another misAdventure

"We are all of us living in the shadow of Manhattan."

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

It just went past midnight here in the Central time zone, so I can officially wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Or Happy Christmas, as I heard multiple times in the past week as well. Comes with working with lots of Brits. :-)

So, what have I been up to that kept me away from the blog for almost two weeks?

Work and having the kids at home. So, a good chunk of my audience (such as it is) is here anyway. Work has been pretty hectic, demanding, but also going alright. At least I'm doing even better than just keeping up now.

Of course, I've got to be on a call at midnight Pacific time, probably for an hour. So, I'' be up until 3am. I've done that a couple other nights in the past two weeks as well.

I've been holding the hotline phone since December 15, as I was covering part of the time for another person who's been out sick/disabled for a while. The worst of it was losing pretty much all of Saturday the 16th on a call. As of midnight, I'm officially done with my own coverage week, though I told another colleague that I'd cover a few hours tomorrow (well, today now) while he picked up relatives at the airport.

I've also been busy playing some D&D. We've gotten in the first chapter of "Red Hand of Doom", played another module to set our group up better for future chapters of "Red Hand of Doom", and got in a couple modules that will be retiring at the end of the year. One of those Kalen really wanted to play and all the rest of us were going, "Oh, we've heard that's so bad, so hard, kills everyone". I had it on my "do not play" list due to the stories I'd heard of it. As it turned out, that module rocked. It was so much fun, although they did try to cram a bit too much into it.

Christmas shopping: I hadn't done any ... ANY! ... until today. And just as I was about to go out shopping, the hotline phone rang. Fortunately, it was one of my colleagues letting me know about the stuff tonight, so nothing I had to deal with right that moment. So, I did get out this afternoon and did all the shopping I really needed to do.

Tomorrow we'll open present here, then go to a late brunch (1pm) at the Holiday Inn in Naperville (avoiding cooking, thus avoiding the need for subsequent clean up and generation of leftovers). First thing Tuesday morning we'll be driving to Iowa to spend the rest of the week.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006


It's been warm here for the past few days. Not Orlando warm (Yahoo tells me Orlando is currently 63°), but warm enough for December in Illinois. In the 40's during the day. Today, when I looked at our thermometer, it was 45°. So, all the snow we had on the 1st is pretty much gone.

That also means my gutters are thawed, so I could get the Christmas lights on the house. Yay! And I got a new bulb for the plastic penguin (now sitting at the far left side of the house, and got a new spotlight to better light the four choir kids. So, I finally got the outdoor decoration done that I wanted to do.

I've been home most of the day. I went in to work in the morning, but there was a problem with one a switch on the Isle of Man, and I could only log in there from outside our corporate intranet, so I came home to do it. Then I took the afternoon off, which I was hoping to do anyway to get the decoration done. See above.

Kathy and Ryan are home now. The three of us went to dinner at a Chinese buffet. I met them there before they actually got home -- I needed to do some errands and called to see where they were. They and I were about equidistant from where I needed to do those errands, and where the restaurant is. So, I met them there, then we split so I could go to Graham Crackers for comics and Home Depot for light bulbs, while they did some other shopping. Then the three of us met up again at the grocery store so we could stock up on food.

And now I need to log in to work one more time so I can dump some information via e-mail, so it's ready for guys in Germany when they get to work in a few hours.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Ask the Telecom Guy

There was news at work today. Not bad news -- at least I didn't think so -- though people fear change and uncertainty. It's pretty much exactly what I expected and had told people last week. I can't talk about it, though. It may turn out to be good news for me, at least I hope I can turn it to such. More as it develops and I can talk about it (though the details wind up pretty technical).

Other than that, not much new here. Kathy and Ryan should be home tomorrow, then Kalen and Matt on Saturday.

After the break, some mobile phone discussion based on an e-mail my mom forwarded. Some information, and some dispelling of misinformation.

OK, in the following is the e-mail my mom sent, forwarding an e-mail that sounds fairly urban-legend-y. Some of the stuff in it is true, or partly true. A lot of it is misinterpretation, or making mountains out of molehills. Interspersed are my comments on this. Since this is my field, I try to set the record straighter. This is mostly the response I sent to my mom, which I thought made a reasonable blog post, though I've also edited it just a bit more.
*CELL PHONE INFORMATION / share with family, friends & print for future use..!!! What to do when your cell phone gets lost...**

Here is something worth knowing if you have a mobile phone .... Have you ever wondered why phone companies don't seem interested in trying to prevent the theft of mobile phones? If you have ever lost, or had one stolen, and if you are on a plan, you still have to pay the plan approximately up to 24 months, and you have to buy another handset and enter into another contract. This is more revenue for the phone company.

