June 24th, 2008

#1132: I bought a Sony product.

For the first time since the rootkit fiasco, I bought a Sony product with malice aforethought. But they'd better not get used to it, because I aim not to do this again for quite a while.

The VCR which handles recording and video switching duties was bought new in early 2002 for the princely sum of $90. Six years is a long time for a VCR, even one which is not used all that often. I prefer to supplant a VCR after it's been in service for five years.

What got me to make the switch was that I realized I could get a combo DVD/VCR, put it where the old VCR was in my entertainment system, and then not have to switch from one line-in to another to watch DVDs. This would have the added benefit of allowing me to use the Apex only when I could not use another DVD player (such as when I want to play disks which are not Region 1 disks), thus keeping the Apex from wearing out.

I can't get another Apex, after all, with its hardware hacked goodness.

Seeing a DVD/VCR combo at work for $100 is what brought all this to mind; so I mulled it for several weeks, and looked at other models, and at other stores, and thought some more. I went to buy one, chickened out, and thought about it even more.

Finally, last night, I decided it was time to take the plunge. Checkbook in hand I went to the nearest Target (not the one I work at) to buy the thing.

...they had one. The box had been opened and rifled, and it looked as if the remote control had been stolen. There was no one--no one within reasonable distance of the Music and Movies section of the store. There were also several other people there who wanted help with stuff; I ranged a bit wider, going out of reasonable walking distance, and still did not find anyone. ANYONE. In fact, it seemed as if that entire side of the store was bereft of team members.

I had stopped in the clothing department for a couple pairs of shorts; I wheeled my cart through the auto section, intending to pick up a couple cans of Fix-a-Flat. I'd let that decide me on whether or not I'd bother trying to attract the attention of a M&M person, so I could see if they had another player in the back. (I was not optimistic; I know the stocking procedures for Target--if there was only one unit on the shelf, there were probably none in back.)

No Fix-a-Flat; they were totally out of the size I wanted. I could have bought the SUV size, but for an economy car? That'd be a stupid waste of money.

...frustrated and annoyed, I did something I do not normally do: I abandoned my cart, with the two pairs of shorts in it, and walked out.

So what did I do? Well, I drove to the store I work at, and bought what I needed there. All of it--DVD player, shorts, Fix-a-Flat. Why drive 22 miles? Because I was confident that at least the store I worked at would have everything in stock. We're pretty good at maintaining our "in stocks", damn it.

Apparently we're a damn sight better than the Matteson store, anyway.

As for the DVD player, I got it patched into the system and then spent some time fiddling with it. This is the first VCR I ever bought that didn't have a tuner in it--well, with the switch to digital coming next year, it's to be expected, and with the satellite box I don't need it anyway.

The thing has some nice still/slow motion features, too. It'll play any disk I put into it, according to the manual, and it'll even do a slideshow if I put a disk full of JPGs into it.

The manual does not make it very clear, but the DVD signals are output on the "Line Out" terminals and the special DVD output terminals. I had a bit of confusion on that point and ended up trying it out to make sure.

My one beef with this thing is that it doesn't do index marks on the tape, so you have to watch the counter when you're rewinding to the beginning of something you taped; also, it doesn't use the older Sony VCR remote signals, so I have to reprogram my universal remote.

Oh well.

* * *

This kind of article, if cars had kept pace with computers, always completely ignore the laws of physics. Cars and computers do different things. There is no theoretical minimum energy required for computing, but cars exist in the Newtonian mechanics world, where work equals force times distance. Work is measured in joules.

"One litre of fuel would serve the UK for a year and oil reserves would last the expected lifetime of the solar system - if efficiency in the car industry had improved at the same rate as in the computer world...." It's a nice comparison, but it's physically impossible.

Besides, they completely ignore the fact that the car would stop running for no apparent reason, and in order to restart the car you'd have to disconnect the battery for thirty seconds before turning the key, and then it would take about a minute for the car to finish rebooting once you did.

