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Journal: Going to Prague 8

Journal by The Fun Guy

After a talk I gave in Bucharest last year, my name has apparently gotten on somebody's list of "speakers worth paying for". This fall I'll be going to Prague, invited by the same parent organization as last year. Unlike the trip to Bucharest, where I was traveling alone, I've managed to convince my wife to come along on this trip. Expensive, but it's a great time of life to do it, and when's the next time she's going to see Prague?

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Journal: Rumble in Romania 4

Journal by The Fun Guy

Had a great time with Stoolpigeon in Bucharest last Saturday. I was in town for some business, and he was able to come over from Budapest on an overnight sleeper train. We walked around the old part of the city; here in the 21st century, "old" is a complicated term. Without moving more than a couple of dozen steps, you can see a multi-layered kaleidoscope of old French-style rococo architecture, Soviet-era flat concrete, post-collapse plywood and corrugated steel, and glittering mylar/neon/LCD/stainless-steel-and-glass. Often, these layers of history appear right next door to each other, or even on the very same building.

The big sight-seeing event was the Palace of the Parliament, which is an astonishing monument to dictatorial egomania. It was built to house the executive branch, both chambers of the parliament and all of the federal courts under one roof, with the dictator-for-life living in palatial splendor in the vast penthouse suite overlooking the city. It was astonishing. Neither Stoolpigeon nor I could relate to the bigness of it, or to the profound Me Me Me-ness of needing to build the biggest building in the world, then make the longest street in the world and the grandest fountain in the world around it. How disappointed Nicolae CeauÈ(TM)escu must have been (posthumously) when several of the side sections of the building were dropped from the final design, leaving it with 2% less square footage than the Pentagon, and just a bit less volume than the Great Pyramid of Cheops and the space shuttle hanger at Cape Canaveral.

The best part of the day was talking with SP and getting a much better sense of how societies function and interact in Central & Eastern Europe, from antiquity through WW I, WW II, the Soviet Era and in the 21st century. The relationships among the countries there are confounded by the strategic ambitions of the larger powers: the US, USSR/Russia, the EU member states, and, presumably, Japan and China. Thoroughly fascinating discussion.

We had a great dinner at Caru Cu Bere (link to the restaurant's homepage). Talking, eating and drinking was a bit too much fun, as it made SP miss his train. For this, I apologize to SP, Mrs. SP and the little SPs, and return him to you late but lauded. If you're ever in Philadelphia, a round of cheesesteaks awaits.

Moral: if travel ever gives you a chance to do a physical get-together with online friends, do it. I have always been glad I did.

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Journal: Checks and balances 1

Journal by The Fun Guy

I got two checks this week.

One was from Amazon KDP, for third quarter sales of a fiction anthology I wrote: $13.
The other was from a former employer, for continuing patent royalties of an chemical I helped invent: $97.

It's going to take a while (and a lot more book sales) for these to equal out.

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Journal: Questions to be answered

Journal by The Fun Guy

ArsTechnica is reporting that:

US Sen. Al Franken today demanded answers from Carrier IQ about what kind of data its software for smartphones collects and how it is used and stored. Noting that Carrier IQ has been "accused of secretly logging location and private information of millions of smartphone users," Franken forwarded the company 11 questions, many of them with multiple parts, and asked for answers by Dec. 14. ... The senator strongly hints that he believes Carrier IQ has violated various federal laws.

"Does Carrier IQ believe that its actions comply with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, including the federal wiretap statute (18 U.S.C. Â 2511 et seq.), the pen register statute (18 USC Â 3121 et seq.), and the Stored Communications Act (18 U.S.C. Â 2701 et seq.)?" Franken's letter asks. "Does Carrier IQ believe that its actions comply with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.C. Â 1030)? Why?"

It is a disturbing thing to have a U.S. Senator contact you with a list of questions they want answered by some date certain. It's one thing when you hear talk about inquiries and investigations; it is an entirely different level of gut check when the letter is addressed to you personally.

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Journal: Lego Robotics 2

Journal by The Fun Guy

The theme of the Lego Robotics competition this year is food safety. All it takes is a quick bit of Googling on "food safety", "technology", "processing", "awesome" and other obvious search terms to make me pop up to fore. In this morning's e.mail, I just got another request to serve as an expert adviser to a group of schoolkids. Given my soft spots for science, engineering and inquisitive kids, how can I say no?

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Journal: Looking around the old place 2

Journal by The Fun Guy

Shadow Wrought's JE on saying goodbye to Slashdot made me want to post a JE about... something. Anything.

I'm reminded of how last year I finally made the decision not to renew my subscription to Scientific American. After almost twenty years, I stopped. The magazine had gotten too thin, too pretty, too political. For the last couple of years, I'd get each month's issue, flip through it, maybe read one or two articles, then chuck it. Pulling the plug on it meant turning the page and moving on, something that people in general are not especially good at.

