Thursday, March 31, 2005

The day from hell

was today. You'll remember that I had to do an off-cycle software release last Friday. That release contained the stuff that I did last week in Dallas for the first three days of my time there.

Late on the Friday evening I received an email detailing some changes that had been made to our runtime by another developer that hadn't made it into our source safe database. Naturally my software release didn't contain those changes but the CD's had already been created and dispatched. A flurry of emails went between here and Chengdu in China, where my colleague was waiting for his US visa to return. I was able to establish that the missing changes would only affect one instance of our hardware so, making an executive decision, I held off doing anything until Monday. Came the Monday and I was unable to speak with our customer contact. Ok, so comes Tuesday, yesterday. I explained the situation and he wanted a second off-cycle software release that would include my changes from last week and the other changes.

So I did a second off-cycle software release and it was despatched to the appropriate locations. So far so good; we have a hole in our process that needs to be plugged but at least we've been honest with our customer and let them know of a problem before it bites em.

So today my colleague appeared in the office. I need to be careful how I word this; he reads my blog and I don't think what happened is entirely his fault; some of the blame attaches to me. I should also state that my colleague is a lot younger and less experienced than I am; things that would automatically raise a red flag to me won't to him; as they wouldn't have to me when I was at his level of experience.

I had 'the talk' with him about source code control and how important it is to ensure that if one makes changes they make their way into our codebase. Likewise the lecture on communication; if I'm in France and he's in the Philippines and we're both making changes to the same module... yada yada, you know the deal.

And he asked me if I'd made that change. I hadn't and a sinking feeling fell over me. A quick check of the database schema and sure enough I hadn't noticed 4 new fields on a particular table.

So now the alarm bells are ringing. I've sent out two off-cycle releases within 4 days and it's still not right. A quick check and I'm convinced that this is a big problem. So I called our primary contact at the customer site. Explained the situation and he said 'is there a knife handy?'. 'No mate, if there was you'd have to fight me for the chance to slash your wrists.'

So I sent out a third off-cycle release today.

Fortunately the error involves a database schema change. A while ago I wrote a very simple script driven utility that takes a bunch of SQL DDL statements and applies them to the database; that utility has been a part of every CD release we've done so I know it's out there on each instance of our hardware. I was able to send via email a simple script and instructions on how to use yesterdays CD followed by that script to bring the database up to date.

So THIS particular mistake is easily corrected but at what cost? If I were the customer and I was bombarded with not one, not two, but with three off cycle CD's, the last two separated by a single day, I'd be very nervous. The first off cycle CD is ok; that was demanded by the customer. But the second and the third were the result of a lack of communication between developers in our company.

Should I have noticed that database schema change? Yes and no. I'm supposed to be the software manager in addition to being a developer. So maybe I should have compared each table schema in the database with the schema in each MFC class. On the other hand, if someone changes the schema surely they should communicate that change to the rest of the team?

It comes down to me though; as software manager I need to keep on top of what my team is doing and ensure that communication takes place. That's why I get paid the pittance.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A trip to the US East Coast

a couple of years ago we did the 'east coast' thang. A trip I thoroughly enjoyed. We visited Washington DC and did the whirlwind Smithsonian tour; went to Arlington Cemetery (I was particularly desirous of visiting JFK's memorial) and saw the monument to Iwo Jima. I have to admit it was much much bigger than I expected based on the photos I'd seen. We went to the Lincoln Memorial at sunset, Jeffersons whatever it is by the lake and I was amazed at the sheer size of the George Washington needle. I also read some of the names on the Vietnam wall near the Mall. (I wondered if an American Manderson was there; there isn't though there are plenty of American Mandersons). Along the way we enjoyed gentler stuff; a wonderful Italian restaurant in Georgetown and a visit to Mt Vernon. I really enjoyed the Washington Metro system; there's something really cool about arriving at an airport and taking the suburban train to ones hotel rather than hiring a car or calling a cab.

After Washington DC we drove to Philadelphia. Having enjoyed this movie[^] I was particularly interested in seeing that city. I wasn't disappointed. Alas, the Liberty Bell was off limits but we did wander through the oldest continuously populated (by Europeans) street in North America. Tiny tiny houses.

Thence to New York. There we dispensed with the car. There may be good reasons to have a car in that neck of the woods but if you're a tourist visiting Manhattan I can't think of one. I did have the pleasure of dropping the car off so I can claim to have driven in Manhattan; all the way from just east of Times Square on 47th street to just west of Times Square on 49th street; it's maybe half a kilometre (and it's only that far because those streets are one way so one has to overshoot and double back)! Our hotel was 20 metres from Times Square. Naturally we did Central Park including Strawberry Fields and the Dakota Building; it meant rather more to we olds than it did to the kids but that's the nature of life. And we went to Ellis Island; how could I, a new immigrant, not go there? Also Liberty. Alas she was closed so I had to content myself with walking around her feet. (I couldn't do that Woody Allen joke). We also enjoyed 'The Producers' in a small theatre on 42nd street. And, naturally, we did the New York subway thing. Not half as scary as portrayed in the movies.

We went to Coney Island and, on a more sober note, we went to Ground Zero. This was nearly two years after September 11th and the site cleanup was just about complete. It was interesting to note two buildings on the edge; one was an old brick building possibly 80 years old; the other was a rather more modern glass and steel tower - maybe 30 years old. The older building was barely marked; the newer building was still being repaired. What can I say about Ground Zero that hasn't been hashed and rehashed a thousand times? We've all seen the photos before and after; it's not possible to be there with any knowledge of the site and not feel the absence of the towers.

From there we went to Newtown, Rhode Island. I took the opportunity to order Scrod for dinner. Both the kids looked at me with disgust. Well I had not much more idea of what Scrod was than they did but I was willing to give it a go - heck it was the most interesting sounding dish on the menu. Turned out to be boiled cod and it was very tasty. Didn't change their opinion; methinks the word itself is what they object to. I imagine if it were renamed Super Fat Free Energy Food they'd order it in the blink of an eye !

After Rhode Island we wound our way up the east coast toward Boston. I have the privilege, as the foreigner in this family, of claiming that of all the people in my family I'm the only one who has driven through Boston. Uh huh, I was driving .

I'll write about Plymouth Rock and other places soon - that story's too good to waste here .

When we arrived in Boston we checked into our hotel and I dropped the rental car off. When I got back to the hotel we were all hungry. Across the road (Commonwealth Avenue if I remember rightly) was a grill and bar. I suggested we dine there. They agreed. So off we went. Once seated we discovered it was billed as a Korean Grille. I'd never tried Korean so my reaction was 'wacko - this'll be good'. One could see that the kids thought otherwise. But they tried. Andrew never did reconcile the idea of black potatoes with his expectations. I thought they were delicious!

We did the freedom trail though I didn't find the location of the Great Molasses Tragedy of 1919 ( Later research (after leaving Boston) leads me to believe I walked down at least one street affected by it.

That, as it happens, wasn't my first visit to Boston (I visited Boston on a company trip in 1996) so I was the local expert. It was good to play the role of experienced traveller to the family and be their guide through Faneuil Hall let alone the subway system.

I thoroughly enjoyed the trip though I don't want to even think about how much it cost.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

According to INS

yeah I know they have a different name these days but y'all know who I mean the missing middle name on my new greencard doesn't matter. Uh huh. Of course I have no record of receiving that advice from someone at the other end of their 1-800 number so I've posted an enquiry over on - there are a couple of experienced immigration lawyers who frequent that newsgroup and I'm hoping for a response.


there's an old joke that goes something like this:

'What's the difference between a Harley and a Hoover?” 'The location of the dirtbag'.

One of the new guys at the office rides a Harley to work sometimes. Of course I couldn't resist.

He retaliated last week when he heard I was in Dallas.

'What's the difference between a programmer in Phoenix and a programmer in Dallas?' 'The location of the dirtbag'.

Maybe you had to be there.

On the fourth day

You'll remember I ranted about how, having allocated 4 days to test some new code in Dallas, I found myself having to spend 3 of those days doing something else. That something else led me to spending Friday doing an off cycle software release which arrived in the Philippines today (man that's fast).

On the fourth day (last Thursday) I tested my changes. Somewhat to my own amazement I hadn't broken anything and it all worked as expected. Well not quite; there were some warts in the user interface but what worried me was that I might have made a breaking change to the background process that obeys the UI. I hadn't. When I started a process on slot 17 of 48 that was the slot that was affected. Likewise for slot 33. This is good . It means I finally feel confident that I can make changes to this inherited codebase without totally breaking it. But beware hubris!

As for the warts; easily fixed. Just don't go caressing frogs!


on the Andrew front. You know I was back in Dallas last week; when I returned I expected to find a pigsty. Well I did but for a change there was no sign of Kvass.

I'll give the kid his due (and have done in person). He's doing a lot better. I still do the daily inspection but only once have I caught him out. Since he seems to have internalised that lesson it's time for the next phase; actually putting the dishes and glasses into the dishwasher! This is going to be a more difficult step because it involves the possibility of having to empty it first. Shock horror! Time for the delicate balance methinks; emptying the dishwasher isn't his sole responsibility; we all have to share that one.

Monday, March 28, 2005

We went for a hike today

the entire family and I, to some Indian Heiroglyphics in a canyon in the Superstition Mountains southeast of Phoenix. Here[^] are some shots I took. Alas the batteries in my digital camera went flat and before you ask if I'd thought ahead I had; but I lost one of the spare batteries so there it is.

