Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Doing my part for the economy

I could tell by the double ring of the phone that someone from off campus was calling me. Typically that means a vendor or a magazine rep. It was the latter, calling from a magazine I thought I had already canceled. After several years in the computer industry, I've collected several complementary subscriptions to trade journals, but I've found that I get too many to keep up with, and some are of more value than others. This particular magazine I thought I'd let lapse because it was one that I really didn't see much use in it. I usually like to curtail the call center people before they get into their spiel, so I interrupted the woman after she identified herself, and told her that I wasn't interested in receiving the magazine. Usually, that gets one of two reactions; either the caller will thank me and hang up, or they will go off on some extra text designed to make me feel privileged to receive their magazine. The woman shifted to her prepared text, but this time instead of telling me how great their publication is, she began talking about the troubling economy, and how by simply taking their magazine for free, I can help keep their subscription numbers up and keep their magazine in circulation.

I was a little stunned and surprised. I ended up accepting the complementary subscription, and indicated that I'd take distribution electronically. I think I already have email rules in place to dump the magazine into an archive folder, and I'll probably never even look at a single issue of the magazine, but I'm a sucker for doing things for the economy. Call me a softie, call me a dupe, I guess I'm an easy mark. I wonder if I'll be hearing this approach from other magazines in the future.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Brush with Greatness!

I'm here in Detroit for the SAE World Congress. It has been interesting, and I made a few contacts. I also came to the realization that the Governator seems shorter in person. That's right, I stood about 20 ft away from Ahnold. I spent a few hours wandering the Expo floor. At one point I looked around and saw this knot of suits and photographers following some route through the vendors. I wondered briefly what the deal was, it sort of looked like a tour. A short time later, I was talking to a vendor. I looked to my right, and saw two men each leading a Doberman on a leash. Then I saw a mass of uniformed policemen. I wondered briefly who it could be, was Obama attending the conference on the sly? Then I saw Governor Schwarzenegger striding in the midst of them. It was kind of exhilarating to be that close to him. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera ready, so I missed a prime photo op. He swept by down the aisle, and that was the last time I saw him.

So, what was Governor Schwarzenegger doing at SAE World Congress? He was on a panel discussing the future of green vehicles. I did snap a picture of him on a big screen during the panel. The auditorium was so full there was no chance I could even get close enough to take a picture of him directly.

I've also felt severely under dressed. I've attended conventions before, but they were all computer technology conventions. People dressed pretty casual, you know, jeans and t-shirt. Here, the vast majority of people are wearing suits and ties. It seemed that most people took me for a student. If I had this all to do over again, I would have bought a company polo, and wore that around here.

Most of the vendors here are parts manufacturers or people who support them. I've seen more of the innards of gas engines than I ever knew existed! But, I have made a few contacts, and had some good discussions with some here. One guy in particular had actually already been in discussions with one of the scientists at the lab, and had been arranging a visit. He seemed interested in what we have been doing on my project, and wanted to add that as part of his visit too. Hopefully something will come of it.

Well, I need to get ready for bed. It's almost 1 am here in the Eastern time zone. My sleep schedule is already messed up, not to mention my eating schedule.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Merry Wii Christmas

I know Christmas was last week, and I really don't have any excuse why I didn't post this then. I only went to work one day...

Anyway, we had a very fun Christmas, for the most part. The kids got some good presents, and I got the family what I wanted for them last year... A Wii. I waited too long last year, and so missed out. This year, I bought ours early in the year. Even so, I almost missed out on the second big gift we got. Along with the Wii, I wanted to get a Wii fit. I saw them in the store in early October, but thought I would be able to find one later, and didn't bother picking it up then. By the time I was inclined to buy one, I couldn't find a single one in any store. Fortunately, my mom picked up the last one in my hometown of Delta, and sent it to us. So, we got a Wii, a Wii fit, and Mario Cart. Sierra spent the next 2 days playing Wii games nonstop! She spent a few hours unlocking exercies and games on the Wii Fit. The running games were the funniest. She realized early on that she didn't need to run, only wiggle the controller. Megan and Hailey were funny with the running games too. They don't seem to be able to run in place, so as the running session progressed, they got closer and closer to the television. I expected them to be planting their noses on it before they were done. I even got Lori to play a little Mario Cart with me, and she was expressing a desire to spend some time on the Wii Fit, though she wanted me to make a pact with her that we'd each spend 30 minutes a day on it. Probably do me some good...

This afternoon, we got the gift from my brother Aaron and his wife Carrie. They sent us 2 more games, Boom Bloxx (one I told them I wanted), and something I think is called Brain Academy (Lori and I wanted one educational game for the kids). Apparently, the neighbor kids came over, bringing 2 of their wii-motes, and a few other games, and so the kids had an impromptu Wii party. Fun all around.

