Saturday, August 30, 2008

1983 Jane and the Dragon

Saturday, August 30, 2008

I love "Jane and the Dragon". It's on my local NBC affiliate at 9 am Saturday, and I've been known to get up early on Saturday just for Jane.

I love the stories, the characters, the animation (the expressions and tiny movements are perfect), the colors and shading, everything.

You can watch an episode here:

Friday, August 29, 2008

1982 Oh, Come ON!

Friday, August 29, 2008

On behalf of all women, I am insulted by McCain's choice. I'm sure there were many more qualified candidates, so his choice of this particular one seems very disingenuous.

Does he really think Hillary's pantsuit brigade is so easily swayed?

At least she isn't Black. Then I'd have to be insulted on behalf of Black males, too.

(It wouldn't be so insulting if she were at least well known and/or highly experienced, if she brought more to the table than gender. Alaska is suing the federal government over the designation of the polar bear as endangered, because it might hurt oil drilling. So I guess she takes the proper Republican stand on energy, anyway.)

(Note - a lot of Mensans were excited, until they found out it was Sarah, not Michael.)

1981 Breakthrough

Friday, August 29, 2008

I know a lot of people who are in or have been in some kind of counseling or psychotherapy, from myself to Jay, Daughter, several current friends, and more. Something I've noticed is that those who are, seem to need it least. There are a lot more who aren't "seeing someone", who should. We're all a little warped. The healthiest people are just more likely to admit it.

An aside - when I was in college and dating Ex#1, he and his social group considered any type of counseling to be an admission of weakness, that a "real man" never admitted any emotional problem. When Ex#2 and I were in marriage counseling, he asked me not to let it slip to his father, because his father would be disgusted, think him a wimp, that he couldn't control his life or his wife.

The big change since the '70s, when I was in intensive analysis, is that back then talk therapy was the path to realization. Now it seems like medication is the first choice. That's the effect of insurance companies - they'd rather pay for pills than ongoing (no end in sight?) therapy.

I do agree that there are some conditions where medication is most effective. But I insist that there are others where medication fixes nothing. It just covers things up.

Most of us carry a lot of emotional baggage, things that people said to us or did to us in the past, that affect how we react now. It's for that kind of problem that medication is merely coverup, and where talk therapy is most effective and necessary. Unfortunately, most talk therapy seems to consist of "what happened, how did you react, why, what could you have done differently" and so on. Trying to change behavior, to change reactions.

That's often not the problem.

The problem is that we believed what other people have told us about ourselves.

People with enormous influence when we were most vulnerable told us we were stupid, or worthless, or incapable. That we were fat, or ugly (like when my mother described my nose as "all over my face"), or it was always our fault when things went wrong. And then when things did go wrong, as they inevitably will sometimes, we accepted it as proof that we are stupid, incapable, ugly, worthless. Maybe it doesn't show up front, but it's always there in the background.

So we believed them. We incorporated their judgment as part of our self image.

In these cases, the goal of talk therapy should not be simply to change behavior, but to lead to a realization that those people were WRONG! They told us lies to make themselves look good. Their need for control, their need to win, caused them to define us as lesser, and we believed them.

If we believed them, it is not proof that we were stupid, only that we trusted them. We were vulnerable. It starts when we are very young, the self-deprecation ground is broken, and from then on the predators out there recognize us as fertile ground.

The breakthrough comes when we realize that they lied to us. They were wrong, not us. When we are able to look at ourselves through our OWN eyes, not theirs, and realize that the real "me" is quite different from what we had been told we are, then we are able to finally be ourselves --- the good, strong, smart, capable, generous, creative, nice person we are, but they didn't want us to be.

1980 Dating Thoughts

Friday, August 29, 2008

A certain early-20's-something blogger (a very nice-looking, intelligent, funny guy) has decided to try online dating, and has put his proposed profile out for comment. Almost all his 35 commenters have told him not to mention booze and bars so much. It sounds like that's his main interest in life.

Having read his blog for the past year, I'm aware that he has other interests, but bars and booze do seem to be the only way he knows to socialize. That means most of the girls he's been meeting are also boozers and barflies. I'm not surprised that nothing works out. I recommended that perhaps he needs not to change his profile, but to change his lifestyle. Other social activities might yield and ultimately attract more of the kind of women he wants to meet.