'twas a fun day. The total distance we hiked was maybe 4 miles and I'm being generous. Admittedly it was over some rocky terrain but even so it was a trivial hike. My wife decided that the description she'd found on the 'net was inaccurate; it had been described as easy and she felt it should have been intermediate. Well, I walk a lot so we'll let that pass.

When we got home Morgan headed straight for the shower; the hike had taken longer than expected mainly due to the distance from home to the car park and back and she was running late for work. Andrew did his usual song and dance routine about sore feet and my wife collapsed for a nap. Me? Far be it from me to miss the chance to rub it in - I went for a long walk .

I wanted to post those photos for Chris's delight. He's a Phoenix boy and when we dined together last week I fear I didn't emphasise enough just how green Phoenix is right now; the legacy of a lot of unexpected rain. I fear we're in for a rough fire season this year when the real heat kicks in and that foliage dries out.

How to get lost!!!

I don't know how it works for other people but when I'm down south (I mean way down south, in Australia) I always know which direction is north. Ask me to point to the north and I'll generally be correct to within 20 degrees. Ok, that's still a fair margin of error but at least I don't point toward Antarctica!

In 1986 I spent 5 weeks in the USA. 2 or so of those weeks were spent staying in a hotel at Post Falls Idaho, just across the border with Washington State. I had a rented car and a weekend free; what more natural than to drive north to Canada and add a third country to my list of countries visited? (The list is still short). So I drove up some highway whose number eludes me and crossed the US/Canada border.

I crossed the border about 2 PM - and drove around for a while with no specific destination in mind. I was in Canada - that was all that mattered. So after an hour or so I bethought that I had about 3 hours driving back to the hotel; just enough time to make a dinner appointment with the rest of the international crew attending Hewlett Packard training. So off I headed, southwards. Or so I thought. It really did feel like I was driving south. Maybe an hour later I stopped to check the map and realised that those signs I'd seen indicating that Radium Springs was so many miles ahead meant I was driving north! I missed dinner that night!

It felt like I was driving south.

I find that I cannot, here, judge at all which direction is which. I suspect it's because I'm too used to the sun being on that side of the sky; but here it's on the other side of the sky and that disorients me. Down south the sun is always in the northern half of the sky and the further south you are the further north it appears. Obviously it's the opposite if you're in the Northern Hemisphere. But even knowing that intellectually isn't enough; if you were to ask me to point to the north in an unfamiliar environment I'll get it wrong if I'm here. I'll probably get it approximately right if I'm in Australia. Many is the time I've thought my wife was driving me westward when we were travelling east.

Whilst we're on the subject of that drive to Canada; it took place on Saturday August 2 1986. I have two reasons for remembering the exact date. The first reason is that it was the 1 year anniversary of my first marriage. The second reason is that I was fined for not voting in a local council election for a suburb of Melbourne held on that day. It was held that my being in Canada on that day was not sufficient reason for failing to vote in the local election. Actually I don't disagree with that decision. Postal voting is available.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Last night I watched

and immensely enjoyed, yet again, this movie[^] and it's sequel[^]. Wonderfully bad movies the pair of em. Of the two I enjoy the sequel more - the first movie whilst sharing much of what makes the second movie so much fun is rather more straightforward. In the first movie Dr Phibes is a mad organist taking his revenge on the doctors he holds responsible for the death of his wife. We see him taking revenge, visiting the biblical plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians onto his victims and the movie ends somewhat inconclusively (leaving the way open for the sequel). In the sequel Dr Phibes is in search of the 'elixir of life' that will bring his wife back to life and give them both eternal life. Along the way he has to battle with someone who's running out of the 'elixir of life'.

What makes both of the movies so much fun, for me, is the soundtrack and the gags. The soundtrack is an interesting mixture of 1920's flapper music interspersed with pretentious pastiches of Bach, Tchaikovsky and Carl Orff (the latter composer much more so in the second movie). The gags are pretty standard British Comedy fare but done with flair.

Holding the entirety together is Vincent Price and he's worth the price of the DVD's alone. Indeed, one of the best evenings entertainment I ever saw was Vincent Price live in Melbourne sometime in 1984 doing a one man show where he played the role of Oscar Wilde. For three hours I sat in that theatre watching Vincent Price alternately standing behind a lectern or lying upon a couch as he declaimed. Three hours flew by like the wind. Velvet voice to match the velvet set!

I remember being pleased to hear him doing advertisements on the radio the first time I was in California in 1982. Not so much that he was doing ads as that I could hear that voice again. I think he was advertising so and so's herbs (pronounced erbs for reasons that escape me) which kinda fits with his interest in cooking.

As heard on CNN radio news tonight

a report on the condition of Prince Rainier of Monaco. The report wound up with 'The Prince is credited with having turned this African nation into a playground for the wealthy.'


In the same bulletin they reported the death of John Callaghan, former British Prime Minister. John???

With accuracy like that I know I won't be taking anything they report as the truth!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

My 10 year greencard arrived today

about 6 months earlier than INS predicted . Unfortunately they got the name wrong (they left out my middle name) so I imagine I'm going to have to go through the visit to their office routine again.


in the world in seti@home stats.

13 empty coke bottles

On Sunday afteroons in 1964 or thereabouts I'd set off on my bicycle to meet my mates at the Yarraville Gardens. A smallish rectangle of ground distinguished by an Australian Rules Football ground that did double duty in the summer as a cricket ground and an area of palm trees that served as the gardens. Across the road was the fish cannery and the coal dump. Behind those the Maribyrnong River. In short, a fair specimen of an inner industrial public park in a depressed suburb. To be honest, even today it's not a lot better. Yes, house prices on Hyde Street (the side away from the river) have gone through the roof but if you walk from the gardens northward to Footscray you'll still be walking in some pretty undesirable territory. If you've ever seen this movie[^] you've seen some footage shot within a hundred metres of the area.

Right next to the Yarraville Gardens is the Yarraville Bowling club. We're not talking ten pin bowling here; we're talking overgrown aniseed balls rolled down an immaculately manicured strip of grass. And behind their club house, every Sunday in 1964, we'd find a couple of crates of empty coke bottles. Each of em was worth threepence if we could find a milk bar that would accept em. Most of the time we could though we probably strained the credulity of every milkbar in Footscray, Yarraville and Seddon.

The magic number 13 arises from the happenstance that 13 times threepence was the exact price needed to buy a packet of Turf Cork Tipped cigarettes - the cheapest brand on the market. 3 and thruppence*. One or the other of us would nick** a box of matches on the way out of our homes as we converged on the Yarraville Gardens and, once the coke bottles had been nicked and redeemed and the purchase made, we'd strut our stuff on our bikes, a ciggy proudly stuck in our mouths.

Given that week after week it was possible for us to nick the coke bottles I can't help thinking that our theft was felt to be of little consequence. Had our depredations been a significant drain on their finances I doubt the crates of empties would have been stacked outside. We, for our part, stole only enough to buy a pack of smokes. We could have stolen the whole lot but what would we have done with the money?

[Later edit]Actually I think this is an important point. We learned the morality of our elders. Some of them were more moral than others but all of the elders we came into contact with were of our class. They taught us that it was important to survive but that it was equally important to survive with dignity. They'd steal to survive - but not steal beyond that. Those who did steal beyond that were not held in high regard. Perhaps it's a stretch to represent our stealing to buy smokes as stealing for survival but we did learn that morality. So we stole enough to buy smokes but no more.[/Later edit]

The Yarraville Bowling club survives to this day.

Uh huh, back in 1964 it was possible for a ten year old to front up and buy smokes and it was perfectly legal as long as the ten year old didn't indicate a desire to smoke.

*I find it interesting that none of the character sets for computers that I know of includes the symbol we used for the notation of shillings and pence; I imagine the need was gone by the time computers were in common usage.


Thursday, March 24, 2005

After three days

I finally get to spend some time testing the stuff I came to Dallas to test. Uh huh, you guessed it; when I got here another crisis had arisen that required, nay, demanded, my immediate attention to the exclusion of everything else.

Which leads to a quandary. I'd planned to spend up to 4 days testing my changes and, as you'll remember from previous posts, I had to juggle flights to finish before Good Friday. With 3 of those days spent working on an 'emergency'* I now have to decide whether to be satisfied with the results of one days testing or not - assuming the best case scenario that the new software works first time. One of the customer employees has offered to be my escort on the customers premises on Friday. If I take that option it'll be the sixth public holiday in 9 months I've sacrificed!

So a part of me says come what may I'm on that plane out of Dallas and back to Phoenix tomorrow evening. Another part says I should delay my return until I'm at the necessary level of confidence that my changes are correct. I'm leaning toward spending the extra time. Of course the fact that Chris Austin ( with whom I dined on Monday night has invited me to a weekend 'do' might also be a factor .

*I quoted the word emergency because the people squawking have been happily using our system for more than 6 months in production and only now, with no change, are they screaming about missing functionality. Whilst I can understand their need for the functionality I don't understand why all of a sudden it's become a showstopper.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I don't subscribe to Pay TV in the US so I don't have first hand experience of how they do their programming. Back in Australia in 2001/2002 the way Optus did it was to have a core set of movies that were repeated umpteen times. As the months passed movies would drop out of the regular rotation and other movies would take their place. At the end of 6 months the entire lineup would have changed but in that 6 months you could see 'Eyes Wide Shut' a hundred times if you chose...

Sometime in 2002 this movie[^] cropped up. The precis in the monthly movie guide wasn't promising. 'The great great great grandaughter of Christ must save the world!'. So I gave it a miss.

