Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas disaster (hopefully) averted

Had ordered a Christmas gift for my mom and had selected the overnight delivery option so it would get here well before we began our trek north, next week. Figured I was in the clear when the shipper shown was +UPS and *not* +FedEx "SmartPost". Was happy when I saw that the package had gotten to the local shipping facility at 12:20 ...and was chilling on the couch, with the tracking page open, waiting for the truck to show up.

Then, shit fell apart. A little after 17:00, UPS updated the tracking page to say that "package delivery has been rescheduled to Monday by 3PM (or evening for home deliveries)". There was never an "on truck for delivery status". There was no "delivery miss" status. Nope: they simply hadn't bothered to even try to deliver it.


Looked up the facility on Google to see if I could call and come pick it up - the location is less than 3mi from my house. Go to the information page and see that, while they're open until 19:00 Monday through Thursday, on Fridays the facility fucking closes at _17:00_. Wasn't even any point in calling them.
Needless to say, I went ballistic. This was two late-deliveries, in a row, from Amazon. Granted, both were due to crappy service from the shipping companies, but that's cold-comfort when you're looking at not being able to give someone their Christmas gift.

I let the apoplexy fade, and then hit the "call me" button on Amazon's site. First attempt was a failure: sounded like the CSR was talking through a couple inches of insulation. Hung up the phone, all spun-up, again.

Chill. Must chill...

Hit the "call me" button, again. This time, the (different) CSR came in loud and clear. I pre-apologized for my rather irritable state and explained the situation. She offered the resolution of shipping a new version of the item directly to my travel-destination vi their next (business) day shipping option with shipping fees waived. Was a fair offer, so we went through the process of placing the new order. On the plus side, the replacement item was also 10% cheaper (last minute price-drop on the product!).

Hopefully, by the time we arrive at my mom's house, her Christmas gift will be there waiting for us.

Hopefully, Amazon bitch-slaps their shipping companies for 2014. This is the second order in a row that had shipper-caused late-delivery. So, at this point both FedEx and their USPS proxy have fucked me and UPS has tried to fuck me. The sandpaper condom treatment from the different shipping services is getting old.
Maybe shit like this is why Amazon was pie-in-the-sky'ing about the drone-based delivery?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cold Comfort

Somewhere along the line, I missed a critical lesson. I think I missed it very early. I think I missed it at each time someone - or maybe even just "life" - tried to teach it to me. It's probably an important lesson, I just don't know how to learn it: "how does one find comfort?"

I look around at the culture I live in. I look around at many of my peers. I see a lot of people who find - or at least think they'll find - comfort in things. There's even a term for it: "retail therapy". For some people, the comfort is in the hunt. For others it's in the having. For me, there's neither. I don't enjoy shopping. I don't enjoy bargain-hunting. I don't particularly enjoy, even, the having of things. Things are functional. Things serve a purpose. Things don't give comfort.

While it's fading - albeit noisily - in western cultures, religion seems to bring many folks comfort. Me? I can't get on board with it. That's not the same as saying I'm an atheist - I know how little I truly know to eliminate the possibility of its basis. I just can't subscribe to it. Even if I could, I don't know that I'd find it a comfort, as, even if the afterlifes accorded to the good and the just are accurately portrayed, for me they'd be a hell. I don't know what to do with the life I have, I can't imagine eternity yawning before me being any kind of good thing.

Most people also seem to find comfort in other people. For the most part, people make me uncomfortable. Except in very specific contexts - work being chief among them - I can't really relate to most people. The people who it did feel like sort of "got" me - that I had a connection to - are all gone ...and I'm adrift.

All I can really do is think to myself. All I can really do is ruminate. And, when the thoughts gel enough, I can type them out ...but doing so isn't a comfort. At best, it's an ordering of things - a setting of a mark to come back to and ponder some more.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts on Endings

As of today, I've now seen to the disposition of the four grandparents I knew.
  • pallbearer for paternal grandfather
  • pallbearer for maternal grandfather
  • scattered the ashes of my paternal step-grandmother on a church green in London
  • pallbearer for maternal grandmother
On top of that, during the spring of 2010, I helped my mother scatter my father's ashes at the site of their first date.

Death and its trappings have rarely been the kind of sad event that it feels like they should be. Maybe I just process things differently. Dunno.

Even my own father's death wasn't as sad it they felt it ought to have been: the news of the death; the viewing at the funeral home prior his cremation and the scattering of his ashes. The thing that felt the most immediately sad was the extinguishing the last embers of his existence - the paperwork of terminating professional memberships and licensures, seeing to insurance papers, recovering passwords to computers, ensuring the smooth transfer of bank accounts from deceased father to surviving mother. Eventually, the sadness of realizing that the one person who most got me, who I could most easily talk to, hit me. However, that was more sadness for my own situation than true sadness at the death of my father.

