Happy Halloween!

Halloween arrived early this morning — about 2am. Jeffrey knocked at our door to tell us that he couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t feverish, didn’t have any need to throw up, and wasn’t aching, so the obvious diagnosis was Halloween Fever, to which the cure is a re-tucking in and instructions to go to sleep and if you can’t sleep, just read quietly. It worked.

But then while I was finishing breakfast at 6:25am, there was the pitter-patter of not-so-little footsteps — Jeffrey was up and ready to greet the day, almost an hour earlier than usual, and telling me Happy Halloween!. It looks like a bad case this year, I’m afraid, and it’ll be far worse by tonight.

He’s also convinced us to give away scary candy like Skull Pops and Eyes of Terror gum from Oriental Trading Company so that we’re in the spirit of the holiday — and just in case we run out of those, we have a bag of Snickers (how mundane).

It was a quiet evening, and we didn’t run out of candy; the first trick-or-treaters arrived at 6:05, and the last ones about two hours later. Jeffrey and I went out about 6:30, and we joined forces with one of his friends from school a few minutes (and several cellphone calls) later; they stayed together till the end of the evening.

Some of the houses were well-decorated for Halloween; most had at least a token decoration (we had a lighted pumpkin in the window). And Jeffrey came back with more candy than he’ll eat.

On the way home, Jeffrey said that it hadn’t felt like a year since last Halloween, but that October had felt like a very long month waiting for Halloween to arrive. Next Halloween is probably going to be very different — he’ll be in middle school, and probably not as innocent as he is this year.

It's always something

This morning, I left the house in the capable hands of the electrician who was going to install four ceiling fans for us. I just got a call from him — there are parts missing from one box, so that one can’t be installed, and some sheetrock fell down from the ceiling in our bedroom when he removed the old fixture (apparently it had been burned by the old fixture, which doesn’t surprise me at all — the bulbs were very close to the ceiling), so he couldn’t install that fan, either. I guess it’s time to get the sheetrock guy back — the missing parts are already on order.

At least I have two working sets of car keys now; it only took the Saab dealer a few minutes to reprogram everything to match (I was, clearly, not the first customer not to be told to bring both keys in when there was a problem with one remote). And Saab has just started offering a key/transponder combination, which will let me get rid of the huge separate remote I currently have to use, so soon, we’ll have four keys to keep in sync.

Ah, well, what can you expect on a Monday?

Obviously, I should have expected even less — it’s now 8pm, and the electrician is still here, trying to get the power back in the living room (he said he must’ve nicked a wire earlier in the day).

We do have two of the four ceiling fans installed, which is good. But I am disappointed in the brightness of the light in the office; I had had two 60-watt incandescent bulbs, which we replaced with one 100-watt halogen bulb. Since halogen is supposed to be brighter than the same wattage of incandescent, I had expected to have to use the dimmer feature on the fan to avoid being blinded. Wrong. This is the dimmest 100-watt light I’ve ever seen! Luckily, we have some other lights in the room over one of the work surfaces, but it’s still surprisingly dim.

And I was able to reach the drywall guy, who will let me know tomorrow when he can come out and fix up the burnt sheetrock so we can continue this fun.

But in the cosmic scheme of things, or even just looking at things in local perspective, I can’t complain. My family and I are healthy; we’re gainfully employed; we’re not in a war zone; the weather is ok; these little annoyances at home are just that — little annoyances, and it won’t be long before they’ve been conquered (I always did like the idea of track lighting, so I guess I’ll enjoy trying it in the office).

I got my missing wakeup call!

This morning, my phone rang at 7:15. It was a market research firm hired by Hilton Hotels, asking me if I’d like to take part in a brief survey about business travel. I declined and decided to send a note to Hilton’s CEO instead:

Stephen F. Bollenbach
President and CEO
Hilton Hotels
9336 Civic Center Drive
Beverly Hills, California 90210

Dear Mr. Bollenbach:

It is 7:15am on a Sunday morning and I am at home. I have just hung up the phone on a call from a market research firm (I believe it was named “Mark Research”) asking me to take a “short survey on business travel on behalf of Hilton Hotels”. Please note the time again: 7:15 am on Sunday morning, and the place: at home. I am extremely unhappy and upset that Hilton thought that I would find it acceptable to call me at home at such a time.

I ask you to please ensure that my name and telephone number are removed from any outbound call lists maintained by Hilton or its contractors. I also ask that you work with your contractors so that they don’t call people at such hours doing so is certainly not the best advertisement for a company which purports to be in the hospitality business.

My telephone numbers are [omitted]. My Hilton HHonors number is [omitted].

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

I haven’t mailed the note yet; any suggestions on making it more effective are welcome.

I guess I'm hooked

I’m not sure I really should be admitting this in public, but you’ll find out sooner or later anyway. I seem to have a Fry’s habit. At least that’s the only rational explanation for my being back there less than 48 hours after returning to California — it’s certainly not the case that I go there because I enjoy the experience.