That got me thinking about how I've met most of the men in my life, and how would I go about meeting a man now (if I were in the market, that is).

I'd never realized it before, but ALL of the relationships I've had that were at least temporarily satisfying were with men I met either through work, or through Mensa.

With the guys I met "on the street", so to speak, it seems like right from the start it was work keeping it going. Of course there was something about him that attracted me, and kept me trying, but there was a lot of head butting and eye rolling on both sides until finally I (or he, but usually I) gave up.

I think it was a matter of similar experiences, education, taste, opinion, and values. I think I was more likely to find that similarity in a coworker or Mensan.


(Of course, it's possible I'm just too demanding and stubborn, and will compromise only so far, but I like me that way.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

1979 Fuel Oil Deals

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I finally got the "deal" letter from my oil company, you know, where you can lock in a maximum price for the winter's fuel oil by paying up front for a set number of gallons. It arrived just before I left for last weekend, and I didn't look at it in detail until today. The deadline for signing up is tomorrow!

I normally use about 800 gallons per winter. The way it used to work was that they'd offer a maximum of say $4 per gallon maximum. So I'd sign up and hand them a check for $3200. Then when they delivered the oil, they'd charge my account whatever the price was that day, but no more than $4/gal. So if the price dropped to $3.50, I could end the winter with money left over that rolled over into the next winter's account.

The choice was to take it or leave it.

This year they've got a lot more choices, and with a head full of phlegm I'm having a terrible time trying to figure it out.

  1. I can sign up for Price Cap, which means I'll pay no more than $4.99 per gallon, less if the price drops, due at delivery. I have to pay $127 to sign up for this.
  2. I can enroll in EZ Pay, which spreads fuel bills over 10 months. If I didn't also sign up for Price Cap above, I'll pay whatever the price is at the time of delivery. If I did also sign up for Price Cap, the maximum is $4.89 per gallon, or less if the price drops. I don't know how they figure out what the monthly payment is, and I think it's weird that the price is lower even though they get their money later.
  3. I can pre-purchase 800 gallons at $4.54 per gallon paid up front in a lump sum. I gather this is not a cap, it's a flat price, so if the price drops below $4.54 I lost the bet.
  4. I can pre-purchase 800 gallons at $4.64 per gallon, to be paid in five equal payments, the first due up front, otherwise the same as #3.

I'm going a bit crazy trying to figure it out. The old "just plain cap" was obviously a good deal. But being offered four different prices like this is confusing. It's a bet. If I go with option #3 and the price drops lower, I lose.

It looks like their price is determined not so much by the market as by the payment plan.

I've pretty much decided on #3, IF they will let me put it on a credit card, because it'll take me 10 days at least to put together $3632, and they'll want the money by tomorrow. If they won't take the credit card, then I might go for #4.

Whatever, I obviously have to go to the oil company office today. I'm dripping from the nose. I'm breathing through my mouth not so much because of nasal congestion as that breathing through my nose makes me sneeze. Attempts to talk or laugh make me cough. But if the freakin' oil company sends out offers like this with ONE WEEK to figure it out and get your response and check back to them, well, they deserve to be exposed to my germs. So there!

1978 Weekend Escape Photos

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I mentioned the view from the room. This photo shows four of the six window panels on one wall. That wall met another wall at a less than 90 degree angle, came to a point in the corner, and that wall had the same set of windows, which made it feel like the room was hanging out there in the air. This photo makes it look gloomy outside, but I think it was just the camera, or reflection on the glass. It was actually very sunny. I took other photos of the room and out the windows, but all the others have bad reflections on the glass, or The Man in them.

Us at Mall of America. Go ahead and laugh. I chopped out all identifying characteristics, and cropped the biggest identifier off the bottom. No, not that - his legs. They're very long.
Mary and me again. Why do I look so fat? Could it be the 10 pounds I've gained in the past year? Ten pounds on me is a lot, because my legs are so short. Sigh. Back to the celery sticks, I guess. And NO MORE Starbucks frap crap. A minimizer bra would help, but I can't breathe in them. Maybe if we just pushed 'em together more toward the center?