Slashdot is like that. The stories on the front page are things I've already seen on DVICE or ArsTechnica. I never get involved in the discussions, and rarely read them, even when setting the filters extra high.

I've changed, Slashdot has changed. Time to accept that and move on.

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Journal: Ending of 2010 1

Journal by The Fun Guy

It's been a strange year, one that has given me plenty of opportunities to change and grow as a person. The biggest surprise to me is how many times people have cited a good sense of humor as one of my chief attributes. Perhaps another surprise is that this comes as such a surprise to me.

2010 has been full of challenges, personal and professional. I've had successes and failures. I've also had successes that turned out to be mixed blessings or even failures and failures that turned out to be not so bad or even successes in disguise.

Why am I posting this here to Slashdot? Nostalgia, I suppose. My last JE here was in May; there's no way to know when my next one will be.

Goodbye 2010, hello 2011.

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Journal: 196.0 Changing fields 3

Journal by The Fun Guy

I just got a phone call from one of the world's leading experts in food safety to ask me if I'd be interested in writing a review article for one of the leading publications in the field. He said that one of the world's other leading experts mentioned me as a good person for the job, and the rest of the editorial board (all high power people) agreed.

Naturally, I said yes.

What's strikes me as funny about this is that the narrow technical field in question (cold plasma) isn't the the other narrow technical field where I'm (ahem) already one of the world's leading experts (irradiation). [I always feel strange saying that w.l.e. bit, but it's true, so I kind of have to accept it.]

This tells me that I've made decent progress toward having two separate feathers in my cap, maybe three depending on how you define them. Coming today as it does, this happening is doubly, even triply bizarre.

It's a strange life I lead, I'll tell you that much.

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Journal: 195.1 Two years, almost to the day 5

Journal by The Fun Guy

It was April 23, 2008 that I took over as Acting Head Honcho of that miserable, hideous nest of vipers. After five and a half months, I'd been used up and spit out. I was done with it, and walked away.

The experience made me reconsider a lot of things - about myself, my job, my career arc, what I wanted out of life. Although I'd never really examined it, I'd grown accustomed to people doing what I wanted. It always just seemed to happen that I found myself in charge; people deferred to me, looked to me for guidance, clarity, focus. That would be "leadership", I suppose.

It was quite the shock when I found myself amid people who not only didn't magically follow my lead. The active resistance and slanderous backstabbing was a new experience for me. Although I wanted to prove myself to the higher-ups, I truly went into that environment with the intent to help. However, my motives were assumed to be as venal and corrupt as they were accustomed to. My abilities were dismissed, my skills were denigrated.

That hurt. It took a while for me to regain ground with self-confidence and belief in the value of what I'm doing here. Even with time, it took a lot of effort, on my part and from others, to get me close to the level of performance I was at before.

Why re-hash all of this?

Because we've gone through a re-organization, and I've taken over one of the newly re-formed departments. It's on a temporary, Acting Head Honcho basis. When they open it up, I'll apply and probably get the job.

Why do this? Career management. Self-defense. To prove something to myself.

If someone has to hold the reins of power in my environment, I'd rather it be me than someone with a grudge against me.

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Journal: 194.0 New computer

Journal by The Fun Guy

It's here, unpacked but not yet up and running. Spent some time last night backing up the old one. At first I started copying individual folders onto a flash drive, then went for the easy route. I plugged a 700GB drive into a spare USB port and said, "Copy C:", then went off to have dinner.

It didn't work, naturally. Files in use, bizarre error messages, etc. So, I had to select files and subfiles for users, program files, all the photos from our digital camera, games, etc. Everything I've ever done for the last 16 years - my PhD, my wife's Master's, nine jobs between the two of us, two apartments, two houses, three cities, four kids, two churches, three public radio stations, innumerable committees, volunteer organizations, etc., etc., etc. - all of it comes to about 28GB. Including the program files for WordPerfect, Neverwinter Nights, Half-Life, Nethack, etc., etc., etc. which I don't use anymore.

Once the new machine is ready, I'll plug this drive in, copy over what I need as I need it. After a month or so, it will be gathering dust again on the shelf.

Our household budget is still running on QuattroPro. I made the switch to Excel at work years ago. That will be a project of top priority, since I don't want to install QuattroPro on the new machine. There's no point.

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Journal: 194.2 New computer 2

Journal by The Fun Guy

After something like 7 years, we're upgrading our computer. The new machine is one of these: Pentium E5400(2.70GHz) 4GB DDR2 750GB NVIDIA GeForce 7050 Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. Monitor, keyboard & mouse will be carried over.