But I suppose it could be worse. I could go there and not buy stuff. Or buy stuff I don’t need (no, wait, that’s what I do at Costco). And even though I hadn’t gone in looking for everything I bought today, at least it was all stuff I had planned to buy soon anyway (a copy of Street Atlas/Map ‘n’ Go, some more NiMH AA batteries, and some SVHS tapes (which was half of the ostensible reason for the trip)). I wish they’d had the X-10 ActiveHome package, though; that was the other half of the reason I went there — our controller went flakey a while ago, and while I was in England, it went completely bonkers, waking Diane up in the middle of the night. So I need to replace it, and I guess I’m going to have to do it on the X-10 website, a place so hard to deal with that I’d rather go to Fry’s.

I picked up our ceiling fans today, too; the electricians are supposed to come and install them on Monday. And some day, the door from the garage to the outside (not to be confused with the garage door) will be installed, too — but first, they have to get one of the right size, instead of one which would fit from the garage to the inside, which is what got delivered.

Don’t forget to reset your clock tonight if you live in a place where you should do it! (Hey, Al…do you work an extra hour on the night of the timeshift?)

Friday Morning, 6am

I managed to stay awake (physically, if not necessarily mentally) last night until sometime around 9pm. Then I gave up the struggle and hit the bed. It took me dozens of seconds to fall asleep, and, though I did wake up once or twice during the night, I basically slept until 6am, just before the alarm was ready to sound off. I’m still in a bit of a fog, but it’ll do for a quiet Friday morning at work.

Thursday Morning, 5am

That’s when I had to get up in order to make the 6am bus to the airport for my 9:15am flight (the next bus wasn’t till 7:30, and if anything went wrong, I might’ve missed the flight, which was just not acceptable). So I did.

Of course, that was 5am CEDT (UTC+2), and it’s now 5pm PDT (UTC-7), so I’ve been up for 21 hours and shouldn’t go to bed for at least four more.

The trip home was uneventful if very slow (we had to wait in Munich for them to unload a suitcase from the plane since the owner didn’t want to come to San Francisco with the suitcase, and then we had to circle a while before landing), but I’m finally home.

And I think that’s going to do it for today’s exciting Weblog entry, because my family is arriving home, too.

Good night (or Guten Abend, if you prefer).

And now for something completely different

After I got back to my room last night, I flipped on the TV to make some noise while I got ready for bed. The Maritim only offers one English-language channel (CNN), and I didn’t really want to know what was happening in the world, so I started channel-surfing (I wonder how you say that in German?). Naturally, there wasn’t much on that was of interest to me, but as I was about to give up and go back to CNN, I suddenly saw something very familiar: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. But the voices weren’t right, because, of course, the show was dubbed into German.

I was still able to enjoy the visual humor, but it just wasn’t the same as watching in English, and I wasn’t always able to figure out what was going on. When I get home, I’m going to have to dig through my tapes and see if I have this episode (the one with “It’s A Tree”).

Morning came early today. Tomorrow will be worse. Off to the meeting!

Like no other museum in the world

Tonight, we had dinner at the DaimlerChrysler (pronounced “Mercedes-Benz”) museum in Stuttgart. Before dinner, a friend and I took a self-guided tour (they offered audio wands, but that would have been more regimentation than we were in the mood for) and a number of pictures.

Here’s the first car that Benz created. They actually started the motor for us — it was loud.

First Benz:

I liked their 1895 Benz Victoria:

Benz Victoria:

Mercedes doesn’t just make motorcars; they make fire engines, too:

Mercedes fire engine:

With so many cars in the museum, they have a hard time keeping up on maintenance. Note the flat tire on this car:

Flat Tire:

Some cars don’t need maintenance, though; they get divine intervention. Here’s Pope Paul VI’s Popemobile:

Popemobile:

Some designs just don’t seem to work, even though they’re awfully attractive looking:

Gull Wing Mercedes:

Tomorrow, it’s back to the all-day grind.

Very well, thank you…

I slept well last night. Very well. Too well, I guess, since I awoke refreshed and relaxed at 7:55am, with the conference scheduled to start at 8:15. So much for being relaxed!

I thought I had set the telephone alarm for 6:30am, but apparently I hadn’t hung on long enough to confirm that I really wanted the wakeup call. But I also heard from some of my colleagues that their phones hadn’t rung, either, but that the hotel staff had knocked on their doors instead!

I managed to rush through my morning routine in record time, and was pleasantly surprised to find the hotel flexible in enforcing the deadline for collecting laundry and in not closing the breakfast room right on time, so I was able to arrange for clean clothes and eat; I got to the meeting a few minutes late, but I was in time for the first main speaker.

This hotel is a very pretty place, but I wish their interior decorators would have allowed for clocks in the rooms. You’d think it was a casino or something!

London to Stuttgart

I never did figure out how to connect to the Ethernet in my hotel at Heathrow — once in a while, I’d get the in-hotel infomational pages, but I never got the opportunity to spend money for a fast connection. Their loss, I guess.

