Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's *obviously* a Micro$oft product...

I have in my possession a Magic 8 ball. It was part of my 2007 Phat Lewts collection that my best buddy picked up for me at this year's SuperComputing conference. It happened to be a give-away from the Microsoft booth. Given that today was not the world's best day at work, I felt the need to ask the Magic 8 ball if tomorrow would be just like today. Seems like a good idea, right? Except that the first three times I checked the answer, what I saw was this:

Yes, sports fans, the Magic 8 Ball tried to give me two answers simultaneously. Three times in a row. Why does this make this obviously a MS product? The fact that I had to "reboot" it three times to get it to work properly. I bet I wouldn't have had to reboot if the Magic 8 ball had come from Apple.

Conference loot this year included a leather conference backpack (with embroidered logo), three or four t-shirts (including a conference shirt, a fiber team shirt, a red hat shirt and something else I can't remember), an Intel astronaut figure, a stuffed eaglet, a foam Tux penguin, iPod speakers, a bouncy ball that lights up when you throw it at things, a deck of casino playing cards in a nifty metal tin, some spiffy pens, a fancy 1GB flash drive, some spiffy key chains, a luggage tag with the SC08 logo on it and a sticky pad to put on the dash of my car to hold my phone. I also got two boxes of Odwalla bars (Banana Nut and Berries GoMega), though they're not actually from the conference. Cool stuff just rocks. Free cool stuff that someone picks up for you and then ships most of the way across the country is even better. :-)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Forgettable Week

On Monday, I forgot to take my iPod to work so I had no mental stimulation during a day of mind numbing data entry. Today I forgot my wallet. Of course, there was a group going out to lunch today. Fortunately I found my "emergency" credit card hidden in my backpack. Otherwise I'd have had to mooch lunch money off a co-worker. I was pretty certain that no restaurant was going to make change from a $100 (stashed in my checkbook) for a $6 lunch. But it all worked out just fine. I wonder what I'll forget tomorrow. My prediction is that I forget my lunch.

Speaking of Lunch
The office group ended up at Fazoli's for fast food Italian food. I picked a small order of penne with marinara sauce. Unfortunately their pasta and bread are all made with white flour, so I got a huge dose of refined carbs. I did have them toss some broccoli on top of the pasta sauce though, so that was an improvement. The sauce was nuclear fusion hot. I tried to be patient and wait for it to cool, but I was kinda hungry. I could have eaten more, but I really didn't need more carbs. A half pound of mixed veggies or a big salad would have been fantastic.

Which reminds me, I need to go to the store tomorrow. I would have gone tonight after work, except for that pesky I-have-no-wallet-and-thus-no-identification-thing. *sigh*

Why Merging Doesn't Work Here
I figured this out this morning. It's because people drive between 5 and 8 feet off the bumper of the vehicle in front of them. Nobody actually leaves a decent following distance, so it's impossible to merge into traffic when getting on or off a highway.

The past two days I've gotten to my off-ramp just in time for the traffic light holding back traffic to let everybody go as I need to get onto the surface street. Since nobody signals when they're going to get on the on-ramp in front of me, I can't tell who might be slowing down. Of course, the drivers here also do not tend to let merging traffic go in front of them if they are cutting across to the on-ramp, like they manage to do in that legendary driving nightmare, Chicago. Needless to say, I much prefer to beat the light or to at least get to the bottom of the ramp after the bulk of the traffic has already gone past, rather than confronting the initial wall o' cars.

But, if that's the worst that happens in a given day, I can't really complain much.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

There's 45 min of my life I won't get back....

Had an "interesting" conference call at work today. Our office got grumbled by a completely different department because people in that department have supposedly not been communicating with this particular person. Of course, the person doing the grumbling has actually been contacted by that facility on a regular basis via phone and e-mail and is remarkably bad about returning messages. Oh well. They can get grumpy. We're doing things per protocol. *shrugs*

Holiday Shopping
Yeah, haven't done any. I'll get to that next weekend. Or something.

