Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Noisy Passage

Witnessed an amusing spectacle, as I was leaving work, today.

I'm walking down the long, tiled hallway that leads to the lobby of the office I frequently work in. Behind me, I start to hear, "PLAP! PLAP! PLAP! PLAP! PLAP!". Eventually, a late twenty-something comes "running" past me.

Note: I put running in quotes because he wasn't traveling significantly faster than me, just much more loudly.

As he passes by, I notice that the cause of the "PLAP!" sound is that he is attempting to run in leather-soled business shoes. His lack of speed - for all his clamor - is due to a combination of the shoes not being well-suited to any form of running and the fact that the tile floor gave his leather soles little in the way of meaningful purchase with which to propel himself.

Making matters worse, he was wearing a backpack while running. By itself, the wearing of the backpack would have been of little note. However, it was so loosely secured that with each bounding-stride (seriously: dude had more vertical travel than forward), that it was bouncing and flopping all over the place. As it flopped and bounced, it contributed a fwipping nylon and buckles sound to the rest of his noisy run.

The thing to complete this picture was that he was wearing a poorly-tailored suit. The suit was so loosely-fit that it, too, was bouncing around much like his backpack. I imagine that, had there not been so much other noise in his passage, that the rustling of the suit's synthetic fabrics would have been making their own din.

It was nearly 15:00 and traffic leaving our business campus becomes horrible not much after. I was similarly inclined to get out as quickly as I could (I usually leave at 14:00) to avoid the trial of incipient rush-hour traffic. So, in his defense, I could understand the rush to get out of the building. Still, for all the sound and fury, the effective pace meant he wasn't likely to be avoiding a meaningful amount of traffic.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why I tell anyone wanting to mail me something "don't send it via USPS"

Wife ordered a box of gothery from some online shop (overseas, I think). Instead of sending it via FedEx or UPS, they sent it via registered mail. Wife got notification that the item was out for delivery, today.

Wife waits all afternoon for the postie to show up. He does, but, "no package." She asks him if he had any packages waiting in his truck and is informed that there was a package that had a bad code on it that was back at the substation - that she could go down and check to see if that was her package.
Wife walks down to the substation. Upon asking where her package was, they informed her that it had been delivered around 14:00. Wife had been sitting out on her sun-chair on the front porch from about 13:30 to nearly 16:00. No package had been delivered. So, she asks _where_ it was delivered to and who signed for the supposed delivery. She's informed that they won't be able to know until the carrier gets back to the station.

As it stands, Amazon already has it in their records to not use any shipping methods that leverage USPS. Thus, no USPS-direct nor things like FedEx SmartPost. They agreed to this notation after the third so-shipped multi-$100 order disappeared without a trace.
All of my bills and important documents are either delivered via email or are sent in concert with an email notification of pending delivery.

Simply put, if things are sent via USPS, there's about a 70% chance that they'll arrive ...or, at least, arrive on time. Usually, when they arrive late, it's because they were mis-delivered and the recipient was nice enough to bring it over or was nice enough to give it back to the postie on his next trip. But mostly, they just disappear, never to be seen again.

Seriously: how fucking hard is it to deliver mail. Is it really so fucking hard to read the entire goddamned address?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

They Just Don't Get It (Or: Magical-Thinking Strikes Again)

Earlier this week, I wrote to my state Senators to express my disapproval of the forthcoming Burr-Feinstein encryption bill. Today, I got back a form response ...not that I was expecting a personal response - it's not like I'm a million-dollar donor:
Dear Mr. Jones,
     Thank you for contacting me regarding digital security and encryption policy. I appreciate hearing your views on this complex subject, which involves multiple competing security interests.

     While the debate over government access to encrypted communications has long been a contentious subject, the issue has received increased attention and scrutiny in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino and, more recently, the ongoing legal battle between Apple Inc. and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over access to the iPhone of one of the alleged perpetrators of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. As these attacks showed us, terrorists have become increasingly sophisticated in their use of technology. Social media platforms have become prominent tools for recruitment and radicalization. And when individuals show interest in terrorists' cause, they move their communications to encrypted applications and other secure platforms to evade detection. This presents an extraordinary security challenge for the United States and our allies, leading to warnings by law enforcement officials that conventional tools to track and apprehend these criminals have become increasingly ineffective.

     Frustratingly, there are no easy answers. The same tools that terrorists and criminals are using to hide their nefarious activities are those that everyday Americans rely on to safely shop online, communicate with friends and family, and run their businesses. On top of that, technological innovation changes rapidly and, frequently, beyond the reach of U.S. law. Thousands of new apps are submitted to mobile apps stores daily, most of them utilizing some level of encryption, and a majority of them are developed overseas. Moreover, the fundamental architecture of the Internet is a decentralized and resilient one.