Actually, the London Heathrow Marriott was awfully disorganized for a Marriott; not only did the Ethernet not work, but I couldn’t get to the help phone number that was supposed to help me. And the mattress was not in very good shape. And the breakfast buffet was incredibly badly managed — it shouldn’t take 10 minutes to get coffee, and there should always be glasses available for juice. I would have walked out without paying (there was no cashier when I left, either) if it hadn’t already been included in my room cost. On the bright side, they didn’t charge for parking (deliberately — I asked).

My flight to Stuttgart was uneventful, as flights should be. It was on British Midland; even though the flight time was only 75 minutes, they managed to give us a hot meal (nothing I wanted, unfortunately) and two drink services. I wonder why US airlines don’t bother feeding people for less than a two-hour flight (and not always then), and, maybe more to the point, why no one complains.

Martim Hotel (try 2):

There were about eight of us on the flight going to the IBM Academy of Technology meeting, so we shared cabs to the city (the taxi, of course, was a Mercedes). My cabmate travels to Germany periodically, so he had Deutsche Marks, so I didn’t have to buy them at the airport. Instead, I changed a $20 bill at the hotel, undoubtedly at a rip-off rate, but I wanted some walking around money for lunch and didn’t feel like finding an ATM.

Lunch was a typical German meal, I guess — Doner Kebab (which I would have called gyros), Pomme Frites, and a beer. The whole thing cost me about $5. Interestingly, the beer can gave the volume in milliliters and in US fluid ounces — I would have expected Imperial measure if anything but milliliters.

Then I took a quick walk around parts of downtown Stuttgart. Like all cities, it has its share of incomprehensible art on the streets:

Public Art: Like all cities, Stuttgart has its share of incomprehensible public art on the streets.

Public Art 2:

but some of it just hangs around:

Art on the fly:

There are also lots of fountains. Sometimes they even come in flocks:

Three Fountains:

It was starting to get dark, so I headed back to the hotel, where I will remain for the next three days. They let us out once for good behavior, on a field trip to the Mercedes Museum. But otherwise, it’s going to be non-stop enlightment until Wednesday afternoon.

Simchat Torah 5761

Joy

I had a wonderful morning today, attending Simchat Torah services with the members of the South Hampshire Reform Jewish Congregation. They’re a small congregation without a permanent location (they use the Southampton Orthodox shul about twice a month and move around the area the rest of the time to be closer to the widely-scattered membership; today, they were at a member’s home on Allington Lane, about 10 miles from Winchester) and without a full-time rabbi or cantor (in fact, I found out today that no UK Reform congregation has a cantor). But they do own two Torah scrolls, and today, that was what counted.

Wrapped in the Torah: Celebrating Simchat Torah with the South Hampshire Reform Jewish Congregation

I’d actually never been to Simchat Torah morning services before — I’d been to the evening service, where the congregation dances with the Torah and processes around the sanctuary; it’s a fun evening. Morning services are a bit different, since we actually read the last and first parts of the Torah, and to do that, we unroll the complete scroll and literally wrap ourselves in the Torah. Today, in the small space available, we wrapped ourselves three layers deep in the Torah, which was a bit of a logistical challenge, especially when it came time to reroll the scroll.

no vowels:

I was given the unexpected honor of being Katan Torah, that is, called to the Torah to “read” the final portion of Deuteronomy. I put “read” in quotes because, like many contemporary Jews, I can’t actually read the Torah itself (there are no vowels in the Torah, for one thing, as you can see above), but in practice, that’s not a problem — all I had to do was read the blessings before and after the Torah reading, and the service leader read the Torah (she’s an Israeli who now lives in England, so her Hebrew was more than up to the task). Some day, perhaps, I’ll take on the challenge of actually reading (chanting) a Torah portion at services at Shir Hadash — Diane does it once or twice a year — but so far, I have found being asked to give a drash (explanatory talk) on the portion (in English, of course) to be sufficiently daunting!

I took a lot more pictures while we were rerolling the scroll, so I’ve written a photoessay to help tell the story.

Frustration

After leaving services, I started heading towards my hotel near Heathrow. We’d had a very light kiddush lunch at services, but I was hungry, so I stopped at a shopping center in Eastleigh for a more filling lunch. Parking was more of a challenge than I’d expected — fortunately, the parking lots here are “pay and display” rather than the “take a ticket” style which is common at home, so there’s no additional hassle leaving if you didn’t find a space. I succeeded in the second parking lot I tried; then I discovered that the one restaurant in the shopping center wasn’t very good. And I wasn’t successful at any of the other shopping I tried to do, either. But at least the parking was cheap.

Then I got on the M3 on my way to the hotel. All was well until I got off the highway, at which point I got thoroughly lost. I eventually found a place to park and called the hotel; they gave me directions, but unfortunately, their directions assumed I was starting from a different place than where I really was (I guess I told them the wrong thing!), and I got more lost; after a few more miles, I stumbled across a Sainsbury’s, parked, took out my map, and figured out where I was and where I had to be (I still have no idea how I got lost). Carrying a GPS is not very helpful if you have no way to cross-reference it to reality! But the UK mobile phone was quite useful; I’m glad I bought it.

