Monday Jun 04, 2007

Public Service Blogpost

It's always fun to trawl through my blog's sitemeter statistics to see how people reach the Navel of Narcissus. When they reach me via web search, it is especially interesting to see what search terms they've used. Having looked at this for a few years now, I offer the following very short tutorial.


NAVAL

NAVEL

NAVEL

Sunday Apr 01, 2007

US Government loses its mind

The US government, specifically the Department of Commerce, lost its mind late last week when it announced a pilot program to grant naming rights to qualifying corporations for a small number of well-known government facilities frequented by tourists. Qualifying corporations will be allowed to rename these facilities in exchange for licensing fees to "defray maintenance costs and to foster a more modern, relevant vistor experience."

We've all seen the controversies and outrage generated by the renaming of sports and entertainment complexes over the last several years. Monster Park, Fleet Center, Tweeter Center, to name a few. Check here on Wikipedia for a more comprehensive list. I can't believe Commerce could possibly think the benefits of this program will outweigh the hue and cry it will generate.



Hoover Dam (above) was the very first facility "adopted" under the program, and by a foreign company, too. While this is admittedly a master stroke of sorts by the British vacuum manufacturer Dyson (Hoover is Dyson's largest competitor), their press release (registration required) left me speechless. It was all I had feared and worse. One of their concept photos (below) from the release tells the story far better than any outraged rant on my part could.



The Department of Commerce's really poor justification for all of this is here.


Thursday Feb 15, 2007

Something Fishy About Printer Inks

According to a recent issue of the Economist, printer ink is more expensive by weight than caviar.


Tuesday Jan 30, 2007

Groundhog Day from Redmond

Microsoft has released their latest attempt at an operating system. The world scrambles to figure out whether their current hardware will run it. PC vendors begin to ship systems with the new operating system pre-installed, forcing the world to deal with a new user experience and old applications that no longer work. It's a great scam for the computer industry, but yet another sad day for consumers.

Microsoft has released their latest attempt at an operating system. The world scrambles to figure out whether their current hardware will run it. PC vendors begin to ship systems with the new operating system pre-installed, forcing the world to deal with a new user experience and old applications that no longer work. It's a great scam for the computer industry, but yet another sad day for consumers.

Microsoft has released their latest attempt at an operating system. The world scrambles to figure out whether their current hardware will run it. PC vendors begin to ship systems with the new operating system pre-installed, forcing the world to deal with a new user experience and old applications that no longer work. It's a great scam for the computer industry, but yet another sad day for consumers.

VISTA: BEST VIEWED FROM A DISTANCE


Sunday Jan 28, 2007

Which Science Fiction Writer Are You?

Courtesy of Geoff, here's a new survey: Which science fiction writer are you?

I am:
William Gibson
The chief instigator of the "cyberpunk" wave of the 1980s, his razzle-dazzle futuristic intrigues were, for a while, the most imitated work in science fiction.


Which science fiction writer are you?


Saturday Jan 20, 2007

Postal Irony

We're pretty sure our house sits at the end of a postal route in our town. Partly because our mail gets delivered so late in the day. And partly because almost every day we get at least one piece of misdelivered mail left in our box. Sometimes three or more pieces. We think they dump their mistakes in our box rather than taking them back to the post office at the end of the day. It drives my wife crazy.

One of today's incorrectly delivered pieces is from the United States Postal Service, informing the (intended) recipient that they've been selected to participate in a survey assessing how well the Postal Service has served them over the last 30 days.

Maybe they'll leave the survey next week...


Wednesday Jan 17, 2007

The Validity of Opinion Polls

If you've ever been tempted to take opinion poll results seriously, take a look at this YouTube video.

If you are prone to depression, I suggest skipping this one.

Saturday Jan 06, 2007

The Weather in Boston

It's 66 degrees (F) in the shade today just south of Boston. This is ridiculous. My snowblower is ready and waiting. Instead, I'm not even wearing a jacket, and I'm thinking a t-shirt might be more comfortable than a long-sleeved shirt. This warm weather has been here for months.

I generated the following temperature graph today using the Weather Underground. It shows record high and low temperatures, average high and low temperatures, and daily high and low temperatures for 2006 recorded at the airport in Norwood, Massachusetts, just south of Boston.

temperatures for norwood ma

In December our daily high temperatures were often approaching record highs and our low temperatures were sometimes approaching average high temperatures. There was even a day in very early December when the daily low temperature was far above the average high temperature and very close to the record high temperature.

Anyone know a snow dance?


Tuesday Dec 26, 2006

The Agony That is Comcast

Come with me, dear reader, on this tale of woe and ultimate redemption in my dealings today with Comcast, which I hearby nominate as the planet's worst cable company.

Last week I scheduled a Comcast service call, asking them to bring two CableCARDs to install in my new Series 3 Tivo. I told them to bring at least two cards because I know of cases where the installer only brought one, or brought two and one was DOA. I was emphatic on this point.