     In order to better understand the issues we're facing and explore potential solutions, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and I introduced S.2604/H.R. 4651, the Digital Security Commission Act of 2016 on February 29, 2016. This legislation would create a national commission on security and technology challenges in the digital age. The Commission would convene a body of experts representing all of the interests at stake so we can evaluate and improve America's security posture as technology — and our adversaries — evolve.

     Our proposal will convene the brightest minds from the technology sector, the legal world, computer science and cryptography, academia, civil liberties and privacy advocates, law enforcement and intelligence to collaboratively explore the intersection of technology and security.

     This would not be a group of politicians debating one another. Nor would the commission be like other blue-ribbon panels, quickly established but soon forgotten. Rather, it would be charged with generating much-needed data and developing a range of actionable recommendations that can protect privacy and public safety. That is why this commission has been endorsed by a wide range of stakeholders – from the technology sector, to respected academic and legal experts, and distinguished national security figures.

     The threats we face with regards to digital security are real. They will not be met easily or dispensed with quickly. But I have no doubt that we are capable of overcoming these challenges if we convene the brightest minds in our country and work together.

     Again, thank you for contacting me. For further information or to sign up for my newsletter please visit my website at

United States Senator
So, while the form-mail isn't saying "I plan to vote for this (Burr-Feinstein) important bill", the text really isn't any less disturbing.

The "best minds" thing, by itself is disturbing. The "best minds" have already very publicly told you that what's being asked for isn't possible. Or, more specifically/technically-correct - it's not possible to both make encrypted data accessible to law enforcement without also making it as easily accessible to entities seeking illegal access. But never mind that, they're apparently just not trying hard enough! Technology is fucking magic and if one bit of magic is possible, any given bit of magic is possible if we just wish hard enough.

Even better is the farce of "we'll get a group of all the stakeholders together to work on this." There have been many such "gatherings of stakeholders to solve a difficult problem" exercises. Usually, the way it works out is that the differences between the stakeholders are irreconcilable. Then, the process either completely falls apart or the stakeholders who just aren't trying hard enough are dropped from the process or otherwise ignored. Only one outcome is acceptable - soundness of that outcome be damned.

So, with all due respect, Mr. Warner (or whichever drone you had compose this steaming pile of response), you're a completely clueless fucking tool. You are not worthy of being in a position to make decisions that affect the security of my personal data. You are not worthy of being voted for.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

You Gotta Be Kidding Me

Heh... Tesla sends me an email saying that, if I want to ensure that I can get my hands on one of the new Model IIIs, I need to put a deposit on one, now.

Car is going to be unveiled tonight. Frankly, I don't buy - or pay to reserve a chance to buy - anything that I haven't seen yet. The fact that they're only expecting deliveries to start late next year - and then, only if I'm in California - and that signing up in the first half of 2016 is likely to maybe get me a car sometime in the second half of 2018... I gotta think, "sorry, no."

Even if I were someone who buys based just on a label, a lot can happen in a 2+ year period. You'd have to be a special kind of special to do that. I mean, I sorta understand it for the people who were looking to buy $100K+ cars - because, you're clearly buying an optional vehicle rather than a daily driver - but a car that's supposed to be priced in the daily-driver range? No. Just, no.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Quiet House

When I was a kid, we had cats and dogs in our house. The order of things was that the dogs were noisy and the cats were comparatively quiet. The dogs alerted at the slightest provocation - wind, cars, bird shadows... you get the idea. On the other hand, my cats were fairly quiet: the first on only mewed when you were getting his breakfast ready or hissed when the clumsy dog stepped on him too hard; the pair I had as a teenager were a bit chattier - doing the usual mewing for food and could sometimes be coaxed to "talk back" if you mewed at them first (the one would also "click" when stalking bugs or spying birds and squirrels outside).

In my 20s, I'd had a couple rabbits. In general, they are very quiet animals. My second rabbit, Bambam, earned his name, however, as he had a tendency to stamp his back foot when he wanted attention. In his indoor hutch, this created a very noisy rattling. When he was roaming the house, it sounded like a shotgun going off.

After cancer took my second rabbit, towards the end of my 20s, I opted to get a cat. I found a local woman who had a litter of pet-quality Bengals she was selling off. I'd really only intended to buy one - the female named Bella - especially given the (then) astounding price of $550 (for one cat!). But, I realized that I actually wanted two of them. There were only four kittens in the litter, and two of them were spoken for. The only one remaining was the litter's runt - a male who quickly earned the name Grumbles (I can't even remember what name he came with: perhaps it's in his veterinary packet, somewhere?). Because he was the runt, she cut me a deal on him and only asked for $350.