But after the stop at Sainsbury’s, I was oriented, and found my way to the hotel in only a few more minutes. By this time, I was hungry again, but I didn’t want to eat in the hotel. So I walked out in search of the unknown. The first restaurant I saw was the McDonald’s in the Airport Bowl; I decided I could do better. A mile or so later, I found the next business district, which had an interesting-looking Indian restaurant…but it was closed. The Indian takeaway next door was open, though, and they had a couple of seats, so that’s where I ate (it was nice and spicy and filling, too!). Then I walked back to the hotel.

I spent the next 90 minutes trying to get connected to the network and failing. I had a hard time getting my computer plugged in to the wall, too — I still don’t have a UK power adapter, and the trick I used in Winchester to force the ground plug open enough to let an European plug go into the slot didn’t work here! The hotel found a UK adapter for me; I just have to remember to give it back to them, or I’ll be out 10 pounds (not a bad markup for something which costs about 2 pounds).

If you get to read this, I was successful at dialing in. That hasn’t been so easy this trip, either…half the time, the modems don’t successfully negotiate the connection.

Department of Silly Toys

I took a brief break from my conference today and went into Winchester for two purposes: first, to have a decent lunch (at which I was partially successful), and second, to buy a mobile phone for use in the UK. It’s gotten to be very difficult to find a pay phone here, and I’m going to be travelling this weekend to meet people, and it would be very useful to verify directions en route (I miss Microsoft Streets and Trips!), so I convinced myself I needed my own phone.

Fortunately, the UK mobile phone companies have gotten quite competitive, and they now offer prepaid phones at a cheap price (as low as GBP 40 (about $60)), and they don’t require buying much talk time in advance, and it doesn’t expire, so this seemed like a fairly reasonable experiment to try. Unfortunately, the only company which allows use of their prepaid phones elsewhere in Europe has bad coverage in some of the UK areas I would be in, so I chose an Orange phone. I can hope that they’ll offer international service before I really need it — my trip to Germany next week will be so well-managed by IBM that I’ll hardly have the opportunity to realize I’m in a different country (on a similar trip to Canada three years ago, I brought $20 Canadian with me and never spent a penny of it until I decided I wanted to buy a souvenir at the airport while waiting for my flight home).

I haven’t actually made any calls on the phone yet, but that’s a small detail, isn’t it?

Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care

It’s amazing how much nicer the world looks after a good night’s sleep. Even if IBM’s earnings report didn’t make Wall Street happy.

The conference continues apace; I am sneaking away to update this page (which is probably a tacky thing for the co-chair to do, now that I think of it). It’s very fulfilling to see people deeply engaged in energized conversations which, if we follow the pattern in previous years, will result in one or two actual projects coming to fruition.

More anon.

Useless Information Department

Federal Standard 1037C formally defines
“RJ” (as in RJ-11 and RJ-45) as “Registered Jack”. Just in case you needed to know.

3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock….

Despite not having slept much on the plane over, I stayed up and mostly functional all day, and joined some of my friends for a wonderful dinner at the Wykeham Arms. I was feeling a bit tired during dinner (one guy kept waiting for me to fall down into my food!), so I thought I’d sleep well.

I turned on the television in time to watch the last half-hour of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” — this, of course, is the original version. The US version is extremely faithful to the original, except, of course, that pounds became dollars in the transition.

The host here, Chris Tarrant, seems a bit crueler to the contestants (and the audience) than Regis — I tuned in as a contestant used all three lifelines on one question (asking which of four US states did not border on the Gulf of Mexico — I’ve never seen any questions on the US edition asking about UK matters). After she agonized over the question and eventually gave her final answer, they broke for a series of commercials before revealing that she was right. Similarly, after the 125,000 pound question, which she also agonized over for a long time, he said, “You no longer have 64,000 pounds.” And then a long pause before telling her she had gotten the question right.

After that, I fell asleep quickly, only to wake up at 2:30am. It’s now 5:30, and I haven’t been able to get back to sleep, so I decided I may as well start the day officially by flipping my page.

The conference starts in a few hours; I hope to stay awake for it!

If it's October, this must be Hursley

Almost every October, IBM has an internal conference at our Hursley, England facility; I’m the permanent co-chair of the conference (it’s had different names, and there’s always a new crew from Hursley — they’re the people who actually do the work!). It’s October, it’s time for the WebAhead conference, and here I am.

Unfortunately, I left my Token Ring card in my hotel, so I’ve had to borrow a machine and I can’t show the picture I took (yet, anyway), so you’ll have to believe me when I say this is a very distinctive facility — the conference is in Hursley House, an old stately home which IBM took over in 1958 (it had previously been used by Vickers Aircraft).

More later if I can stay awake and if I can get connected from my hotel.

The Secret of the Red Carpet Club

This rather short entry comes to you from the domestic Red Carpet Club at SFO. For some reason, United decided to operate their London flight from the domestic terminal today, and so I’m here instead of the international club in the basement.