The shirt he chose for me, in an attempt to pass me off as a fan. I liked it a lot better than the jerseys other women were wearing. He's got good taste.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

1977 Backlog of Photos

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I've been using a disposable digital camera (which takes terrible photos, by the way), and you can't download from a disposable, so I had to wait until it was full to have the pharmacy folks put them on a disk. So there's quite a backlog here.

Actually, if it weren't for the IRS, we wouldn't have them today. I'm sick. My head is full of virus. I wouldn't have gone out at all today (I wouldn't have even got dressed), but I absolutely had to mail some tax stuff, and the pharmacy happens to be across the street from the post office.

I hope the tax stuff gets where it's supposed to go. My head hurt, so I just sort of made up an address for the envelope.

The flamingo flock in a rough part of my side yard:

There are 30 of them, in four different colors.

The flowers from the handsome biker:
The Moroccan ewer comes up to mid-thigh on me; the tips of the flowers were over my head. There's more than a dozen stems there. I guess some are hiding behind others.

The view up through the cleared woods to the house:

Me, after melting through a day at the Renaissance Faire, and enjoying a breeze:
The kid who took the photo was very tall, shooting down on me. That works to smooth out my neck, but it does terrible things to my body. See what I meant about the laces gaping by the end of the day?

And that's some of the things I've mentioned in the past few months. (I've got to get the REAL digital camera in action.) Next, A few photos from last weekend. Very few of those came out, and those that did have The Man in them, and I don't have permission to put his face here. Tsk. (No, I didn't ask. Because I know what the answer would be.)

1976 Check Your Tires!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This is a 20/20 segment on tires. I didn't know that tires dry out sitting in the warehouse. (I did know that certain gases, like those given off by electric motors, would make rubber brittle.) After about six or seven years, there's a danger of tread separation at highway speeds.

So, one would think there's no problem, since you usually have to replace the tires every few years anyway, right? Wrong. Stores are selling tires as new that are already 10 or more years old. They're unused, but in no way new!

This clip tells you how to find and decode the manufacture date. Now pardon me while I go out and crawl under my car.


1975 Weekend Escape, Sunday

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sunday, another room service breakfast, more milk for the refrigerator. We had noticed on Saturday that there was an aquarium at the Mall of America, according to the signs, "the world's largest underground aquarium", which had The Man snorting, "Just how many underground aquariums are there in the world?" So, we decided to go back and check it out. We stopped at the airport on the way to the mall, so The Man could check his bag.

The aquarium really wasn't all that big, I've seen larger, but yup, sure 'nough, those others weren't underground.

They seemed to specialize in sharks, swordfish, turtles, and rays, and it was one of those tubes you walk through with the fish swimming over your head. They did have some cool fish I'd never seen before, some really weird shapes. The Man commented that it was proof God had off-days, too.

We rushed out of there at 1:45 to go to the airport. Our flight departure time was 4:27 pm, and he had to return the car and all.

We got to the gate area a hair before 4. Delta. In all my years of travel, I have never seen any airline pull as underhanded a trick as Delta did on Sunday afternoon. It was amazing.

It was a small plane, one of those with 2 seats on each side of the aisle, and all one class. Maybe 80 seats or so? We had assigned seats, right from the moment the reservations had been made. But apparently the flight had been badly oversold. There were about 20 angry people at the gate desk, who apparently had tickets but couldn't get a seat assignment.

The airline started making announcements every few minutes begging people to give up a seat for $200 and a seat on "the next flight to NYC" (note they didn't say JFK). The Man checked his Blackberry. There WAS NO flight, not Delta and not any other airline, until the next morning, AND the next morning's flights were all full anyway, AND they went to La Guardia, not JFK. Good luck getting back to your car. And locating any checked baggage, which would have gone to JFK on this flight. Nope. $200 isn't nearly enough. There were apparently no takers.

At 4:25 I poked The Man and pointed out the window, "Um, notice anything missing?" We're supposed to depart in two minutes, and not only are we not on the plane, there's no plane out there.

At 4:27, Delta announced that the flight would be "delayed two hours. The new departure time is 6:27 pm." No explanation for the delay.

People grumbled. Many gathered up their stuff and left, presumably headed for restrooms, or restaurants, or out where they could smoke. The Man joked that we could go back to the mall. There happened to be a bar right next to our gate, so The Man and I took a table in there, where he had a beer, I had hot tea, and we both had a sandwich.