Not much else to report. Of course, this being the last day of the year, I'm contemplating my new years resolutions. I suppose most people have already worked theirs out by this time, but being the world-class procrastinator that I am, I probably won't have my written until the new year is already under way.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Get a rope

So, I heard something today on NWPR that really got my dander up. They were talking about the Leahman Brothers failure, and how Congressional hearings started today around executive actions during the days and weeks leading up to the failure of that venerable institution.

So, here's the thing that got my attention, and made me a little bit angry. It seems that even as Leahman Brothers was petitioning the government for aid, they were funneling millions of dollars to their executives in compensation. I get so sick of this kind of thing happening. During the article, the person that NPR was interviewing made an allusion to Jimmy Stewart films, and immediately my mind turned to "It's a Wonderful Life." Specifically, the scene when George and Mary are leaving for their honeymoon, and there's a run on the savings and loan. George takes his hard earned and carefully saved money that was to pay for his honeymoon and with some fast talking and cooperation from all his investors saved the Bailey Savings and Loan with his own money. That's the kind of business man I can admire.

I got my first post college job at Hewlett-Packard at the height of the Dot-Com Bubble. Everyone was riding high, and if you had a business plan written on the back of a used napkin that had the word Internet in a fuzzy looking cloud, there were more than a dozen venture capatilists that wanted to inundate you with money.

However, that only lasted a short time past my joining the company. The bubble burst, and immediately tech firms had to tighten their belts. At HP, the CEO (Carly Fiorina at the time) cancelled the company performance bonus, on the grounds that while HP turned a tidy profit, it was a paltry thing compared to the wealth the company had earned while the bubble had been in full swing. This didn't affect me, becuase I hadn't been with the company long enough to qualify for the bonus, but many of my co-workers were bitter about that move. Then they suspended all pay raises. This did hit me, because less than a year after I started working at HP, I got my first promotion. Finally, as things tightened up, we were asked to voluntarily take one of 3 corrective actions: 1. take a 10% pay cut, 2. Take a 5% pay cut, and donate 5 vacation days to the company, or 3. take a 5% pay cut. Having just graduated from college, I didn't have vacation days to spare, and looking at my finances, I didn't feel that my entry level salary could withstand a 5% pay cut (I might have chosen otherwise if I had gotten my raise), so I opted out of the plan. What bothered me, is that none of the executive team mentioned what they chose, if they chose at all. Even worse, we received word that due to the cost savings implemented, Carly had received her performance bonus of some 5 - 10 million dollars. Like most of the employees, I was flabbergasted.

However, across the city, another company showed me what I ought to expect from those in power. Micron was also taking a beating at that time. In fact, they were probably in more dire straits than HP was. After all, they weren't as diversified as HP. The entire upper management team at Micron voluntarily went without pay for 6 months while the company worked to stabilize itself in the economic turmoil. At that moment, I envied my friends that worked for Micron. At least they had a management team that they could look up to.

So, when I heard about the Leahman Brothers, I couldn't help but be reminded of my short tenure at Hewlett-Packard, and the management team that lost my respect.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Tenney Fourth of July

Well, as you know, this weekend was the 4th of July. Our neighbors tend to be a bit exuberant in celebrating Independence Day, so normally, our 4th consists of me watering down our cedar shake roof, followed by Lori and I sitting on the street watching the neighbors light off their mortar launched fireworks, while the kids hide inside the house and watch movies or go to bed. The girls have always been sensitive to loud noises, especially Megan. But this year, all three were excited to watch the fireworks show. So, I spent a little more than we usually do, and we joined the crowd who had gathered at my next-door neighbors house to light fireworks. I was a little apprehensive, expecting that either I or my wife would have to call an early end to the evening to take the little ones home. However, they all did great and enjoyed the show immensely. Megan did take some precautions (she came outside wearing a pair of earmuffs which Lori augmented with some wax earplugs). Hailey did insist on going home a little early, but it wasn't the noise that got to her, she just got really tired and wanted to go to bed. Sierra and Megan stayed for the entire show.

I brought along my camera in an attempt to take some pictures of the event, but found I have quite a bit to learn about taking fireworks pictures. One of the issues I had was a problem I've encountered before. That is, I get an internal reflection in my lens of strong light sources. It appears as a ghosted image in the opposite quadrant of the picture from the light source. Fed up, I did a bit of reading and found that one possible culprit is the cheap skylight filter I have on my lens. I purchased the filter to protect the lens in case of a fall, or to keep it from getting scratched. The filter costs $15, which is a lot less than the $200 for even the cheapest of lenses. But, it also means that I'm now shooting through an inferior level of glass compared to my lens. I'll have to try some night shots without the filter to see if that makes a difference.