The place is crowded with disappointed 49ers fans, and I thought all of the data-capable phones were in use. So I went to the bar to drown my sorrow in a sparkling water (at the lack of phones, not the Niners’ loss), but the bartender said sparkling water was at the dispenser, not the bar (what can I say? I usually fly American, and they make me get the stuff at the bar) and took me there. While filling my glass, I looked around, and found a dozen unoccupied phones, so I was able to log on and flip my page after all.

Don’t tell anyone about these phones — let’s keep it our secret, ok?

Do the Locomotion!

Time to sample some of the chocolate we acquired at the Silent Auction at the Walkathon, and then I guess I should consider packing for my trip tomorrow. I acquired a loaner suitcase and yet more clothing this afternoon, so I should be all set.

Walkathon 2000

Every October, Jeffrey’s school holds a Walkathon as a fundraiser.  Even though the goal is to make money for the school (it’s their single biggest income generator), they do a good job of making sure that everyone, especially the kids, has fun in the process.

This year is Jeffrey’s last year at Alta Vista, and so this was his (and our!) last Walkathon.  He woke up before 7am this morning, so we were more than ready to be at school in time for the 9am start. 

It’s just a few minutes before 9, and you can see all of the children ready to go. The arch of balloons is the start/finish line.

The starting gun has sounded (well, it was actually an announcement by the DJ), and they’re off!

Even though it’s a Walkathon, most kids start out running, including Jeffrey.

Jeffrey’s finished the first lap and is having his lap card punched. Every few laps, the kids get a treat or a ribbon.

The theme of the Walkathon this year was “Locomotion”, and so train gear was plentiful. After six laps, the kids got a small train whistle.

Here is Jeffrey with two of his friends (the boys, of course!). They stuck together throughout the Walkathon, just as they have since kindergarten. It’s just after lunch — they’re still going strong.

At the end of the day, the Walkathon chairs carry the start/finish line of balloons around the course for the last lap. All of the kids try to get ahead of it to get one last punch on their cards.

It’s the home stretch of the last lap, just about 3pm. Jeffrey’s still ready to go, I think!

Jeffrey has just finished the last lap (his 47th, for a distance of about 15 miles — I took my GPS out to measure a lap to be sure!).

A well-used lap card. Jeffrey had done 46 laps a few years ago, so I’m glad he was able to finish his Walkathon career with a personal best.

The party’s over…and what else can you do with a few dozen helium balloons but let them go?

Frantic preparation

I leave for Europe on Sunday, and tomorrow is Jeffrey’s Walkathon (school fundraiser), so time is beginning to feel compressed. 

But I just talked with a friend who was just diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and who will be starting a six-month course of chemo and radiation treatment next week — that’s a far less gentle way of having your priorities reordered than just needing to prepare for a trip!

Dress Casual

For most of my trip, my daily casual attire is going to be quite adequate (assuming I pack for the dead of winter — it’s going to be twenty degrees cooler there than it is here!), but we are having a dinner at the Mercedes-Benz Museum, for which a jacket is required.  The only jackets I have are part of a suit, and I didn’t really want to drag along suit pants which I wouldn’t wear the rest of the time, so yesterday, Diane and I zipped over to the local branch of the Men’s Wearhouse to buy a blazer.

That was easy and painless — they showed me four, I liked one, and I was done.  Then they asked what shirt I was going to wear with it, and I said “this one” (pointing to my trusty LL Bean buttondown).  They said that I could, of course, wear anything I liked, but suggested that my choice was less-than-optimal and wouldn’t I like to take a look at shirts which might be more consistent with the blazer?

Thirty minutes later, I walked out of the store with two mock turtlenecks, one tie, one shirt to go with the tie, and a receipt for two pairs of slacks and the blazer, to be picked up Saturday after they’d been altered.

I guess I’ll bring a bigger suitcase.

Technology — a fruitful source of new ways for things to go wrong

My Saab 9-5 has a sophisticated anti-theft system built-in, which extends to the special key and the remote opener.  One of our remotes developed a problem, and we were unable to use it to lock the car (the other functions worked fine, so I suspect it was a loose microswitch on the remote), so today, when I brought the car to the dealer, I brought the bad remote, too, and asked them to fix it.

I picked up the car a few hours later and the remote worked fine, so I gave it back to Diane.  Then when we were ready to go to services, I used my key and — the car wouldn’t start.  Instead, there was a message on the display:  “Key not recognized”.  I tried again, with the same result.  And I discovered that my remote was completely ignored, too.  But Diane’s remote and key work fine.  So I guess when the dealer replaced the remote, they also reprogrammed the car and Diane’s key to match the new remote, thereby disenfranchising my key, at least till I get back to the dealer to get it all fixed.

This sort of thing never happened when I owned a Pinto.

Locks, no bagels

I bought some new locks to match the new door handles we put in a few weeks ago (all antique brass looks much better than an antique brass handle and a scratched-up old brass lock).  I want all the locks to be keyed alike (as they are now), and I thought the easiest thing would be to rekey the new locks to match the ones we already have.