The installer arrived this morning within the designated window. As he came in the door, he said he was there to do an "HD upgrade." I said, "No, actually, you are here to install two CableCARDs into a Tivo." I wasn't surprised when he didn't know what a Tivo was. I was more alarmed by his seeming lack of knowledge about CableCARDs. He retreated to his truck to get more information.

When he reappeared, he told me he could install an HD cable box for me. I told him I didn't need an HD cable box, I needed two CableCARDs. He explained that they don't usually carry CableCARDs and they are kept at the warehouse. I told him the entire point of the visit was to install two CableCARDs and that an HD box was not going to work for me. Back to the truck again for more consultation.

Now he says he can get one CableCARD, or I'll have to reschedule. I tell him I allocated today for this call, that I need two CableCARDs, and want to get this done today. At this point, he suggests I go to the Comcast store in the next town, pick up two CableCARDs, and do the installation myself. I suggest that perhaps he could get two CableCARDs at the store, and then do the installation that was scheduled. He informs me he is not allowed to go to the store. At this point, I relent because I'm actually happy to hear about the self-installation option, though I am somewhat surprised because when I set up the appointment, the rep had told me I needed to have the cards installed by a technician.

I ask the technician if he is sure there are two CableCARDs in the store right now that I can pick up. He said yes. I ask if he's absolutely sure. He's 99% sure. I ask him to call the store and verify they have the cards. He tells me will find the store's number and call them. Back to the truck again. He then comes back to the house: Yes, they have the cards. And, by the way, the store closes at 2pm. It is now a little after noon.

The tech leaves after confessing this was all his fault since he didn't actually read the work order prior to arriving, and didn't realize he was supposed to bring CableCARDs. While I appreciate his honesty, my appreciation will dim considerably over the course of the next few hours.

I drive about five miles to the Comcast store. I wait in line, and then put the digital cable box on the counter (don't need one if you are using CableCARDs), and tell the man behind the counter that I would like to swap my cable box for two CableCARDs. He says, "Not here." I say, "Excuse me, what do you mean?" He explains that they never keep CableCARDs at the store because they must be installed by a technician, not by the customer. I explain what's happened so far today and he gets satisfyingly irate on my behalf.

He puts some notes in their ticket system, which is, with high irony, called WOW. He notes in the ticket that Comcast has made an error by not bringing the cards, and then made another error by sending me to the store. He then reschedules a follow-up visit later today to fix their error. It is now about 12:40. The new service window is from noon to 4pm. I thank him for his help and leave the store. On the way out, I learn that no technician had called the store today asking about CableCARDs.

I arrive home at 1pm. And, I kid you not, my wife comes out of the house with the cordless with Comcast on the line. A new person. She informs me that while it is Comcast policy to come out again the same day and fix a problem if it is their error, this does not apply to CableCARDs. Why? Because they have to be configured before they leave the warehouse and once the technicians leave the warehouse they are not allowed to come back. Once they are dispatched, that's it for the day. She apologizes and reschedules my CableCARD installation for Thursday; the best she can do. I remind her that I just returned the digital cable box to the store and now don't have cable access. She promises to roll another technician to my house today to deliver a cable box I can use till Thursday.

Since the guy at the store really seemed to be on my side and helpful, I decided to call him to let him know what had happened--that they were not going to send someone in the new slot he had arranged for me. At this point, I discovered it is not possible for a customer to call a local Comcast store. ALL calls to Comcast go to their regional/national Customer Care center. When I try that number I'm told that due to high volume, unless my problem is urgent I should try calling them some other time. I decide to drive back to the store to see if the employee there can help me.

I arrive at the store at 1:30pm. The door is locked. The sign, which I hadn't seen on my first trip, says they are closed from 1-2pm every day. I look in the window and there's my buddy behind the counter. He sees me and gives me an emphatic "V for Victory" sign--actually "V for Come Back at 2pm" sign. Not really counting at this point, but I think this is strike three for the original technician who told me the store closed at 2pm. I decide to get some lunch.

After lunch, I return to the store and give him an update. He tells me that the story about not sending another tech out today because it's a CableCARD problem is "crap." He suggests I go home, call Customer Care, ask for a supervisor, and get them to send another technician today.

I go home. I explain the situation to my wife. As I finish, another Comcast truck rolls up the driveway. It's the second technician with the promised temporary cable box. I go out and greet him, saying "So, you have a box for me?"

He says, "Aren't you the customer who was trying to get a CableCARD installed?"

I say, "Yes, I need two CableCARDs."

He says, "I've got two right here." And he holds them up to show me.

I was sure something bad was going to happen at this point. He wouldn't be allowed to put them in. The cards would be bad. The Tivo wouldn't work right. None of that happened. This tech knew what he was doing. And the guy at the head end, in Advanced Tech Support, knew what he was doing. He even knew what a Series3 Tivo was. We installed and configured the two cards in under 20 minutes. My Tivo is up and running with no problems, thanks to these two clueful Comcast employees.

