Conceived above a saloon, delivered into this world by a masked man identified by his heavily sedated mother as Captain Video, raised by a kindly West Virginian woman, a mild-mannered former reporter with modest delusions of grandeur and no tolerance of idiots and the intellectually dishonest.

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Friday, April 23, 2004

Quote of the day

From my boss, commenting on the announcement that Hooters Air may begin service in Pittsburgh:

"The Hooters Air flights are the only flights where the passengers wish for a lot of turbulence."-John  Kiedaisch


Down to the wire: My granddaughter's first birthday is today, and the big party at our house is only a day away. The excitement is tempered somewhat by the amount of yard work remaining. It rained last night, so instead of killing more plants, I mercilessly cleaned out the garage. There must be- and I'm not exaggerating here- about two and a half tons of stuff out front, waiting for the garbagemen.

I was getting a bit punchy there at the end, but I think I got all the non-essential debris outside.

Oh, damn. I can't find the cat.

More later.

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

The slaughter continues...

I've been concentrating mostly on killing errant trees and bushes in the back yard, leaving a swath of destruction not unlike the number Godzilla did on Tokyo.

Soon I'm going to have to pick up all the small clipping and debris from my endeavors. Some areas look like a sawmill/tornado rumbled through.

The rationalization for my delay in doing cleanup? I told the missus I was going to let the clippings lie around for nest building material.

Since giant pterodactyls are not indigenous to western Pennsylvania, I guess the birds have taken everything they're going to take. Time to get out the rake.


Site of the day: Glen Whitman's "The Two Things", which tells you the two things you really need to know about any subject.


The Two Things about Computer Programming:
1. The only way to idiot proof software is to take away their computers.
2. Simple is better.

The Two Things about English Literature:
1. The text is really about writing.
2. Writing is really about sex.

The Two Things about World Conquest:
1. Divide and Conquer.
2. Never invade Russia in the winter.

You get the idea. Take a look.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Just another day in freaking paradise...

I'm still in Pittsburgh, but my vacation ended Monday. Alas, there's still a tremendous amount of yard work to do, so I've been working until 6 p.m. each evening and then heading out back to clear out the gardens.

Normally I don't do yard work. It's just too nerve-wracking. I can remember the titles to all 79 episodes of the original Star Trek television series, but I can't tell a dandelion from whatever those other yellow things are out there. I feared killing an innocent plant and the resultant wrath from my significant other.

Ah, but this time, it's search and destroy. Anything not brown, higher than two feet, and sporting flowers and leaves was safe. Everything else bit the dust.

Yesterday I decimated the flora adjacent to the tool shed. Alas, I cut down a bush or something that was supposed to be spared, according to She Who Must Be Obeyed. Sweaty, sporting a Rambo-esque pose, I told her: "It was fraternizing with the enemy. It was inextricably intertwined with something I know was a weed.

"Sometimes you have to kill the garden to save it."

Last night was somewhat easier, in that all I had to do was pick up dead stuff. But it was not without its dangers. A colony of ants decided my pants needed to be reconnoitered for edible substances. Not pleasant. There were bumblebees the size of C5-As rumbling overhead, and one made a dive at me. Fortunately, I spotted its running lights out of corner of my eye and was able to make a quick evasive maneuver.

But not everything went well. I can't get my headset to work with the cheap phones I bought when the Partner phone system went down. I downloaded a new version of my favorite software, InfoSelect, only to discover it's not retrieving Usenet mail correctly. And then, as I shared a lunchtime bagel with the dog, my left canine tooth broke. Swell. To maintain my professional credibility, I'll have to find a software support position in West Virginia.

At least I can go out back tomorrow night and kill something else.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Ten husbands, still a virgin?

A lawyer married a woman who had previously divorced ten husbands. On their wedding night, she told her new husband, "Please be gentle, I'm still a virgin." " What?" asked the puzzled groom. "How can that be if you've been married ten times?"

"Well," she explained, "my first husband was a sales representative; he kept telling me how great it was going to be.

"Husband number two was in software services; he was never really sure how it was supposed to function, but he said he'd look into it and get back to me.