So I bought a rekeying kit at Home Depot, on the assurance of the salesguy that I’d be able to use it to match my old locks.  I should have known better. 

The kit is easy to use, even for a mechanically-challenged individual, but they only supply pins of the lengths necessary to match the key in the kit — and our existing lock happened to have some pins which didn’t appear in the kit.  So I couldn’t do what I wanted, and the kit goes back to Home Depot on my next trip.  No wonder their earnings disappointed Wall Street!

Painted into a corner

The painters were busy today — except for a little touch-up, they’re done.  I was shocked when I got home and saw it — the vanity looks bigger with solid-colored walls.

On the other hand, I’m not sure that the existing yellow tiles in the shower really go with the blue paint we chose — but that may just be the shock of the new.  Time will tell.  And I suspect that replacing the shower tiles may be more hassle and expense than painting…and might lead to the desire to do more than just a cosmetic update to the bathroom.  This way lies madness.  Maybe  I should upgrade a computer instead….

SiteMeter’s having some problems with their reporting programs — I keep getting “script timed out” messages when I go to look at the reports for this site.  I feel like I’m missing critical information about how people are finding me, which is interesting, since I didn’t have that information until yesterday.  I think I miss the Merc less than I do SiteMeter!

Painters si, Merky Nooz no

We got off to an early start this morning so that we could do the last bit of cleanup before the painters were scheduled to arrive.  We failed — the painters arrived at 8am (promptly on time, which I hope is a good sign) and I still had about 30 years of Analog to move out of the living room.  But since they were neatly piled up, it didn’t take long to move them — and Jeffrey seems to be very interested in them now that they’re visible.

When I left the house, there were painters working on at least three rooms, and I could hear wallpaper being ripped off the bathroom walls.  I wonder what it’s going to look like when I get home?

Our Merky Nooz carrier is still protesting, so we didn’t get the paper this morning.  Given what else we had to do, that was probably good, but I’m getting tired of not having a paper.

Scratching an itch

The really observant among you will note the Site Meter graphic on the left side of the page — James Vornov‘s discussion encouraged me to install it.  Now that I’ve had it running for a few hours and can see some of the results, I’m intrigued — most of my vistors have come from a Userland page (Scripting News, the Updates page, or Weblogs), but one person was looking for pictures of tulips and I’m 18th on the Yahoo/Google list of results for that query (interestingly enough, if you do the same query on Google itself, I’m the 36th result).

I still don’t know what good knowing all this will do, and as Al puts it, “I’m just awfully glad for your company”. 

And here’s my privacy policy:  I collect personally-identifiable data if you choose to join the site.  I do not distribute this information to third parties (however, the site member list may be publically viewable).  Other information, such as that gotten from Site Meter, is looked at for interesting nuggets, and it’s quite possible that I’ll post unusual referrer entries, but I will not post a correlation of such entries to visitors.  Site Meter may, however, do so; it is not under my control.

Wine of the Day

Today’s wine is Bonny Doon Winery’s Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, and it is a repeat — we had it in Chicago and enjoyed it, so we decided to try it at home, closer to the winery.  Tonight’s bottle is a 1998, and went very well with spaghetti.

Baby, It’s Cold Inside!

The painters made good progress today; they did the living room, our bedroom, and the patches of new drywall in Jeffrey’s room and the office (we got rid of the remains of the non-functional intercom system), as well as at least two ceilings.  The bathroom is still very much a work in progress (I suspect they’re going to be back with a steamer to attack the wallpaper more seriously).

To reduce the fume level, we’ve got the windows open; of course, tonight is also the first chilly, rainy night of fall (61 degrees Fahrenheit, dropping to around 50), and so it’s getting a bit nippy inside.  We’ll have to close up at bedtime and put up with the fumes, I think.

The painters all the furniture in the bedroom, and in the process, they reunited us with some long-lost possessions.  I now have my missing Gore-Tex glove — unfortunately, I gave up on finding it about two years ago and threw away its mate.  More usefully, they unearthed some photos which must have slipped behind furniture, including this one of Jeffrey at about 18 months, enjoying one of his favorite foods (and one he still enjoys, though his eating technique has improved over the years).

Post-fast, pre-painters

That pretty much sums up today and tomorrow — Yom Kippur is over (thanks to the Rileys for the splendid break-the-fast), and the painters are supposed to arrive tomorrow morning.  We are not ready, despite Diane’s best efforts (my efforts so far don’t qualify as “best”, I’m afraid), and so this must be a very short posting so I can help.

The Merc ‘fesses up

Apparently yesterday’s “severe production problems” were actually due to a protest from the carriers about the price of gasoline and an increased workload.  The protest continued today, at least for my carrier.  I wonder if we’ll get a paper tomorrow.

Why didn’t I try that 16 years ago?