If any Comcast supervisor gives a flying heck about any of this, you can look it up in your system under WOW ticket number 1926562. I'm sure I'll be hearing back real soon now from Comcast Customer Care with an apology. Comcast continues to lower the bar on customer service with each of my interactions. Pretty soon you'll be as bad as a monopoly. Come to think of it, I don't have a choice in my area, do I? Why else do you think I put up with this crap? If I could clear-cut the forest across the street from my house, I'd jump to satellite in a nanosecond. My only hope is FIOS. Verizon, I hope you're listening...


Thursday Dec 21, 2006

Christmas Card Humor

Caution: Low-brow humor ahead!

Here's the second funniest Christmas card I've seen this season. This is from Gerilyse Cards, whose cards are conceived by Shelly Wasserman and designed by Roger Wilder.







Wednesday Nov 22, 2006

Danvers Chemical Explosion

The explosion early this morning in Danvers was at a chemical plant owned by CAI that makes inks, not a propane facility as was initially reported on the national news. Thankfully, there have been only injuries reported and no deaths despite the fact that over 30 buildings were destroyed or damaged.

A woman called into one of the local news shows to describe her experiences. She was in Salem, an adjacent town, babysitting her nephews. She said she was awoken just before 3am by the biggest noise she'd ever heard. Her bed was shaking and she thought initially it was an earthquake. She said she was very frightened and couldn't get through to the police to find out what had happened. Outside she and a neighbor saw a large, mushroom-shaped cloud of very black smoke rising into the air. She said she wondered if they had been bombed. They got in the car (she didn't mention whether she had the nephews with her or not)...and then the story went in a direction I wasn't expecting at all.

The next thing I hear is that she got to the site so quickly that she was able to get a really good view of what was going on. WHAT? Hello? You are woken up by an enormous explosion, you see a mushroom cloud of smoke shooting into the air, you are responsible for watching over several children---AND YOU DRIVE TO GROUND ZERO?


Friday Oct 27, 2006

Sun's Next RIF

Today at Sun we are experiencing the joy of a spam email having slipped through our defenses and made it onto a large, internal email alias. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does I'm starting to feel we really miss an opportunity to reduce our staffing in a functional area I like to call "Clueless Idiots." Those, of course, being the employees who are stupid enough to Reply-All with demands to be removed from the alias, sending yet more unwanted email to thousands of their colleagues.

At least we have not yet seen a barrage of email to the alias telling people to stop sending email to the alias. That's a sure route to a veritable email blizzard.

I suppose I should add the following. I have no knowledge of any future reductions in force at Sun and hope, in fact, that based on our recent results over the last several quarters, we will not need to take any such actions in the future. But if we do, I have some nominees! :-)

Get a clue, folks. Hit the Delete key and keep movin'.


Monday Oct 02, 2006

Goal-driven Problem Solving

Give an engineer a problem and he will find a solution. Give a very good engineer a problem that he cares a lot about, and he will find a very creative solution.

When one of our most technically adept groups of field engineers learned there was a one-drink limit at a social event held during their recent training event, they found a creative solution. Shown below.


[big drinks]

Tuesday Sep 12, 2006

End to End Security

I recently ordered an item from a secure website and then received a transaction acknowledgement via email--a message that included all of my personal information, including full credit card number and expiration date. And I still see cases in which "Forgot your password?" procedures culminate in one's password being sent in the clear via email.

Who the heck cares what kind of fancy encryption they have on their website if the weakest link in the chain is an unprotected email message sent to me over the Internet?

What's going on here? Do implementers just not understand that email is insecure? Or do they just not care?

Sunday Sep 10, 2006

Idiocy: A Cautionary Tale

I noticed the other day that one of the extension springs on one of our garage doors had broken. These are the large springs that help the electric garage door opener pull the door into its open position.

I found a great site that sells all sorts of garage door replacement parts, including extension springs. They have a page that includes instructions on how to determine which replacement springs to order.

If the existing springs aren't color-coded, one must weigh the door. To do this one must disconnect any remaining springs, disengage the electric door opener and lower the door onto a bathroom scale. The procedure detailed on the website starts with the following step:

1. Raise the door to the full position and secure. The best way to secure the door in the up position is to snap a vice grip or C clamp under both the bottom rollers.

Well, the clamps were in the basement and I was in a bit of a hurry. I disconnected the one remaining spring. And then I pulled the release lever to disengage the garage door opener. And then the door--now freed--began to slide. Slowly at first. I'm very thankful that I moved too slowly to actually attempt to get under the door and catch it, because it accelerated quickly (9.8 m/sec\^2, if I recall correctly) and closed with an impressively loud finish as it smashed into the floor of the garage. More precisely, it landed on the bathroom scale I had previously positioned for subsequent steps in the weighing procedure. This was a sturdy old steel bathroom scale. It's now in the trash--crushed and with a very noticeable dent furrowed across its surface.

After buying a new scale, I managed to carefully weigh the door and reassemble everything. I will soon place my order for the appropriate replacement parts.

I, of course, should have followed the directions. And I should have looked at the table of replacement springs more closely. It shows that garage doors weigh in the range of 60 lbs to 300 lbs.

For the curious, my garage door weighs 138.5 lbs.


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Josh Simons

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