"Husband number three was from field services; he said everything checked out diagnostically but he just couldn't get the system up.

"Husband number four was in telemarketing; even though he knew he had the order, he didn't know when he would be able to deliver.

"Husband number five was an engineer; he understood the basic process but wanted three years to research, implement, and design a new state-of-the-art method.

"Husband number six was from finance and administration; he thought he knew how, but he wasn't sure whether it was his job or not.

"Husband number seven was in marketing; although he had a nice product, he was never sure how to position it.

"Husband number eight was a psychologist; all he ever did was talk about it.

"Husband number nine was a gynecologist; all he did was look at it.

"Husband number ten was a stamp collector; all he ever did was... God! I miss him!

"But now that I've married you, I'm really excited!" she exclaimed.

"Good," said the new husband, "but, why?"

"You're a lawyer," she explained. "This time I know I'm gonna get screwed!"

(Thanks to Marc McCune for forwarding this old chestnut.)

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Monday, April 19, 2004

Everything old is new again...

2000 B.C. - Here, eat this root.
1000 A.D. - That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
1850 A.D. - That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
1940 A.D. - That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
1985 A.D. - That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.
2000 A.D. - That antibiotic is artificial. Here, eat this root.
Graham J Weeks M.R.Pharm.S. Graham's Homepage

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Sunday, April 18, 2004

Scotty, you're a miracle worker...

The phone system is still dead, but a quick run to a couple of Radio Shacks and $60 worth of really cheap phones, and the major telecommunication functions here at KGB central are up and running. Scotty would have been proud. In Trekspeak, I bypassed the fused warp drive mechanism by routing the mains through the impulse drive control system. We don't have voicemail, intercoms, or music on hold, but we can make and receive phone calls on the main house number now.

Conceptually, the workaround was simple. Each extension in the house is routed up to the attic. All the lines then run down to the cellar, where they're clearly identified and patched into the phone system CPU. The outside lines also plug into the CPU. When the processor is operating, it does the switching between the extensions, makes the connections to the outside lines, runs the intercoms, etc. Now that the sucker was brain dead, nothing talked to anything else. It was necessary to bypass the malfunctioning unit. This was easily accomplished by:

1. Identifying the line from the telephone company and plugging it into a multiple-jack extender. This provided four additional jacks, or the ability to plug five phones into the single incoming line.

2. Plugging five RJ-11 two-wire cords into each jack on the extender.

3. Connecting the ends of the five RJ-11 two-wire cords into five 8-wire RJ-45 couplers. The Partner phones use an eight-wire RJ-45 to plug into the central control unit. You can't plug an eight-wire RJ-45 jack into a two-wire RJ-11 plug; however, you can connect a two-wire RJ-11 jack into an eight-wire RJ-45 plug. Hence the RJ-45 couplers.

4. Connecting the eight-wire RJ-45 plugs from the extension runs into the RJ-45 couplers.

It was then a simple matter of replacing the Partner MLS-18D phone sets with a sh*tload of $9.99 Rite Aid cheap regly phones, and we were back in business. While the extensions use the eight-wire RJ-45s where they plug into the processor, standard two-wire RJ-11s are used at the ends that actually plug into the phones, so no additional connectors/adapters were needed.

When the budget permits, I'm going to have to replace the dead Partner ACS control unit. This house is too big to go without intercoms, voice mail is really useful, and I need to be able to have multiple line capability in order to work efficiently from here in Pittsburgh.

This adventure in ad hoc engineering wouldn't have been possible if the phone system hadn't been professionally designed and installed. If you're in the Pittsburgh area and have demanding business communication requirements, I strongly recommend David Davis Communications. Dave's based in Finleyville and has been designing and installing phone systems for two decades now.

It took Dave and his two technicians under four hours to completely wire the house and install the system. Dave also suggested running two sets of eight-wire cable to each room in the house; one for the phones, and the other for "any kind of computer networking stuff you might need in the future". This was a full five years before we realized we needed networked computers in the house. Since the wiring was already in place, it was a simple matter of buying an Ethernet hub and we were up and running.