Ever since we moved into this house, we’ve been annoyed by the nails the previous owners had left in the living room wall.  Since they painted the house just before selling it, I assumed that the nails were well and truly imbedded in something and would be hard to take out, and so we put art on the wall in spots picked to cover the nails as best as we could.

But with the painters coming tomorrow, I decided it was worth trying to get the nails out so that, perhaps, we could have a nice-looking wall at the end of the process.  So I dug out my pliers and discovered that the nails were firmly imbedded in not much of anything — they came out with almost no effort.  If I’d only realized how easy it was, I’d’ve done it years ago!

Thoughts on Erev Yom Kippur

It’s almost time to start thinking about dinner so that we can finish before Yom Kippur begins and we head off to Kol Nidre services — by this time tomorrow, after fasting for a day, it will be all too easy to think about dinner!  In theory, fasting is supposed to help you concentrate on the meaning of the day, but I find that, at least late in the day, it distracts me; my body is very interested in letting me know that it hasn’t been fed or watered and wants my attention.

I just looked at the online edition of the Jerusalem Post and read that the chaplain of the Israel Defense Forces has given permission to break the fast to all soldiers involved in fighting on Yom Kippur.  May no one have to use this permission.

The search for color

We spent part of the afternoon looking at houses our painter had done, in hopes of finding one with a color we’d like.  We found two that are reasonable shades of blue, but neither of them was The One.  I guess it’s back to the sample books.

Severe Production Difficulties

I got up this morning, went outside, and there was no paper on the driveway.  I looked at the neighbors’ houses, and, as far as I could tell without my glasses, they didn’t have papers either.  And when I got through to the Merc’s customer service number, the recording told me that they’d had “severe production difficulties” last night and that they were not going to be able to deliver papers to those who had been missed — I guess that they decided it was more profitable to fill the news vending machines.

Fortunately, the most important section of the Sunday paper is delivered on Saturday, so we already had the comics.  And Dave Barry’s column is available online, and Dan Gillmor’s is usually covered by his weblog, so I’m set there, too.  But it is interesting to see that the Merc’s website doesn’t mention today’s problems at all.

Deciding … Better

I can empathize with Hal’s decision to put blivet on hiatus until he can get his thesis done.  I know I find weblogs, newsgroups, and web pages to be exceptionally attractive as distractions — as if I needed any more distractions in my life!

As the gates begin to close…

Back tomorrow night, most likely, after break-the-fast.  May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

Are they clueless, or do they think I am?

The mail brought the yearly upgrade offer for Quicken; normally, I rise to the bait (either by mail or in-store), but this year, from all that I’ve read, there’s not much new in the program, certainly not enough to warrent the upgrade price.

What is the price?  Well, that’s an interesting question.  If I were to accept Intuit’s “Preferred Customer” offer, I’d pay $59.95 plus $3.50 for shipping plus sales tax, minus a $20 Preferred Customer rebate (assuming I follow the simple instructions and they actually get the coupon).  On the other hand, I could go to Fry’s and pay $59.95 plus sales tax and take advantage of the advertised $20 rebate — hey, I come out $3.50 ahead that way!  And I think it’s even cheaper at Costco, though there’s always the danger of leaving there with an extra forty pounds of Cheerios or something like that.

So I wonder why Intuit feels the need to play these games — why isn’t the “Preferred Customer” price lower than the in-store price?  And why do they play the rebate game, especially for people buying directly from them?

Preparing for the Gala

Shir Hadash is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and the 10th year for our current Rabbi.  As part of the celebration, there’s going to be a black-tie optional gala next month.  So last week, Diane went up to San Francisco with two of her friends to buy gowns for the gala — they were there all day, had late lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (they did bring back dessert, and it was good) — all in all, it was a Major Shopping Event (and even then she had to take the gown to be shortened a little bit).  Today, I went to President Tuxedo next to the Japanese fast-food place, spent seven minutes picking out a tux, five minutes being measured, and we were on our way.  I think I like my end of the deal better.

Car Envy?

Diane Reese‘s family got their new Prius — it looks wonderful on the Web, and I look forward to seeing it (and probably not hearing it) next week. We’re beginning to think about replacing Diane’s car in the next year or so (it needs a ring job, at the very least), and the Prius seems like it might be a good car to consider.

Faster, but is it worth it?

I’ve spent basically all day today getting my new, improved, faster, whiter, brighter, and less-filling computer configured and set up.  Was that the most useful way to spend the day?  Almost certainly not, but I couldn’t resist the temptation!

Oh, I did manage to submit an expense account, so I guess I got something productive done despite myself.

Shabbat Shalom!

Cleaning out the bookshelves

We’re having our living room painted next week.  As part of the preparation, Diane decided that it would be a good idea to clear out some of the bookcases in there, so that the painters can move them without spilling the books all over the floor.