* * *

Maxine Waters did not mean it when she said the US should socialize the oil industry. Oh, no, no, of course she didn't mean it. It wasn't an "intentional" statement.

But sometimes, the things said in the heat of the moment are revealing.

* * *

No idea if Monster is going to get into the game, but here we have electronic snake-oil for computers!

* * *

My man Fred Thompson weighs in on the stupid Supreme Court decision about giving enemy combatants the rights of citizens.

Why the hell did we have to pick John McCain over this guy? WHY???

* * *

..."painful"? Listening to the radio--Limbaugh's on--and the 11:30 news bits discussed the bumper crop of mosquitos we've got here right now. "They still pack a painful bite," the announcer said. What? Painful? They make you itch, moron.

Okay, yeah: an itch is actually pain that's below the pain threshold. But "painful" means "ow ow it hurts" not "damn it, WTF, that mosquito got me good" (scratch scratch).

And also reported, James Hansen wants a carbon tax. James Hansen is a freaking charlatan. His big speech 20 years ago about global warming? They opened the windows of the hearing room the night before, so it was freaking hot in the place that day, because the air conditioning was overtaxed. So, of course, everyone was sweating. In this environment, Hansen says, "We have to combat global warming!"

Twenty years later we're looking at another Dalton minimum. Sunspot #999 seems to have made it across the face of the sun, but there are no others following it. The warming of the 20th century has already been eradicated (the global temperature anomalies are 0.75° lower than they were a year ago) and unless the sun fires up soon it's going to get even colder. That assumes that the current cycle is going to be normal; the cycle after this one is looking to be even weaker. We don't know what's going on with Earth's atmosphere, but we do know that the sun is going to reduce its energy output.

* * *

Whenever I listen to Limbaugh, I always lose interest when he starts talking to callers. Once he gets someone on the phone, I stop listening and it turns into background noise, so I shut it off. Even if I try to keep listening, this happens.

Needless to say, if I tune in and hear someone else taking his place, I tune out again.

* * *

The New York Times ran an article lamenting the drop in newspaper ad revenue. It's all over the place, particularly on the Intertubz; "alternative media" is kicking their ass. Well, it's not just NYT that is suffering thusly; all newspapers are in this boat.

I know that I rarely read the paper these days, except to see the comics. If Mom didn't get the paper, I wouldn't even do that; I'd just read the good ones on-line. Why should I read a newspaper which I know is full of slanted reporting and questionable journalism? I want "fair and balanced", not "everyone in the newsroom voted for Barak Hussein Obama in the primary", damn it.

I was spinning through the older Atomic Fungus entries the other day and came across a post where I discussed a young woman who had had a routine surgical procedure...only there were complications, and she ended up in intensive care with multiple organ failure and a host of other problems.

She'd gone in for an abortion.

If she'd been in the hospital for an appendectomy or something, the news media would have been full of stories about this poor woman's plight. But because it was an abortion, there wasn't so much as a peep about it in the papers or news shows.

Why?

I mean, an abortion is (sadly) a routine operation these days. It's not like she was having major surgery; a typical abortion is an outpatient procedure. It's like getting a colonoscopy or having a wisdom tooth removed. Yet this woman's outcome was so dire that she had to have her uterus removed and was in the ICU in "critical" condition afterwards. Isn't that a textbook example of a great news story? Innocent woman goes in for routine procedure, and ends up totally fucked up--it's just the kind of story that journalists want, where there's tragedy and pain and suffering, all utterly unexpected, as the result of a (botched?) medical procedure.

About the same time as this, there was a story about a young girl who was getting some dental work done. She was 5 or so, and the dentist gave her total anasthesia. (I note here that I doubt* the dentist just did this; he would have had to get parental permission first, wouldn't he?) Anyway, it was a routine thing that many dentists offer(ed). And sadly, the little girl died.