Maybe a fortnight later I was idly changing channels late one evening and I happened upon this; two guys following a woman across a bridge. They were arguing and one of the guys said 'guys like us don't just fall out of the sky you know'. Of course a guy fell out of the sky!The guy doing the talking looks up at the sky and says 'beautiful naked big-titted women don't just fall out of the sky'. With an intro like that (it's about 30 minutes into the movie) I just HAD to watch to the end! Somewhere in the dialogue was a gag about ConAir and the comment about how much that movie sucked*!

Thus my introduction to the movies of Kevin Smith.

Of all his movies Dogma is my favourite. There's much to laugh at in Jay and Silent Bob Strike back; likewise for Mallrats. For whatever reason Clerks never grabbed me. Chasing Amy is in a class of it's own. But Dogma remains my favourite. A funny serious literate blasphemous religious movie that never fails to reduce me to tears in the final five minutes.

*for the record, I quite enjoyed ConAir[^] - a good 2 hours of mindless entertainment and you gotta love a movie with a character named Cyrus the Virus!

Apologies for

somewhat erratic posting the last few days. I usually do my posts somewhat after midnight my time and for the last couple of days Wdevs has been experiencing runtime errors at those times.

Please don't read this as in any way a criticism of Wdevs - it's not meant as such. I appreciate the opportunity to make a fool of myself with daily blogs and I've had the experience of running my own website on a server in my own house so I know just how hard it is to do 24/7 - and how frustrating it is when something breaks.

A floor covered in money

I wish.

At the end of 2002 I, as a newly arrived immigrant, and my wife, went to Las Vegas. We got there on December 29th and stayed until January 3rd 2003. If you're willing to suspend disbelief and you're staying on 'the strip' it's a fun place. We stayed at the Excalibur and all the places you see in the movies are within half an hours walk. Not half an hour at my usual speed either; but half an hour at a snails pace!

I'd never before been in a place where it's perfectly acceptable to grab a glass of wine in one hotel, wander out into the street and end up in another hotel, glass in hand. Never been in such a place since if it comes to that!

So came New Year 2003. We started the evening at New York New York - a credible if somewhat smaller (and much cleaner) copy of Manhattan. As an aside, lots of FDNY tributes and lists of names from 11/9. Some wine was consumed so forgive the vagueness of what follows . We ended up at a bar where they were playing covers of late 60's flower power music. Suited me - I was in my early teens then and it was a trip down memory lane.

Sometime later (and you have to understand that it was becoming more and more vague as time passed) we started playing the slots. I play the slots maybe once a year and usually for no more than 20 bucks. So it was that night. Along the way we hit the jackpot and won about 100 bucks; paid out in quarters! So here we are, somewhat intoxicated and holding a plastic cup containing about 400 quarters.

Next morning we awoke to find about 400 quarters strewn over the floor of our room. Riches beyond the dreams of avarice!

Monday, March 21, 2005

It's a small world

in 1966 I started at Footscray Tech; that was, at the time, the next school after primary (elementary). Our mathematics class was baffling and unfamiliar because we were the first year being taught the 'new maths'. Remember that? Set theory and Boolean algebra; not at all the logical extension I'd expected from vulgar fractions etc.

Today I drove through Dallas Texas to find Laureland cemetery. I was on a mission to find my wife's fathers family grave. After about an hour of searching there it was. A whole bunch of people I've heard about but never met. I did at least get to be in North America for a very short portion of my father-in-law's lifetime though I wouldn't even hear of his existence for another 20 years! I took lots of photographs for my wife. She did pretty well in guiding me to a location she hasn't seen in 24 years!

Now you know me well enough by now to suspect a connection between the two ideas; it turns out that my wife's father was one of the mathematicians behind the 'new math' education. He was a prolific author of mathematics textbooks. Who'd a thunk, nearly 40 years ago, that one of those urchins puzzling over set theory would one day count one of the bastards behind the change as a father-in-law?

Along the way I discovered one of the differences in the way that Texas Cemeteries are organised compared to the ones I know so well in Melbourne. Here one finds a largish stone with the family name on it but not commemorating any one family member in particular; that honour is left to various smaller stones laid in the ground surrounding the large stone. In Melbourne it's a bit different; the most prominent (in the family's opinion) family member gets pride of place with lesser family members listed on the same stone.

Oh, my father-in-law was Edwin Ford Beckenbach - I'm told that there's also a link to Sam Peckinpah - same name, different phonetic spelling.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

From the sublime to the ridiculous again

I'm in Dallas again, as you'll have guessed from a recent post. I had to travel Saturday rather than Sunday because this is Spring Break* and there were no airplane seats to be had for love nor money on the Sunday! Normally in that situation I'd say 'bugger em' and travel on the Monday. But if I did that then basically Monday is written off. Most weeks that wouldn't matter but next weekend is Easter and I'm pretty sure I won't be able to get onto the customers site on Good Friday. Hence the Saturday travel.

The airports were pretty much what one would expect at Spring Break and the stop over at El Paso was nearly 4 hours. We really have to do something about that damn Wright Amendment! See here[^] for just one opinion on it.

So anyway, I needed to hire a car for the week I'm going to be here. For whatever reason the company I work for prefer Advantage Car Rentals. Accordingly I went to their website and booked an economy car. They promised I'd get a Kia Rio or similiar. I drive a Kia Rio by choice and it's a great car so I was looking forward to having something familiar in a (relatively) unfamiliar city.

So I fronted at their desk at Love Field. No one in attendance. Waited maybe 10 minutes with nary a sign of an Advantage employee. But I can read and extrapolate from fact A to hypothesis B; on the Thrifty Rentals desk 10 feet down (also unattended - indeed, of the 11 car rental desks there just one had a human on the non customer side of the desk) I saw a sign entreating the eager renter to grab a shuttle and attend their real office. Extrapolation led me to try the same thing with Advantage!

It worked. There at the car lot were the human beings on the other side of the counter. I have to say they do their job well. Two black women with great senses of humour. They had a choice of three colours of cars; I couldn't care less what colour rental car I drive but they made me choose; Red, White or Blue. Ok, I drive a white Kia back home so I'll go for white! Nuh uh she says, pointing at herself! Why would you prefer white? Now maybe I'm so dumb about race politics in America that I missed something subtle that an American born white would have caught but I just thought it was funny. Maybe ignorance really is bliss .

So much for the sublime - now for the ridiculous. I said earlier that I'd booked a Kia Rio or similiar. If you don't know what a Kia Rio is go have a look[^]. As you can see it's a tiny car. But as already said I love mine. Best less than US$10,000 on a brand new car I ever spent!

So what did I get from Advantage Rentals? You'll never guess in a million years, even if you're an American. I got one of these[^] for the same price, because they'd run out of Kias. This monster is about 4 times the size of my Kia - the one I have even has a DVD player for the backseat passengers (fat lot of good that'll do me!).

I hate the way it handles. Hit even a mild bump in the road and it waddles around like a fat duck! On the other hand, it does accelerate faster. But, having driven it, I now understand why the fine print at the bottom of late night TV ads for SUV's; the fine print that warns that SUV's handle differently. A good thing I drive like an old lady (to quote my wife); at least twice it felt like I was about to do a rollover with a maneuver that my Kia would have handled without even blinking!

I guess I'm always going to be driving small low-to-the-ground cars.

*for the benefit of non Americans and those who haven't lived here; Spring Break is a curious tribal custom whereby the schools stop functioning for at least a week and students of all ages take that as license to infest airports across the country. Those most prone to the effects of Spring Break travel south across the border and take advantage of relaxed alcohol laws in Mexico to get disgustingly drunk.

Workin' on the chain gang

not me personally.

I was somewhat shocked on my drive to the office yesterday to espy, as I rounded the curve from McDonald to 44th Street, firstly a guy wielding what looked awfully like a shotgun, followed by the sight of about a dozen crew cut prisoners clad in horizontal black and white stripes marching in single file (and boy were they marching!) followed by another guy with a shotgun and then the sign that explained it all. The sign said:

Sherrifs Prison Work Detail.

Uh huh; it's 2005 and in a middle class neighbourhood in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, you can find a chain gang at work?

Friday, March 18, 2005

The sales disconnect

so today I had a longish conversation with our 'sales' guy. He's in France at the moment. The reason we had the conversation is that I need to spend a week in Dallas testing some significant changes I've made over the last two or three weeks to our software. I've been playing this game for a very long time and one thing I know is that no matter how confident I am that my changes are correct they're not correct until I've tested them. In this case the only way I can do the tests and feel confident of a good release is to go to Dallas again, where there's some hardware available upon which I can run my tests. This much my regular readers already know.

I'd imagine that most of my readers, even those who are not developers, also understand that it's a BAD thing to do a buggy release. Customers will forgive a missing feature much more easily than they'll forgive a bug that destroys a document in progress. Now understand that the software I'm testing is used to give the go/no go for shipping maybe US$80,000 worth of semiconductors per run, 3 runs per day. If my changes to the software cause good devices to be classified bad then each passing day that the software has a bug could cost our customer a quarter of a million dollars. (Hmmm, now THERE's an argument for a pay rise ).

I'm not able to go into exact details of what my changes are so bear with me. At the end of last year I went to France to discuss some changes needed by our customer. I had the bulk of those changes done by early January and I went back to France to install the software. You should already be scratching your head; he needs to travel from the USA to France to install some new software? Uh huh. I've posted in the past about the way our software abuses the registry. In this case there were some software changes needed; and some registry changes. One could document the registry changes and ship new binaries but experience tells me that doesn't work. The problem is that the registry dictates the software configuration but we can't predict exactly how the customer wants the software configured (and they want to be able to change configurations at will).