If you have a contract, you have to honor the contract. So, you either pay for a service you can't use (if you don't have a phone), or you get a new phone. You do NOT have to enter into another contract. The phone is cheaper if you do enter another contract though, so you have to weigh which way is cheaper. The companies drastically discount phones to get you to sign a contract. You don't HAVE to sign a long term contract to get a cell phone if you pay full price for the phone.

If you lose an expensive item, you have to pay for it again. Duh! Here's another clue: If you buy something on credit and then it is lost or stolen, you still have to pay for it.
*There is a simple way of making lost or stolen mobiles useless to thieves and The phone companies know about it, but keep it quiet.*

I don't think the companies keep it secret. You'd just have to ask the right question, or a get person who knows what they're talking about. This means *not* the standard twenty-year-old clerk at the cellular phone store, and certainly not some random guy at Radio Shack or Best Buy.
*To check your mobile phone's serial number, key in the following on your phone: star-hash-zero-six-hash * # 0 6 # and a fifteen digit code will appear on the screen. This is unique to your handset. Write it down and keep it safe.*

The code would be specific to the type of phone you have. Most phones have some sort of engineering mode or debug mode. I've used it in the field to track problems. That code above won't work on my phone (I didn't try it, but I know what the debug mode code is for mine). In most case you can find out what cell you're connected to, and how strong that signal it, but the number won't make sense unless you know about the specific company's assignment scheme or site map. We had maps of sites when I was in Phoenix and St.Louis with the cell site numbers so we could tell what cell you should be seeing in any given site, and what other cells were close.

By the way, I found out the debug mode code for my phone by Googling for it.

There are two different numbers identifying the phone: the IMEI and the IMSI. The IMEI is the serial number of the phone. The IMSI is the number on the SIM card. IMSI is 15 digits, I don't remember the length of IMEI.
*Should your mobile phone get stolen, you can phone your service provider and give them this code. They will then be able to block your handset, so even if the thief changes the sim card, your phone will be totally useless. You probably won't get your phone back, but at least you know that whoever stole it can't use/sell it either. If everybody did this, there would be no point in stealing mobile phones. You may want to send this to as many people with mobiles as possible.*

I don't know if a company will or can easily block on IMEI. They can and will block the IMSI, which is specific to the SIM card. If the company can block on IMEI, there's probably a way the bad guys could reprogram the EPROM containing the IMEI, thus making the phone workable again. And I think a lot of stolen cell phones get used for a very short time (hours at best) and then discarded, as they get the value out of calls made rather than the phone itself.

Everyone should want to report a stolen phone ASAP anyway to avoid paying for the calls. That succeeds once they block the IMSI. Most operating companies should be able to look up the IMSI and IMEI of your phone anyway once you give them the phone number, so you don't really need to record them. The company will probably ask a couple other security questions to prove you're the account owner. Oh, and the IMEI and IMSI are probably both recorded on the service contract you got with the phone.
*No charge for directory assistance. Phone companies are charging us $1.00 or more for 411 - information calls when they don't have to. *

Well, they don't HAVE to charge for making any other phone call either. But if no one pays, the service stops existing. They're providing a service, so they charge for it. I think they charge too much for information, but no one actually has to use it. They get away with charging as much as they do because a lot of people who call 411 are a captive audience, they have no other good way to get the information. Also, because it's used less and less, there's not as much volume to offset the per-usage price.
*When you need to use the 411/information option, simply dial 1-800-FREE-411 or 1-800-373-3411 without incurring a charge. This is information people don't mind receiving - Pass it on. Works on your home phones and cell phones and it’s FREE!*

I wonder what their business model is, then. They somehow have to pay for the incoming 800 line and manage the database (and pay salaries to the operator if there's a live person). I'll have to try calling it some time and see if it is advertising supported.

In a lot of cases you can find phone numbers on Google as well. Or, etc. I haven't called information in years, but then I usually only have to call numbers I've been given.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Puzzle, and a Weekend away from Work

OK, here's your puzzle, a puzzle I solved on Friday at work (yes, it was actual work). Answer will be at the end of the post.