What to Eat
I finished reading Eat to Live by Dr. Fuhrman over the weekend. I am once again inspired to be vegetarian and to avoid processed foods. I got comments at work today because I ate 2 cups of veggie soup and 1 1/2 cups of green peas for lunch. They thought it was "wrong" that anybody would eat that many peas since it's "just a vegetable". I had a lot more energy at the end of the day today than I usually have. That could be a combination of eating more while at work and avoiding caffeine too. So far the tapering off of the caffeine intake has not yet resulted in a headache, so I must be tapering at a good rate. Today I just had one half-mug of caffeinated coffee and no diet Pepsi at all.

Thanksgiving dinner was actually vegetarian. We had a vegetarian shepherd's pie made with leeks, mushrooms, onions, rutabaga, carrots, corn and peas. We also had baked pearl onions in cream sauce, candied sweet potatoes and homemade whole wheat rolls. Dessert was a pumpkin pie. I managed to not eat myself silly, just to the point of being comfortably full.

Tonight I had a hummus sammich on whole wheat. In a little while I'll go saute the rest of the mushrooms from last week, maybe with some onion and garlic. I might eat them with a bit of tomato sauce. That sounds yummy, doesn't it?

Anyway, I'm going to be increasingly vegan in my eating habits between now and early January, then have some bloodwork done and see what my cholesterol levels are. If I'm going to live to be eleventy-one, I'm going to have to be aggressive about taking care of my carcass.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Changing Lanes

For those drivers a bit unclear on the topic:

First, turn on the turn signal THEN change lanes, not the other way around.
Second, when you do change lanes, it is generally advisable for the rear end of your car to be past the front end of the car you are passing PRIOR to occupying the same space as the other vehicle. Using your mirrors and turning your head to check this distance may be useful.

Fortunately I was paying attention and was able to jam on the brakes before the white minivan removed the front end of my car. Also fortunately the vehicle behind me was not tailgating and didn't rear-end me. Swerving wasn't an option given the oncoming traffic.

The aforementioned minivan later decided it needed to drive on the shoulder to pass people on the right who were going too slow.

Several miles down the road, I caught up with the minivan. It was stuck behind a slow-moving tractor. And swerving into oncoming traffic trying to pass on a hill. What made this more pointless is that there wasn't any room in front of the tractor for the minivan to go. It would have ended up having to pass the six vehicles in front of the tractor and the tractor in front of that. Did I mention there was oncoming traffic?

When we got to the stop sign at the corner, the minivan didn't even bother hitting the brakes, just accelerated on through after the car in front of it. Cross-traffic doesn't rate its own turn apparently.

Shortly after the stop sign I turned off, so I won't ever know if the white minivan managed to run someone off the road or get into a crash. If they didn't manage it tonight, I figure they'll manage it in the next week or two.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

This Week's Random Observations

Newspaper Headline of the Week:
Ship strayed from course before spill, records show

Thank you, Captain Obvious! I hope it was off course, given that it HIT A BRIDGE. I don't know much about ships, shipping or sailing, but I'm pretty sure that you don't usually have obstructions in the middle of your course, any more than you'd put a highway bridge support in the traffic lane. But that's just my logic applied to the situation.

Football Saturdays
I realized today that I have actually watched more University of Illinois football games since I moved from Champaign-Urbana than I did while living in Champaign-Urbana AND going to all the games for over five years. You see, when I went to the games I was working as an EMT. I wasn't able to pay as much attention to the game. It's rather difficult to watch the game when you're on the ground with someone who has passed out due to excessive alcohol consumption, a heat emergency or low blood sugar. First of all, you're preoccupied and then everybody else in the stands is blocking your view. There were several games where the middle two quarters and the halftime show were completely missing. Those were the games with lots of medical calls and lots of running around the Stadium from the main stands to the balcony. I will admit to a certain amount of smugness when 18-20 year old students were struggling to keep up with my 30+ year old "ancientness" running up the stands half a dozen times. Heh.

Anyway, I do miss being able to watch the halftime shows. The Illinois marching band puts on a great show. Too bad more of the halftime show doesn't actually end up on TV.