It turned out to be a very lucky choice. At 5:40, Delta announced that our flight was loading. They rushed everyone who happened to be in the gate area onto the plane, closed the doors, and moved us out away from the gate within minutes.

I was shocked. What about all the people with confirmed assigned seats who were going to show up at 6 pm, and find the plane gone? It's likely that the folks who were still in the gate area were the oversold folks, hanging around hoping for something to crack. A flight that had been oversold by 25% took off with at least 10 empty seats - at least that's how many we could count from our seats in the middle.

This is about the dirtiest trick I've ever seen from an airline. You've got too many people? Well, just get rid of a bunch of them. I can't imagine what Delta had to deal with when all those people showed up and found out the plane had left without them.

It gets weirder.

We arrived at JFK and followed the signs to the baggage carousels. There were only two, both Delta. There was a group of people at one of them collecting their bags, but it wasn't our flight. We waited and waited, all the other people left, the sign never changed to show our flight, and no more bags came out. Apparently nobody else on our flight had checked bags?

By now it was after 10 pm, close to 11. Everything in the terminal was closed. There were no people around. We finally found a man with a employee badge and asked where the bags from our flight were. (He didn't speak English very well, and the ensuing conversation was frustrating.) He told us we were at the wrong terminal. This is terminal 3. That flight landed at terminal 2. The Man said that he just got off the flight, at THIS terminal. The employee insisted no, our flight had landed at terminal 2 two hours ago (the original arrival time). The Man was close to exploding. "The flight was delayed. I know where I landed, and when I landed!" But it was obvious we weren't going to get anywhere with the old man, who continued to insist we had arrived at a different terminal two hours ago.

We supposed that it was possible that although we got off at terminal 3, maybe the bags had been taken to terminal 2. So The Man set off to check. He came back with his bag a half hour later. It had been circling a carousel all by itself. We were lucky it was still there.

Due to bad signs at the train terminal, it took a little over an hour more to get to the car in the long term lot.

We needed gas, but both of us were low on cash, and it took three stops in Queens to figure out that none of the gas stations open at 1:00 am would accept a credit card unless you were willing to leave it in the tender care of the attendant while you were pumping. At the third station I dug out a forgotten $20 bill from the bottom of my purse, and we used that.

I've noticed that when The Man is pressured, he needs to eat. He gets tense. Maybe it's a blood sugar thing, maybe not. But it's a good idea to feed him when he says he's hungry. It was another hour to the hotel parking lot where we'd left my car.

Back when I booked the flights, I had figured that the plane would land before 8, and I'd be home by 11 pm. But now it would be 2:30 am before we got to my car, and that would be without feeding The Man. He was concerned about my driving home so late, so tired, so without consulting me, he called the hotel where my car was waiting, and made a reservation for both of us.

I finally got home at about 11 am Monday.

Somewhere along the line, I picked up a virus. Hot throat, coughing, running nose, aching neck and back muscles.

But, I had a really good time. I can't wait to do it again!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

1974 Weekend Escape, Saturday

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Saturday morning we had a late breakfast in the room. I got my usual two eggs sunny-side-up with toast and bacon, etc. He got scrambled eggs, and, this I don't understand, cereal. Two or three boxes of cereal arrived, with three pints of milk. He's lactose intolerant. He didn't eat the cereal. When we left on Sunday, there were six pints of milk left in the refrigerator. Duh? I didn't ask.

Then we went to Mall of America!

I had been hearing about this place for literally years, about how big it is, and how it has water slides and a roller coaster and all kinds of amusement park rides right inside! I was excited to actually be going there.

Well, yeah, it's big. But somehow, when you've built up something in your head for so long, the reality never meets expectations.

Take a big mall near you, a two-story one. Now make it four or five stories. That's one piece. Now copy it three more times, and place them around an open square in the middle, like a fat "+" sign, or a donut made out of rectangles. In that open center, pack an amusement park and throw a roof over it. And that's pretty much it.

What impressed me most was that there were gazillions of stores, and they were all open. No empty slots. The rent there must be astronomical, and most of the people seemed to be just walking around, the stores weren't really all that busy, so I don't know how they manage to survive.