There is one central computer, and it has to fetch a file every day from several remote computers. The files is generated every day on the remote site, and the central computer is supposed t fetch from each remote site once a day a half hour after the file is generated.

We got a report that for a few sites the file wasn't getting fetched when it was supposed to. The central computer was getting the previous day's file from some of the remote sites. It always got the file, but a day late.

The central computer is in Phoenix. The remote sites that were having the problem are in Albuquerque and Denver.

I told the person who was starting to investigate this what the problem was, and I told her that it probably started happening about six weeks ago or so, though it hadn't been noticed right away. What was the problem?

You may have the answer already, but I'll do my weekend update first.

I got a few more Christmas lights up outside, though I couldn't do the lights along the gutters. There's too much snow/ice in the gutter from the Friday before last to actually get the clips onto the gutter. However, I did put up the spiral-light trees, and will put up the plastic penguin at the end tomorrow, after I buy a new 25-watt bulb.

Oh, that's very exciting!

Oh and I got my tools organized again and stuff out of the way in the garage. However, I still need to get some things moved to the attic, but I need to patch the attic ladder first. The foot of the ladder on one side has come loose, so it can't be climbed properly. I need to get some steel braces to stabilize it from a hardware store, hopefully tomorrow.

I spent the afternoon and early evening with my brother, Bob. He fixed dinner and we hung out watching football.

And that's pretty much the weekend. Exciting, eh?

The good news that I managed to not worry about work for the weekend. Well, that may just mean I have some things to be sure to do right away in the morning, but that's fine.

OK, here's the puzzle answer, one that the UK part of our team may have had more problem with: the fetch of the file from Denver and Albuquerque was happening an hour early, i.e. a half hour before the file was generated. The time for the fetch was first set up over the summer. At that time, Phoenix time was an hour ahead of Albuquerque and Denver. However, Arizona does not do daylight saving time. As of the end of October, Phoenix was on the same time as Denver and Albuquerque (and everywhere else in the Mountain time zone). It'd be good, but complex, if the system recognized daylight time differences between sites so that it would always get the file a half hour after it was generated. I suggested that it should be OK, though, if they just moved the fetch an hour later so it would get the right file each day, even though it would fetch it an hour and a half after it was generated in the summer. That really wouldn't be a problem. The customer was annoyed that it was getting data that was 23 hours old.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Class and Classification

If you're reading this, you're seeing the blog on the beta version of the new Blogger. I have no idea whether you'll notice anything different.

If you're not reading this, how do you realize you're not?

The past few days at work have been taken up by training. We're supposed to be picking up support for another part of the product, and so we've been learning about that piece. Unfortunately, the guy doing the training isn't much of a communicator, so it's been a bit of a trudge. And I had to set up most of the logistics of the class (time, room reservation) without getting much out of him as to what was needed. So, I had to reschedule once, and set up a different room than originally set, because they hadn't told me they needed LAN connections for everyone.

One thing I forgot to mention on Monday is that my boss came in for the day so she could do performance reviews. She had to come in in the middle of a couple weeks off because otherwise she'd miss the deadline for giving the feedback. Anyway, I hadn't felt very productive this year. Some of the stuff I did was taking way too long, because I'd underestimated what was involved. And then, on switching to the support assignment, I felt like I didn't know enough to really do the job justice, and that I really needed to take more time learning it (rather than getting thrown into it in Phoenix and St.Louis). I felt a lot more comfortable in the job since October, finally feeling like I was actually making good progress. Of course, our evaluation year goes October 1 through October 1, so any good feeling was after the period that counted for last year. Well, all that aside, apparently they still like what I'm doing. My evaluation was pretty positive overall, and they appreciated that I'd thrown myself into the new assignment, with credit for taking those road assignments.

I still don't know what's going to happen long term as the Alcatel-Lucent merger settles, but for now all is good. Surprisingly. But I'm always my worst critic.