This was a huge story, of course. Routine procedure, experienced dentist, bad outcome. The annals of medicine are full of such tragedy: shit happens. No one wants it to, and everyone does his level best to ensure that it doesn't, but sometimes the dice just come up snake-eyes and there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes the patient dies. The more mature and routine the procedure, the better your chances are...but even with the simplest procedure there are times when things go wrong, and sometimes they go so wrong that the patient dies, and it's not always the doctor's fault.

I don't remember if the dentist got arrested, but I seem to recall he had his license to practice revoked. If I were him I don't know if I'd want to continue practicing, anyway, not after something like that. In fact I might quit medicine altogether and take up drinking.

But the abortion story? Buried, if reported at all; I learned of it on the Internet, myself. After all...it was an abortion. You can't say anything bad about abortion, not even to report a bad outcome from a routine procedure, not even if it'll sell papers, because then people might hesitate to have them!

Bias? Oh, no, no bias there.

(I also note for the sake of clarity that the little girl was white; the woman who had the abortion was black. Bias? You decide.)

* I just tried to spell "doubt" as "dought". WTF.

* * *

The Escort has developed an odd clunk in the front suspension. I heard it most clearly last night. Previously it manifested as a noise which happened only after I backed out of the driveway and started to accelerate; as soon as I let the clutch out something would go clunk, which sounded like an inner CV joint to me. (Swell. Just swell.) But last night I was going over some bumps and I heard a distinct clunk clunk-unk from the front end, which might mean ball joints rather than a CV joint.

Ball joints are easier to replace, but not necessarily cheaper--you have to have an alignment after replacing ball joints.

So one bullet point for today is to get the Escort up on a jack and check the front wheels for play.

...and if it's not the ball joints and it's not the CV joints, what else could it be? Motor mounts. A bad motor mount could account for all the symptoms. O joy.

Whatever it ends up being, it's a major procedure. And next week is 4th of July week, and I'm scheduled M-W-F, three days for the first time since...January, I think. The money will help, anyway....

#1133: Thanks, Vista.

So I noticed this morning that I had lost my TV set as a second monitor. My mouse pointer wouldn't move past the left side of the main monitor screen, so I opened up "display properties" and had a gander.

Oh, my TV's not configured. No problem, I'll just turn this on and--

CRASH!
CRASH!
CRASH!
BLUESCREEN!
CORE DUMP!
REBOOT!


WTF!

...fortunately Vista was smart enough to revert the driver settings to the prior configuration, so I wasn't treated to another repetition of this nonsense. I reasoned that the recent Service Pack 1 install that was rolled out broke the display driver; so I went to ATI and downloaded the latest patch and installed it.

Why the hell is it that Windows is incapable of remembering where you put your icons when the screen goes to a smaller resolution? All I was doing was installing updated drivers and I still had to re-arrange all my icons when the install was finished, because the crappy-ass Windows Default driver can't run in 1680x1050. Instead of taking this into account and, I don't know, backing up the appropriate INF files (or WTF-ever are their equivalents in this strange post-DOS world), they just write over the things with impunity and make the user fix it.

It's just wrong. I mean, come on--how hard would it be for the guy writing the installer to say to himself, "You know, I bet this'll scramble the user's icons if he's running anything above default resolution--I'll back up his desktop settings and restore them when the install is done, so I don't make him do all kinds of stupid crap that he really shouldn't have to do."

On the plus side of all this, once the new driver was installed, it had automatically gone back to the settings that included the TV, so I'm now able to watch anime again. Why those settings got backed up is a mystery for the ages, one I'll probably never have the answer to.

Another bonus is that these newer drivers are a bit faster, which also helps. (Or maybe the broken-ness was just making the thing slow down, and replacing the drivers restored the original speed. Either way, I win.)

* * *

And so, after my errands for the day were done, I checked out the Escort's front suspension, and found nothing wrong. So I guess I'll just drive it until it breaks, and then fix it.

Ball joints: solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Axles: doesn't seem to be any unusual amount of play in them. Tie rods: A-OK. (As expected; I only replaced them about 3,000 miles ago. If that.) Engine mounts: I could barely move the engine. I tried rocking the car and it still didn't move hardly at all, so the engine mounts seem okay.

