Friday, December 26, 2008

End of the Year (again !)

Well hi there!
It's the end of the year again, and a lot's been happening in 2008. Here's a few of the moments in review:
  • I brought my new wife to Pennsylvania.Well, that actually happened in 2007, but only just!
  • In Ireland the Garda are the guys who wear blue uniforms and point you in the right direction when you're lost. Here in Ameria they seem to be doing a bit of "moonlighting" ! Not so much money laundering as money moving, but you never know that it might all be part of the same thing !
  • We spent seven months in Bensalem, PA. It turns out that this is also the place with the cemetery for the police in Philadelphia. We saw about four funerals in those months, which was, I like to believe, an unusually high number. So far the police report "only" 325 murders this year, compared to 390 last year. Maybe people are running short of ammo!
  • We saw The Yarn Harlot in Annapolis, and then again at the book fair in Philadelphia, where she "accused" us of "almost stalking" ! We're all great friends, though.
  • We found lots of friendly people in lots of unlikely places, all working diligently for pleasure with sheep shavings. These are better known as knitters, of whom the Yarn Harlot is a prominent example. Our "local" is a very friendly shop called WoolBearers, in Mount Holly. I hope my next post will have lots of woolly pictures. Here you see the front of the shop graced by an icy sheep. Every year there's an ice sculpting competition in Mt. Holly - hence the sheep !
  • Fuel rose to $4.50 per gallon and I changed jobs to one back in NJ, so my commute costs became astronomical. In addition, I had to take a hefty pay cut, so was rapidly going broke!
  • We moved to Marlton, NJ. Still broke, but the hemorrhaging was stopped. Mostly.
  • Visited the Jersey shore with the Offspring and our very good friend D. Unfortunately D upped and left a few months later, going home to California to resume studies. I guess some people just don't know when they're well-off (or maybe ...). Well, anyway, we all had a great time at the beach and around Barnegat Lighthouse (the picture). Long Beach Island is a fun place to go.
  • Went to NYC to visit bro-in-law Luke, along with wife and her daughter. We all had a fun day out being tourists in the big apple.
  • Fuel came back down in price again - to about $1.65 - so things are getting somewhat better. However, I have no doubt that SUV sales are on the up again, to rescue Ford and G.M.
  • The main project that I'd been working on almost the whole year finally crawled towards an end. The client announced that they were happy and would send a final set of test data. A week later and it hasn't arrived ...
  • Christmas was quiet, but enjoyable. My son (the Offspring) came to stay for Christmas Eve, and we all ate well, and then went to Mass. At the end of Mass the priest beckoned a rather shy girl up to the altar, and then announced that her name was Noëlle (or Nowell, as in the hymn book ?), and that she had been born just eight years before, so we all sang Happy Birthday to her ... yes ! the whole congregation (about 800 people !). The Offspring nudged me and asked, of course, if I was next. I'll confess to rather hoping that the priest would ask if there were any other people with birthdays that day !
  • Then back to work until New Year. This was definitely the quietest New Year on record: we were so tired for lots of other things that we lay down at about 9.30 in the evening and didn't wake up for 12 hours straight! No fireworks, no bubbly, nothing ! No hangover either, which was kind of nice :)
So that was the year, that was ! Looking back, I think we came out ahead in most ways, which is good. Hopefully 2009 will let us improve in the areas we didn't do too well in in 2008. More frequent blogging included !

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

(94 years since 1914)

Lest We Forget.

Be careful what you type !
Where I work we deal with a lot of companies and use quite a lot of fax transfers. Not many of the companies we deal with have even gone to electronic faxes (like using an electronic fax system like OneBox.Com), and just a very small few use emails ! It's probably because it's all to do with medical matters and that faxes are legal documents.

Anyhow, yesterday a local hospital sent us some information, including a fax number for themselves. Over the next couple of hours our system duly sent out the proper faxes to this fax number, as it should ... however, the fax number was for someone completely different ! Not surprisingly, this gentleman was seriously upset with us, so our call centre received a less-than-polite call from a less-than-happy person.

We blocked our fax output to him within about 15 minutes of being told of the problem, found the cause of the problem about 30 mins later, and rang him back about an hour after he first rang in. Although still not too happy, he was, at least, gracious about the matter. He explained that the same thing had happened a few months before with one of the large companies that do blood testing, and it took him 3 months of yelling to get it fixed ! He was getting psyched up to have to do the same thing with us, but didn't have to.

The moral of the story is to treat incoming information with care and to be responsive to other people's complaints and problems (one day it may be you on the receiving end !).

