Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Welcome back

When Andrew got home this morning (I presume it was morning though I was at the office at the time) he found the following taped to his monitor.

Welcome back Andrew!

I missed you!

Put there by yours truly of course. For, you see, last night was the first time in ages, possibly a year, that he'd been able to drag himself away from the computer, World of Warcraft and his own bed. His story is that he spent the night over at Austins. Which is probably true; the nearest thing we've seen to a girl is the bathing suit beauty draped over his computer desktop; a girl we don't get to see all that often due to the World of Warcraft aforesaid. Forty years ago that shot would have seemed racy but these days it's very tame. Which is just as well.

Apparently he laughed. I didn't have the heart to tell him I didn't think of the idea myself. Nope, my first wife came up with just such a greeting waiting on *my* computer monitor back in August of 1986 when I returned from my second trip to the US.

Sad to say I didn't get the point at the time.

Monday, May 26, 2008

No kidding

Going through the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) thoughtfully provided by Microsoft here in the US for Media Centre PC's I noticed a movie precis a few days ago. No, I can't for the life of me remember just *what* the movie title was apart from having the word 'Calendar' in there, and it's been and gone. Methinks I didn't miss much.

The precis went thus; 'After Miss January and Miss February are killed a detective suspects Miss March may be next'.

You reckon???

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Jury Service

Yesterday was my big day on Jury service. I wasn't too displeased when, ringing them after 4:30 the previous business day, I learned that I was indeed expected to appear this time. The only down side was the uncivilised hour they wanted to start. As originally indicated in the notice from the Maricopa County Superior Court, I expected to have to front up at 8:00. How fortunate they pushed the call back to 8:45. Still earlier than I'd have liked given that this is downtown but one does what one must.

Actually I cased it out last Sunday. Getting to downtown is no problem in itself; it's once you get to the maze of one way streets and streets that don't go through that it gets worrisome. The free parking is on 5th Ave but there's a bloody great court house in the way! That's the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Court building, where I took my naturalisation oath.

So I felt it wiser to check it out at leisure Sunday afternoon. That done, I knew exactly where to turn without getting lost; so well in fact that I got there half an hour early! Plenty of time for a smoke or two.

Then inside, through the inevitable, these days, security checks. At least they let you keep your shoes on. Thus to a not so long wait, punctuated by the equally inevitable 'civic duty' speech. Complete with the homily that we're fortunate as citizens of this great land to have the unique privilege of jury service. I don't remember the exact wording but it was phrased such as to leave the impression that the USA is the *only* place on the planet with juries and such. Hmmm, that'll be news to the British! As it was to me!

A few minutes pass and they called for the first lot; 60 potential jurors. A big trial for that many I thought. They got to the sixtieth name and I relaxed back into my book. An interesting detail I noticed was that very very few indeed had brought a book with them; did they know something or do they simply not read?

A few more minutes pass and this time they're calling for 120! Wow! And, you guessed it, mine was one of the names called out. Now you'll understand that I'm not going to say anything at all about the case, even though I was excused later in the day. All I'll say is that it was a criminal trial with multiple defendants, expected to run multiple weeks!

And at about this point it all departed from what I'm used to back in Australia. The first thing is that we were numbered! For the sake of this exposition let's say I was number 141. For the rest of the day whenever anyone in an official capacity addressed me I was Mr. 141. And how did they know my number? Simple. I had a large sheet of paper with the number printed on it!

So we were herded upward to the court room, after instructions to line up in numeric order. You might remember my Naturalisation Ceremony[^]. There we also had to line up in a precise order. They sure like numbering people! Thence into the courtroom itself, in numerical order.

Suprise the second. We (potential jurors) were seated in the public gallery area, separated from the business part of the court by a waist high wooden barrier. On the other side of the barrier was the judge, the prosecution and the defense attorneys. I thought there seemed a lot of defense attorneys. It turns out that half of em were the defendants; the better dressed half! Indeed, some of the lawyers looked shiftier than their clients. There, I've got the lawyer joke out of the way!

Then the serious side of the business got under way. After a group swearing in we were given a precis of the crime, some names etc and the usual question; did any of us know anyone on the other side of the barrier? So far so familiar. But after that it all became quite different.

The judge went through the longest set of questions I've ever heard asked of a jury. She'd ask a question and if your answer was 'yes' you held your number up. When she gave you the nod you stood up and said your piece.