Switching topics entirely, Smallville tonight was particularly lame, combining "freak of the week" with preachy. And that's not even counting the boy with the new super power, the amazing ability to speak with absolutely no accent despite not being in the country that long. Anyway, if you haven't seen it yet, I recommend skipping to the previews part. That can't all be next episode, it has to be the previews for much of the rest of the season, and there's some really cool stuff there. Too bad we have to get episodes like this in between.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Time to Catch Up

A quick catch-up post. I've established my frequent updates to this blog too well, so that when I don't blog some may think something happened to me. Sick or something. Well, at least my mom worries about me. :-)

Most of my time between the last post and this one has been sucked into that same problem with voice drop-outs that I mentioned in both of the previous posts. Friday night until about 1am, then Saturday from noon to about 11pm. Yesterday (Monday) from noon to midnight. Yesterday it was mainly amusing because I noticed that the team working the problem was me, three British guys currently in Washington state (in either Redmond or Tacoma, I think), a German guy currently in St.Louis, and three Indian guys doing the driving in Cleveland. So, we were all over the place and from all over the place. And we listened to the guys in Cleveland count into the phone (and a few times say "Can you hear me now?" -- but, wait, surely that's trademarked!).

Sunday was a trip to Normal. Ellen and I went to church, had lunch at Colonial, then drove to Normal. We did a little shopping there for some incidentals, some Christmas decorating stuff, and cat litter not for the cats. We hung out with Ryan a bit, went to dinner with him and the girls, then went to the girls' holiday concert. This was the massed choruses and orchestra from Illinois State, and I think the girls sang in four or five pieces (depending on how they actually did the counting). After the concert, we went to the girls' apartment and got Kathy's car unstuck from its parking space. The snow/sleet/freezing rain from Friday had left her rear tires in about an inch of ice, and neither Kalen nor Kathy had moved their cars since then. They discovered they had a bit of a problem when Kathy went to drive to the earlier concert that afternoon (we went to the 7pm concert, they had a 3pm concert as well). Thus the cat litter, to give the girls so they each had a container in their car for traction. Though in this case, they just needed the muscle to push the car enough so it could break free of the ice.

Anyway, after that we went for dessert at Baker's Square with the girls, then headed home. We got home at about 12:30am.

If there's anything more to blog about later, I will. Otherwise, probably tomorrow.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Day 1 Manages Without Me

I'd planned to get into work a bit early today. Today was "Day 1" of Alcatel-Lucent, and so they were promising a continental breakfast followed by a live video-conference with our beloved leaders.

That plan was fouled up by two things:
  1. I was on that conference call about a problem (mentioned in yesterday's post) until 2:00am last night, plus a little wind-down time.

  2. Eight inches of snow.

Despite my late bed-time, I set my alarm for a little after 7:00 am this morning. The usual sequence set with my clock radio is to turn on the radio first, then the alarm a minute or two later. Then I wake to the radio and turn off the alarm, unless I am really soundly asleep and wake a bit later to the alarm.

This morning, the radio came on, and I immediately hit the memory button for the local news station (rather than the usual NPR). Because I knew it was snowing when I went to bed, with a lot forcast for overnight.

Within a minute of the radio coming on, I heard what I wondered about: Lisle schools closed, Naperville District 203 closed, Naperville District 204 closed.

District 204 is our school district. Lisle is where I work. That did it, the roads were crap. So, I reset the alarm and went back to sleep for an hour or so.

I woke later and went downstairs to check my work e-mail and the conference call bridge. The call was still going. I got the summary of overnight thought from e-mail. Then I sent e-mail to the group saying that I was working from home today, no reason to mess with the roads. I think everyone in my group did the same.

Since they didn't need me for a while on the call, I dressed to check the snow situation, so I could get a jump on it so Ellen would be able to get out of the driveway in the afternoon (in case I later got stuck with work stuff). I cleared most of the driveway, and then headed into the shower. Then back to the conference call.

And that's really about it. I took one more whack at shoveling more of the driveway (cleaned off Ellen's car then got rid of the drift against the garage door and between our cars), that during a break in the call while a test driver drove to a different site.

And that's really about it for today. We're still on the conference call, but I think a lot more is understood and I think we'll be able to break for the day about midnight. Tomorrow, I don't know. I think we have a work-around for the problem, so we may be able to keep the customer happy (hey, the call doesn't drop -- you just can't hear for a bit :-) ). A temporary fix may suffice through the weekend.

And, as I mentioned to a colleague on IM earlier, there are probably a lot of uneaten bagels in the cafeteria, because I doubt very many people got in to our location for that free continental breakfast.

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