The solution is obvious; add some configuration tools with a nice GUI interface (might I add that this is a new concept where I work ). Which not so terribly obscure insight lead to the large scale changes in our runtime that I need to test. Suddenly we have a user interface that can change the configuration; the runtime has to be notified of the changes and reconfigure itself. This is something it's never before had to do. Before, we'd change something, kill the runtime and the GUI, and restart it all. There are two people in the world who know how to manually edit the registry for our product; myself and my predecessor, and I only know how because I have the source code and can work backwards from what's not working to what registry key controls it.

If this sounds like a maintenance nightmare you'd be right. It seems ridiculous to me that if our customer wants to do X I have to spend 46 hours travelling to Baguio City in the Philippines to make a 10 minute change (I did exactly that in January this year - but on the upside I did get to visit Korea and Japan as part of the trip). And, as much as I like visiting Nice, France, it's equally ridiculous to travel there to spend 4 minutes editing another registry key. Yet, documenting our part of the registry isn't a lot better. Our customer asks us how to do X - we respond; change key Y to this and restart. The customer responds that it doesn't work. If we assume they did the registry change right then we have to assume we have a bug. So we try to duplicate and, lo and behold, it works here. The tooing and froing can take weeks! Meanwhile we have a pissed off customer. I hope the alternative is obvious. It might take me three days to write a dialog that will cover all possible cases but that's three days spent at home and three days of work to depiss the customer .

So back to todays conversation with Kevin. Having been willing to send me to France to spend 10 days waiting for our hardware to become available; having been willing to send me to Dallas to spend 2 weeks doing nothing that I couldn't have done at home; having been willing to send me to Baguio City for 6 weeks to do things that could just as easily have been done at home; suddenly he's all concerned that I want to spend a week in Dallas. 'What changes have I made that need to be tested?' I explained that I'd added a user interface to allow our customer to make the changes that would otherwise require me or my predecessor to travel half way around the globe.

'So did you HAVE to do that?' he asks.

What could I say? It wasn't on the list of things the customer demands. Well, not in so many words!

I'm not in sales but I do have eyes and ears and I've had at least as many years in this biz as Kevin has (more actually). As far as I can tell Kevin (and my boss for that matter) believes that if you throw enough people at a problem (whether they're able to solve it or not) you'll impress the customer enough that the problem goes away. Hence the willingness to send me halfway across the world.

Now here's a radical idea guys. Why not solve the root cause? Why not actually spend a quarter of the dollars to actually test the software BEFORE you ship it? A bug the customer never sees costs a lot less.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

It's 2:25 AM

and outside the window I can hear birds making their mating calls. It's still officially winter here (yanks do the 21st as the turn of the season; where I come from it's the 1st) and it's a pretty warm winter - we hit 20C as a high today - last week we were hitting 30 C as a high. Not bad for winter! Of course, come summer I'm expecting to see 50C as the peak and if I'm lucky we'll drop to 37C at midnight.

But I vastly prefer that to the prospect of snow as far as the eye can see. As long as I have water to hand I'll alway prefer the Phoenix summer to the Minnesota winter.

An interesting evening

a couple of weeks ago someone responded to one of my posts inviting me to a get-together with other Phoenix bloggers. Conditional upon my actually being present in Phoenix on the night (tonight) I agreed to go.

Thus I fronted up at some sports bar not very far from home to meet Vern and Lamont (sp?). Vern's blog is[^] and Lamont's is[^]. You don't want to believe everything Lamont says. The girl he mentions wasn't just taken with me; she was taken with everyone in our group. (Though I can understand where he's coming from; she has an Australian friend living in Sydney and, once she'd heard me speak, nothing would do but she had to call her friend and hand me the mobile phone. I found myself talking to someone I've never heard of in a city I've never lived in...)

'Tis sad to admit but Vern and Lamont are the first people I've met in Phoenix outside of work. Well that's not quite true but I don't count the people I meet as a result of Andrew and Morgan. How fortunate that they turned out to be harmless! We spent 3 hours yakking; I understood perhaps one quarter of whatever it was they were talking about! They were speaking English words in an accent I'm familiar with; but as for what it was they were actually talking about, I have no idea. Something to do with NASCAR maybe? At one point I was requested to genuflect to some god of the NASCAR religion; as an understanding foreigner I aquiesced in much the same way that, whenever I'm present at a ceremony where Americans take the oath of allegiance, I stand respectfully, arms at my sides while they take the oath.

I reckon Lamont and Vern won't take that amiss. I enjoyed the evening.

Oh and that girl again? At one point both Vern and Lamont disappeared to the dunny, leaving me alone. We won't dwell on the happenstance of two men going to the dunny simultaneously; let's assume it was serendipity! . She continued talking and, this being a sports bar, I could barely hear her above the noise. So I moved one chair to the right; one doesn't want to be rude. When they returned Vern resumed his chair and Lamont took mine. A minute later and I'm begging him to swap chairs. He was most reluctant! Same reason; neither of us wanted to be dragged into further conversation.

Will I go to another meetup? If I'm in Phoenix on the night yes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Some grudges are forever

:-) Ok so it's not really a grudge.

Sometime in 1958 I had my tonsils removed. It's so long ago I really don't remember if it was painful or not; it probably was. Anyway, the nurse in the childrens ward promised me that if I was a good boy and didn't cry she'd bring me some icecream. I was a good boy - I didn't cry. And I'm still waiting for that icecream!

I'm definitely starting to feel more comfortable in Phoenix

frightening thought!

Probably because I've now got some friends here. But there's also a beauty to the place. I wrote last night about how my drive home is complicated by roadworks. Which it is. But, on the other hand, the shortest route misses some sights that are worth seeing. The longer route I'm forced to take can be visually stunning. For example, I drive North from the office along the Hohokam (sp?) expressway and drop a right via Washington Street onto McDowell Road. That takes me east through the Papago Park; where the Phoenix Zoo is located, and past two very very large redstone boulders, one on each side of the road. They're not quite on the scale of Uluru but they're impressive nonetheless. Rear mirror shows Phoenix Downtown in the distance; and in front are the mountains that mark the eastern boundary of what's called, here, the east valley. If you time it just right you get to see them lit up by the setting sun and it really is worth seeing.

I have to get into the habit of carrying my camera with me even when I go to the office.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

There's gold in them thar roads!

I can't think of any other explanation but gold mining* for the continual digging up, resealing, digging up and so forth at the corner of McDonald Road and Tatum Boulevard here in Phoenix. In the 9 months since I started working for my current employer there have been very few occasions when that corner isn't being worked on. I really hope I've misread the signs; the sign I saw implied that the current works will not be completed until August!

It's an easy enough drive TO work; down Tatum toward Camelback Mountain, drop a right through the roadworks onto McDonald and then curve gently to the left onto 44th Street. But coming back the other way is a real pain in the bum! Traffic turning left onto Tatum from McDonald stretches back at least a kilometre. Problem is there's really no easy alternative; I could go further west to 32nd Street and approach Tatum from Lincoln Drive but that's a left turn from hell as well. For the past week I've been going to the east and taking 68th Street but it's still double the travel time compared to no roadworks.

Workmates have suggested I take the freeway**; but to tell the truth freeways here in Phoenix scare the hell out of me! I'm not comfortable doing the kinds of speeds one sees there. If you try and sit in the left hand lane the pressure is on to do 75 MPH or greater (this in a 65 MPH speed limit). Middle lane isn't much better. (I drive a Kia Rio and all those trucks sitting on your arse are intimidating). Right hand lane? Freeway designers here seem compelled to provide an entry and an exit for every single major road, which puts such exits and entries about a mile apart. There's a constant flow of traffic swapping lanes from the rightmost lane to the entry/exit.

In contrast, the freeways I learned to drive on have entries and exits placed much further apart; the expectation is that you'll take the nearest exit and then use surface*** streets to get to your destination. It makes for much less fludity in the outer lane.

There's a related problem methinks. It's almost a given that, listening to the traffic reports on the radio, you'll hear of a 'rollover' accident somewhere on the freeway system. I know why! All too often I've seen someone driving along on the inner lane and suddenly cross three or four lanes to get to that exit an eighth of a mile ahead. Bad planning? Almost certainly. But with that many exits I've also committed the sin of complacency and suddenly realised that I want to exit at Thunderbird and there's the sign telling me it's a hundred yards ahead. If you're in the inner lane it's an impossible manouver yet so many try to do it!

You'd think that with the next exit less than a mile away the average driver would, having missed the desired exit, take the next one and come back? Doesn't seem to happen.

So I don't do freeways here. *shrug*

*this joke is stolen from the Goon Show!

**taking the freeway would almost double my mileage. The 101 is a long way east of where I work and it's definitely the long way home.

***silly expression but one hears it all the time; last time I looked most freeways are also on the surface.


silly name right?

That legacy c++ app I inherited had such a class in it. Today I finally got fed up with seeing that silly name and decided to rename it to something rather more meaningful. So I did a search through the source for an instance of the object; lo and behold, it's not used anywhere! Ok, so delete the files from the project workspace, recompile and voila! Well, one thing led to another and 2 hours later I've removed at least 20 unused classes. The release build of the app dropped from about 1.2 Meg to 950 K. Not bad.

The less experienced amongst you might be wondering why it's taken me 9 months to do this (today is my 9 month anniversary with the company). The more experienced already know .

There is more than 1 reason. The first reason is that until relatively recently this has been a 'new' app to me. If the release build of the binary comes out at over a meg that implies a fair sized app and a codebase which, whilst not enormous, certainly isn't trivial either. And only a fool goes in and starts condemning large lumps of code without taking a long and careful look.