I think the thing that came closest to saddening me at today's event was the family picture atop my grandmother's cask. It was a picture of my maternal grandparents, my parents and me taken early in my sophomore year of college. What I found sad was three of the five people pictured were all gone, now - and that, barring misadventure or unexpected disease process, I would be the last of those pictured to draw breath. Piled on top of that, the knowledge that, with no children of my own and no neices or nephews, my final disposition is entirely likely to be at the hands of strangers.


Then again, I'll be dead and hopefully won't have any capability to know or care.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I Might Have a Problem With Letting Things Go...

I'm working on a technical project where there aren't a lot of software solutions available - commercial or opensource. Thus far, I've found two that look like they might do what I need to do.

Today, while I was killing time with StumbleUpon, a website came up for a company that's developing what could be a third option. So, I sent them a quick message to see if I could get more info. They replied back quickly, asking if I had Skype and could do a video call (they appear to be a smallish company and are eager to line up potential customers). I'm guessing the Skype thing was both because a lot of people like video conferencing and because they're in Europe and I'm in the US (Skype means no international calling-rates).

I don't really like doing video conferencing to begin with. When I'm required to be on them, I generally try to find a spot in the meeting room that's off camera. What's more, I dislike Skype and really don't want to load it on my system. Since I've got several SIP-enabled devices (both a TA for our house and my mobile devices and laptop), I offered up SIP-to-SIP as an option.

After I sent off the email with my SIP info, I realized, "crap: I've never actually used my VOIP in a SIP-to-SIP capacity. I better test that it actually works!" And thus began the geeky-waste of the rest of my day.

While there are plenty of things out there for testing outbound SIP capabilities, I wasn't turning up too many options for testing inbound SIP. Eventually, I opted to load some soft-phone software on a couple of my cellphones and try dialing my home SIP number. There were ...issues. I eventually got them sorted out (turns out that the free SIP service I'd set up on my cellphone's soft-phone software only did anonymous calling and my home SIP account was set up to reject anonymous calls). But, in the process of getting it sorted out, I ended up sucking in another geeky friend of mine to help with connection-testing and troubleshooting.

Probably would have been a lot quicker to just load Skype. I just have a hard time doing the "easy" thing when I both want to do it another way and have time to work at getting that way to work. I was on vacation, today, so...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Musings On Decay

Earlier today, a former co-worker pinged me on FaceBook asking me "what happened to 'X'?" In this case, "X" was a mutual friend and former co-worker of ours. Several of us had worked as consultants for the same company for a number of years. However, as happens over time and when no longer joined by a common thread, we'd all ended up going our separate ways. We've each stayed in casual touch - using instant messaging tools, social media, email and the occasional phone call to stay at least somewhat connected. But still, we drifted and time hurtled past in a way you don't really recognize until something calls your attention to it.

This time, what called attention to it was death. Our friend had, apparently passed away this weekend. My attention to FaceBook being fairly infrequent any more, I'd not yet seen all the "goodbye" messages posted to his wall. It was only the notification being lit up from my other friend's direct wall-post that alerted me. When I clicked on the notification, I found the question, "what happened to Warren?" waiting for me.

My initial response was, "huh? What do you mean 'what happened'?" Just the prior weekend, I'd received an "are you there" kind of message via instant messenger from Warren. It had arrived to my computer while I was out doing weekend things with my wife. By the time I noticed the message, it was four hours stale and he was no longer showing as online. I figured, "I'll chat at him the next time I see him online". So, my initial response was going to be "what do you mean".

Given the nature of the message, I'd figured it was worth investigating what might be behind it. So, I clicked on our friend's wall to see if I could glean anything I didn't already know. That's when I saw all the "good-bye" messages. That's when I realized that I won't be chatting to him, again.

It's been four years since I've seen him. The last time I'd seen him was at a work function. Last I'd actually spoken with him was by phone and it had been a few times late last year. At the time, he'd been going through a rough patch - being in treatment for cancer. He'd sounded like the treatments were kicking his as. Each time we'd talked, he'd sounded worse than the last time. The final time we'd talked on the phone, he'd indicated that they were finally done with the treatments. I'd made - what turned out to be - the foolish interpretation/assumption that it meant he was in remission and the treatments were over. The cancer he'd indicated he'd had was one that had a decently-high survival-rate.

And now, he's gone.

