Friday, August 29, 2008

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Update on the Drowning Tragedy

The owner of the pool has been cited for not properly securing the pool. Other pool owners in the neighborhood have also been ticketed. The city is cracking down on this (finally).

Bellevue police have also charged the grandmother with misdemeanor child neglect. Their public statement was that it was a difficult decision to make, but the law was very clear. It is now in the hands of the District Attorney, who may or may not take it further.

Monday, August 25, 2008

PCLinuxOS Saves the Day ... Again

Thursday, my daughter’s Dell Inspiron laptop was working fine. She finished as usual, just closing the lid, which puts the laptop in suspend/hibernate mode.

Friday evening, she opened the lid, and got … nothing. It was plugged into power, the indicator light was on, but the screen remained totally blank. She tried moving the mouse, clicking buttons, pressing keys. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Finally, in desperation, she hit the power button.

When she booted it back up, she got the comforting splash screen, then it cleared, and … nothing. Just a little blinking cursor in the upper left corner.

Saturday, she called me and said, “I need help.”

Ramblings of a Professional Computer Geek


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Neighborhood Tragedy

I'm just trying to get my thoughts and reactions down, before they're gone....

Saturday lunchtime. The neighbor girls are playing out front with my grandkids, and some other neighborhood kids. The oldest girl is 14, but has Down's Syndrome, I'm guessing mental capacity of about a three or four year old. The younger girl, her niece, is 2 and a half. Three weeks younger than my own granddaughter.

At 1:30, we need to take my oldest grandson to a birthday party / sleepover at a friend's house. (15-yr-olds and XBox360s. Go figure.) I send the neighbor girls home. No, you can't go into my house. No, you aren't going in my car. I point them in the right direction, and give them a gentle push. We get my grandkids loaded into the car, and, as we leave the house, I see the older girl sitting on her front step, and the baby opening their front screen door.

We drop the oldest grandson off at his friend's place, and chat for a few minutes with the parents. Then we take the rest of the kids to Dairy Twist for an ice cream cone. About 2:30, as we are driving home, just a few blocks away, my wife points out the window. "Isn't that Monica? What's she doing up here, by herself?" The older neighbor girl is walking up the hill, away from her house. Since we aren't sure if she knows us well enough to get in the car with us, we drive the last few block to home, and see a police car in the neighbor's driveway.

We asked if they were looking for Monica. They said yes, so we told them where we had just seen her. Her brother took off right away, and the policeman foll wed a minute later. Then her sister asked if Katie, the two-year-old, her daughter, had been with her. She was missing, too.

My wife immediately headed across the street and through the playground, and up the hill, which was the most direct route to where we had seen Monica. If Katie had been with her, she might have been lagging behind, up the hill. Other neighbors came over, and started searching in other places. One said she had seen them in the park behind our houses, watching the planes from the Air Force Week Air Show going on just then. A couple of neighbors headed to check out the obvious routes back from the park, since they hadn't just used the gate to their own back yard.

Time passed. My wife and the brother were asking people out watching the Air Show if they had seen Katie. Nobody had. The police were trying to get whatever information they could from Monica. All she said was that Katie was at the pool. There is no public pool in the neighborhood. It had to be a private, backyard pool. People immediately started checking every yard for a pool.

About 3:15 a motorcycle cop went screaming down our street, siren blaring. A moment later, a police car followed. A few minutes later, we heard an ambulance siren in the distance. Then a neighbor's 16-yr-old daughter came running up the street as fast as she could. They had found Katie, face down in a pool, about 3 block away. Nobody was home. They were trying to resuscitate her now. They family jumped in a car and headed that way. A little later, we heard the ambulance leaving for the hospital.

Around 5:00 the grandfather, our neighbor, got home from the hospital, in tears. They hadn't been able to save her. She was gone.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Job

I promised to write about this a while ago.

Back in September 2007, I got laid off from my job as a defense contractor. I had been with the company for eleven years, so I was "expensive". When the prime contractor on the job I was working screwed up their financials, they decided to cut costs by getting rid of developers, instead of management. And since I wasn't even a real "developer", but instead a Software Configuration Manager, plus being "expensive", and belonging to their biggest competitor, I was an "obvious" choice.

My company was able to find me a temporary position until the end of September, but at the end of the fiscal year, they couldn't justify the overhead of keeping me on any current contracts. So they gave me my severance pay, a pat on the back, and a reminder that my security clearance would still be good for two more years.

