30
July
2014
Permalink

Today we had a conference call scheduled with a client. The purpose of the call was to decide how many opportunities the client’s customers (end users) would have to install a software license before the system told them they’d exhausted their attempts and would need to contact customer support.

Generally you don’t want to give customers just a single attempt, because something might go wrong during the installation process, or they might get a new computer and want to continue using the same license, and so forth. On the other hand, you don’t want to give them tens or hundreds of attempts because that opens the door for rampant piracy. So we knew going into it that the number would probably be in the neighborhood of 3 to 5.

Prior to the call, Ben commented that there really wasn’t any need for us (the development team) to even be a part of the call because in the end, it was a business decision for our client. We could save a lot of time– that’s billable time from us– if the client had this conversation internally and then spent two seconds telling us the number they decided to use. Unfortunately, they insisted we join the call so Ben and Josh spent 55 minutes listening on the conference line (not really even offering input) as about a dozen people at the client site debated the merits of 3 versus 4 and so forth.

I felt kind of bad that Ben and Josh had to endure that, because I came up to them after the call had ended and asked for the two-second summary. Ben said the number they chose was…

here it comes…

wait for it…

3

Ahh, meetings.

19
July
2014
Permalink

Pawel Kuczynski is a Polish artist who has just released a series of paintings with clever social commentary. Two of my favorites are these:

tear-down-erect-another

(Especially apropos given the situation in the Ukraine and other places.)

facebook-periscope

19
July
2014
Permalink

It’s a sad commentary on today’s world that so many countries and groups of people dislike each other we need some kind of “friendship chart” to understand the relationships. Not surprisingly, the Middle East is a prime example of this.

Slate just published this helpful friendship chart:

friendship-chart

Note the legend in the top right: friends, enemies, and “it’s complicated”. I also can’t help but smile (in a sad way) about the correction at the bottom of the chart: the editors mistakenly thought two countries were friends, but alas they are not.

From experience with Kyra, I think this friendship-chart technology could also be used to help junior-high girls map their relationships with each other. So I suppose I’m saying, in the end, that the countries and groups in the Middle East are somewhat like a bunch of junior-high girls…

16
July
2014
Permalink

A few weeks ago we noticed we had some ants crawling around our countertops now and then. We keep a pretty clean kitchen, so it didn’t seem like there was a bunch of food laying around attracting them. Growing up, I remember that ants would occasionally migrate through our house; you’d see a line of them from one end of the house to the other, and after a few days they’d apparently finish their little trek and that was that.

We found that spraying them with vinegar is pretty potent and kills them nicely, but they kept coming back. Laralee did a little research about how to kill ants without the need for nuclear bug spray from a professional exterminator. She learned that ants hate cinnamon, so it forms an effective “wall” to stop them from spreading. She mixed some cinnamon with water and made a little barrier around the area on the countertop where they crawl.

ants2

That seemed to stop them up on the countertop, but we noticed they were also on the floor outside the kitchen. A closer look revealed that they’re apparently living inside the wall. Laralee discovered that one way to kill them is to feed them dry Cream of Wheat cereal. They love it, and take it back to their nest where they all eat it and explode. I guess whatever magic ingredients are in Cream of Wheat react with their little stomachs to produce a bunch of gas (yeast?) and blow up the little buggers.

So she sprinkled a pile of Cream of Wheat at the two points along the baseboard where they apparently live. They went crazy and started coming out of the woodwork (literally!).

ants1

It’s pretty fascinating to watch them. Each ant grabs a tiny grain of Cream of Wheat and carries it back under the wall, presumably presenting it as a prize to the queen. There are hundreds of ants, all very organized and industrious. Within a few hours, a pile this size is completely gone. Laralee has replenished it a few times now.

I think she’s getting Stockholm Syndrome, though, because now she’s intrigued by these little guys and talks about how cool it is that they work tirelessly carting these little grains around, and how interesting this group is. I hope she doesn’t get too attached and start naming them.

Anyway, hopefully in a few days they’ll all blow up and we won’t see them any more. On the other hand, I warned Laralee that we have no idea if this is for real or if it’s just a clever prank by someone on the internet (I heard somewhere that not everything on the internet is true). We’ll see.

9
July
2014
Permalink

Last night we had another Zing company activity… we went out to a local bar for trivia night. I’ve never been to a trivia night, but Josh is a seasoned veteran so he went in with confidence and poise.

First they took our picture for the official blog:

trivia-team

Then we had to come up with a clever team name. After discarding a few ideas including the amazingly original “Jeff’s Team”, we settled on “Team Germany” to celebrate their stunning victory over Brazil in the World Cup that day.