It took all day and at the end of it they'd whittled us down to about 60. You understand that by the end of the first day they hadn't selected a single juror, they were simply eliminating us one by one. The questions themselves seemed reasonable; what struck me as unreasonable was the lengths people would go through to avoid service. One person volunteered the information that a distant relative in law enforcement had been killed in the line of duty, in 1915! A long litany of recitations of burglaries committed against the good people of the jury in the 1970's.

One wag intimated that she couldn't easily attend court on Mondays and Tuesdays but could make the other days; would that be good enough? Uh huh. What part of being a juror did that person not understand?

Throughout it all the judge maintained a cheery good humour. In contrast, every time I've been called for jury service in Australia the judge has seemed to regard anyone trying to avoid serving as not much more than a criminal himself. Methinks this is a normal occurrence and they budget a week to whittle it down to the dozen, plus alternates.

I won't go into why I was excused.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another election

Today we had another election. Not a very big one as it happened and there wasn't anyone actually standing for office. Not even for the post of dog-catcher!

Well that was here in Phoenix; apparently there were a couple of mayors elected around the state. Nope, todays poll was to approve (or not) an extension of a 0.1% sales tax for another 30 years to pay for parks. Now there's a motherhood and apple pie kinda issue for you! Voting against that is like voting against peace! And, as it happens, I voted in favour of the extension. I like parks and open spaces as much as the next man and a lot more than Andrew does.

The subject came up over dinner and when he heard that I'd actually voted in favour of a tax he expressed incredulity. Thus to the purpose of the tax at which point I went for the kill 'well, Andrew, you wouldn't have any use for a park would you?' To which the smartarse replied; 'of course I do, amusement parks'.

Uh huh.

The polling place was as empty as it was last time[^]. You know, for folk that blather on so much about freedom and democracy my fellow citizens take an amazingly lax attitude to the process of actually bothering to line up and cast the vote they're so proud of having! Well, maybe this wasn't one of the more important votes but my point still stands.

This time I had a bit of fun with the accent; when the bloke at the left end of the table handed me the little coupon for the ballot paper and instructed me to hand it to the 'gentleman at the other end' I couldn't resist saying 'oh, you mean that bloke!'. Sure enough, that bloke handed me the ballot and I filled out my vote. It took all of 12 seconds! As I turned to put the ballot into the box the 'bloke' at the end piped up 'what took you so long?'. 'Oh, I had to think about it' was my reply. Laughter all round. Perhaps you had to be there. Personally I reckon they were bored to death waiting for something to do.

I now have three I voted today[^] stickers on my computer monitor!

Monday, May 19, 2008

When does it end???

It seems like only a month[^] or so ago that I wrote about our fifth cat. And you guessed it; there's now a sixth!

I am not happy about this. I'm a big fan of cats, as you well know by now, but where does it end? This one was brought in by one of Morgans idiot* boyfriends. I happened to be on the phone with Heino at the moment he arrived and as Heino will testify, I said something along the lines of 'oh no, not another bloody one!'

Of course they know I'll relent and let him stay; I always do. Can't see why a kitten who has no say in the matter should suffer because of the stupidity of others.

I just hope the news doesn't get around amongst the feline population that they have only to enter the house to be reprieved. As much as I might like to, I can't help every stray cat in existence.

The interesting thing about this 'stray' is that he's completely house trained and obviously used to having people around. Methinks we have yet another example of the thoughtless who tire of a pet and just abandon it. Whilst not normally an advocate of capital punishment I'm thinking that mandatory strapping to a gurney might be an appropriate punishment for such people.

Of course, not wanting to be such a person, there are follow on consequences. Such as yet another two or three hundred bucks for the shots we don't know if he's had. Then the neutering. As I pointed out to the idiot boyfriend aforesaid, 'great, you get the virtuous feeling. We get the bills!'

* He must be an idiot, he's hanging around with Morgan ain't he?

'taint Lorraine, 'taint Lisa

nor is it Beatrice!

I really try and avoid the role of 'system administrator' at work. It's not my field though the boss stubbornly refuses to believe it. He sees a software developer, ergo he sees a computer expert and all computer experts are expert at everything about computers, right? Uh huh.