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm monumentally unimpressed with the code quality. On the other hand, it does work, however inefficiently. I'm not only maintaning the app, I'm adding new functionality as requested by our customer and I don't want to go in and break things just for the sake of making the code conform to MY ideas of how it should be written. I've got better things to do than arbitrarily replace X with Y just because I don't like X.

To put things into perspective; the part of the product I work on consists of 2 main executables. One is the user interface; the other is the runtime. The UI and the runtime communicate via out-of-proc COM. There are another dozen or so DLL's. All up it's probably about 600 source files and maybe half a million lines of code; most of it uncommented. This is one of the few bodies of code I've seen where a raw linecount really does approximate a true count of lines of code!

A nice try

you'll remember I posted a while ago about trying to purchase a carton of cigarettes and the comedy we went through in order for the guy behind the counter to understand that I wanted a carton rather than a pack.

Today I went to the same petrol station. By now they know that when I say carton I mean carton. There are three or four different people behind the counter depending on the time of day and the day of the week. Today it was the 'little old lady'. She's very pleasant and friendly; and today she asked me if I was from Scotland! If you go back 5 generations yes, I am; my family hailed from Peebles and, according to a Duncan Manderson who lived in Switzerland in 1972 and compiled a complete family history going back to about the 13th century, the Mandersons were, at one time, one of the leading families of Peebles.

But it would be impossible to hear me speak and seriously imagine I'm Scottish if you had any exposure whatsoever to people from Scotland!

Half a year ago I was in the Sunflower garden at Singapore International Airport, smoking, on my way to Manila. As one does* I struck up a conversation with a young guy on his way to Australia. He had, it seems, been born in Melbourne but his family had returned to Scotland when he was very young. He was on his way to see the place of his birth. Try as I might I could only understand about half of what he said; indubitably he was speaking English words but his accent defeated me! Nice guy nonetheless!

*one side effect of the pariahdom of smoking is that it's relatively easy for smokers to bond. It's much easier to strike up a conversation with a fellow lurker in the smoking lounge than, for instance, with a fellow traveller in the typical airport lounge.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Internal scripts

I've just watched, for the first time since 1968 this movie[^] (To Sir, with Love). Back then it was a school excursion; given the subject of the movie and the fact that I went to one of the worst schools in Melbourne I have to assume the excursion was an exercise in optimism. Perhaps not though, the following year we had another excursion, to see this movie[^]. (If...)

The first thing I remember from my first viewing of To Sir, With Love, way back when, was that I wished I was attending a co-educational school; ours was boys only. Those mysteries, the girls, attended a girls only school half a mile down the road. Naturally this lead to a pressure cooker atmosphere; I remember one day the rumour spread throughout the school that if one rubbed ones left forefinger across the left side of ones nose that meant that one was interested in having sex (as if they needed a signal ). If the girl was similarly interested she'd reciprocate! Can you imagine the sight of a thousand schoolboys unleashed on Footscray Shopping centre that afternoon; all of us frantically rubbing our noses if a girl came into view? And can you imagine the disappointment when not a single female nose was similarly rubbed?

Well that's the way I remember it.

The second thing I remember is the way the kids seemed to get away with just about everything in the movie. You have to understand that I was 14 at the time and at that age one believes rather more in what one sees on the screen than in later life. (I hadn't seen The Blackboard Jungle[^] at that time). There was a delicious thrill of imagining that one could confront old Mr Godfrey with insolence and escape unscathed. The reality was otherwise.

One afternoon one of our number farted. A silent but deadly. The smell was truly awful. We all laughed as we choked but our science teacher (A Mr Diedrichs if I remember rightly) was not impressed. Since none of us would admit responsibility we were detained. He treated us to a mixture of chemicals of a deplorable olfactory nature. This was 1968 - I suspect some idiot parent would mount a lawsuit these days. On the other hand, I'll bet not one of us since then has committed a similar sin. Well I did but under completely different circumstances that I might discuss sometime hence.

The didactic purpose of the movie was, however, totally lost on us. I don't mean that we didn't react the in the same way to those teachers we respected because we did. But we did it because they had earned our respect; not because we saw some movie. I can't even remember the name of our form 4 class master from 1969 (it might have been Mr Evans but I'm not sure) but I remember that at the end of 1969 we all of us were proud to shake his hand and agreed that he was a good egg, even those of us who'd hated his guts at the start of 1969.

Most of us left school at the end of 1969 - I did. I was 15 and a half years old and about to enter the full time workforce.

Cyclone WIlly

Just because I don't live in Australia anymore doesn't mean I don't take a keen interest in what happens there. Every day, without fail, wherever I am in the world, if I have internet access I read the two main Melbourne newspapers online - The Herald Sun and the Melbourne Age. Indeed, it's not an infrequent occurence that I'll be on the phone to Heino and I'll mention something that happened in Melbourne last week and that's the first he's heard of it.

So this week Cyclone Willy's been threatening the northwest coast of Western Australia. And whoever it is writes the headlines for the Herald Sun has been having a field day. First it was 'Willy Threatening' followed by 'Willy Intensifies' and then 'Willy Grows Larger'. Today it's 'Willy Peters Out'.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The strange things that people do

well maybe not so strange!

I was walking down Swanston Street, Melbourne, in late 1996 when I saw a gothic young lady resplendent in her dark makeup. Not so unusual though one would normally expect to find such young ladies in Brunswick Street or perhaps in Acland Street, St Kilda. What really caught my eye was that she was proudly leading her pet by a leash. The pet was a ferret! Doubtless the ferret would have preferred not to be led by a leash! I thought it was pretty cool.

A couple of months later I was on the train. For someone who'd travelled the entire Melbourne network many times in 1970 it might seem odd that this was the first time I'd been in the underground loop but indubitably it was. The underground was 20 years old by then! I'd become a driver before the underground loop was even started let alone finished and we all know what happens when you get a car; suddenly public transport isn't good enough anymore. So there I was, for the first time, travelling on the underground. Why? Well I was on my way to lunch with someone where I knew I'd be drinking. I drink, and I drive; but I never ever combine the two activities.

Anyway, seated opposite me on the train was someone probably 30 years younger than I was. He had a walkman and the obligatory headphones and he was away in his own world. He also had an electric guitar and he was playing along with the music. This was an air guitar with a vengeance. If I had a dollar for every time I've played air violin to a concerto or conducted, in my head, one of my favourite symphonies...

Again, I thought it was pretty cool.

I remember walking along Swanston Street toward Flinders Street station one warm night; it was most probably in September 1972; in October of that year I got my drivers license and my first car followed in November 1972. It was after night school and I'd been to the pub with some friends. I was, shall we say, pleasantly intoxicated, and I was conducting Bruckners 6th symphony in my head (to this day I remember it was the second half of the first movement; it's always reminded me of the landing approach of an airplane). A policeman stopped me and asked what I was doing. I told him. With a somewhat doubtful look he let me continue on my way.

So I've done those strange things myself; I understand how it works. I suspect that most of us would admit to such silliness at times. The trick seems to be to remember it. Heino remembers but I've had other friends who act as though they were born aged 40. Poor bastards! They've missed a lot.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Plumbing part 2

a couple of months ago I wrote about American plumbing, using Korean plumbing as the hook. It's here[^] if you haven't read it already.

The first time I experienced American plumbing was about 4 hours after landing on American soil for the first time. I'd driven from San Francisco Airport to Santa Rosa and checked into my hotel. By this time I was busting for a leak! So I got to my room, dumped my baggage and made a beeline for the dunny.

'Oh man' I thought. 'Of all the hotel rooms in all the world I had to get this one!'. The toilet bowl was full of water; obviously a blockage. But sometimes nature is stronger than nurture; I needed that leak badly. A couple of minutes later and the venal side of my nature took over; a flush was needed and if it overflowed it was the hotels problem, not mine. Imagine my surprise when the water level fell and a few seconds later a swirl took place.

Both sides of the Pacific Ocean are scratching their heads. What the hell is he talking about this time? Surely we now have evidence of insanity?


Just a difference in how the toilets work. Not that much of a difference; I'm not talking those holes in the floor one sees in Asia; merely that Australian toilet bowls are a somewhat different kettle of fish! Aussie dunnies have just enough water at the bottom to provide the necessary air seal against the sewer beneath whereas American toilet bowls are usually full of water. The flush cycle is completely different! The Aussie dunny, at flush time, fills up with water and then drains; the American dunny is full of water that is drained and replaced.

To accomodate the Australian style and prevent unsightly skid marks the bowls are somewhat differently shaped but let's not explore further. I've given enough information.

Andrew blew his ribs

but he's still healthy enough. The ribs he blew were the treat he might otherwise have earned.

Yup, tonight his room had reverted to it's normal aspect; somewhere between petrie dish for bacterial growth and the perfect illustration of entropy.

Thus ensued a scene that was rather less ennobling than usual. Knowing that he had blown his ribs he chose to take the truculent route. A difficult situation for a step-dad. It came as no suprise that Mum was more on his side than mine...

But we agreed a long time ago that we'd resolve those conflicts of opinion out of the kids sight; and so it was tonight.

So now we're back to scratch. A good thing I'm a stubborn bastard!

Friday, March 11, 2005

The pigsty

well it's been three nights now and I've only caught Andrew once with unauthorised crockery in his room .

Today was bonus day so methinks we can afford a serve of ribs as a reward!

Oh, the shame

earlier this week we did an interim release of our software to be sent to a single site.