My suspicion right now is the driver's side axle; it seems to have the most amount of play in it. If I'm right, it should fail gracefully and give me plenty of warning that it's going bad: the CV joint will start to make an awful rumble. If I'm wrong and it just goes snap one day, then I'll have the car towed home. F it.

But no diagnosis is complete without a worst-case scenario, and this one's a doozy: the differential side gears in the transmission. If the diff is going bad, I don't know what I'll do. Probably swap in the spare drivetrain, which would pretty much end my aspirations of putting it into the '86 Fiero. But if it's the diff, I expect it to go BANG at some point, which will be it for that transmission, anyway.

But, WTF, I bought the car for $400; what do I expect?

#1134: Dang, it's about freaking time already.

Just heard on the news that American Airlines is going to start offering Internet access on some flights.

I was writing the service manual for Rockwell-Collins' wireless access point for commercial aircraft in freaking 2000, for crying out loud. Eight years later they finally get around to implementing it? WTF.

...I would bet that, by now, the component that I wrote the manual for is obsolete, anyway, because of how the technology has improved since then. I'm probably still obligated not to describe how the thing was built, but screw that noise, because it's been eight freaking years. If they want to sue me, let 'em. You can't get blood out of a turnip.*

They essentially hooked two commercially-available CardBus adaptors into a chassis which powered them and provided an interface to hook to the satellite antennas elsewhere in the aircraft. I don't know how many channels it supported--it's been eight years since I worked on that project and I didn't keep any of the documentation--but it had a provision to share two antennas across the two CardBus cards. A standard connector would interface the unit to its antennas and other devices on the airplane, such as the gateway that actually provided the uplink to the satellite. This was 2000; it would have been "Wireless B", which has already been superseded twice. (First by "Wireless G", and then by "Wireless N".)

To be fair, though, all they really have to do to upgrade the capabilities of the unit are to change the CardBus cards. So going from B to G to N would only require updating the parts lists in the manual, since the CardBus cards were bought from a vendor and replaced, if faulty, as a unit. (And the bad ones get thrown away, because they can't be repaired anyway.) It was really a nice piece of work; explaining how the power supply worked gave me fits, though.

*Eh? "Tell prospective employers that I broke the confidentiality agreement"? What is that going to do, keep me from getting a job at the Kohl's they're opening in Crete? "Well, Ms. Kohl's HR person, we won't re-hire Mr. Hering because he discussed, in his blog, an eight-year-old project for a product that's so obsolete we can't profitably market it." Yeah, sure. My point: nobody cares. My career as a technical writer is so far gone it might as well have happened to someone else. I'm a retail grunt now, God damn it.

* * *

One of the things that convinced me I worked in the Dilbert universe was the QC process.

Here's how a sample document would go. My team would get the assignment and we'd plug away at it for however long. Eventually it would be complete and it'd go to the QC guy.

The QC guy would come back with the manuscript festooned with Post-It tags. "This isn't in Simplified English," he'd tell me. "All manuals have to be written in Simplified English."

There was one minor problem with this: no one had been trained in Simplified English except for the QC guys. Training all the writers in SE would have cost too much, you see, and the QC guys could just instruct the writers on what was okay and what wasn't, right? Writers are perfectly capable of learning by osmosis, aren't they? The whole thing stank of Dilbert's Pointy-haired Boss.

And there were no lists of approved words, either, so when anyone wrote anything he basically had to grope around for some approximation of "Simplified English". In my case, it did not lead to my best efforts, let me tell you, but I did what I could.

I think the best summation of this was when someone reduced it to its absolute bare minimum: "The signal enters the amplifier on pins A1 and A2. The signal is changed. The signal exits the amplifier on pins X1 and X2."

You sure as hell can't write a decent description of the inner workings of a GPS receiver when you're limited to words that some guy from Outer Mongolia is likely to know.