As seems to often be the case, the runt grew to be the biggest of the litter. In his prime, Grumbles was a shade under 16lbs. Bella only clocked in at a shade over 10lbs. Neither cat was fat as both pretty much ate only enough to sate their hunger. I could have opted to simply free-feed them and they wouldn't have gotten overweight. So, those weights were very lean-weights. Being relatively short-haired, their muscle-definition and abdominal tucks were very evident.

At any rate, as Bengals, they lived up to many of the breed's peculiarities. They were very people-focussed: Grumbles followed me around the house in a way that you might normally expect of a dog. They also loved playing in water: this meant water bowls always had to have big mats around them and that I had to be very careful to latch the bathroom door while showering if I didn't want to have to towel off two cats (though,mostly Grumbles) after my shower. They were also very talkative. They didn't need to be prompted to converse. Wake up in the morning and you'd be greeted with meowing. Come home from work, be greeted with meowing. Leave the room not allow them to come with you and there'd be chastisement when you came back. And, if you just wanted to converse, you could go back and forth with them for a half hour or more - they never seemed to tire of conversing.

What's more, when the two of them did their twice-per-day exercise sessions (fighting), it would be a half hour of mad scrambling about the house, chasing each other. The thundering noise of these chases were punctuated by hissing, spitting and yowling by Bella (and the occasional "THUNK" as she'd run headlong into an obstacle that she'd misjudged in her flight-path). Grumbles, on the other hand, fought in eerie silence with an devilish look on his face that was a combination of anger and joy (and a whole lot of "fuck you").

In 2003, a few months before we married, Donna wanted a dog. So, after much searching, we got one (Lana: a Boxer/American Bulldog mix). The following summer, I discovered that I wanted a dog, too. PetFinder was quick to find me a good match (Puckett: an American Bulldog/Bull Terrier mix). Both were rather much quieter than any of my childhood dogs.Both really only alerted if they were certain you hadn't seen the potential danger. Lana could be convinced to "sing". Puckett would bark a bit when we rough-housed. But, other than that, they were quiet. The cats were as noisy as ever.

We lost Lana in December of 2010 and Puckett the spring immediately following. Both were lost to cancer.

A few weeks after Lana's death, we found a little, brown staffie (Cira) to fill the hole that Lana's passing had left in our home. When Puckett passed, it took several months to find a dog that: a) wasn't prone to chasing cats; b) was compatible with Cira; and, C) that said "take me home" to me. That dog was Lady - a blue-eyed, Pitbull/Boxer mix (apparently, I have a thing for blue-eyed bulldogs). Compared to the prior pair of bullies, these two are noisy. Not nearly so noisy as my childhood dogs, just in comparison to their immediate predecessors. Cira will quietly "moof" or whine when she wants you to invite her up on the couch or throw a blanket over her. Lady will talk - if you prompt her - and will bark madly if there's someone at the door.

Still, the cats were, on average, far more vocal than the dogs - especially when you measure it in interactive vocalizations.

Even knowing how vocal - how much company - my cats were, the house seems sooo quiet without them. No longer do I come down to a cacophony of "good morning" mews as I rush to get ready and out the door for work. No longer does Grumbles follow me into the bathroom to chat at me while I take my biology-break. No longer do I have anyone glaring and mewing at me to clear the laptop out of their way so they can lay in my lap.

How much of an impact was this vocalization? For the past several years, my wife had been lobbying to get a third dog. With two dogs and two cats in a small house, I'd demured. I'd told her, "maybe after the cats have passed, we can think about fostering". Donna also made frequent mention of how much she disliked having to clean up after the cats - litter box, water splashed out of their bowl, the drifts of fur, etc. Suddenly absent the cats, Donna is finding that she misses them. She misses their talking. She misses their company. And, today, she brings up the topic of adopting a homeless bengal or two (after the day before reminding me that, with our small cars, three, fifty-pound dogs might make holiday travels problematic).

Umm... "I thought you didn't like living with cats".

To be honest, if every cat were like Bella and Grumbles, I think you'd probably have a lot less people wondering "why do people have cats as pets". And I think that less because of my own feelings about them, than the fact that my wife is having to fight the urge to try to fill the hole they've left and seriously thinking about cat(s) rather than a dog.

Friday, March 11, 2016

End Times (Again)

Not that I want her to feel bad, but the problem with pets with a terminal diagnosis is they often "rally" during their decline-trajectory. So, in the days leading up to the appointment with the euthanizer, you're periodically left to wonder, "wait: did I jump the gun on this? Do I need to delay?"