The other thing that impressed me was The Man. There were only two stores he was interested in, one that sold PBS Lake Wobegon stuff, and the other was the "Vikings Locker Room" (or something like that). And I know he hates walking. "Drive to the deli across the street" kind of hate. And he is quintessential man, he doesn't "shop", he "goes and gets it". But he gave me the full walking tour of the mall. We must have put miles on his shoes, and he never once complained. I love when he does stuff like that for me. I guess that's why I fall in love with him all over again every time I see him.

We bought me a Vikings shirt in the Locker Room. A very nice one. Photo tomorrow, I promise.

An early dinner, a change into fan gear, and then we walked the several blocks to the stadium. It's completely enclosed, domed against the Minnesota winters. The game was at 7 pm I think, but he wanted to get there early. I hadn't asked if we had "good" seats. It didn't matter to me. All I knew was that they were season tickets.

Turns out they were two of "the four best seats in the house". Bottom row, centered on the 50-yard line, behind the Vikings bench.

I know absolutely nothing about football, but I enjoyed it anyway. I enjoyed his reactions. And the seat happened to fit me perfectly.

At the end of the fourth quarter, the score was Steelers 9, Vikings 10. The Steelers were pushing down the field, and there were four seconds left on the clock, when suddenly all the Steelers guys ran off the field and another bunch ran on. They were going to try for a field goal.

And then, and then --- the Vikings called a time out.

The Man freaked. Four seconds? Time out? Hey, why not give them time to get organized and set up, hey?

Well, the Steelers made the field goal, and won, 12 to 10. The Man may never recover. For the next 36 hours, about every 15 minutes, he said "Four seconds, and they call a time out? I don't get it." He kept asking me to explain it, like I might have an answer. It was cute, but one didn't dare laugh. Sympathy definitely required.

That evening in the hotel bar, a scout for some other team, a player who has a superbowl ring from a few years ago, The Man knew who he was, was sitting next to The Man at the bar, and they had an interesting conversation. The other guy couldn't figure it out either, except that it was a pre-season game, so it didn't really matter, and maybe they wanted to try something different. Who knows what.

Then end of day. I had huge blisters on my littlest toes from all the walking in the wrong shoes.

1973 Weekend Escape, Friday

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We flew to Minneapolis on Friday, arriving in mid-afternoon. The Man had reserved two rental cars, one a sedan and the other a sport convertible. He'd decide which to choose depending on the weather when we arrived. I was a little disappointed when he decided on the sedan (it was a bit cool), because the convertible happened to be one on my "possibilities" list. He didn't know that. Tsk.

He took me on a driving tour of the city, showed me around. Everything seems so new. There are some really nice apartment and condo buildings. I don't much care for apartments, but I could actually see myself living in many of those. (Well, ok, a summer home!)

I'm always impressed with the accommodations The Man provides. This time it wasn't a suite, didn't have a Jacuzzi or a fireplace, or a second bathroom upstairs like other places we've stayed. It was just a large room with the usual sitting area and desk. BUT! It was on the 30th floor, in a wedge that sort of stuck out from the main bulk of the building. The two "wedge" walls were windows, about 30 feet of glass altogether on the two sides, coming to a point, with a wonderful view of the city. Amazing. It included a complete room service breakfast each morning. Photos tomorrow, I promise.

Dinner at the hotel, and then a walk to an NFL-ware store a few blocks from the hotel. It was one of The Man's favorite stores, and he was very disappointed that it was going out of business. He wanted to find something for me to wear to the game on Saturday, but they had very little left, so he just bought a few hats to add to his collection.

Drinks at the hotel bar, then collapse.

Monday, August 25, 2008

1972 Minneapolis

Monday, August 25, 2008

I was in Minneapolis this past weekend. I drove south Thursday evening to stay closer to JFK airport that night, met The Man Friday morning, and we flew to Minneapolis Friday, arriving before dinnertime. Got home this morning.

I love Minneapolis. The "city" part is small. As you approach it on the highway from the airport, it looks like someone tossed a handful of building seeds into a field, and watered them well after they sprouted. Tall beautiful shining buildings, clean streets, friendly people, plunk in a small cluster in the middle of the flatlands.

The photo above is me, and Mary Tyler Moore tossing her hat. She was on the corner half a block from our hotel. This is a cellphone photo taken by The Man. I had taken a disposable digital camera, so there will be other photos when I take the camera in to the pharmacy and have them put on a disk (you can't download from disposables yourself).