Major Productivity
I didn't mean to get up early. I woke up at my usual Saturday morning 6am and rolled over to turn on the radio. About fifteen minutes later my brain realized I was hearing SILENCE. For the second morning in a row, my local NPR station, WKNO, had dead air instead of Morning Edition. I got aggravated enough by this that I got up and e-mailed them that I hope this isn't a sign of things to come. Since I was at the computer, I fired up iTunes and cranked up WILL-AM to get my morning NPR fix. While I was up, I read the rest of my e-mail, made a pot of coffee, fixed a bowl of oatmeal (and abandoned it in the microwave) and found myself cleaning the house. In two hours I managed to accomplish the following: clean one full bathroom, handwash 6 pair of socks, vacuum the house, sort the clothes into laundry loads and sweep/mop the kitchen floor. I also took a shower and made my bed. Now I'm watching the Illini kick the bahookie of the Northwestern Wildcats and knitting on the Kiri shawl.

Later this afternoon, I'll get the laundry done and do some baking. It's pretty chilly in here, so it seems like a great day to fire up the oven. I also need to clean out the fridge. There is a container with a liquid cucumber living in it and another container with homemade soup that appears to be fermenting. I think I'll carry that out to the compost pile and let it keep on fermenting. I'm pretty sure it's not really food at this point. o.O

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Sara has left CSI!!! I didn't mind her character, but it felt completely wrong for her and Gil to be involved with each other. They just didn't seem like a good fit for each other. Now perhaps Gil and Lady Heather will go out. (I doubt it, but you never know.)

I *do* smell today

Well, my hair smells, at least. Someone's got a wood fire burning somewhere near my house. My hair picked up the smell while I was unloading the groceries from the car. It smells kind of nice, but it also has me on edge since the smell is not completely unlike the smell of a house fire. I don't like house fires. Definitely not when I'm not working *with* the fire department and definitely not near my house.

It must be close to the holidays
So much for thinking I was going to be ahead of the crowd for the Thanksgiving shopping rush. The grocery store was about twice as busy as normal tonight, but then again there were twice the number of employees and everybody seemed to be in a good mood. I found everything I needed without too much trouble and only had to backtrack one time. There were several people wandering around lost, but they were busy on their cell phones so I couldn't really direct them where they wanted to go to find that which they were seeking. In case you need to know, the red boiling onions are on an endcap at the far end of the produce section.

I finally got some work questions answered today. As you may or may not remember, I had agreed to use a new piece of software on our next TB outbreak. Well, we acquired said new outbreak in early September. I immediately notified the folks who could help me with the software that I had this opportunity and asked several questions. Several weeks later I got some responses and also got told that the rest of the answers would be forthcoming. Then in October, after I got the data for the outbreak, I asked more questions of the IT staff. I actually got those questions answered. Today one of the new application people e-mailed me and gave me a completely different answer. It would appear that we will have to know from the onset of an outbreak if the outbreak will be restricted to our region/state or if it will end up being multi-region/multi-state. The reason for this is that the replication for the database has to be set up prior to data entry. Perhaps this is a function of MS SQL (the underpinnings of the new application) or of the application itself, but in other SQL platforms replication goes both ways and I am able to push data upstream to the central server. If this particular software package doesn't allow for replication after data entry, it's going to be a biiiiiiiig strike against using it. If we have a big outbreak blow up into a multi-state deal, there's no way we're going to have time to re-enter all the data. It takes long enough to enter it the first time.

Right now my biggest complaint is that the user interface is bulky and the data entry is incredibly time consuming. It took me half a day to enter 14 people. When using my spreadsheet, I could enter several hundred people in the same amount of time. On top of that, I cannot look at all the records for a given person's entry at a single time. There is, surprisingly, no way to flag records as having missing data without developing a new SQL query. I might be able to do that with some practice, but nobody else in my office could do that. There's also no way that I can see of figuring out who has been fully evaluated for TB exposure without building a new query. It's not as big and powerful as the central office wants us to believe and the holes in their training package are going to make it hard to make it useful in an outbreak. Contrary to their assertions, this software is NOT going to be making decisions for me.