I expected to be out of work for only a couple weeks, at most. Given my knowledge of DoD computing systems, and the skillset I had developed over the last 25+ years, I figured I was pretty much a shoe-in. I made the rounds of smaller defense contractors working on the base. They all said I had an impressive resume, and should be able to just walk in to nearly any job they had. But, no jobs are available, right now. Check back after the holidays, when hiring picks up. Everywhere I went it was the same story. You'd be a great fit, but we can't use you right now.

I ended up going on Unemployment, and basically sitting around the house over the winter. I'd make a couple of job searches/applications every week, just to continue to qualify for my weekly unemployment checks, but nobody was hiring. Finally, in February, with resumes posted on a couple of world-wide sites, I began to get a few hits. Harris was interested in having me come down to Florida's Space Coast to work with NASA. Sounded promising, but I was still hoping for something in the Omaha area. (I've been here since 1984. I've put down roots! It would have been a severe hardship, for my wife, especially, to move so far away.) I asked them to keep my name in the hopper for a few weeks, while I waited to see what else came up. (To their credit, they did just that.)

Raytheon called me about working as a Software Configuration Manager on a new project down in Dallas/Fort Worth. They offered me a 35% pay raise in conjunction with it. Looking very promising. But, again, it's a long way from Omaha. I put them on hold, too. Meanwhile, the local Raytheon office contacted me about doing SCM for a project on base. I asked only one question: "Is this on the ISPAN contract?" That's what I had been doing when I got laid off, and I was pretty burned out on it. They said no, it's over at AFWA. Sounding pretty good. They said they would set up an interview. Great.

Meanwhile, another local company, with no affiliation with defense contracting, found my resume, and gave me a ring. West Corporation was looking for qualified senior software engineers, to help form a core, non-client-based group to build standard system libraries, manage system-wide applications, and generally serve as an internal standards organization. Okay, that sounded kind of interesting. We set up a telephone interview for the next day.

The initial telephone interview done, I talked to my local "headhunter", who was interfacing with Raytheon for me. He pinged them about my interview with them. "As soon as we can set it up." Okay, just let me know. Then I got another call from West. I had made the initial cut, and they wanted to do a face-to-face interview. I was quite agreeable to this.

At this interview I learned that the primary language used is CLASS, a proprietary, interpreted language written in C, and maintained entirely on-site. Some applications are written using Java, with a specialized Eclipse front-end. The Java, in turn, produces VXML files that control the actual application. The most interesting thing, to me, was finding out that the applications are run almost exclusively on UNIX/Linux servers. Hundreds of them! And the starting pay would be a little more than I had been making on base. This sounded right up my alley.

The next day I got a call officially offering me the job. I thought about it for nearly a day, then called my headhunter and told him to tell Raytheon they blew it. They had had two weeks to ask me in for an interview, and hadn't seemed able to get their act together. I was accepting the offer from West. He said he couldn't blame me, and we parted friends.

Now I sit at my workstation all day having fun. I have written an Informix database / Stored Procedure backend that clients can call to get billing data for overseas telephone calls. I have written a CLASS program for an internal client (West Notifications Group) to let their clients generate their own voice messages for telephone systems. (Actually, that one ended up being a kluge of several languages/systems, to meet their specialized needs. CLASS for the main app, which calls a TCL script to validate callers against their database, using SOAP web service calls. Their voice messages are then moved to another server, where a Perl script is run every five minutes to check for new voice files, convert them to .wav format, and ftp them to the WNG server. Finally, the Perl script calls a Java routine to notify the SOAP web service that new files have been added. Phew!)

I've also updated some library routines to provide requested, added functionality, and to start making them standards-compliant. As part of my team, I have helped define the CLASS Coding Standards. Probably my biggest accomplishment to date is taking the existing online Application Developers Manual, and convert it from a mishmash of html 2, 3, and 4 code, only accessible from IE, into an xhtml-strict compliant system, using a common "look and feel" on all pages, and can be used from any web browser, even Lynx! My next plan for it is to make it PHP/java/DHTML, and handling it as true XHTML1.1, delivered as application/xhtml+xml. Except that IE can't handle that, so I have to write a bunch of IE-specific code to handle things. (Stupid Microsoft.) (Our "corporate desktop" is Windows XP, running IE, and MS Office. I spend all my time in xterm windows sshed into various Linux servers, to do my job....)

My only complaint about the job is the 20-mile commute on the freeway, each way.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

“I’m thinking about Linux, but …”

Case in point:

Here is my recent treatise on Linux, and what a new user can expect.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Just F.Y.I.

I have begun putting my "serious" Linux-related writings on my other blog, at Ramblings of a Professional Computer Geek.

I don't intend to ignore this blog. It will remain for non-Linux things.