The purpose for the trip was a pre-season Vikings game (Steelers) on Saturday, and a visit to Mall of America.

More in subsequent posts. Right now, thanks to Delta Airlines, I'm dog tired.

1971 Visibility, Part 7 - the arbitration, Part 2

Monday, August 25, 2008

[Continued from Part 1] So the battle is on.

The problem of externals exposure existed not only in the particular product that had been copied, but throughout The Company's products.

A group was pulled together in White Plains to act as the coordinators and first level interface between the legal eagles and the software labs. They did most of the prep work for the attorneys. Four "Litigation Labs" were set up, northeast (us), southeast, west coast, and the other side of the world. Our jobs were many.

We received code from the competitor, and tore it apart to identify the copied portions. That, actually, was the reason for the high building security. We reviewed every manual for every product, to identify exposed internals and direct the publication departments in removing those references. We reviewed all new design documents to ensure that proper user exits were provided, and no new internals were exposed. We translated "legalese" into terms the lab programmers and design folks could understand, and translated lab concerns into terms the attorneys could understand. We educated pubs people and programmers in the whys and wherefores of the new rules. We had final approval on all new releases, and were very strict - schedules be damned. (I was finally in my element!)

I, personally, had responsibility for compliance of 35 products in 5 programming labs: 3 large operating systems and 32 major applications.

Now, the saying is that if you have a hammer for a tool, everything looks like a nail. The first claim of the competitors was that it was the manuals, the publications, that exposed the internals. So when corporate set up the departments to contain and correct the problem, they recruited pubs people. That whole top layer in White Plains were pubs people. They wanted the manuals cleaned up. All presentations and lab education was aimed toward what should be documented, and what should not. We in the Litigation Labs were not allowed to put together our own presentations or classes - we had to use foils developed by them and approved by the attorneys. At first, the only people we were to work with were the pubs people.

Fine. I agree we had to start sensitizing the publications departments. BUT - the folks in White Plains seemed to think that when the pubs were clean, the job was done.

I was shocked. The problem was not simply in the publications, it was in the design! Internal control blocks were exposed to the customer because no other means for debugging or plugging in had been provided. A few of us in our litigation lab had come from programming and design, and I was able to convince them that unless the design area in particular was sensitized to the issue, the concept of "black box", they were going to continue to design transparent functions. This would put the pubs people in a tough spot - design is going to continue to hand them transparent customer interfaces, which the pubs people would then not be allowed to document.

We HAD to get to design, too.

Well, surprise. Everyone who had come from design understood the problem, but none of them were willing to take it on as an issue. Do the assigned job and get out.

I fought it, all the way. Eventually everyone in White Plains also understood that the problem was larger than initially thought. We still had customers out there plugging right into the code. We had to identify them, and provide proper exits, otherwise we were still exposed to the argument that all that code was an external interface. We had to teach the design departments to provide proper "plugs", and hide everything else.

Everybody understood, that is, but Sue. Sue was one of those people who somehow found herself in rarefied air, and knew deep down that she didn't belong there. She seemed to be deathly afraid of being found out. She constantly "ran scared", freaked out daily. I heard, but don't know as a fact, that her previous department wanted to get rid of her, but she wouldn't accept transfers, so when White Plains was looking for pubs people, they figured that was one job she wouldn't turn down. I also heard, but don't know for fact, that she was hired in because she was Asian, and they needed someone who could read Japanese, and then after she got there, they discovered she could neither read nor speak Japanese. It could be both.

Sue was, of course, my interface in White Plains. I'm lucky that way. She was a complete ass. I had called a meeting with design in Endicott one time, and she decided to attend. The topic was the design for some function whereby they required that the customer know how certain algorithms worked and what bits were set in certain control blocks in order to use the function. This was an obvious violation. I was sitting down with the designers to explain what was wrong with it, and to figure out with them how we could redesign the function so that the internal operation would be hidden. All it required was a front-end, and we were talking about what the front-end could expose.

Well, Sue objected. She insisted that the design was fine as is. All they had to do was NOT document the customer interface. "Just don't say this, and don't say that...." She didn't understand that that would make it completely unusable, and force the customer to reverse engineer the code to use it, which is the worst scenario imaginable.

Because her desk was in White Plains, she decided she outranked me (she didn't), and she thought this meant she could interrupt me and "correct" me at will.