PS Thanks very much to Sarah (St Bloggie de Riviere) for the poppy.
Programming Part
Here's a little fragment of code for those trying to trap errors in T-SQL before moving to SQL Server 2005:

declare @intError int
-- put the code that could break in here.
SET @Error = @@ERROR
IF(@Error != 0)
-- do what your reaction should be

and here's how to get just the date in T-SQL:


That's all for now, folks.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Just a few comments today

The Election
  • The Unfortunate Editing Award goes to the paper (on-line) that published the unfortunaet story of a young man from Liberia now living in Staten Island who was apparently beaten up by a "gang of four whites in hoodies" (his words) at 10 pm on election night. The editor chose to accompany this with a picture of him quite obviously pre-incident, in what had to be one of the weirdest self-designed hooded coats that one could imagine. An "after" picture would have been a far better choice, as many of the comments to the story suggested. Unfortunately the link - from Google's News page - has apparently been superceded.
  • Now the Good News ! It seems that, in general, people are honestly looking towards making this a step forward for their country. Not just the people whose ancestors come from Africa, either, but those of European and Asian descent also. It would be nice to see a fair proportion - maybe more than 60% - of Americans all pulling in the same direction. It happened in the wars and Korea, but the conflicts since Korea just don't seem to have the ability to draw the people together. Neither circumstances not leaders since Kennedy have really had the appeal. Reagan had some, but not really enough to draw in a goodly number of those who had voted against him. This time we just might be in for a change.
The Economy
  • ``We expect retail demand will remain weak for an extended period of time as our affluent customer reacts to the continuing volatility of the financial markets,'' Neiman Marcus Chief Executive Officer Burton Tansky said in a statement.
  • Saks Inc. said its sales dropped 17 percent and that profitability would erode in the last two quarters of the year because of its ``permanent markdown cadence cycle.''
  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc. remained a bright spot. Sales at stores open at least a year climbed 2.4 percent
The translation of those three snippets seems to be that even the owners of McMansions are going to Wal-Mart these days !

The rest of the USA - big and small
  • California votes to ban "gay marriages". . But not retroactively. - . You know, there's something fundamentally weird about a country where you're not allowed to have any trace of religion in (state-funded and federally-funded) schools, etc., but the money has "In God We Trust" printed on it. I think the governent out to get out of the marriage business altogether: if you want to get "married" (which is a status conferred upon you, traditionally, by an official of your religious establishment), then deal with that religious establishment. If you want all the monetary goodies that the government offers, go there and sign a "contract of co-habitation" (or whatever you might want to call it) for however many years you want.
  • I just moved again, as I may or may not have said. I'm now back in the land of PSEG-brand electricity (where the electrons are all painted white with little orange stripes !). Now PSEG are pretty good as a whole, don't get me wrong. However, where I live now we get a power cut in the middle of the night about 3-4 times a week. Needless to say things are on UPSs and I'm talking earnestly to PSEG !
So, there are a few things from here in the USA. Now I'll try to go back to splitting things between tech and not.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Well, you finally got what you asked for ...

There's a saying much used, especially in science fiction, that you should be wary of wishing for things, in case your wishes come true. Well, a lot of people here in the USA have been hoping and wishing that the People would get the guts to vote for a "minority" for President.

Well, it happened last night. I rather think that most of Obama's supporters would really have preferred him to have been elected 4 years ago, when the economy was in much better shape. Better late than never, maybe, so now we wait to see how a President of a very different background will handle things.

Hopefully, for all of our sakes, he'll get things right. If not, it won't matter what kind of a person he is, we'll all be having bigger problems of our own.

A few weeks ago a good friend of my wife's and mine left the east coast for studies in California. LA to be particular. She's blogging recipes now, sone of which look really yummy, and I'll add the address here when I get home and find it again!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Not Gone Yet !

Back again - twice in two days. This must be a record or something - certainly for this year !
There's the normal shambles of indecision. Who's running ? Ask 95% of all citizens of the US and they'll say "McCain & Obama" ( or "Obama & McCain" ! ). However, in this "land of the free" there are other choices:

Republican Party has nominated John McCain
Democratic Party has nominated Barack Obama
Libertarian Party has nominated Bob Barr
Constitution Party has nominatedChuck Baldwin
Green Party has nominated Cynthia McKinney
Ralph Nader is running as an independent, whatever that might mean here.

For all know there may be more, but hardly anyone knows that they exist. I'll ask my wife when she gets out of the polling booth area if she noticed anyone else.