Haven't written any good-byes on his wall yet. He won't be the one to read them and I don't really know his friends to be able to say anything that makes a statement seem a sensible thing to do. Don't know that I will write on his wall. I have emailed the other folks I knew who knew him trying to see if anyone knew more than what I could glean from what was already posted on his wall.

Recently, I've been looking at where I am in my own life. Even prior to today's revelation, I was in one of those "decay" states of mind. I'm 43 and my wife will soon be 40. We have no children. My father has already passed and it seems like I have less and less contact with the various folks I've been friends with over the years. It feels like I peaked somewhere along the lines. Ironically, probably during the period in which I worked with Warren.

Full-circle kind of moment, I guess.

Friday, July 19, 2013

On Milestones

A former co-worker hit the big four-oh, this week. He posted that he wasn't bothered by it and didn't see how it could be any kind of milestone to be worried about. For the most part, I agreed, but I did point out to him:

  • At age 32, you've likely been legally driving for as many years as you waited to be able to legally drive.
  • At age 36, you've been legal to vote, legal to sign contracts, tryable as an adult, able to go to war for as many years as you werent - also, that porn model/actress you're ogling likely was only recently evicted from her mother's womb when you were the age she is now
  • At 42, you've likely been drinking legally for as many years as you had to wait to be able to legally do so. For Douglas Adams fans, this is also your answer year.
So, yeah, 40 isn't really a milestone kind of year. All forty really means is that:
  • You're now out of your thirties - an age-range that had already begun to stretch one's ability to argue about still being "young".
  • You're now, actuarially speaking, truly middle-aged. After all, what percentage of people are living much past their 80th birthday when you're living in a country with an average life-expectancy of less than 80 years?
  • If you only had 12 years of primary schooling, you've been working for at least 22 years ...but still have 27 left before you can retire and draw your full Social Security alotment
  • If you went the 12+4 years of schooling route, you've been working for at least 18 years, but still have that same 27 work-years left to slog through.
  • Chances are, when you're filling in one of those age verification things, taking part in a survey, etc., you're likely having to scroll one line further down to find your "I'm between X and Y years of age" box
Could probably think of a few others, but, I'm depressed now (and 43). Think I'll go grab some whisky - a drink-choice that really only seems to make sense once you've reached "a certain age" - and try to forget these milestones.

Any way, happy birthday, buddy!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ghosts of Futures Past

This past weekend, a friend of ours got married in Detroit - his now wife's home town. On the plus side, the wedding was rather lovely - quite a good time was had with a great group of friends. On the minus side, I had to bear witness to what's become of Detroit.

It's not that I've never been to Detroit, before. It's not that my prior trips to Detroit weren't somewhat disturbing. In various IT jobs, I've had cause to travel to Detroit several times in the mid/late 90s and the middle third of the 2000s. Fortunately, I rarely had to go too deep into Detroit and, when passing by the heart of Detroit, it was usually at night. Dunno if it was so much a case then as now, but not having really seen the real Detroit in the light of day was probably a blessing.

The Detroit of 2013 in the stark light of day is ...soul-wounding. Block after block of derelict warehouses, factories, office complexes, apartment blocks and various types of houses. Many burnt-out husks. Windows either graffitoed, smashed or boarded up (usually with graffiti on the boards). Many houses with partially or completely collapsed roofs - either failing from their own decay and the forces of weather or from things falling on them. The ones with external causes were varoiusly-disturbing. All were long-collapsed and left untended. Roofs collapsed by tree-fall were probably the least disturbing. It was the houses with utility poles (or other civic infrastructure) crushing down on them that were perhaps the most disturbing - after all, it's one thing for a single house to be mortally wounded, it's entirely different when you realize that an entire area and its infrastructure have been abandoned.

Graffiti ran the gamut from artless tagging to pieces of art. Much of the graffiti was grim and gang-related. Some was almost "inspired".

Perhaps the most bitter-sweet was the abandoned, derelict school building with "School's out forever" emblazoned in large, colorful letters across the entire length of it the crumbling building. I suppose on the plus side, at least in that kind of desolate landscape, some vandals are at least able to maintain a bit of humor - even if gallows humor. Who knows: perhaps it was technically an art installation. Dunno. In all cases, it was very sobering.

There were also vast swaths of the city that appear to have been razed. Found out that, in many such cases, as neighborhoods died, the city had the stragglers move out since they no longer had the funds to provide EMS services or utilities.

As I was passing down one of the interstates, I saw a sign for one of the mega lotteries with an advertised value of over $80Mn. Given some of the real estate prices I'd heard people quoting - even for the more intact properties, it seemed like I could buy a significant chunk of Detroit with such winnings.