In short, I finally lost it. She and I ended up both standing on opposite sides of the conference room table, leaning on the table with our faces about a foot apart, screaming at each other. The lead designer called a break, and during the break, he said that I'm right, anyone can see that, and, um, how 'bout we end the meeting now, and resume in two hours without telling Sue. Which we did.

I spent four years fighting with her. My coworkers had occasional dealings with her, and they asked me how I could stand it.

In the third year, my manager put me in for promotion. It had to be approved by the director. The director asked the person in White Plains who worked most closely with me whether I deserved promotion. Of course, Sue said no.

In the fourth year, my manager put me in for promotion. It had to be approved by the director. The director asked the person in White Plains who worked most closely with me whether I deserved promotion. Of course, Sue said no. (Sue wasn't getting promotions either. Had I been promoted, I'd have been a higher grade than she.)

And then The Company, who under previous CEOs rarely fired anyone - they'd shift people around until they found the right spot - warned the world that there would be major cuts in personnel. "RIF"s. Reduction in force. The Mid-Hudson Valley was going to lose several thousand jobs. Transfer somewhere else now, or die.

They offered packages to people who were willing to quit or retire. The "easy out" retirement package included lifetime medical, and five years added to your time, and a very healthy severance check (for me, it was a year's salary), and assistance finding another job. If you didn't volunteer and were RIF'd, you got next to nothing. Just fired.

Our litigation lab headcount was under White Plains, not the Mid-Hudson valley labs, so no one in our group was going to lose a job (although I understand two people were strongly advised to take the offer since it would probably be the best they'd ever see). However, since our payroll paperwork was handled in Poughkeepsie, we were eligible for the package anyway. The cuts would be announced on April 1, 1993. Jay and I were planning to get married, so we waited until the end of the day on April 1. If he was RIF'd, I'd keep my job. If he still had a job, I'd volunteer for the retirement package.

More than nine thousand local people lost their jobs that day, but Jay wasn't one of them.** On April 2, I went in to my manager, and told him I was taking the easy out, and he freaked. Six of the ten** in the department planned to take it, including him. He said that he was afraid that if Martha and I left, they wouldn't let him leave.

We all kind of figured that the spotlight was going to turn on headquarters sometime, and since we were under their headcount, we'd all be sacrificed before any of them, and there'd never again be a package as good as this one.

And that's why and when I left the company. In constantly pissing off Sue, I broke rule #10.


** The next year, 1994, they did it again - RIF'd a few thousand more people, including Jay and the remainder of the Litigation Lab. From April 1993 to April 1994, about 13,000 local folks were out of work. The real estate market tanked. Job losses rippled throughout the surrounding communities. Thirteen thousand computer professionals were turned loose on a depressed job market, and even if they did manage to find another job, they couldn't sell their house to move.

The second severance package was much much MUCH less attractive. I did really well taking the first one when I did.

Remember Peter, from Visibility Part 4? Uh huh. And Sue? Disappeared. I don't feel at all guilty gloating. For once, I got something good at the right time.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

1970 Visibility, Part 7 - the arbitration, Part 1

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Well, after the events of the previous posts, I'd about had it with that particular product area. I had achieved my goal - I had a lot of technical respect, people listened when I spoke up in meetings, but it looked like nobody was going to give me any credit for anything I did. Fooey on them.

I heard via the grapevine that there was a new group being put together in Poughkeepsie, reporting directly to Corporate in White Plains, and they were looking for people who were good at reviewing documents, and understood external interfaces. I contacted the manager of that group, and he requested my transfer.

What we were working on was highly confidential. We had an entire building to ourselves. No Company programmers or designers would be allowed in our office section of the building. If they had to come for any purpose, we received them in conference rooms in an unused part of the building. We ten had our own raised floor with any hardware we wanted. We had a kitchen. We had huge offices with windows! The external entries were double-locked, and there was an internal work area with more double locks, cameras, and motion detectors. Our manager was on loan from Corporate, and reported directly to a Director.

When I later left The Company, I was enjoined for ten years from even talking about what we had worked on, and if I wanted to apply for a job with any other company in the same business, competitor or not, I had to get the approval of The Company first, as part of the conditions of my retirement.