Then we went to work. Trevor, the MC, called out questions or played song mash-ups and cheesy movie lines, and we did our best to answer. Six other teams were there, and competition was fierce. We held steady in third place most of the evening, but in the last round we surged ahead and tied for first.

I have to give a shout-out to Nick, who correctly figured out a question whose answers were “eclair” and “Eau Claire, WI” and put us over the top.

There was a tie-breaker question for all the marbles (and a valuable gift card). It was in Family Feud style, where we had to answer with a number and the closest team– without going over– would win. The question: how long is the Hoover Dam? Both Josh and I have been there, and we agreed it was probably around half a mile across. We guessed 2,501 feet and it turned out we were too high, as was the other team. We were closer to the correct answer of 1,244 feet, so we won the night. Awesome!

trivia-scores

It was a lot of fun, and I hope we do it again.

1
July
2014
Permalink

So today I had one of my molars yanked.

I had a root canal on it a few years ago, and about a week and a half ago I noticed a bump beside the tooth. Some quick research on Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge, informed me that it was most likely an abscess: an infection deep within my gums. It didn’t hurt, but apparently an abscess can flare up within a day and become a massive, painful lump that makes you look like you have a tennis ball in your cheek. Some of the photos are pretty scary.

So I went to a dentist, who charged me $85 to poke at it and tell me, “Yep, it’s an abscess.” Since it was related to my root canal work, he sent me to an endodontist. Until that day I didn’t even know there was such a thing as an endodontist– evidently they specialize in root canals.

I headed over there a few days later, and he told me the tooth had cracked. Apparently that’s not uncommon with root canals, because there isn’t much tooth left after it’s been ground down, rooted, and capped. Also, I occasionally grind my teeth while I’m sleeping, which probably put enough pressure on this particular molar over the years to crack it. That leads to infection, which leads to an abscess. Whee. Anyway, the endodontist charged me $115 to tell he couldn’t help, and I needed to see an oral surgeon.

As I’ve taken this exciting journey over the past week, I’ve learned two things:

1) There’s a surprising number of people who specialize in different areas of the mouth: orthodontists, endodontists, periodontists, prosthodontists, dentists, oral surgeons, and probably a few other -ontists I didn’t have to visit.

2) All of them charge a lot of money for their work.

We don’t have dental insurance, so the dollar signs were racking up as I talked to the oral surgeon about extractions and bone grafts and implants and (eventually) crowns. I could easily buy a decent used car for the cost of handling this one tooth.

This morning I went to the oral surgeon, who took care of business. He did a great job with the local anesthesia, because I only felt little pricks and tugs as he reached into my mouth with a scalpel (yikes!), those silvery pointed things, a drill, and eventually a huge pair of specialized pliers. The tooth came out, and he proceeded to do a bone graft.

Being the curious guy I am, I asked about the bone graft: specifically, where does the bone come from? I had visions of him scraping it off some other place in my jaw, or maybe doing something with my femur or whatever. It turns out that a bone graft is really just powdered bone that’s packed into the holes left by the massive roots of my molar. Although he danced around it a bit with terms like “bone donor material”, in the end I asked him directly if the material came from a cadaver. Of course it does, but he finds that most patients aren’t all that comfortable knowing some dead person’s ground-up bones are being jammed into their jaws. I got to see the little vial of bone powder, and it was even labeled with the donor’s name: Betty. Yep, I now have little bits of Betty in my mandible.

Anyway, a few stitches finished the job and he sent me on my way with a big wad of gauze clenched in my mouth and instructions to fill the four prescriptions for drugs. Peridex is a special (meaning expensive) mouthwash; vicodin is a powerful painkiller, decadron is for swelling, and amoxicillin is for infection. Wow. I asked if I could just take some ibuprofin and gargle warm saltwater, and he agreed that would be fine too.

So far it’s been five hours. The painkillers have definitely worn off because I can feel my lips again, but I’m still waiting for the excruciating pain that should require four drugs to handle. Although it definitely hurts, it’s not even bad enough that I’ve popped any “Vitamin I”. Maybe I’m lucky, or I have a high pain tolerance, or maybe it’s going to hit later tonight with a vengeance that’s going to make me wish I could crank up on vicodin. I don’t know.

So, three or four months from now, everything should be healed up and I can decide if I want to spend another used-car’s worth of money to get an implant and a crown. Maybe I’ll find that missing a back molar isn’t a big deal, and I can go on living my life without it. We’ll see.

To finish this post, I figured I should really include a photo of me with my bloody tooth.

me-and-my-tooth

This kind of stuff makes me appreciate my teeth a little more. Maybe I’ll even floss a little.