Nonetheless, as the only 'computer expert' at work, I'm called upon to do many admin tasks. Thankfully I've managed to keep it simple though I will never understand why the guy who set our network up decided to call the fileshare 'data-drum_2003' (not the real name but syntactically indentical). Since it's the only fileshare everyone uses why not simply call it 'data'? Likewise with the single shared printer in the office. Why not call it 'printer1', thus allowing for the possibility of a second or perhaps even a third printer? But nope, he decided to call it 'KyoceraM'. From which you could guess that it's a Kyocera printer. Well and good but there's a reason Windows allows arbitrary names. And the reason isn't to be obscure!

As I say, I try to keep it simple. I could change the share name or the printer name but then I'd have to update everyones computers. And users being users I could email them about the change with complete confidence that I was wasting my time and theirs. So we live with it.

Recently, as I wrote[^] a couple of weeks ago, I had to change our source code server. That server also happened to be our FTP server. Fortunately we don't have a lot of FTP activity going on and it was, frankly, far more important to me that I get our source code and history migrated than to get FTP services going again.

Having finally got the new subversion server set up and convinced myself that all the old sourcesafe history was still, well, safe, it was time to put the new machine on the public side of the network. Fortunately it's a Windows 2003 server machine with all the latest patches applied and it seems to be pretty well secured. Now go read the second paragraph of this entry. I'm NOT a network administrator (some would say I'm not a network administrators arsehole and they'd be right) but I've done what I know. I've run port scans against the public internet address and the only ports it finds open are the ports I expect (FTP, HTTPS and Remote Desktop).

I'm sure you've heard anecdotally what happens to a new machine exposed on the internet. One of the stats I've seen (whether I believe it is another matter) is that an unpatched Windows XP SP1 machine is supposedly completely compromised within 20 minutes of first exposure. Considering that it takes at least an hour, even on broadband, to download and install all the patches, you can see the problem. Thus daily malware, trojan horse, virus and rootkit scans on my new server.

On the inside I check the logs daily (though how long I'll do that is another matter). So far the only log showing any activity is the FTP log. Fascinating stuff. There's one persistent bastard, based in Japan going by the whois results on his IP, who's been trying for about 2 days to break in. His attempts are neither regular or fast enough to indicate a software based attack; he seems to be sitting at his computer typing password after password. Poor bastard will never succeed until he realises that I've renamed the system admin account AND the FTP user name list does not include Administrator. I reckon he must have a dictionary of western girls names because that's what he's been trying.

USER Administrator
PASS Lorraine
530 Login or password incorrect!

USER Administrator
530 Login or password incorrect!

I almost feel sorry for the poor bastard. But only almost; I've turned on autoban - 10 failed attempts and the IP is ignored for an hour. We shall see if he returns.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Suspending disbelief

Until recently I'd never seen any of the 'Airport' movies. You might think that was a good thing. I'm beginning to believe it was.

Actually I haven't seen Airport '75 yet; it's running this weekend and I've set the HTPC to record.

The original cropped up a few weeks back and I watched it a week or two later. That's one of the nice things about the HTPC/PVR revolution. Just set it to record and it sits there on the hard disk until you're ready. So much easier than the bad old days of grubbing around for a spare videotape, to say nothing of making sure it was loaded and programmed for the right channel/time. Then labelling the tape so one could find it again; that or go through a pile of tapes looking for the right one. Though it was a mere quarter of a century ago the old way of doing things seems so antediluvian! And there we were, happier than a dog with two dicks, because we could actually record movies off TV!

It's about this time I can imagine you dusting off a walking frame for me!

Anyway, I thoroughly agreed with the reviewer who named Airport (made in 1969) as the 'Best movie of 1944'!. A pot boiler if ever I saw one. Actually that's a trifle unfair, it was quite watchable if somewhat predictable. Now I can say I've seen it without ever feeling the need to see it again.

Thus to 'The Concorde... Airport '79'[^]. An unforgettable two hours of comedy. I understand, incidentally, that one was not supposed to refer to the real Concorde as 'The Concorde' but simply as 'Concorde'.

If the real Concorde had been able to pull off all the stunts we see in the movie it'd be one formidable plane, if somewhat uncomfortable for the passengers. I laughed out loud at the scene where the pilots put their oxygen masks on, open the cockpit window and fire a starting pistol out to distract the heat seeking missile!