What mostly aggravates me is that it has taken so long to get any answers to questions after being told that support/assistance would be readily available with the implementation of this software. I don't know if my outbreak isn't big enough or sexy enough or just not a high enough priority. I'm only tracking 500 people in this outbreak, not the 4000 in the previous one. I can only hope that this is not a sign of what to expect in the face of something bigger, but I suspect that this is the norm, which means this software is unlikely to be widely adopted. As with the infectious disease reporting software, we are being assured that assistance will be forthcoming "real soon now", but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Apparently it's cricket season again. There's a big cricket exploring my living room this evening. Earlier he was in the kitchen. I'm sure I'll find him down the hallway by the end of the night.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Just Ten Words....

That's what the pumped up bit of "fanmail" from NaNoWriMo says. Just write ten words a day as a starting point. Apparently just getting *something* written is the key to getting that regular flow of words to come forth. Of course, now that I've signed up for the silly project I haven't written a darned thing. Real Life keeps raising it's ugly head and getting in the way. Things like paying the bills, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, cooking meals, cleaning up after said meals. I haven't even done much knitting.

On the other hand, I do have a clean house, a pot of soup, no stockpile of clean clothes on the floor at the end of the bed and I remembered to take out the trash this morning.

Now that daylight savings time has ended, there is more light in the morning before work than after work. I may just start getting out of bed at 5am, instead of waking up and just laying there listening to the news. That would get me time to workout/meditate and write each day.... We'll see how well this plan fares when it meets reality again. (I have intended to get up early and workout for years and it rarely actually happens. The bed is just too comfy and warm compared to the world outside the blankets.)

Or Fifteen Minutes

On a related note, I have been occasionally reading the FlyLady e-mails. One of the things that FlyLady recommends is to tackle big jobs 15 minutes at a time, even using a timer to keep you on track. The idea is to keep from getting overwhelmed by trying to do too much all at once and then never finishing the task. (Remember the last time you tried to clean out the closets or the garage?) Even the biggest jobs can be finished one little step at a time. The key to getting progress made on lots of things simultaneously is to not waste time between projects. I have no trouble spending 15 minutes cleaning the bathrooms from stem to stern, but can easily waste 30 minutes or more goofing off while trying to figure out what to do next. I guess I need to plan out what needs to be accomplished in a given day/week and then figure out how to eliminate wasted time.

Wasted Time

Though there is something to be said for "wasted" time. For the time where you have scheduled absolutely nothing, but whatever happens to sound appealing at the time. Tonight for example. Typically Thursday is my "junk TV" night. I watch the actual prime time episode of CSI at 8pm and might watch re-runs prior to that. It's my night for hanging out and doing whatever. Last week CSI lost my interest about ten minutes into the show, so I did something else. I don't remember what it was, but I do remember feeling refreshed and restored at the end of the evening.

I guess I'm still working on my balance. I am much better about scheduling time for me than I used to be. I still tend to overbook myself though and try to do everything all at once instead of pacing myself. I have to remind myself of what Willy Burgdorfer once told me--"Be patient. There is time." I don't have to do everything all at once. Pick one or two things and focus on them, then get to the rest of the list. Rather than trying to work on all the things I want to accomplish in my life NOW. I suppose that means not continuing to add new things to the list every time I turn around. :-)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Random Monday Observations

First, it's probably not a good plan to merge into traffic on the interstate at 40 mph. It's even worse when you cause a backlog of vehicles behind you that also have to merge at sub-legal speeds. I'm not quite sure why she was driving down a straight on-ramp and hitting the brakes about every 50 feet, but she was. Fortunately there weren't many trucks on the highway when the group merge took place. Some days this would have caused major problems, if not accidents.

Second, wearing a bra whose cup size is too small does NOT make your breasts look bigger. It makes it look as though you have four breasts. Now, if this is your goal, you've done well. And perhaps a woman with four breasts is more appealing to men than a woman with two breasts. I happen to think it makes you look pretty silly when you're wearing a close-fitting t-shirt.

Tonight's Fun
I'm going to bake cookies and knit. That is all. I like low-key evenings. There's a thunderstorm too for audio entertainment. I have signed up for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write the first draft of a 50,000 word novel in a month. I don't know that I'll get 50,000 words written, but I should be able to manage a good start on the novel idea I've been bouncing around for a couple of years. If nothing else, I can work on making a writing a regular habit.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Is Simple Courtesy Really All that Difficult?