25
June
2014
Permalink

For reasons beyond my ken, Alex and Zack enjoy sitting in front of a laptop reading online comics to one another. They pull up Dilbert or Get Fuzzy or a few others, and just page through one strip after another.

reading-comics

The strangest part is they read them out loud to one another, even though they can both see the strip and probably read it faster in their head. Then they laugh together, move on to the next strip, and read it aloud.

What a pair of goofs.

21
June
2014
Permalink

Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas has introduced an awesome bill at the House. It’s known colloquially as the Dog Ate My Tax Receipts Resolution and allows American citizens to use “flimsy, obviously made-up excuses” if they’re asked to provide documentation to the IRS.

The actual language of the bill is:

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) must allow taxpayers the same lame excuses for missing documentation that the IRS itself is currently proffering

Whereas, the IRS claims that convenient, unexplained, miscellaneous computer malfunction is sufficient justification not to produce specific, critical documentation; and,

Whereas, fairness and Due Process demand that the American taxpayer be granted no less latitude than we afford the bureaucrats employed presently at the IRS;

Now, therefore, be it resolved that it is the sense of the House of Representatives that unless and until the Internal Revenue Service produces all documentation demanded by subpoena or otherwise by the House of Representatives, or produces an excuse that passes the red face test,

All taxpayers shall be given the benefit of the doubt when not producing critical documentation, so long as the taxpayer’s excuse therefore falls into one of the following categories:

1. The dog ate my tax receipts
2. Convenient, unexplained, miscellaneous computer malfunction
3. Traded documents for five terrorists
4. Burned for warmth while lost in the Yukon
5. Left on table in Hillary’s Book Room
6. Received water damage in the trunk of Ted Kennedy’s car
7. Forgot in gun case sold to Mexican drug lords
8. Forced to recycle by municipal Green Czar
9. Was short on toilet paper while camping
10. At this point, what difference does it make?

Go, Steve!

21
June
2014
Permalink

In a poll whose results surprised approximately no one, Gallup has learned that Americans’ confidence in Congress has sunk to a new low.

congress-confidence

Only 10% of those polled have a high degree of confidence in those serving in Congress.

Also not shocking to anyone at all, at the bottom of the list of institutions with no confidence (just above Congress) were HMO’s, labor unions, and big corporations.

17
June
2014
Permalink

A few days ago I shut down two servers that had been running non-stop for a while.

One of them had just passed 2,000 days, which is a little over five and a half years:

11:09:22 up 2009 days, 19:54, 1 user, load average: 0.00, 0.00, 0.00
USER TTY LOGIN@ IDLE JCPU PCPU WHAT
root ttyp0 11:09 0.00s 0.00s 0.00s w

And the other set a new record for me at 7 years and 3 months:

11:08:29 up 2646 days, 17:00, 1 user, load average: 0.28, 0.09, 0.02
USER TTY LOGIN@ IDLE JCPU PCPU WHAT
root ttyp1 11:08 0.00s 0.02s 0.00s w

I felt kind of sad turning them off; it’s like saying goodbye to an old friend.

13
June
2014
Permalink

Two weeks ago I griped about Comcast because they’re jerks about cancelling my account. I’ve switched to CenturyLink and today I’ve discovered they’re pretty bad too– just in different ways.

First, when I set up this account a few weeks ago, I was apparently assigned an account number that already existed for a different customer named Grady. This guy had shut down his account a year ago, but CenturyLink’s “account numbers” are really ten-digit phone numbers they use if you purchase their VoIP bundle. So I couldn’t create my online account because the account was “already claimed” by Grady. I called technical support and they managed to create my online account so I could at least login.

Today, my first bill is due so I logged into the account to pay it. Imagine my surprise when I saw all of Grady’s past bills (and billing information!). Wow. Thus, I can’t pay my bill because I’ll actually be paying his bill, which has $1.26 due last July.

Sigh. I picked up the phone and called CenturyLink to get this sorted out. That’s where the real fun began. They have my account in their system, so they apparently don’t see Grady at all. I patiently explained that I’m not making this up, and in fact when I’m logged into “my” account I see his. I got bounced around a few call centers: I think I was in India, then Ohio or something, and finally Idaho. I enjoyed listening to the hold music and repeated marketing statements about how important my account security is to CenturyLink, and how they never share it with anyone. Except, apparently, anyone who’s assigned a recycled account number.