For those used to getting given a piece of paper and a scruffy bit of pencil and being ushered into a cloth cubicle like those used for privacy around your hospital bed (but much smaller), American Elections are Modern and use Voting Machines ! These used to be mechanical gadgets that punched holes in some of Hermann Hollerith's Cards (the ones we used to program on !) but there were too many mistakes along with too much corruption in Florida and Ohio (?) two elections ago and since then there's been a big drive to go all-digital !

That's great, but now the authorities are realising that with digital machines come viruses, worms, trojan horses, and problems with power cuts, power spikes, power sags, peaks, and other nasties, along with lightning strikes and the problem that one professor exposed just last week: given 18 minutes alone in a booth any self-respecting teen studying comp. sci. should be able to hack into the voting machine and change all the votes cast so far that day !

Good one, that. Let's all go back to the way of the Athenians ..... black or white stones into an old amphora.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A little Crazy So Far.

Am I all alone in this, or do any of you out there also think that things have started to go a little more than normally crazy in the world recently ? A few months ago I blogged here about Zimbabwe, and how strange it was that the UN was suggesting making Zimbabwe the head of the council for economic advice for the Third World. Well, it happened. Now, after another 18 months, Zimbabwe's economy has deteriorated to the point that they can't pay for the paper and ink to make a passport for the head of their own opposition party to travel to the next country to meet the Zimbabwean government for meetings about what kind of government to have ! 1500,000% p.a. inflation ! That means that the price of a loaf goes up by about 10% in the time it takes you to ask the price of a loaf (about 21 seconds, on average) !!

Since then, as we know, the global economy has gone nuts. Not, of course, that I'm suggesting that it's all the fault of a few octogenarian power-crazed Zimbabweans still paranoid about being controlled by Britain or the US that are to blame, but ...........

Things that have happened since I got married at Christmas last:
  • My wife T and her daughter M came to live in Pennsylvania, as mentioned in other blogs.
  • Lots of banks announced that they'd been writing mortgage agreements for people who hadn't a hope of paying them off. This has been going on forever, mind you, and only recently grown. When I first got a mortgage I was offered one for 30 years. As I was looking at retiring at the normal age, and that was only going to be 25 years into the future, I must have looked at the bank official as if he had two heads ! "How am I going to pay off the last 5 years", I asked, "if I'm no longer working? Should I print the money ?". He seemed to think it a normal thing to do, so we went elsewhere and got a better deal on a shorter duration.
  • Over the summer the price of petrol rose from about $2 per gallon to over $4, and our rent went up considerably. They didn't seem to be connected, except in the minds of the rental agents.
  • I got a new job, in New Jersey, about 35 miles away from where I lived. As a result, we moved to a new apartment about 5 miles from the new workplace. Better agents !
  • T joined the company that I now work at, in the call centre. Obviously I can't tell you much about what goes on, for fear of accidentally releasing personal info onto the Internet, but the function of the company is to manage the health care given to people injured in accidents, mainly in NJ.
  • As the summer moved on, the banks started reporting more product of their own stupidity. Some banks failed altogether - several in the USA and, apparently, almost the whole of the Icelandic banking sector over the first two weeks of October !
  • Several banks have been absorbing government bail-out money like sponges take up water, and with about as much benefit to everyone.
  • My son, N, insisted that I (and not his mother !) come on a scouting camp trip last weekend. His mother was very happy not to have to go, and even more so after the event: we got several inches of rain over the time we were there, so, while it wasn't a bad weekend, it was rather damp !
  • M has moved schools, seems to like the new school, and has joined the Band and other musical groups. This results in things like phone calls at 1 am (as last night) begging for a lift home, as they're been away at Hershey (yes, the chocolate place) in a competition.

So those are some of the highlights. We've trekked to see The Yarn Harlot a couple of times; Stephanie is definitely one of the best speakers out there. I can say this because I love going to see her - with or without the knitter of the family - despite the fact that I don't knit and that almost all her talk is knit-oriented.

That's the catch-up, such as it is. Next comes more blogging, I hope - if electrons don't go up in price !

Monday, March 03, 2008

No News, Good News.

Well, the no news part is that there's still nothing from Fish about the possible tour here in the USA. On the other hand, this has emerged from Marillion's very own Lucy Jordache:

We are strongly looking at Montreal for a convention type event two weeks after our Dutch Convention next year. [ ... ] Certainly when we go on sale with the Holland convention we would announce this one too so you will have a choice.
I just can't wait to take off two whole weeks for Marillion!