I don't know that Detroit is on a mortal path. But I gotta think the chance of a meaningful recovery is somewhere well less than 50/50. Worse, the same economic forces that created the current Detroit still seem to be at play elsewhere. Makes me dread might be in store for the rest of us.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Vintage Virginia Wine Festival (2013 Installment)

In previous years, going to the Vintage Virginia Wine Festival has been a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon with friends. It's always had its down points (lack of shade, long lines for tastings, chaos at the wine-pickup and middling food). However, all of those were at least bearable.

This year's installment? Not so much. And, it started at the opening gates and pretty much continued throughout the day.

In previous years, there were two entrances for getting in. We parked midway between the two usual entrances - slightly closer to the one. We saw the line at the closer one and decided to walk to one we'd used in prior years. When we got there, we found "vendors only" (and similar) signs. We asked if we could still get in there (since they had the usual table full of sampling-glasses) but were informed that there was only one gate usable by patrons this year. So, we made the long trudge back to the other gate. It turns out the reason there was such a line, this year, was that there was only the one patron-gate. Two, perfectly serviceable entrances, but they were only allowing patrons in by way of the one.


Even better? If you'd bought (and brought) your ticket ahead of time, the line to get your ticket taken was much longer than either the line to buy tickets or the will-call line. So much for being smart and getting the tickets sorted out ahead of time.


In previous years, the place was organized with with trinket and other sellers arrayed along the fence at the top of the hill, interspersed with food and beverage sellers. They also had what was, essentially, an outdoor food-court. Granted, the food that was sold was middling, county fair style and quality food - nothing to write home about. That said, these food-vendors knew how to move a large number of people through their lines, sold food at a surprisingly reasonable price for what's essentially a captive audience and they gave you more than just a few morsels for the price paid.

I guess this year they were trying to respond to prior years' attendees complaining about the quality of the food. This year, they decided, "lets bring in chefs and 'gourmet' food trucks". While this would have been a great way to supplement the prior years' offerings, they opted to have the food trucks completely supplant the prior years' food sellers. Unfortunately, this caused a number of problems.

At this venue, there's a paucity of shady spots. Given that most years, the weekend they hold the event tends somehow always seems to manage to be both sunnier and warmer than normal for the time of year, the lack of shade really sucks. That said, there was at least some shade available to take refuge in. This year, all of the shady spots were occupied by food trucks. In prior years, these areas had either had cooling tents in them or trinket-sellers who didn't object to you spending time under their tents, even if you didn't actually end up buying anything. All of those sellers were now pushed to the inner area of the field and, apparently, their tend-sizes restricted.

The food trucks were also troublesome from the perspective of service pace. The prior years' "slop-slingers", while pushing middling food, pushed it quickly. If they were operating a 15 foot wide food-stand, they were servicing four to five lines in that space. This year, the food trucks each hogged up 15 feet of shade yet could each service only one line. And, because of how the food trucks operate, that one line they were able to service moved much slower than any one line previously serviced by the slop-slingers. To say that the lines were long and slow would be an exceedingly charitable characterization.

Now, don't get me wrong, lines by themselves aren't an inherently evil thing. If what you get at the end is of sufficient value - tasty, adequately filling, etc. - then it can be a worthwhile tradeoff of the time spent. However, when you're getting gouged for tiny portions of middling food and have to wait in the scorching sun and humid heat for a half hour or more, it's not a good value. It's rage-inducing.

Further, when the food trucks have displaced the cooling tents and reduced the number of places for getting water, particularly in a place where people are consuming a dehydrating substance like alcohol, it's a recipe for fainting spells or worse. Saw the medical assistance golf carts go by on more than a few occasions. Sadly, with the huge lines caused by the slowness of the food trucks' service, those medical assistance carts had a tough time getting to their assistance-targets on a timely basis.

And, whose brilliant idea was it to have a cupcake truck? Really: you want to try to serve up heavy, overly-sweet baked goods in northern Virginia heat? The market definitely spoke on that one: I didn't observe a single person attempting to buy a cupcake. The only people I saw were those who stopped to see if they had any water for sale (they didn't). Otherwise, the cupcake truck sat there completely unvisited (yet still soaking up 15 feet of space that could have been used for sitting down or seeking refuge from the sun).

About the only good part of the food trucks? With everyone stuck in line waiting for food and water (the food trucks displaced prior years' beverage sellers, too), the lines for the wine sellers were much shorter this year than in prior years.