If you haven't seen the movie, this is toward the start; just after they've departed from Washington DC. We, the audience, are asked to believe that after being pursued by a missile, which they handily defeat, they continue across the Atlantic to France as though nothing had happened. No obnoxious passenger loudly demanding to know what happened. More to the point, no FAA order to return to Washington and no military escort. Or perhaps I'm just seeing 1979 from a 2008 perspective? I think not. If this had happened in real life I'm sure all of the above would have happened, even in the innocent days of 1979.

So they fly across the Atlantic and are attacked by a Phantom Jet! Four missiles plus ack ack. More aerial gyrations. A supposedly nail-biting scene where they hurtle down the runway at landing and stop with the nose wheel a couple of metres short of the end of the runway.

Does the French equivalent of the FAA impound the plane, the pilots and the passengers? Does the US government get involved in an investigation into the origins of this mysterious Phantom, handily crashed into an ocean? No sir, they do not! An evening of repairs and the plane is ready to resume flight the next morning, to finish it's journey to Moscow! And every single passenger gets back on! No close ups of passengers agonising over whether to board.

Now during the repair phase one of the mechanics put some kind of booby trap on the cargo door. As they're taxiing out for the Moscow departure this mechanic, for reasons I didn't quite catch, starts running around and ends up on the runway with the Concorde bearing down on him during it's takeoff. I have to admit that by this point I was beyond caring what motivated any of the plot and I couldn't be bothered going back to try and catch up. Sufficient that he ducks and runs across just in front of the landing gear as Concorde leaves the ground!

By this time I'm just about going through the roof wondering at the total lack of curiousity shown by everyone involved (up on the screen). Let's see. On a single flight the crew and passengers have been involved in a near miss with a heat seeking missile AND almost been shot down by a Phantom. On the very next take off someone runs in front of the plane as it's taking off. And no one stops to wonder if there's something strange happening!

After that the sight of the plane making a crash landing on an Alpine slope down a ski run was quite incapable of surprising me!

Interesting movie!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Chicken Cordon Bleu

Tonights dinner was Chicken Cordon Bleu. Methinks you might have guesssed that from the title.

Being Tuesday I'm already inured to the idea that I get home late from the office; those weekly phone conferences to The Philippines are *still* taking place; nearly four years of them! Thus I'm used to dinner being somewhat later than usual on Tuesday. Nonetheless, dinner seemed to be even later than expected tonight.

It turns out that Sonya, after following the instructions and cooking the Chicken Cordon Bleu aforesaid for the 30 minutes suggested on the packet, had cut into one and concluded from the red that it needed a little longer.

Ten minutes later she cut into a second one, saw some red and decided to cook it a little longer. How fortunate there were only four! By the time the fourth had revealed red she finally realised that Chicken Cordon Bleu consists of chicken wrapped around ham and cheese and rolled in bread crumbs!

I laughed heartily as I sawed through some very dry chicken! It was, somehow, partly my fault. I knew what we were having and I should have realised that some red was to be expected. But I'm so used to foods bearing familiar names not really being what I expect that the penny didn't drop.

Monday, May 05, 2008


I don't often write about programming matters. I used to, back in the early days of this blog, but even then I didn't write much about the act of programming so much as some of my thoughts about doing the job right. It's one thing to be able to write a correct for loop; it's another thing entirely to know when to!

Which isn't to say that I think I'm the be-all and end-all of software development; far from it. I still haven't embraced the .NET framework in the way that Microsoft would prefer. I still think in MFC terms though I'm trying to break out of that mould.

Until very recently we used Visual Source Safe (VSS from now on) at work. We had the necessary plumbing (written in .NET forsooth) to access it across the internet; a necessity at the time we installed it when I was shuttling back and forth between France, Dallas, The Philippines and Phoenix.

I've been using source code control in one form or another for more than 20 years, starting with RCS on Unix, PVCS on the PC and settling on VSS because it was effectively free (included with MSDN). I even wrote my own incarnation of RCS back in 1988, using a bunch of command line utilities and PKZip. It worked well if somewhat slowly. Then again, back in 1988 everything worked somewhat slowly!

Anyone who claims to be a software professional and who doesn't use *some* form of source code control is claiming above their station!