The second problem I had was that most of the sites I read suggested that you set the focus on your lens to infinity. Unfortunately, the mortars that my neighbors were launching don't go as high as those used by a professional fireworks show, so they were going off inside the focal range of my lens. Thus, with the focus set to infinity, my pictures of the fireworks came out blurry. It was hard to tell this on the small lcd screen on my camera, especially since the camera was tilted almost straight up, so I didn't realize it until the show was over. I got a couple of shots that look great as thumbnails, but once you start to zoom in, they go really out of focus. So, most of my "good" pictures were of the fountains that everyone had. One really fun thing that they tried was to attach a fountain to the back of a remote control car, and then drive it up and down the street. That provided some really interesting light trails.

Here's a few of my favorite shots:





You can see the rest in my Fireworks Flickr set.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Facebook Family

Being a knowledge worker, and especially a research scientist in the field of computer science, I hear a lot about social networks and web 2.0. I've even taken the time to join a few social network ventures over the years, but typically (as evidenced by my stewardship of this blog) my activity in them has been sporadic at best. I've tried Orkut, Multiply, Youtube, LinkedIn, and once, in a moment of weakness, I even created a myspace profile (which I promptly deleted with a deep seated feeling of self loathing). Of all these, the only one that I really tend to at all is LinkedIn. I really enjoy how they organize that network. It's allowed me to regain contact with old roommates, colleagues from previous companies, and students I looked up to while I was in school.

I have absolutely refused to join Facebook. I've always thought of it as the online equivalent of the frat house, and I never really wanted to associate with that crowd in college.

Well, today, a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook that I really wanted to see, so swallowing my pride a bit, I created a Facebook account. Apparantly, several months back, one of my brothers had sent me a Facebook invitation that I pretty much ignored, but Facebook hadn't forgotten. I immediately got a notification that he had invited me to be one of his "friends" on Facebook. I accepted the invitation, only to find out that I am quite literally nearly the last member of my extended family to join Facebook. Even my aunts and uncles have Facebook accounts. I'm not sure whether to be embarrassed, ashamed, appalled, or some combination of all three.

Needless to say, I've spent the last hour sending friend requests to all my family members. I feel so dirty...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Just another brick in the wall

Our housing development sits on the lower slopes of a good size hill, and our house is pretty much at the bottom of the hill. Most of our neighbors just have a significant slope through a portion of their back yard, but due to how far back in our lot our house is situated combined with the layout of the house, sloping the yard would have rendered a large amount of our back yard unusable. At least I think that’s why the original owner put a terrace in the back yard. It really makes things much nicer, we have a decent swing set in the yard and plenty of room for the kids to run around. The problem has been the retaining walls. They’re made out of railroad ties, and over the 5 years that we’ve lived here, they’ve rotted. Last year, the wall between our yard and a neighbors yard collapsed. So we replaced the wall with a manor stone wall. This wasn’t too difficult, since they had already poured a concrete slab, so we just laid the stone right on the slab, and were able to finish the wall in one day. Another wall, in our yard, was also falling apart, but hadn’t completely collapsed, so we hoped against hope that we could put off replacing it for a year. Well, it started to collapse shortly after we replaced the first wall, but we just didn’t have the money to replace it, so we just let it deteriorate.

It’s now been a year since we put up the first wall, and we had been losing dirt out of the second, so we figured it was time for the annual Tenney Terrace Wall Party. We invited a few of our friends over to help us put up the new wall, and bribed them with BBQ. This wall went much slower. I took Friday off so I could remove the old wall and do some prep work. I had intended to get the base trench dug, but first I had to remove 3 bushes that were going to be in the way (2 on the upper terrace, and one super overgrown evergreen bush that was on the lower level) and take out the old wall. The two bushes on the upper terrace weren’t to difficult to remove, at least not with a mattock. I had originally intended just to prune the evergreen bush back, but we’ve wanted to be rid of that beast for some time, so I took out the clippers, and my reciprocating saw and went to work. Finally, I began the demolition work on the old wall. I started with a crowbar, but found the wood was so rotten that the crowbar was completely useless. So, out came the mattock again. It made short work of the wall, but I think we'll be finding rotten wood debris in our yard for many years to come...

Unfortunately, all this prep work meant that I was not nearly as ready as I would have liked when our friends arrived, and most of them had other commitments which kept them from being able to help us the full day. In the end we got the trench dug, and the base material leveled. I laid 2 rows of blocks, then took the rest of the day off to recover. Over the next week, I spent 3-4 hours each night laying blocks for the wall. Tuesday, my good friend Erin returned to help me place some more blocks (despite the pain in her ear! I had no idea she was in pain or I would have told her not to come). This Saturday, I placed the last block in the wall and took some time to admire my handy work.

Here are some before pictures, along with one after picture. Two of the before pics are from Sierra's birthday the year before, so you can imagine that the wall was in even worse shape than shown here.