Finally I got to someone who could fix the problem and dis-associate Grady’s account from mine, but she needed a four-digit security code to do so. I had never set up a security code– it’s something that CenturyLink assigns and sends to me on my second bill. Yep, that’s right: I can’t straighten out my account and pay my first bill because the security code I need to do so will be mailed to me on my second bill. Who makes up this stuff?

At this point, I’m so sick of cable/internet companies that I just throw up my hands in exasperation. I’d switch away from CenturyLink if I had any reasonable option other than Comcast (who’s worse in my opinion). The only reason these companies stay in business is because people simply have no choice but to use them. Argh.

(And yes, I wrote this entire post while I was waiting on hold for 20+ minutes.)

12
June
2014
Permalink

Last week I took my Civic to the local Honda dealership for an oil change. It was pretty straightforward– they changed the oil, checked a few fluids, and put one of those annoying stickers on my windshield.

Just now I got a call from them asking if everything was okay. Apparently they follow up with customers about any service they perform on cars.

I was a little surprised by the call in general, so I told them it was fine and we hung up. I wasn’t thinking fast enough, or I would have said it was the greatest oil change I’d ever had, and how my car now feels like it’s powered by rainbows and unicorns. I could have gone on about how the oil the Honda technicians put in my car must be mixed with pixie dust because it’s so magical. Et cetera.

Follow up on an oil change? Really?

31
May
2014
Permalink

The Onion has an article that’s both funny and sad, because it hits close to home. It’s about making Space Camp a more realistic experience for kids by simulating the constant budget struggles faced by NASA. Without further ado, I’ll quote the article:

nasa-launch-cancelled

HUNTSVILLE, AL — Aiming to provide attendees with an authentic glimpse into the nation’s space program, representatives for the U.S. Space and Rocket Center announced Thursday that its newly updated Space Camp will allow children to simulate the anger and mounting frustration experienced by NASA personnel over a continual lack of funding.

Camp organizers explained that the redesigned education program will offer kids the unique opportunity to contend with all of the budgetary restrictions and bureaucratic red tape impeding the progress of actual astronauts and researchers, allowing children from grades four to six to immerse themselves in a true-to-life NASA environment in which financial shortfalls and endless procedural delays plague them at every turn.

“At Space Camp, each attendee experiences the trials of real-life astronauts who simply are not provided the resources they need to explore outer space,” said director Deborah Barnhart, noting that campers get a firsthand look at what it’s like to pursue cutting-edge astronomical research on a budget that, when adjusted for inflation, is a mere fraction of what it was in the 1960s. “Our campers endure constant setbacks throughout their week here, from engaging in spaceflight training modules that can be shut down at a moment’s notice, to working tirelessly on a solar probe project only to be informed that an across-the-board spending freeze has led to the indefinite suspension of their work.”

“Kids will walk away from a week at Space Camp knowing exactly what it’s like to be an American astronaut,” she added.

Barnhart told reporters that the modernized camp offers attendees an array of hands-on activities that include designing next-generation spaceships, searching for virtual extrasolar planets, and building a robotic Mars rover, any one of which could be effectively derailed by an abrupt mandate that the research and development process be made more cost-effective.

Additionally, campers will reportedly be able to sigh and throw their hands up in exasperation within a replica of the actual mission control room at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center after learning that a reconnaissance mission to scan for the presence of life on Jupiter’s moon Europa has been scrapped just weeks prior to the intended launch date.

Program officials also highlighted their efforts to make the experience as realistically discouraging as possible by furloughing a significant number of campers immediately at the start of each weeklong session.

“We put camp attendees in the shoes of dedicated NASA scientists whose attempts to further scientific understanding through the analysis of asteroid composition are halted by one of our camp staffers playing the role of a U.S. senator targeting all ‘nonessential’ initiatives,” said counselor Tyler Campbell. “When they take their seats in our mock congressional chamber, campers will work together to deliver an impassioned yet ultimately futile request for continued support of NASA until they have no choice but to stand up and leave, having just witnessed their life’s work go up in smoke.”

“When you see the stunned expressions on these kids’ faces as they realize their goals and dreams are no longer attainable because of political pressures completely out of their control, that’s when you know they’ve gained a valuable understanding of our space program,” Campbell added.

Early participants in the new program have reportedly hailed the experience as “eye-opening,” with many describing their visceral disappointment watching satellite feeds of their Chinese and Russian Space Camp counterparts pursuing scientific endeavors that were eliminated in the U.S. years ago.

“I’ll never forget what it was like to go to Space Camp and repeatedly attempt to convince the budget committee of the importance of our solar wind study so they would cancel the other teams’ projects and not ours,” said 11-year-old camper Sara Andrews, who explained that she spent most of the week steadily reducing the scope of her simulated mission so that it would remain financially viable. “I’m just glad I wasn’t working on the asteroid flyby project that was ultimately deemed too cost-prohibitive and was contracted out to a private aeronautics firm. The kids on that team just had to sit around and do nothing for the rest of camp.”