Maybe I'll give Dave a call and see if he knows of any used Partner ACS processors out there. But first, I'm going to have to clean out my old cellar office of several inches of dust, five years' worth of accumulated debris, and a horde of wolf spiders and the antelope carcass they have under my desk.

Maybe I'll call him... oh, by the Fourth of July.


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It's dead, Jim.

After a long day of cleaning up the back yard back home in Pittsburgh and engaging in more physical labor than my body's experienced in more than a decade, I was feeling rather good.

In the past week I'd made several large dents in the long list of home maintenance items that had accumulated during the past three and a half years of commuting between Chicago and Pittsburgh. It finally felt like I was catching up.

I was particularly proud of how I had quickly managed all the technology issues. Lawn mower wouldn't start for my son? Check the spark plug, prime it, bingo. ChipperVac wouldn't start? My son-in-law and wife remembered its idiosyncratic three-point starter interlock system and a quick check revealed a contact that wasn't contacting. Success again.

The succession of little victories was capped with the kitchen phone, which refused to hang up. The hook wouldn't go on-hook, even if you held it down. I swapped it with another phone and everything was copesetic.

Ah, the phone system. When I had my own business, employees and both kids all within the confines of the house, I bought an AT&T Partner phone system. It supports six outside lines (two for the business, and one for Pam, Doug, Sara and me), has voice mail, intercoms, and about a dozen extensions. We're down to two outside lines now, but every room in the house has a phone it in, including the bathroom.

We've had the phones for about ten years. When it was under warranty, the voice mail unit died and was replaced. About five years ago the main processor also died on the Fourth of July, requiring an extremely expensive visit to replace the unit. I managed to avoid paying for the service call because the technician "got lost" coming to the house and arrived about four hours late, soaked with barbecue sauce and Coors Light. Still, the fix set me back $500.

As I was preparing for bed last night, I walked through the kitchen and noticed the phone was dead. Hmm. I poked my head into the dining room and noticed that phone was dead as well. No LCD display, no dial tone.

Down to the cellar, which was formerly my office. Cleaning up this space is next on my agenda. I saved it until last because, frankly, it's a sad place, reminiscent of a derelict starship. What was once a state of the art workspace containing a dozen computers and scores of electronic doohickeys, it's now covered by a layer of dust and a roving band of particularly ferocious wolf spiders. I haven't looked under my old desk in years. I'm afraid the spiders have an antelope carcass under there.

I moved some debris and, like Star Trek's Scotty trying to revive a dead warp drive, pulled the front off the phone system. Some of the modules had green lights. This was Good. Others, including the main processor, had no lights. This was Bad.

I reseated all the modules, swapped some around, and managed to get the processor to spring to life. Momentarily. Its green LED flashed a few times, went solid, then winked out. The status lights on the voicemail module also died. The cascading failure continued until the entire box was silent. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the wolf spiders eagerly eyeing its dead carcass.

Upstairs to the laptop and onto the web. Hmm. AT&T spun its phone systems off to Lucent, which, in turn, had spun them off to Avaya. All I know about Avaya is they have Wayne Brady from Who's Line Is It, Anyway? as their corporate spokesman.

Wayne wasn't available last night. Neither was Avaya's web site, which was coincidentally(?) down for maintenance. Wonder if they have wolf spiders?

The site's back up now, so I'm going to see if they have any helpful suggestions. Frankly, I think the processor's dead and will need to be replaced. If I can't get it to function, I'm going to have to make a run to Radio Shack to buy some eight-wire to two-wire RJ adapters and then pick up a couple cheap phones. The Partner phones won't work without the processor.

And I'm going to have to pick up some industrial strength spidericide as well. And a bag for the antelope.

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Violators will be prosecuted.
So there.  
The e-mail address is now something other than saga. used to be until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up and adopting created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the domain name in 1993, and had since that time used as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that was no longer but rather which is longer than and more letters to type than and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than but actually just as functional as I sent e-mails from the address to just about everybody I knew who had used in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that no longer is the they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...


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Laugh while you can, monkey-boy

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As a matter of fact, I *am* the boss of you.
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I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

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If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.

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