious. I did ok with it. I also did Talking . This was a lot more fun. I gave them a Japanese phrase and counting from one to ten in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. This showed them about using the same language to get the message across. I showed them the Cyrillic alphabet, and had them draw maps and give directions. Patrick told April later that she doesn’t need to take him to scouts anymore, I’m more fun. Patrick and I also talked about Klingon on the way home, and he wants to learn to count in that language.

Saturday was busy, busy, busy. Almost everything I went to started late and ran late. The last basketball games ran over, the Scout Sunday, and the movie started late. It was The Shaggy Dog, the remake of The Shaggy D.A. The boys loved it, but I was bored. The last event, the Ticonderoga Tenth Anniversary BBQ started on time, at least as far as I know. That was fun. I spent the night talking computer games and about the closing of Totally Awesome Computers. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to geek out.

Turning the clock forward to Thursday, Thomas stayed home sick. This is the first time this school year. April and I were a little disappointed that he would not get perfect attendance. Oh, well.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Patrick puts today up there with Halloween and Easter for holidays. He doesn’t understand why everyone else is not as excited about it as he is. He got up at 5:30 AM to look for gold coins left by the leprechauns. It was raining this morning, so they didn’t leave any yet. Maybe later today.

End of Entry

Monday, March 06, 2006

TAC No More

Stardate 59030.6
Totally Awesome Computers is no more? I just read about this on Carl Stark’s blog. It’s about time. I’ve read a few blog entries about how the store treated it’s employees, all not complementary. I went into one several years ago when I was shopping for a new computer. I already had a configuration in mind, but they didn’t have what I wanted. They attempted to sell me what they did have. This is the job of sales, but two of TAC’s salesmen went about it the wrong way by telling me I was mistaken. When I asked if they had any systems with Windows ME installed, they proceeded to tell me no, it would not run any of the current software. I disagreed and told them ME was Windows 98 with some enhancements and UI tweaks. (I had a system with ME on it for years. I found one program that would not run, other than some that the hardware did not meet specs. The program failed because I had DirectX 8 installed, and a patch fixed that.) The discussion went on for about ten minutes in the same vein, each time they tried to get me to buy a system I didn’t want. I said thanks and left. I called my wife and told her we were never buying anything from them.

Rachel played her last basketball game Saturday. Actually it was a double-header, although I didn’t find out until after the first game. She made an impressive shot off a quick in, and was jumping all over the court after. She played very aggressively, and actually fouled twice. The coach told her a couple of times that she played a great game. I wish this had come about sooner. Patrick had a hard game, and lost by a single basket. It was a little disappointing, because he was driving for the basket in the last few seconds when the defender slapped his arm, but the foul was not called. He dropped the ball because of it, and saved it from going out of bounds right in front of where we were sitting. The referee called it out, and gave the ball to the other team. Time ran out before we got another chance. Oh well, it’s only a game.

Thomas’s birthday party went well on Friday night. He and his friends played on the inflatables at Layton Fun Center. We paid extra for a room, which was kind of a waste. It was a room with a space theme. The boys climbed over the console and kept slapping all the buttons. It was more of a distraction from the party then a help. But everyone had fun, and Thomas was happy.

The boss asked my coworkers if everything was worked out with the new systems. I didn’t get the original, but I was CC’ed on reply, where I was credited with fixing the issues. I appreciated that.

The battery is out on the scale again. No idea how much I weigh.

End of Entry

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

March again

Stardate 59030.1
March again. Seems like it was only March this time last year. You are supposed to laugh. It is also the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, and for some, a time to sacrifice. For the next 47 (yes, its 40 days, but I read David-Morgan Mar’s explanation, and the 40 days does not count Sundays) days I am sacrificing beef, poultry, and pork. Meat is off the food list. I am not sure why seafood is not considered meat. I might do some research if I remember to. The other reason for sacrificing the meat is my weight is still going up, and I am looking to change my diet to turn the trend around. This is the practical and efficient use of resource view that on occasion annoys April.

It snowed again last week, and Rachel, Patrick, and I went sledding again. The little embankment in Kaysville is slippery, and Rachel has a hard time climbing it. Someone had made a rope climb, but she refused to use that. So in the time it took her to do one run, Patrick did four by using the rope. He found a small jump someone had made, and went over it and flying for a few feet. He loved it. A woman suggested getting the foam sleds for that, though, because the plastic ones have no padding. I went over one of the jumps a few weeks earlier, and my back and hips hurt the rest of the day, so I can’t agree more. My legs were sore for a few days following, so I consider it good exercise.