“I can’t wait to work at NASA when I grow up so I can constantly stress over limited financial resources and have my scientific projects canceled for real,” she added. “That is, if NASA even still exists then.”

Nailed it.

30
May
2014
Permalink

I just finished a call with Comcast, and was reminded why they are consistently voted the Worst Consumer Company year after year. I found a better deal for the internet at my office: CenturyLink offers twice the bandwidth at half the cost. So I set up CenturyLink, confirmed it’s working, and called today to cancel my Comcast account.

comcrap

My contract expired about two weeks ago, so I figured it would be an easy matter to shut down the account. Oh no. There’s a 60-day notification requirement– I have to pay for two additional months of service, according to the terms of my contract. Frustrated, I found the terms that apply to my account (after searching a bit on Comcast’s site– the terms change every couple of months so you have to know the exact start date of your contract to even know which terms apply to you). I read them and found that the 60-day notice only applies when you’re within your contract term.

Ha! I had them. I called back and read section 5.1 of the terms, but the woman politely pointed out that two weeks ago, as my term expired, I was automatically renewed for another year-long term. I didn’t authorize that, of course, but she took me to section 4.2 where it says that’s what will happen. Argh.

I explained that it’s pretty frustrating and underhanded to do this, and she even said that she agreed with me and deals with calls like this all day long. However, she couldn’t do anything about it, nor could her supervisor, because “That’s Comcast’s policy”.

So Comcast, bite me. Good riddance.

28
May
2014
Permalink

James’ last day is tomorrow, so we decided to have a farewell lunch… at the Waffle House. The restaurant is a few miles down the highway from the office, and for years I’ve driven past thinking, “Man, back in college, Waffle House was amazing.” Of course, back then “amazing” meant “all you can eat for $4.79″.

So seven of us headed down there, enjoyed a good time together, and pretty much agreed that it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Of course, we also agreed that we won’t be going back any time soon either…

waffle-house-sign

23
May
2014
Permalink

Today Kyra mentioned to me that she’s having a friendly competition with her friend Hannah to see who can score the highest in the Hot New App called “Don’t Touch the White Tiles”. Yeah, this game is all the rage, and the name pretty much sums up the entire premise. The screen has a set of four squares horizontally, one of which is black, and they scroll slowly upward. You have to tap the black one, and then the next row appears. It gets faster as you go along, and eventually the black and white tiles are just flying past. Truly this is a test of mental and physical dexterity.

kyra-lost-in-apps

I commented to Kyra that if all of the people who have spent hours playing apps like this would, instead, focus on something productive, it’s likely that humanity would have accomplished so much more by now. I suspect hundreds of millions of hours of productivity are lost every day to things like Don’t Touch the White Tiles, or Flappy Bird, or Farmville, or whatever else is the latest rage. If we’d channel that mental energy for good, we’d probably have flying cars and be living on Mars by now.

23
May
2014
Permalink

Mmm… I just received my shipment of fifteen new solid-state disk drives. These are enterprise-grade drives that I’ll be installing in a bunch of my servers.

ssd-stack

I’ve found that once you’ve gone to SSD’s, you can never go back to traditional spinning-platter hard drives. Of course I still have those drives in the servers– it’s nice to have a terabyte of space that’s much cheaper, even if it’s slower.

I love these things, although $2,000 for 2TB of storage– no matter how fast– is a little steep. Hopefully they’ll keep going down in price.

23
May
2014
Permalink

I just received an email from my HOA about an upcoming “block party” event. This is the actual header graphic.

block-party

I’m speechless.

Also, is the second guy from the left Willis from “Diff’rent Strokes”?

20
May
2014
Permalink

Kyra is working on a final in U.S. History where she has to pick a decade and do a bunch of research about it. She picked the greatest decade of all time, which of course was the 80′s. For her assignment she interviewed me and Laralee about what it was like to grow up in the 80′s, including our favorite TV shows, books, music, things we did, and even phrases we used.

It was fun to reminisce about all of that stuff. Laralee was a huge Huey Lewis fan back in the 80′s… she had all of the albums (on cassette, of course), posters on her wall, and the highlight of her entire childhood was going to one of his concerts. I remembered that Dirk had one of the Huey Lewis albums, and we’d play it in his 1972 Plymouth Duster while we drove around getting beat up by kids on the highway by Taco Bell. Yeah, long story there.