To be honest, my experience with VSS wasn't nearly as bad as most users claim. I've never lost a file; nor have I ever experienced datastore corruption. This could be because I've always worked either alone or in relatively small teams; it's entirely possible that I'd have hated VSS with a passion had I been working on a large team.

But recently we've had a few new projects crop up that, whilst based on our current codebase, are sufficiently different that it made sense to create branches. Up until then it was sufficient to label each release in the database.

VSS makes it harder than it needs to to do the branching thing. Creating a branch is easy enough, but merging the changes back into the trunk some time later is a real pain!

Cue Coding Horror[^] and an article on Subversion. I'd heard of it; maybe now it was time to suck it and see. While I thought about it our VSS server at the office died. Server is a grand title for the machine; at 9 years old it was getting more than long in the tooth and it was only a desktop machine anyway!

So I scrounged a three year old Dell Xeon server with RAID. I managed to resurrect our old server long enough to import the VSS database using a freeware tool found here[^]. This was very important to me; I wanted to have our entire history available, not just the source to the last full release we did.

The migration wasn't a smooth process; there were one or two projects that refused to migrate. How fortunate that both were so out of date that no one, including myself, knows what they were for! I haven't been here forever you know!

In the end I decided to keep a copy of the VSS database on the new machine as well, 'just in case'. I doubt I'll ever refer to it but it's only a couple of gigs.

On the client side I use TortoiseSVN[^]. Wow is all I can say.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Bloody hell, again???

It seems like only yesterday[^] that I got my first jury summons here in the US. I expressed, at the time, some doubt about whether to claim an inability to serve on the grounds that I wasn't, at the time of the summons, a US citizen. I would, however, be one on the date for which I was summoned, and eventually I waited until *after* my oath ceremony to return the form with a tick in the box stating that I could serve.

I remember Vern expressing surprise that I hadn't taken the opportunity to duck out; all I had to do was return the form *before* my oath ceremony, with a photocopy of my green card, and I would have been home and free. Well maybe. But I really didn't want to start my career as a US citizen by playing with strict interpretations of the law.

As it happened, when I rang the supplied number the night before the big day I was informed that my panel wasn't required so I didn't actually get to front up and sit patiently through a day of 'will I be picked or won't I?'.

That was a year and a half ago. My experience in Australia is that one is pinged for Jury Service maybe once a decade. Lemme see, I was called up in 1978, 1986 and a third time in 2001. I've already written[^] (a trifle egotistically it seems upon a reread) about what happened during the 2001 call up.

Well, I've been pinged again! Quite by coincidence, exactly 7 years to the day from my 2001 call. I fear I won't be able to pull the same excuse off a second time. So who knows, I might yet find myself sitting on a jury. Let's just hope it's not a long trial; here in Arizona there's no obligation on one's employer to make up the difference between what the state pays and what one would ordinarily earn. The state pays $12 a day plus mileage! They *do* provide free parking and a bus pass.

One detail I loved; the free parking aforesaid is two blocks from the court. I'd reckon a slow walker could cover the distance in five minutes. Me? I'll cover it in two. They run a shuttle bus!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

This didn't surprise me at all

and it really oughtn't to have either. Nonetheless, it was interesting comparing car rental prices. As you'll remember, I'm going to Australia in September (142 days fron now, not that I'm counting) and it's as well to have some of the more major details tied down ahead of time. Hence my checking for car rentals.

A frustrating business using the web but much more frustrating if you're hoofing it from rental company to rental company on the day. A most apposite article appeared on this very subject over at Upgrade Travel Better[^] today.

Long story short, it came down to National Car Rentals if a search was the guide. So I checked em out for a 12 day rental at A$641 for a 3 door automatic. I can drive manuals but the last time I had to was in 1980; I suspect I've lost the skill required for a 'heel toe' takeoff. So I made the booking and received the obligatory email confirmation. Buried in said confirmation was the news that the rental is actually from Europcar and they advise to look for those signs rather than the National signs. Uh huh, I already knew that; I rented a car from the same location last time I was in Australia.

So then I bethought to myself; let's see what the Europcar rate is. And of course it's less; A$550 for the same class car and the same pickup and drop off times at, of course, the same location.

So it really does pay to shop around; more, it pays to read the fine print. Of course, the proof of this particular pudding will be in the eating; when I front up at their office in September what do you wanna bet they'll have the car they claim to have at the price I booked?