Further exacerbating the problem was that I was expected to take engineer-speak and translate it into spoon-fed pablum without understanding the circuit myself. The editor/composer on our team repeatedly got angry at me for "wasting" time figuring out how the thing worked so that I could describe it accurately; I apparently was supposed to call up the engineer, waste his time, and then just write down whatever he said. (Oh, but simplified, of course, so that How Long Kow Dong in Taiwan could understand it.)

To this day, I still get frustrated when I think about how shitty that job got in 2001. Before 2001 it was a good job; before 2000 it was a fantastic job. But the shift in emphasis--making documentation a profit center--ended up systematically removing every little bit of enjoyment I got from that job and turned it into a soul-crushing nightmare.

It need not have been that way; unfortunately, the person who my bosses reported to was known in some circles as "the little dictator"--he was a douchebag, missing only the pointy hair to be Dilbert's boss. And to make matters worse, when he hired underlings, he hired the same kind of people as him, of course.

If any of several other people had taken that job instead of him, it would have been a lot different--better--there than it was. It was no accident that a lot of the old timers who could retire decided to get out; they knew what was happening and wanted no part of it.

One guy, who I had worked with on an extensive rewrite of a maintenance manual for an Electronic Flight Display, when he decided to retire there was a party at the microbrewery across the road from the plant. The division boss showed up there, but didn't come over to the table; a waiter came over to the table, then, and informed the guy that "that gentleman over there" wanted to pay for the party...and the retiree flat-out refused the offer.

I wish I had taken the hint that offered; I really do. It would really have been nice if I had been experienced enough to realize what that meant. But what, exactly, I could do with the knowledge--when I had a bare two years of experience as a writer--escapes me.

The "little dictator" was often quoted as saying, "we have to get rid of the graybeards"--meaning anyone who had enough experience to be able to do things, who knew the products and the engineering and the writing well enough to do it while sleeping--and even at the time I thought that was disastrous.

Wage increases were based on how much extra effort you put forth. The division boss as much as said that 120% was the starting point. 100% wasn't enough. Your salary wouldn't even keep pace with inflation unless you put forth 150% or more.

...and after 9/11, after people had been working to this standard for a year, it was announced that all "merit increases" were canceled that year. So: work your ass off, and maybe you will get enough of a raise next year to keep pace with inflation. If there isn't some kind of emergency or something that requires that we cut payroll and lay people off.

I have always thought of wage increases as the result of experience: after you've done a job for a year, you've got more experience, you know more, you're that much more valuable as a worker--but that's not the workings of the minds of people whose bonuses are based on stock prices. If I can cut my payroll another 10%, I can make an extra $30,000! So screw those little people; they can find other jobs making hamburgers or changing adult diapers or stocking shelves. I'll cut payroll by 10% and be a hero!

So the little dictator got his bonus that year (everyone got bonuses but no raises) and a bunch of people were on the street at a time when the tech sector was in the toilet. Heck, I even got a bonus--I was on the payroll, drawing my severance benefits, just long enough--and it paid my rent for January 2002. But I searched for a job, fruitlessly, for over a year--October of 2001 until January 2003--and after May of 2002 I was looking for anything, not just tech work.

I couldn't even get a job mixing paint.

...until October, when I got a job at Target, stocking shelves, as seasonal help. As jobs go it wasn't bad, but it consistently interfered with my CNA classes, so I ended up quitting that job.

Big mistake. If I knew then what I know now, I would have ditched the CNA classes and stuck to Target like glue--because I, after all was said and done, ended up working at Target anyway.

*sigh*

* * *

By the way, this should fulfill this entire fiscal quarter's "O Gawd it SUX 2 B me" quotient, which is required of all LiveJournal users. No, seriously, it's in the Terms of Service, somewhere beneath the bit about what happens to people who use the service for terror-related activities without prior written permission.

Hopefully I won't need to do that again for a while. But if I do, you can always just skip it. That's what I'd do.