It took me a while to establish the mindset but it's now the expectation where I work that, if we do a software release, we do it on the 15th of the month. I'd originally planned to do one a month but the customer balked at such a frequency; they wanted no more than 4 per year. I can understand that; I've worked for enough large corporations in my time to know and understand their reasons. Hence the 'if we do a software release'. Some months there isn't enough extra functionality to warrant a new release. Or sometimes the extra functionality takes more than a month to write. Most of the time we do the call on when to release but you always have to factor in the customers needs. This, of course, only works if you have an established trust relationship with your customer. I think we do, which makes me feel very lucky!

I've also managed to establish the idea that you just can't do random releases and believe me it took some arguing. If we do need a special release it has to go through the same process as a normal release; no more of this 'compile a copy on some random computer which might or might not have the most recent source files (ie, whoever's laptop it is that the release was compiled on) and hope for the best'.

Fortunately our customer is very sophisticated in this regard; they understand the value of process and they, once they'd heard me talking about doing things in a particular way, threw their weight behind me. For any company having the customer on side is a plus but when your customer is a thousand times larger than you are you listen. I've managed to kill the idea that you fix one bug and then email that exe to the affected site.

But this is the real world and there are always exceptions. Such an exception arose. So we did an interim release on March 8th using the process, sent as aforesaid to just the one site and knowing it would be superseded by the March 15 release, sent to all sites.

I've already, in previous posts, mentioned that our software has a runtime component, for which I'm responsible, and a design time component. The March 8th release contained an older version of the design time component (the version that went out on Feb 15) and an updated (and urgently needed) runtime.

The March 15 release will contain a newer version of the design time component and the March 8th version of the runtime.

So where's the shame?

Well, I've made a lot of changes to the runtime this week and it 'feels' like it works. I hope that's raising the hackles. 'Feeling' isn't good enough. I can't properly test my changes here; we don't have the hardware so I have to go back to Dallas to perform the tests. Which puts me in the position, after all my complaining about having to go to Dallas, of demanding I be sent to Dallas to test my changes!

I can think of worse things to be ashamed of!

Gotta love the circus

The media circus that is;

So there I was driving to work today about 9:20 AM Arizona time. The radio was interrupted by a newsflash from a breathless reporter. Michael Jackson is late to court! This was announced in much the same way that one might expect the announcement of a second 9/11.

Ten or so minutes later the program was interrupted again. The judge has issued a bench warrant for Michael Jacksons arrest if he doesn't appear in court within an hour! (I was tempted to capitalise each letter of that sentence but good taste prevailed). This was followed by the reporter announcing that Jackson's lawyer had been seen pacing back and forth with a mobile phone to his ear.

I love that detail. I couldn't stop laughing, and we all know how rarely you laugh out loud when you're alone.

Now the cynics amongst you are expecting me to attribute this to America. Wrong. When I got home from work tonight I rang my best mate Heino. I ring him at least once a month but usually more often (except when he's at the Australian Grand Prix). I started telling him about the story and he interrupted me with more up-to-date information than I had. It seems that the Australian media have also been following this non-story with the kind of attention you'd normally associate with hungry sharks in a bloodbath!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Taxes and rebates

I hate em!

Prepare for a rant.

One of the first items on my agenda when I moved here from Australia was to get a new computer. I had 4 back in Australia but the youngest was 3 years old and it wasn't worth the expense of shipping even one of em. So I burned what I wanted to preserve to CD and gave the computers to friends.

On my third day here I went a-shopping (I did say it was one of the first items but I didn't say it was highest priority ). I did the appropriate research on the 'net using my wifes computer and decided on a set of bits; did the searches for the best prices available and prepared the list. A couple of years down the track I don't remember exact prices so bear with me.

One of the things I wanted was RAID so that meant a motherboard with a RAID controller; and two hard disks. Best price I could find for a walk-in was US$99.95 for an 80 gig Maxtor at CompUSA. So I go to the local CompUSA and sure enough they have Maxtor 80 gig drives on the shelf with a very prominent price tag - $99.95. Some of you already know what's coming! I grabbed two of em and went to the counter and the cashier rang it up, $139 and some odd cents each! What? The shelf price is $99.95. 'Ah', says the smarmy young bastard behind the counter, 'that's after rebate'. 'What's a rebate' asked the innocent. It turns out there's a $30 rebate. Ok, so that'd make the price $129.95 right? Wrong! There's also tax.

I'm a simpleton it seems. Where I come from the price marked on the shelf is the price you pay in cold hard cash at the register. All the taxes are included. If you see an item marked at $100 and you have a hundred bucks in your wallet you're good to go! And 48 years of being used to that makes for a difficult to break habit. To this day, more than 2 years down the track, I still find myself forgetting half the time that the price you see on the shelf isn't the price you're going to pay at the register.

But it gets better. You pay a state sales tax of so many percent and you also pay a regional tax of so many percent. I don't know the exact rate here in Scottsdale - I think it's a total of 7.81% but I'm probably wrong. Now that's a monumentally difficult rate to calculate in your head. When I remember I have to do it I apply a flat 10% to be sure I have sufficient cash on me to complete the transaction.

I'm sure that those who were born and raised here don't think this is anything exceptional - 'that's the way it is'. But, to me, it smacks of dishonesty. I'm aware that if you purchase something from another state you don't pay the sales tax - but that exemption seems only to apply to mail and internet orders. I've never seen anyone (nor have I succeeded myself) showing their drivers license to prove they live out of state and are therefore exempted from the taxes. If you walk up to the counter with the item in your hot little hand they'll charge you the taxes. Therefore, they know that the price they put on the ticket isn't correct. This can lead to embarassments for the foreigner. I vividly recall grabbing a copy of the LA times (price marked 50 cents) and offering two quarters. I had no other US money on me and lacked the 7 cents to complete the transaction. This was nearly 20 years after my first visit to the US so you'd think I'd have known better but I'd forgotten that minor detail. Tres embarrassment!

And the rebates? The taxes are bad enough but the assumption here is that you both know the taxes are on top of the marked price and that you know the exact amount. The rebates are something else. I've learned to use my reading glasses! Back to the CompUSA example. The price tag on the shelf had $99.95 in large print. In very small print it said 'Store price $129.95 - $30 mail in rebate'.

Now, assuming you, my reader, has no idea what I'm talking about (I was such an innocent a mere 2 or so years ago), let me explain. A mail in rebate is a way for a lying scumbag to pretend that something costs less than what it really costs. Such a scumbag is free to advertise anything at a giveaway price and gouge you at the register. They'll advertise somethiing at $99.95 but extract $129.95 (plus taxes) at the register. You take your purchase home, snip off the UPC code, enclose the original receipt and mail it off to some address. If you're VERY lucky 10 or 12 weeks later a cheque arrives in the mail for the difference between the advertised price and the extracted price.

The states collude in this because the taxes you pay are calculated on the price without the rebate. Naturally, even if the rebate is paid, the extra taxes aren't refunded!

More usually what happens is that you failed to dot that third I from the left and they deny the rebate. Given that they want both the original receipt and the original UPC code and they never return those for a denied application you're hung, drawn and quartered!

I NEVER buy anything that has a rebate. Nor should you. Ever. Period!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The semantics of need

Sometimes you think the things you oughtn't to think.

Yesterday I went to Subway to get my lunch. The bloke ahead of me was a BIG bloke. I'd guess he was at least 25 kilos overweight. When it was his turn to order he said something along the lines of...

'I need a footlong with the lot'.

And what went through my head in response was 'mate - that's about the last thing you need!'

Which highlights how different English speaking cultures use common words in different ways. Within my first week living here with my new family Morgan would ask me to drive her somewhere. But the way she asked didn't feel right. She'd say 'Rob, you need to drive me to wherever'. I let this go the first two or three times but eventually took her to task. 'No Morgan, I don't NEED to take you anywhere. You need ME to take you there'. It took her a few days to understand how I saw the word need.

Illusory progress on the pigsty front

Suddenly I don't need to tell Andrew to take his plate and his glass down to the dishwasher. Dunno how long this will last but let's wear the rose coloured glasses for a while .

You'll remember the tale of the threatened weekend without television. Since then I've been in the habit of prowling upstairs every couple of hours and pointing at the crockery. Last night we had some fun! Andrew usually goes to bed about 11:30 ([old fart] since when do 13 year old kids get to stay up that late? [/old fart]). He sticks his head out the door and calls out 'Night Mum, night Rob'.

About 15 minutes before this I'd heard the tell-tale clink of glass upon plate so I knew he had crockery upstairs. So when he stuck his head out and said goodnight I said 'uh, Andrew, you're not quite ready to go to bed'. Puzzled look. 'You have some unfinished business'. He continues to fake puzzlement though I can tell by the ghost of a smile that he knows perfectly well what I'm talking about. 'The plates' I said. 'Oh' he says.

So he brought em downstairs and made a great show of scrubbing them out and putting them in the dishwasher. Then he goes upstairs and wishes us a good night. I coughed and said 'Andrew, you're still not ready to go to bed'. More puzzlement and this time I think it was real. 'Remember that packet of chips you opened? It's waiting to be put back in the cupboard'. 'Oh' he says, and marches down the stairs again. The chips put away he goes up again.

'Uh Andrew' I said again. 'You're STILL not ready to go to bed'. By this time he's getting perhaps a trifle impatient. 'What!' he shouts. Well I was 13 years old once and much put upon; or so it seemed at the time so I'll let that one go. 'Remember the milk? You still haven't put it back in the fridge'. So he stumps down, flings the milk into the fridge and slams the door shut. We'll draw a veil over the lecture that followed.

Today I came home primed for more of the same. It was not to be. And I don't say alas. Yes, there was the same parade of plates and glasses going up the stairs; but for a change there was a matching parade of used plates and glasses coming down the stairs.