The Adventure (4)

Just to round off some more of that series, we followed I-80 through Wyoming. Tola and I had shared the obligatory hot tub in the hotel after the wedding, but what we hadn't thought about was that Tola had a hang-nail on one finger and , while if was well on the way to being cured, was still showing some raw skin. That was on Friday night. We repacked the RV on Saturday and were well underway on Sunday, but when Tola woke in Evanston on Monday morning it was to a red, swollen, and painful finger.
Monday we spent driving the breadth of Wyoming - about 400 miles - in a brutal crosswind of about 40 mph. Remember; I was driving what is, basically, a Ford 450 with a large long sail attached! For about 80% of Wyoming I drove with the steering wheel angled at about 30 degrees to the right to counter that southerly wind.
400-odd miles later, however, it was late on Christmas Eve night and her finger was getting hotter, redder, and larger by the hour, so we pulled off at a township called Kimball to look for a doctor, saw some very welcome signs (above). We found the hospital and some wonderful people who looked at Tola and dutifully caled in the on-duty medical authority - the dentist ! What the heck, Dr. Jay did a great job of diagnosing the problem and prescribing what was needed. It was almost midnight on Christmas Eve, too late to go to midnight mass, so we pushed on to the next Flying J ! Next day we stopped in North Platte, NE, and got the prescription and eventually things started to get better.

Christmas night saw us driving through Omaha, NE, over the bridge into Iowa at Council Bluffs and on to the next Flying J! Basically, we'd found out niche (as Flying J customers) and were seriously regretting not having Frequent Fuellers cards. I think we skipped 2 or 3 between UT and PA, but no more than that - . I have to say here that Wyoming and Nebraska are hulking great wide states !

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Your Inconstant Friend

As always, I have to start by apologising for not blogging more often - I'm just that kind of an overwhelmed person with too much to do in each 24 hours. And then more stuff (like tax season) comes alone :(
As some of you may know, I'm somewhat of a Fish fan, so when this emerged from his web site I was truly amazed !

The major surprise is that out of the blue I have been offered a 4 week North American tour in June. This will include the Nearfest festival and will take in a number of US cities, coast to coast, as well as three shows in Canada. This tour is looking very positive and Yatta is confident we can make it work. The dates are already going in the book and I will let you know more about the routing and other details once I get them in this coming week. It's the first tour over there in a very long time and we will need to call on every resource we have available to make it happen.

It is highly likely that Mexican dates will be added at the end of the North American tour.

So, if I'm very lucky, I'll be able to get to see one of my favourite artists. You should too - he's got a new CD out, his music's great, and he puts on a fantastic show.
Marillion have this to say on their site:
Marillion are back in the studio to finish writing and recording Album 15. Some early-to-mid-2008 festival dates are expected, but look for an extensive tour for the new album in the second half of 2008!
Since 1997, Marillion have changed their modus operandi and become much more "user-supported". Before then they relied on labels, but since what might easily have been the non-tour or the tour from hell, they're been releasing CDs on a pre-subscribe basis, so you pay now for a CD that'll be out in 6 months time. For that you get an extra disc, or your name on the sleeve, or something special. The record companies also see that it's a viable product and take it to distribute. Neat.

More later - I've got to go see some soccer

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Adventure (3)

Leaving Idaho Falls after lunchtime on Sunday we finally felt that we were "on our way", and started listening to the weather forecasts in earnest ! Lots of lovely cheer there - not ! Reports of giant pile-ups and many people dead in blizzards from Texas and Oklahoma north to Michigan. Were we really doing the right thing ?
We trundled south down I-15 in to Utah (passing our favourite ice cream truck-stop (stopping for ice cream and souvenirs, of course !) and on south towards Brigham City and Ogden (quick wave to Nana and Aggie in passing, but I guess they never noticed us in the gathering gloom of the evening !). Left (east) at Roy and onto I-84 to take us through the hills and out of Utah. Listening to the radio (we found that the CD player would play CDs if they were "warm" and then only about half-way - then it would just quit) we caught this absolutely hilarious LDS version of the 12 days of Christmas. It wasn't the one here (nor this one - also very good), and I'll try to track it down - it was from a radio station in eastern Utah and absolutely cracked us up.
Finally we merged onto I-80 East and so Sunday night saw us parked for the night in the Flying J truck-stop in Evanston, WY. Were we tired ? Oh yes (we thought) as we dragged the duvet over ourselves and fell asleep.