Unfortunately, the value of the shorter lines was greatly reduced by the size of this year's pours. This year's pours seemed to be maybe half the size of prior years' pours.

While this may be a positive from the standpoint of making it harder for people to get blind-drunk, it also makes it difficult to actually tell "do I like this wine enough to buy a bottle of it". And, to be honest, the reason I go to wine-tasting events is to see what wines I'd like to buy and to take home a case (or so). I'm not there to get smashed, I'm there to find stuff I want to buy. However, when you're pours are so small I can barely fully wet my tongue with it, let alone swish it around in my mouth to fully experience its flavors and textures, it's not going to make me want to buy. And saying to me, "this one has a really great mouth fill" after having poured me something that doesn't allow me to experience that feel makes me want to just punch you in the goddamned throat.

Needless to say, the usual case-plus that we've bought in previous years wasn't repeated this year. The folks we were with also bought radically less. Prior years, one of our complaints was the wait to pick up the wine we'd bought inside. Judging by the nearly non-existent lines at the wine-pickup area near the venue's exit, it wasn't just our party that was buying considerably less. If I were one of the wine-sellers, I'd be pissed at this year's changes.

I'm pretty sure that 2013's incarnation of Vintage Virginia will have seen the end of our attendance at these events.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Reason #57 To Love My Job

I work for a global enterprise. Literally: we have locations all over the globe. We have locations ranging from small, satellite offices of less than two dozen people up through datacenters hosting thousands of servers and office parks seating thousands of cube-rats.

I, myself, have three or four locations I work-locations that my badge(s) will get me into without having to file any additional paperwork. On top of it all, I can even sometimes work from home. I have my designated seat at one of our enterprise lab facilities. From that facility, I can reach production systems as well as the lab most of my engineering/test systems are in. My secondary work location is much closer to my house, but because it's at one of the "thousands of cube-rats" office parks, parking and traffic are a nightmare, so I generally avoid going there. Because my secondary work location is part of the core enterprise network, I can reach the production servers from there. I also have the ability to reach the resources at my primary work location.

Recently, I got put on a project that requires me to access assets at a secondary lab. This lab is more than double the distance from my house that my primary work location is. From there, I can reach assets in production, assets at that lab, and, depending on the workstation configuration, assets at my primary lab/work-location. However, given the distance an the nightmare that is traffic in Northern VA, I've gone to that facility once in the past 18 months.

Lastly, I have the ability to work from home. From here, I can reach either lab via VPN. However, because it's via VPN, I can only connect to one or the other at a time. Oh... and I can't connect to our production networks from home.

So, when I'm working three projects and supporting production, I end up having to split my day. Mornings are spent at either the main lab or the headquarters facility so that I can work on production networks. Afternoons and evenings are spent working from home so that I can reach each lab's resources.

On the plus side of time at home, the only things interrupting me are my dogs asking to go out to pee.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Social Graph Search? I Don't Geddit...

So FaceBook's announced its "Graph Search" functionality. The tech publishing community, looking to create a story where one likely doesn't meaningfully exist, wants to grab eyeballs by loudly asking, "should Google be worried" or stating "FaceBook is encroaching on Google's turf". I'm not sure I can buy into this attempt to grab page-views.

In order for something to be "social" it has to be more than two dorks, each sitting by themselves, doing the same solitary activity. To be honest, I don't really care if my friends are watching the same movie on NetFlix or listening to the same tune on Spotify that I am. If we aren't sitting in the same room, able to MST3K it together, what's the point.

And, before someone chimes in, "you could be on chat or headphones doing just that", no, actually, you can't. None of the media services currently offer a synchronous consumption capability. Ironically, about the only way you have that is if you happen to both be watching one of the legacy "on demand" cable services from the same cable company - not one of the "new media" service providers' offerings.

If I'm watching something that's even 1s ahead of the other person, my MST3K'ing is going to be a spoiler (in our house, this is seen with hockey where the feed to my wife's set-top box is usually 1-3s off of the feed to my set-top box. Instead of being a good thing, it's actually rather annoying when watching the same sporting event and one of you hears the other "woot" or "groan" in reaction to an even the other has yet to see.

And, while I value the opinion of friends on services, movies, etc., most of my friends are geographically distributed enough that I'm much more likely to get a valuable recommendation for a plumber/restaurant/etc. from a nearby stranger than I am a friend who lives 30 miles away.

Thanks, I'll take a basic Google search or a Yelp search to a "Graph Search" when I'm looking for more than "what is my friend doing right now". Even when I want to know the answer to that question, it's mostly because I am thinking of calling them to see if they're free to do something that's actually "social" rather than something that is communally-solitary.