I have been, or at least I thought I had been, a volunteer webmaster for an organization. I was given this job about a year ago when the previous webmaster, a friend of mine, realized that he didn't really have time to to the job. I offered to step in and was given the job. I was set up with the necessary server accounts and permissions. I started to get sent occasional website or listserv updates which I processed within 12 hours of receipt, replying back to the sender when the update was made. Then, without any advance communication, the entire website was moved to a different host. After a week of unreturned e-mails, I finally was given notice that I would actually be co-webmaster because someone else would be needed to "handle the technical end of things". This was really amusing given that I seemed to be quite capable of handling the tech stuff at the old site. I was immediately suspicious, but let it go.

You see, Technical Guy, while being completely overbooked at work is geographically local to the head of this organization. I, on the other hand, am in a separate time zone and at least seven states away. Communicating with me requires adding an extra fifteen keystrokes in the To: field of an e-mail or adding a 3-digit area code when dialing a phone number. This may have been my downfall. It appears that while Org Heat claimed to be going call me "in the next couple of days" because it's important for me to know what's going on, he never really meant that. That's really the only explanation I have for a complete absence of communication. I sent e-mail about 7 or 8 months ago indicating that I needed to kept in the communication loop about changes to the website (like perhaps finding out about a move BEFORE I make changes to the website and discover that none of those changes were retained when the site got moved to the new host because I made the changes on the old server). I actually got a phone call about that, but that is the *only* time I ever received a phone call and even it didn't come without prompting.

When the website moved, I found out about when I made changes to the .html code on what I thought was the current server, loaded up the webpage in my browser and discovered the site was down. When I called my friend who used to host the site he told me it had been moved. That's when I noticed the error message gave me a new host company. Don't you think it might be important to let your webmaster, even just the measly little co-webmaster, know that the site is moving BEFORE it moves so that the move can be seamless? Apparently not in the Org Head's universe. In his world, the site goes down for three days and it takes another week for the links that were broken to get fixed. And a week to get me access to the server at all, then two more weeks before I can actually edit or upload files to the server.

The phone call I received after the site host change fiasco consisted of apologies for poor communication, statements that this lack of communication would be changing, statements that my contributions were definitely valuable and that Org Head would be the only contact I would be having in the organization so I should absolutely not contact the other webmaster at all. The last bit sounded a little fishy to me, but I let it go. I was told that I should expect regular communication. I guess I should have asked about the frequency of said regular communication.

The organization newsletter came out a few weeks later and announced to everybody that the webmaster is not me. I didn't even get listed as co-webmaster. I sent e-mail asking just what the deal is. I got nothing back except an e-mail saying Org Head was busy but would call me Real Soon Now because it was important that he talk to me. That call never came. I sent e-mail to the organization listserv in answer to an unrelated question and said that I had taken over the webmaster job from previous guy. I got e-mail from Org Head saying that I was not allowed to post messages to the listserv without his permission. Definitely getting an icky feeling about this now.

At the organization's annual meeting, I decided to not attend the awards ceremony as I was tired and not feeling well. I got a phone call from ex-webmaster friend telling me I needed to go down there because I was going to get a BIG award. So I haul myself down there where I am given the highest award in the organization for "significant contributions to the organization and on the web". (My "contribution" involved adding half a dozen classes to an educational program schedule and changing some mailing addresses. Not exactly significant when put next to the other winners who have taught hundreds of classes in a year.) As the award is handed to me and shortly afterward, Org Head says he really wants to talk to me, that it's very important that we catch up and let's meet tomorrow right after lunch. I see Org Head at lunch. He says he'll come find me in 15-20 minutes. He doesn't. He doesn't even have the courtesy to call me when en route to the airport to tell me that he can't meet with me. I get an e-mail a week or two later saying "more important things came up." Ok, I might buy that more important things came up, but I don't buy that he was so incredibly busy that neither he nor his "secretary" could tell me that there was a schedule problem. Since the conference in July I heard exactly nothing, despite the fact that in July I was going to get a phone call in the "next week or two."