The ten years are up. I can talk about it. I can't imagine that it could possibly be of any concern at this point.

Imagine a black box with several holes that you can plug things into. Certain information goes into the box, and certain information comes out. If you know exactly what the input should look like, and what the output looks like, and what the box does, then you don't need to know what's inside the box to plug things into it. That's "plug compatible."

It's perfectly acceptable for a competitor to create a box, hardware or software, that does the same thing as your box. They can copy the inputs and outputs, the "plugs", also known as the externals. What they can't copy is what's inside the box, the internals.

A certain non-American competitor had developed a large mainframe very similar to (well, exactly like) ours. They wanted to build an operating system for it also very similar to (well, exactly like) ours, so that they could move customer applications off our hardware and onto theirs with the promise that everything would work exactly the same. "Plug compatible." And that's what they did, and they started shipping it to their customers.

Within weeks of the competitor's first ship, The Company service centers started getting strange calls for assistance. The callers were getting operating system error messages that said, essentially, "If you see this message, call [The Company] service center at [phone number]....", so, of course, they did. The weird thing was that they were not running our hardware or software. Hmmmm.

The halls of the White Plains legal department were filled with the clash of armor being buckled on, the rattle of swords against shields, and the neighs of 747 steeds champing at the bit.

In a distant country halfway around the world, heads were already rolling.

Sounds pretty cut and dried, eh?

Nope. First off, international copyright law, especially as pertains to computer software, wasn't very clear in the late '80s/early '90s. Also, what court had jurisdiction could affect the outcome.

Plus, the competitor had a defense that was difficult to counter.

Their argument was that our customer manuals document everything. We listed every control block down to the byte and bit level. We did not provide convenient exits for customers to add or change function - instead we allowed them to actually change internal code to branch out to their added function, including the ability to manipulate those internal control blocks. In a misguided attempt to satisfy everybody, we had opened the entire operating system to the customer. In a nutshell, since no one was able to determine where and how the customers were manipulating the internals, the internals had become externals, and therefore it was not only permissible to copy them, it was necessary in order to achieve plug compatibility.

They had copied pretty much the entire system. (Many programmers, when they're proud of something they wrote, put their names in the comments. A cursory glance at the competitor's source code, when it was provided during legal discovery, revealed names of The Company programmers. Either the programmers were moonlighting with a competitor, or....)

The parties decided to go to arbitration.

[Continued in #1971 Visibility, Part 7 - the arbitration, Part 2, coming soon to a blog near you.]

1969 Visibility, Part 6 - the search tool

Sunday, August 24, 2008

At the end of the compatibility project (previous post) we had a lot of "design approved" external incompatibilities which may or may not adversely affect customer applications and automated procedures, but no one had any idea which were serious. No one had any idea what the customer actually depended on (which in my opinion they should have known BEFORE deciding which ones would be allowed).

When I took incompatibilities to Peter's group, I wanted to be able to argue for or against them with some idea of the impact. So I wrote a search tool, that would scan applications and procedures for use of those particular commands or response texts. It was slow and cumbersome, and produced reams of output, very little of which was actually useful, but it was sufficient for my needs, because I knew exactly what I was looking for. I obtained actual applications and procedures from other installations within the company, who pretty much replicated customer usage, and got a pretty good idea of an incompatibility's impact.

Peter's design department was charged with writing a guide for customers, so they'd know what to expect, what they'd probably have to watch out for or change when they ported to the new operating system.

Somebody, somewhere, somehow, decided that my scanner should be released to the customers. Somebody came up with the description "automated identification of incompatibilities", and it sounded good.

I argued strongly against it. It's too slow. It's too cumbersome. It puts out too much useless information. It's just for my own use, I never expected anyone else to use it. There's no documentation with it. Hey folks, it's really REALLY bad! I really don't want my name associated with this dog.

It was released anyway, on the recommendation of Peter's group. With my name on it. Because they didn't want to do the work and they thought this was the easy way out.

And then the customer reviews started coming in.
We can't figure out how to use it.
It's too cumbersome.
It's too slow.
There's too much useless information that must be sifted by hand.
There are too many false hits.
This is a piece of garbage.
... and on and on, from every customer who received it.

And my name was on the damn thing. Product-wide visibility.

Sorry, Peter, but this didn't make up for the other thing....

But thanks a lot anyway.