Last night, while she was pretty low on energy, when I took her over to the food dish, she ate well. This morning, I came down, and, for the first time in days, she was off the couch. She was actually down at the water dish, drinking. There was no pee smell on the towel she'd been sleeping on. The secondary (low-sided) litter pan had been used for urination (and the absorbant was pretty much soaked).

I guess I'll see how she's acting when I come home from the work: if she's still in a rally, I'll call the vet who's scheduled to come, tomorrow, and ask her opinion on the matter.

Bah. I don't want to send her off, prematurely, but I don't want the rally to end, be in worse shape than she was before, and have to seek out an emergency euthanization.

I'd made a similar mistake with Puckett. We'd scheduled him for an appointment, based on diagnosis and earlier trends. Difference was, I'd scheduled further out. Then, a few days before he was due to go to that appointment, he crashed. We'd gone for a walk to enjoy the weather. He'd been especially energetic on that walk. However, when we came back and I went to feed him a chunk of cheese slathered in peanutbutter, he refused and gave me kind of an "I'm ready, now" look. I knew that if we waited for the appointment, he'd have been "beyond ready".

I don't really want that for Bella - especially given that I can't even really make the gamble worthwhile (she doesn't do treats).


Friday, March 4, 2016

My Brain Hurts

Customer Rep: "We urgently need your help to fix this problem we're having. Stuff is on fire!"

Me: "Ok, cool. I can give you some time this week and next."

Customer Rep: "Alright. As soon as you can, please come on site and help us"

Me: Arrive on-site. Listen to customer's problem report. "How long has this issue been going on?"

Customer Rep: "The customer alerted us of the problem last month. We've been trying to fix it since then, but things are only  getting worse as time goes by".

Me: (brain showing first signs of imploding) "...aaaand when did your customer first notice this critical problem?"

Customer Rep: "Maybe a few weeks or a month before they reported it to us?"

Me: "...and this is a critical problem?"

Customer Rep: "Yes: the customer can't do any of the things they need to do and the stuff that was working the last time you were here no longer works."

Me: "Did anyone open a support case with the vendor?"

Customer Rep: "We wanted to wait for you to help us. However, we do have some vendor consultants coming in, next week."

Me: "Aaaalright... Just so we can get the most out those consultants, I need you to open a case so we can get appropriate notes put in and appropriate backline experts looking at the problem so that the guys coming onsite don't have their time wasted."

Time passes

Me: "Can you give me the number of the case you opened? I want to put it in my notes"

Customer Rep: "No. We didn't open one. We figured we'd open one next week when the rep got on site if he said he needed one."

Me: "...Open the case, now, please. It takes the vendor time to identify appropriate resources and we need to ensure those resources lined up ahead of time. Give me the case ID when you're done."

More time passes. I have time to begin preliminary investigations prior to vendor's arrival. I make an initial set of recommendations to help address some of the issues reported.

Customer replies (through customer rep), "we don't want to make those kinds of changes."

More time passes, and the vendor comes on-site. By this time, I've done a lot more digging and have identified a set of more concrete symptoms and potential causes and cures. Consult with the vendor's on-stie and backline engineers. Some of the observed issues can be addressed via a very recently-released emergency-patch.

Me: "Vendor has supplied a patch that will address some of your customer's problems. We'l need to take the service offline, for a bit, to apply the patch."

Customer Rep: "Ok, cool. Lemme go ask the customer for a downtime to apply the patch."

Me: "Aaaalright. I coulda sworn you told me that this thing was useless to your customer in its current state?"

Customer Rep: "Well, he's able to do some stuff on it, it's just taking a really long time to do those things and we had to turn off a whole bunch of other things. I know that the customer will want his active tasks to complete before we take the whole shebang offline".

Me: "You do remember me telling you that I saw your customer's scheduled tasks kick back off, every day, at X o'clock, right? You really need to get the patch applied and verified well before that time ...and there's less than two hours till X o'clock."

Customer Rep: "Customer said we can't do anything until his task finishes."

Me: "Remember me telling you about the new task kickoffs? Looking back in their task-tracker's history, those currently running tasks are going to overlap the soon-to-be-started tasks. And the soon-to-be-started tasks will overlap with the next day's tasks: there's not going to be a window during which nothing is happening. We need to take an outage to apply these patches if you ever want to start getting this software back to a working state."

My brain hasn't completely imploded, yet, but I feel this expression crawling across my face every time I have to deal with customers like this one.

First: if something's been going on for days, weeks or months, it's not an emergency
Second: if fixing your problem is less important than continuing to limp along in your "broken" state while you wait for always-overlapping tasks to finish, then your problem really isn't an emergency.
Third: if someone suggests adjustments that can improve performance without causing a downtime, yet you refuse to make those adjustments, your problem really isn't an emergency.