By modern standards, it's a decent machine for home use, light bookkeeping, light gaming. By the standards of the machine it will replace, my wife and I use, it's the Enterprise-D. This will be a huge step up for us. I should say for her, really, though, it's become my wife's computer almost exclusively, since I tend to use my netbook + WiFi. We bought a separate computer for the kids a few months ago, also with a WiFi adapter. The combination of going from dial-up to high speed cable internet plus the wireless router my brother-in-law gave us for Christmas a year ago has changed everything about how we do things.

What finally prompted us to scratch together the money for this upgrade was Plants vs. Zombies. My wife has gotten addicted to it, but our machine was having problems with it. Crashes meant I had to turn off the 3D acceleration and downgrade some of the other video acceleration, which makes it jerky to play.

This machine was perfectly adequate to run Age of Empires, Neverwinter Nights, and other games that are more complicated than PvZ, but they stress it in different ways. We discussed the possibility of just taking the machine out of service for a while so I could wipe the drive and reinstall WinXP. There are about a billion demands on my time at the moment, though, and finding the time to do that was an ongoing problem. The machine is old enough that replacing it is not out of line.

I have no idea what we're going to do with 750GB, though.

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Journal: 194.8 Wisdom 3

Journal by The Fun Guy

Just got off the phone with someone who wanted to talk over the possibility of a grant application. As we talked, I relayed facts when I knew them, expressed opinions and what they were based on, and made speculations (clearly identified as such). We each brought unique info and perspectives to the conversation.

At the end, although we'd pooled our knowledge, it didn't seem to me like we were any farther along toward any kind of a resolution or positive outcome. Still, he'd said mid-conversation and again at the end that he really appreciated the opportunity to tap into my "wisdom".

Wisdom? Hell, I don't know any more about it than you do. I just made sure to read the fine print in the documentation and draw a few pretty obvious inferences.

I don't know. Maybe that's what passes for wisdom these days, simple attention to detail and the willingness to look past the smoke and mirrors. People see a couple of million dollars hanging out there, ripe for the plucking, they get all excited. They don't think to look for the worm in the apple, or the thorns on the rose, or for any other metaphors for "this is more complicated than it seems".

Ah, I just found the website that covers this situation. I knew I'd bookmarked it: "No One Knows What the F*** They're Doing (or: The 3 Types of Knowledge)". Read it. Very insightful.

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Journal: 194.9 Never thought to ask 1

Journal by The Fun Guy

I've been navigating through a reorganization at work. There's been a lot of uncertainty, rumors, and mixed signals. In particular, one guy that I supervise has made it clear that he doesn't want to work for me directly. He doesn't care for my style, my approach, my personality, etc. I think he's afraid of me or intimidated by me. In any case, he wants to work for another guy.

The guy he wants to work for doesn't do very much. I am currently without any technical support, and continue to have lots of administrative work to get done. Frankly, I not only need a senior support person more, it's a little silly that I'm the leader of this project and I have to put up with a string of low-level people, temps, summer students, part-timers, etc.

However, the last thing I need is to have my support person be sullen and resentful. I've tried to be as accommodating, reasonable and personally supportive as I can, but sometimes we are called on to do things that aren't our first choice.

Today, he initiated a conversation where he said how unhappy he was about the uncertainties of this coming reorg. He hinted that he might go elsewhere if he didn't get the job assignment he wanted.

I told him that uncertainty is hard on everyone, that I'd been part of negotiations to sort out work assignments that would make the maximum number of people maximally happy and/or satisfied. I told him that the plan we'd worked out was a good one, but that it might get thrown out the window by someone farther up the chain, in which case we would either take it and make do, or leave to find work elsewhere.

At some point in the conversation, he got a surprised look and said, "In all the times we've had this conversation, I've always tried to be up front about telling you what I want. I guess it never really occurred to me that you are kind of in the same boat with all this uncertainty. I never really thought to ask you what *you* want."

So, I told him. I told him in plain language exactly what I was looking for in a support person, both in skill set and temperament, and why I thought he'd be good for the job. I also made it clear that I understood he didn't want to work for me. If it would result in him turning sullen and dour, then our working relationship would degenerate until it would be worse that useless for both of us.

The expression of amazement and astonishment on his face was remarkable. All along, through everything, he's seen me as... what? A robot? A blue box on a management chart? A mannequin in the corner office? Certainly not as a person. It was clearly a new paradigm for him to consider that I might have some hopes and desires, some wants and needs that would either be fulfilled or dashed, depending on how things turn out.

He had been concerned solely with his own happiness. I'm not going to believe that his is now concerned with *my* happiness, but I think that he is now at least *aware* of my happiness, or lack thereof.

That's called empathy, or the beginnings of it.

Something to think about as I go for a walk over lunchtime, enjoying the spring-like weather.

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley

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