This past week I decided to follow up on the observation that I hadn't received any e-mail to the webmaster or listserv manager e-mail addresses for several weeks. Being not a complete idiot, I had observed that there were numerous updates to the website that I had neither made nor been told needed to be made. I also noticed that the listserv was set to emergency moderation status, presumably for some reason, but not for any reason of which I was aware. First I sent test messages to the admin e-mail addresses. They never arrived in my inbox. So I sent e-mail to Org Head asking what was going on since it was my understanding based on our last conversation at the conference that I was doing this job.

What I found out was that Org Head had decided just tfat very day (isn't that convenient) that my services were no longer needed and that it would be easier to have the website done "in the organization". (Keep in mind that the organization consists of Org Head and Secretary. They couldn't tell a server from a PlayStation and probably think that Linux is the character in Peanuts that has the blanket.) Apparently there have been all sorts of problems with the website and the listserv, but nobody saw fit to include me in either the problems or the fixes. In any event, my "valuable contributions" are no longer needed.

I only wonder how long it would have been before Org Head decided to get around to telling me that I wasn't actually working for him any more. The only reason I any communication at all was because I asked what was going on and could I please get put back on the e-mail redirect for the admin messages.

I will be sending back my award next week. I didn't earn it and I have done exactly nothing for the organization since it was given to me. It was a bone thrown to me because Org Head felt guilty. Giving out an award that is unearned degrades the value of the award and the contributions of everybody else who did actually earn it. I don't deserve to have it and its completely meaningless anyway. They might as well have it back and give it to someone who does actually make a significant contribution to the organization.

Nothing like getting fed a line of BS about how great and wonderful you are and "we'll talk real soon now because you're important" only to find out you really aren't important enough to bother calling at all or to be told the truth, even when something actually involves you. My entire life I've been told I was important at the same time people's actions showed me that I really wasn't important at all.

(Update: The Org Head has informed me that we'll have to agree to disagree about common business practices. He says it's completely normal to change things up and not inform the involved parties. As for the rest, he has told me in e-mail that I "have my own history and assumptions and he can't change that." I guess that means I'm delusional and imagined the e-mails where he indicated we would be communicating, therefore this whole mess must be my fault.)

Apparently the world is set up to point out to me that I am, in fact, a doormat. I do my very best job and I am used, knocked to the ground and walked upon. I'd like to think I'm a good person who deserves to be treated with common courtesy and politeness like everybody else on the planet, but apparently not. There is something about me that apparently teaches people that I should be manipulated and used, then strung along with lies until people get whatever they want from me. If I protest, I am blamed for whatever happened. If I ask what's going on, I get thrown aside and nobody looks back. I do not seem to merit being treated decently. I get it now. I am a nobody and nothing important. Yay for me.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Technology Ticks Me Off

I completely lost my patience with the network printer today. For about six months, it's been unable to print a .pdf or Excel file that is more than a few pages long. The IT folks' solution is "don't print such big files". I would be happy to go along with this if I had small datasets to work with. Today I had to split up a 20 page .pdf (about 500kb file size) in to 5 page chunks. Except that when I tried to print the fourth chunk, I was unable to even print SINGLE PAGES. How, exactly, am I supposed to print out files at a rate of less than one page at a time?

So I said something to the roving IT guy. His reply was the one mentioned above. I pointed out that that wasn't really acceptable any more given that even single pages are no longer printable and this is really starting to keep me from doing my job. So he tells me that he can't fix it and I'll have to e-mail his boss. I do that and explain that the inability to print documents is now preventing me from doing my job. I only have access to the network printer. I do NOT, like all of my co-workers, have access to a local inkjet printer. I ONLY have access to the network printer. Head IT guy replied about 4 minutes later that he had ordered a heavy-duty, high capacity printer for us, but that it won't be here for six weeks. He also told me that a replacement printer would be installed ASAP to tide us over.

I suspect I probably sounded more crabby than I really was, but being sick and being tired really helped me blow through my minimal supply of patience today.

Food Recall of the Week:

Frozen meat pizza. You'd think that frozen pizza would be cooked well enough to kill the E. coli, but maybe people picked up the bugs from the packaging or other contaminated surfaces, rather than from the cooked pizza.