Let me at least have the illusion of progress.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Stars and Stripes

as promised, the expatiation of the number of stars that appear on US flags in the movies.

The number of stripes is a given; it's always 13; the count of the original colonies that formed the United States. (I'm going to ace that citizenship exam ).

The number of stars varies according to the era. You'll notice that M*A*S*H always shows the 48 star flag because, even though the series was made in the 1970's it's set at the time of the Korean War when there were only 48 states.

So much is obvious.

I take a perverse delight in comparing the number of stars shown on the US flag to the time in which the movie is set. For instance, in Tommy[^] there's a scene right at the start of the film where they're celebrating the end of WW2. The camera pans across a vista of flags (I note that the Australian flag is shown reversed - tut tut ). The US flag has 50 stars. Someone didn't do their research.

In The Patriot[^] they're very careful to show the 13 star flag with the stars arranged in a circle whenever you see the flag in closeup. But during the long shot battle scenes if you look really carefully you can see that the stars on the US flags are arranged in a rectangular array. Given that the movie was made in 1999 (released in 2000) I'd bet those flags have 50 stars.

In Gangs of New York[^] the number of stars varies. As far as I can tell the variation follows the admission of new states into the union. Certainly as time passes the number of stars increases.

And so I started to wonder. If Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959 and Hawaii became the 50th state on August 21, 1959 what happened to flags in the movies during that time. It's somewhat complicated by the fact that the flags didn't change on those dates. I quote the following text[^].

'Following Alaska's admission in January, 1959, a new flag with 49 stars was designed and first flew over Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1959. It would be the official flag for only a year. The 50 star flag became the 27th flag on July 4, 1960, and remains the official flag of the United States.'

So far I've only found one movie that shows the 49 star flag and that movie is On the Beach[^].

Squash Courts

when I was about 5 years old my mother used to take me to Williamstown Beach. We had no car in those days; so we took the bus along Barkly Street to Geelong Road and changed to the Williamstown bus which went down Williamstown Road and Melbourne Road. At the corner of Ferguson Street there was a squash court.

I knew what squashing was and I'd recently heard about court (doubtless my father on a charge of drunk and disorderly). I remember the visceral fear I felt when I saw those two words together; Squash Court. Surely they didn't squash people, did they?

This is as good a place as any to slip this nugget in. At the same beach two years earlier I won a beautiful baby contest. Yes, I was judged the most beautiful baby of 1957! My picture appeared on the front page of the Sun newspaper. All I can say is that if I won there must have been some butt ugly babies around!

My oath

about 4 years ago I was called up for Jury Duty. It would have been the third or fourth time and I STILL haven't been selected onto a Jury. Usually they take one look at me and issue an instant challenge and I find myself sitting amongst the rejects wondering what they didn't like this time .

On the most recent occasion we were taken into the court room and the judge explained the basics - including a list of the major witnesses; if you've been called up you know how it works. He explained among other things that the case would probably last 6 weeks. This was about 4 weeks before I was due to take a trip to New Zealand (personal business as opposed to company travel) on a ticket I'd already paid for. So I was one of about 50 people (of 200 or so prospective jurors) who indicated a desire to be excused from that particular case. The judge probably sighed in exasperation!

One by one we took our oaths and explained why we felt we had an especial reason to be excused from sitting on this case. It was the usual litany of reasons; one was a salesperson who couldn't afford the loss of time; another was a working mother; a third was concerned at the time away from seeking a job. (I don't know about elsewhere but in Victoria, my home state, your employer is required to make up the difference between what the state pays a juror and the normal wage that would be earned by that person).

One by one the judge listened to each excuse, asked pertinent questions; and one by one he rejected each excuse. It was beginning to look like I was going to have to run the chance of being empannelled!

In the end, of those 50 or so people who wanted to be excused only 2 were. I was one of them. The other was excused because she was related to one of the primary prosecution witnesses. Me? This is my guess as to why...

Of all the people who took an oath before proferring their excuse I was the only one who asked to take an affirmation. I'm an atheist and I won't swear on a bible. The usher seemed a trifle flustered by this. I'm guessing there aren't that many people who make a fuss about it. But I was adamant. They wanted me to take the judiciary seriously; I wanted them to understand that I'll do things honestly but I won't start by swearing to a power I don't believe in.

I'm going to go out on a limb here. I have no doubt that there are many many people who devoutly hold religious beliefs and who would feel an oath upon the bible is binding. But surely not 98% of the population! I think the judge was swayed by my insistence on taking an affirmation that what I answered in examination was in fact the truth.

Monday, March 07, 2005

When Hollywood went to Melbourne

in 1959 this was the result[^]. I just watched it again.

I honestly can't recommend the film; I find it boring and long winded. I also find it totally fascinating. Uh a paradox you say? Uh huh. (Why do I feel like launching into that song from Gilbert and Sullivan? ). It's a personal thing!

The interest, for me, lies in the fact that it was shot in Melbourne and suburbs when I was about 5 years old. There are shots of Flinders Street, Frankston Station, the GPO (General Post Office), McGills, RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Techology) and the Victorian State Library that date from about the first time I saw those places in person. Let's not even dwell on Portmans in Swanston Street, arrayed next to Croft's with nary a sign of the McDonalds that would in later decades take over that location. Toward the end of the film we see the vestibule of the Queen Victoria Hospital, Lonsdale Street. I'm not completely certain but I think the part we see is the part that still stands today; my wife and I were married there in 2002.

Anyone who's lived in Melbourne and walked up Swanston Street past the State Library would recognise the statue of the digger clad in his mudware. The camera pans up past his face, across the library building and northeastward. Nowadays there are office towers but in this footage you see sky and cloud. This matches my memories of Sunday afternoons at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl in 1959/1960 when, looking northward toward the city the tallest building on the skyline was St Pauls Cathedral, closely rivalled by the Mutual building on the corner of Collins and Swanston streets. Nowadays it's dwarfed by the Commonwealth Bank Building, BHP house (old and new) and a thousand other buildings.

I find it fascinating watching outside centre frame; those people are locals. My aunt told me sometime in the mid 1970's that my father was one of the extras in the film but I haven't, to this day, found him. Maybe he was and I don't recognise him; or maybe he was and he fell to the cutting room floor. *shrug*

Early in the film you see a train arrive at Frankston Railway Station. I can remember the station when it looked that way; it's long since been demolished and rebuilt.

One thing I hadn't realised; Most of the trains you see are the 'Tait's' but you do see the odd 'Harris' train. I'd always thought the 'Harris' trains were introduced in 1961 but there they are in 1959. (The Taits are the old red rattlers, the Harris's were the blue trains). For my money the Taits were a lot more comfortable. It's fascinating to see 'SMOKING' stenciled on the outside of the carriages. Had the movie been made 2 years earlier we'd have also seen 'Third Class' stenciled but suburban class travel was dropped in 1958.

Oh, and in the shot of the American submarine at the start of the movie; I still framed and counted the stars on the flag; it was the 49 star flag (this means that piece of footage was shot after June 1959 and that someone was paying attention). I'll expatiate in another post about stars on the flag in movies.


for almost as long as I can remember I've been fascinated by cemeteries. I can hear the tut tut's and see the shaking of the heads from here! Wow, we knew he was a morbid bastard and here he is confirming it.

Well no, actually. I can't deny that, by it's very nature, a cemetery is a place full of dead people. But that doesn't mean that a cemetery is dead.

My grandmother took me to cemeteries when I was very young. I can't remember if it was before or after my father died but it would be a crap shoot either way. My grandmother was a christian and she tried to imbue me with christian values as she saw them. One of the things she told me was that the body stayed on earth without elaborating much further. This led me, as a 5 or 6 year old to ask her one day, at Footscray Cemetery, the following question.

'if the body stays here what happens to the head'.

A completely reasonable question for a 6 year old wouldn't you agree? I never did get a satisfactory answer. I think it wasn't so much that there was no satisfactory answer; merely that the question was so far outside my grandmothers expectations that she couldn't understand where I was coming from.

My grandmother died in 1966; years passed and I found myself seeking out her grave (and my fathers) in 1972. I was lucky that I made the search then; by 1979 all traces that would have allowed me to match an entry in the records of the cemetery with physical evidence had been erased. You'll have to go searching back issues of the Footscray Mail for the details but there was a scam running through the 1970's to destroy those records so that grave plots could be sold a second time. A part of the scam was that the grave markers (cast iron stakes with numbers on them) were plucked out of the ground and piled up by the hundreds. A grave with a tombstone was safe; but our family grave lacks a tombstone.

I'd found the grave in 1972 and to this day I remember the adjacent graves; Jackson on the right, an unmarked plot to the left and to the left of that Medway. On the same row about a hundred metres east, Jecholiah F Kingsbury, who died on March 8 1879. The only occurence of the name Jecholiah I've ever seen!

And therein lies the appeal of the cemetery. All these people who've lived, breathed, loved, sweated, drank, laughed, smoked, enjoyed life, faced their mortality and gone under the ground. They existed once and when I or anyone else walks past their graves they exist again; if only for the briefest moment as I think of them. They are our history. And one day I shall be as dead as they are; I can only hope that someone will walk past my grave and see

'Robert Clyde Manderson'

Born June 21 1954

Died ???

and think, wow, 1954. That was soooo long ago. I wonder what he was like! Well that won't do me a lot of good; I'll be already dead. But maybe they'll look up the history of my times and think 'we can do better'. Wouldn't that be a good legacy?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

It's all a matter of classification

I've been reviewing the N400 form needed to apply for US citizenship. The form is here[^]. Yeah, it's 6 months away but there's nothing like being prepared. I find it includes these questions.

