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 !