Thomas is now six. His birthday was yesterday. The down side is that Patrick had a soccer game, a First Communion tour of the church, and the Cub Scout Blue and Gold Banquet. And Thomas had to go to school, which he was not happy about. Patrick took the opposite view; he wishes he could go to school on his birthday, which is always on Christmas break. The grass is always greener syndrome. His party is Friday evening at the Layton Fun Center, and he is really looking forward to that. One of his classmates is having another birthday party there on Saturday. I suppose they won’t mind going two days in a row.

The banquet was fun. We let the kids bid on one cake each. The CubMaster was delighted with that, and I got several thank yous for the wonderful support (this is the only fundraiser for the pack). Thomas got a cake with King Kong figures, Patrick one with pirate stuff and walkie talkies, and Rachel got one shaped like a pig (it was a Hawaiian Luau theme).

Patrick had his friend Trey stay the night last Friday, and April worked Saturday, so I skipped Thomas’s basketball game. Not that I would have heard a complaint from Trey, the kid is very polite and accommodating. But it’s not much fun to be dragged out of bed and up to Ogden for a couple hours. We dropped Trey off at his home on the way to Patrick’s game. He played well, and his team won. The lady sitting behind me on the bleachers during the game was a mom for one of the kids on the other team. She started talking to me about how the kids on Patrick’s team could not be eight years old. Most of the kids on his team go to St. Benedict’s, and I know they are all seven or eight, and I told her that. She huffed, and said the boys were all really big, and that I said she might be right, but that’s the way the team was put together. She made a good suggestion that maybe they should include height on the forms. It may not make a difference, though, there are some relatively short kids who play really well.

Rachel’s game went pretty much the same as the rest, with her standing on one end of the court or the other. Then the girl who never passes to anyone but her friend passed the ball to Rachel, who took a shot. She didn’t make it, but I said maybe a little too loudly, “OMG, did she get a pass?” She got fouled, and had two free throw attempts. She made the second one, which made the game worthwhile for her.

Monday my Dad and I went to Denny’s instead of Sizzler for dinner. That was a little frustrating for me because the server messed up my order, and the kid just could not get it straightened out. The manager came over twice to fix it. Later my dad launched into the story about why my grandfather (his father) never would go to church, except for friends funerals. My great grandfather (first name John) was a womanizer, and my great-grandmother finally divorced him over it. The minister of the Methodist church they attended did a sermon not long after about how women who divorced were no better than whores. It was all my great-grandmother could do to keep my grandfather (he was a teenager then) from giving the minister a beating. From then on he refused to go to any church.

It occurs to me that when people ask me if I am related to John Madden, I could tell them he’s my great grandfather, provided they are not specific about the sportscaster. That would be interesting to see the reaction. I had that question last week.

April picked up a book called Marly & Me, about a dog owner and his slightly demented Labrador Retriever. It’s a good book. I started reading it Saturday afternoon, and finished it Monday night. I can relate to the antics of the dog in the book, our dog Leo has done some of the same things. Leo, however, has calmed down in the last couple of years. The author was surprised when his dog was frightened by thunder, and that this was common in dogs. Every dog I have had has cowered and shivered at the sound. Leo is ok so long as he can have contact with someone when it happens.

April bought a new bed for us yesterday from RC Willey. The salesman said the headboard was backordered, and it would be a week before it could be delivered. This morning, just as we were leaving, the delivery driver called to say the bed would be there in about 30 minutes. This was good, I guess, but some more warning would have been nice.

Monday was the day the databases were moved to a new server at work. I thought I had prepared the development staff for it, but I was mistaken. Panic was pushed to the group. Development stopped because the virtual machines (VM) could not see the new servers. I asked what was being done and what they had found. Nothing on both questions. I logged into one of the VMs and pinged the servers. No response. I pinged the IP addresses for the servers. That worked. This leads me to check the Domain Name Servers (DNS) in the TCP/IP setup. Yup, there are a couple of missing entries. Things worked after I added them to each of the VMs. This should not frustrate me, but I wonder why I get the task of diagnosing and solving the problem. A DNS problem is pretty simple to find and fix, at least in my mind. It’s probably because this follows a review last week were I rated average, and I don’t ‘step up’ enough.

Music for the Moment: The Ballad of Davy Crockett – Mannheim Steamroller Meets the Mouse
Weight: 205 lbs

End of Entry