Page 7 - Q9. Have you EVER been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with:

a: The communist party?

b: Any other totalitarian party?

c: A terrorist organization?

Hmmmm. Which communist party? I've never been a member of the Australian Labour Party but I've certainly voted for em, and they were (in the 1970's) a left-wing party. Would membership of the Australian Communist Party (which would be a joke) disqualify me?

Now I know they've given themselves an out in part b of the question; but the implication is that communist parties are the main evil. Presumably part b is meant to cover the fascists (Argentina in the 1970's), (Italy from 1922 to 1943) etc. But, to my reading, the entire thrust of the question is biased against left-wing thought.

It gets better. Q12 doesn't ask if you had been a member of the German Nazi party; merely if at anytime between March 23 1933 and May 8 1945 you had worked for or associated in any way with the Nazi's. Methinks that's rather a broad brush. Suppose you'd been working for a German newspaper on March 22 1933 and the next day you were still working for them. Would that count? Even if you'd been naive and not been able to foresee the next dozen years? Or suppose you'd known someone who was a member of the party and dined with them? That word 'associate' would condemn you whatever your 'association'. Hmmm, one of the people at my office is a Republican; geeze does that make ME a Republican? (for the record - over my dead body).

Now as it happens my first wifes father was a pilot for the Luftwaffe during WW2. I met him once, in 1979. Does that mean I need to answer YES to that question?

I remember being somewhat amazed when, in 1982 whilst filling out my application for a 5 year multiple entry visa to the US (this was before the days of the Visa Waiver Program) I had to declare that I had never been a member of the German Nazi Party. Even when the VWP was phased in that question remained though it's since been dropped. We're now 60 years past the end of Nazi Germany; I wonder how much longer that question will remain.

I have to admit I also wonder at the fate of those who were members of the German/American Bund in the 1930's.

Sometimes you need a clock

I haven't owned or worn a watch for more than a dozen years. I don't like em, I don't need em and I won't use em.

I find I can generally guess to within half an hour what the time is and I don't know how I do it. Can't be hunger; I don't eat by the clock. Can't be daylight, I can guess the time even after dark. I suppose I must have a watchdog timer inside my head .

Early in the second half of 1970 I was needed at the workshop at 6:00 AM - after all this time I can't even imagine why let alone remember. In those days I was neither licensed to drive a car nor did I have one. I took the train to work. The first train ran from St Albans at about 5:00 AM and if I caught that one I'd get to South Kensington station about 5:35 AM. From there it was about a 20 minute walk to the workshop. I could, of course, take the train to the next station, North Melbourne but the first train from North Melbourne to Kensington station after that would make me late.

So I went to bed very early that night. I'd set my alarm clock for about 4:15 AM. It was a 20 minute walk to St Albans station.

I awoke to the shrill of an engine whistle. Frantically I scrambled into my clothes and set off at a run for the station, convinced I'd missed the first train and would be late to work. I remember how cold it was; it would have been about 4C and that's plenty cold where I come from! .

Imagine my surprise when I discovered I'd run to catch the last train of the evening; it was about 12:45 AM. Of course I overslept the next day and was very late to work.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

An anticlimax

as you know, today was my appointment with INS. Now you have to understand that before one embarks upon such a large change as emigrating to another country one of the things one does is research everything including the immigration laws. Saying that is rather like saying before diving into water you take a breath.

The internet is one obvious resource but only a fool believes everything he reads on the 'net. However, I personally know another Australian here in Phoenix who's going through the same process (I worked with her husband back in Melbourne in the 1990's); one of my workmates was married to an Australian going through the process and my wife's ex-boss is still going through the process. Based on anecdotal evidence from all three I expected most of my day to be spent at INS for 10 minutes of formality. According to my wife's ex-boss he used to have to queue at 4:00 AM to be sure of an interview that day. This jibes with the internet anecdotes. Things have changed much since then! Phoenix now makes appointments through their website. One makes an appointment 2 or 3 weeks hence and prints the confirmation web page.

Thus I made my appointment using the Phoenix INS website 2 weeks ago; for 1:15 PM. As I've previously written, I did the necessary searching for the building last week. Even so, I arrived an hour early. The appointment letter warns that they won't let you in earlier than 15 minutes before the appointment and based on today that seems to be true; they were asking everyone what their appointed time was. So I went for a walk to kill time and arrived back at 12:59 PM.

Airport style security; the only difference being that you don't have to take off your shoes. Otherwise it was identical! Then stand in line until I can hand over my appointment letter. She confirmed the date, checked the number and stapled a tag to the letter. I'm appointment E791 for the day. Up the stairs to the waiting room and watch the number board. They were up to E782. It dings every time the number changes so I was free to read my book (L'Assomoir by Emile Zola). It's now 1:12 PM.

Incidentally, I was pleased to notice in France that even the digital alarm clock in my hotel room is 24 hour; and all times I saw printed on, for example, the restaurant windows, were in 24 hour format. Very civilised. But I digress.

At 1:49 PM my number dinged! Fronted up at the desk and launched into the 'g'day' routine. She opens my passport and says 'oh, you're an Australian'. I couldn't deny it! 'I bet you don't see many of us here'. She admitted she didn't. Then she noticed the logo on my windcheater. I bought it at Mannys Beach Club down in Mexico on a cold night a couple of years ago. Her face lit up. 'Did you like Mannys Beach Club?'. Again, I couldn't deny it. 'A lot of fun' said I.

Then she takes my photos, the appointment letter aforesaid and tells me to go to the door down there. Sign a form on both sides and she takes my fingerprint. Not plural; just my right forefinger. She got prints she was happy with the first time. When I came through LA in November 2002 to activate my immigrant visa the guy there took at least 20 prints before he was happy with em. It seems that when you're not used to being fingerprinted your muscles resist and it smudges the prints. The guy at LA told me to stare into the distance and ignore what he was doing with my hand; try as I might I couldn't relax enough. (And when I had my full fingerprints taken in April 2002 for the Australia wide police check required for a US immigration visa the cop who did it said it was obvious I'd never before been printed. When I asked why he said 'you can always tell if someone's used to being printed - they know to roll their fingers').

Prints taken it was back to the main window. She stamped my passport with a years extension and it was over. Total elapsed time? About 6 minutes. I was outside the building and enjoying a smoke at 1:57 PM.

She advised that it might take from 6 to 8 months for my 10 year greencard to arrive; but based on how quickly my first greencard arrived, 2 weeks, I suspect it'll be earlier. If not, I'll probably have filed my N400 (application for citizenship) before it arrives.


you'll have read that I spent most of the past 3 or 4 weeks in Dallas Texas. Those were neither my first nor my longest visits to Dallas. My first visit was in December 1995 and January 1996. Around the second week of January 1996 I took a side trip to Orlando Florida to spend some time with Hank, who had an idea for the Killer App for Windows 95; he wanted me to write it for him and we'd share the profits.

I really can't even remember what the Killer App was; but I do remember that I was monumentally unimpressed by it; it seemed to me to be an awful lot of work for an app that would have only limited appeal!

Hank and I argued about it for a while. He had the conviction of the evangelist; I the zeal of the atheist.

After the second day Hank gave me a choice; I could visit DisneyWorld or I could go to Kennedy Space Centre. I chose Kennedy. So we drove up Interstate 95. As far as I can remember it's about a 2 hour drive. Along the way Hank made one last attempt to convert me into an apostle of the Killer App but it didn't work. So we talked about other things. Among those other things I made the casual comment 'hey, we're on I95. Isn't that the highway with the snipers?'. In the early 1990's a sniper had been taking potshots at tourists. Hank said 'you don't need to worry about that - I'm packing'. And he reached over to the glove box in front of me and pulled out a gun! Then, as if to convince me that he had some serious hardware, he reached under his seat and pulled out a second gun!

Now I'm an innocent Aussie. I only know one Australian who owns a gun. Guns are certainly not a part of our culture in the way that they are in the USA. My reaction was not positive.

About 5 minutes later Hank said; 'Rob, you have a very important decision to make in the next 10 minutes'. And then he turned off the highway onto a dirt road that disappeared into some undergrowth! At about this time I'm starting seriously to believe that these are my last few minutes left on this planet. I'm frantically trying to decide if perhaps I should grab that gun out of the glove box.

We passed some trees and he stopped. I'm sure you can imagine what was going through my mind. Then he points; 'see those?' I looked whilst trying to keep him in my peripheral vision.

We watched the Armadillos frolicing in the sand for a few minutes and then continued to Kennedy Space Centre!

Battle lines part 2

I was home today by about 4 PM. There was no visible sign that Andrew had done anything about his room. I didn't check it as such but from what I could see from the bottom of the stairs it still bore a remarkable resemblance to a disaster site.

So I went and took a nap. About 6:30 PM I awoke and the house was empty. So I sneaked a look at his room and, I have to say, never has my flabber been so gasted! You could almost have eaten a meal off that floor. He and Mum got home about 15 minutes later; I said nothing. At 7 PM I did the big inspection. Yup - he'd missed a few spots; the broom was hiding behind the door; the Windex bottle had been forgotten but overall it was a credit to him.

I don't know what to make of this. Is Marc wrong? (I suspect not). Did Mum help? She swears she didn't but I am, after all, the wicked step-father .

Only time will tell. Andrew was grinning from ear to ear; he seemed pleased he'd amazed me. Mum keeps telling me he values my good opinion but I'm not sure I believe that! I suppose I should be wary of seeing my opinions and feelings about my step-father in him. Nonetheless, tonight he had my good opinion and I made sure he knew it.