The first two bookcases were easy — everything went into boxes.  But then she got to the bookcase containing old textbooks, and decided that maybe we didn’t actually need to pack and unpack books we hadn’t looked at in 25 years.  It was easy to get rid of Mills’ Structured Programming and Kohavi’s Switching and Finite Automata Theory, and we decided we only needed one copy of Kernigan & Richie’s The C Programming Language instead of the four we had, but I couldn’t bring myself to discard Resnick and Halladay’s Physics because of the Pierce quote about Maxwell’s equations, and Diane decided to keep the Cress/Dirksen/Graham Fortran IV with WATFOR and WATFIV because of the picture of the punched cards on the cover.

Unfortunately, our recycling company won’t take hardback books, so I have to throw out these treasures.  *sigh*

Diane Reese has just pointed out that I might be able to sell these books on eBay rather than just dumping them out — it’s worth a try. Let’s see, now…”rare collectable treasures from the early days of computer science”…yeah, that’ll work!

Well, somebody is trying to sell the Watfiv book, but so far, without any success.  Perhaps I shouldn’t make this part of my retirement planning after all.

More chocolate ranting

I owe Nestle an apology; the Frigor Noir is 46% cocoa, not 44% as I stated yesterday.  I still think it’s artifically bitter.

Oh, I got a new computer…

But Tom Digby is right about its value in the cosmic scheme of things.  Despite that, I am certainly impressed with how quickly a 1GHz machine can boot up Windows 2000, and depressed about how often I had to do so today.  But maybe it’ll get better after I finish setting it up and put it to productive use. 

Farewell to an old friend

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?  It’s not really that bad — I shipped my old slow laptop back East this afternoon so it could be put to use by someone else (who, I hope, is not reading this article and won’t be upset about getting a third-hand machine). 

Artificially dark chocolate?

A friend came back from a trip to Switzerland today, bearing the obligatory chocolates for consumption by those of us who stayed behind.  One of the brands he brought was Nestle’s “Frigor” — when I tasted it, I thought it was too bitter (like the 77% cocoa bars I’d tried to eat in Switzerland two years ago), and so I was surprised when I looked at the label and found it was only 44% cocoa.  I wonder how they make it so bitter with so little cocoa?

If you’d like to try it for yourself, Swiss Luxury Chocolate will happily sell you a box.

WYSIWYG editing in Manila

This evening when I went to edit this page, I found myself looking at the old Manila edit control — the one which shows you the tags.  Since I am, after all, a trained HTML professional (I was a member of the original HTML ERB at W3C, back when we were standardizing HTML 3.2), it would have made sense for me to stay with that version; tags don’t scare me at all.

But after typing in a couple of paragraphs, I went to the preferences menu and chose the WYSIWYG control.  There are times when I want to work close to the metal and hand-craft my HTML — but those times are rare.  Most of the time, WYSIWYG editing is more than adequate — now, if there were just some shortcuts for the tags I use most often (like <h4>), I’d be in hog heaven!

A quick flip at the conference

I’m on a brief break at the conference and thought I’d flip my page while I had the chance.  It was going to be a longer break, but it took me much longer to set up the connectivity than I’d expected.  It’s good to be a trained professional who doesn’t read instructions!

Another presentation bites the dust

I’m not sure that my presentation (on the Next Generation Internet — see http://www.ibm.com/NGi for more) necessarily matched the audience of this particular conference, but they laughed at the jokes and not at the rest of the talk, and I even got a question or two afterward, so I guess it was a successful talk.

Where'd the day go?

Well, I still have till noon tomorrow.  And I’m mostly done.

Hey, this is different!

I see that the new WYSIWYG editing that Dave promised in Scripting News has been unleashed.  I’m not sure if I like it or not yet — it’s mostly nice, but having to go to the menus to insert a link is a bit of a drag; I am an HTML professional, and typing a raw <a> tag is wired into my fingers these days.  I see the “source” button, so I know I can go back to my antiquated ways if I need to — thanks!

I’m beginning to feel the need for a hardware upgrade at home

I recently got a faster laptop (500 MHz Pentium III, upgrading from a 266 MHz P-II) at work, and I’m about to get a new 1GHz desktop (which I’m also upgrading from a 266 MHz P-II).  My home machine, by some strange coincidence, is a 266 MHz P-II, and it’s suddenly feeling rather slow, especially when Lotus Notes decides it’s time to do a serious indexing run.  I don’t expect to do anything until the end of the month — maybe prices will drop a bit more between now and then. 

I don’t really know what I need, either — I know I want a faster machine with more memory, a faster CD-ROM burner, DVD, and a TV tuner, but other than that, I am clueless.  I don’t think I’m in the Mac market (everything I need for work runs on Windows), though I must admit that the G4 Cube is awfully appealing — but it still probably wouldn’t help me make any of my videos presentable.  Or get me caught up on my photo editing.

Technology is powerful magic

I’ve probably complained (or as my friend Glenn would say, ranted) about my laser printer before — recently, it developed the annoying habit of jamming 100% of the time, making it less than useful. I talked with some of my colleagues at work about the problem, and it appeared that it was one of two things: either the paper tray, or the rubber band on the paper feed wheel (love that high-tech!).

We had spare paper trays available (Almaden used to have many of this particular model of printer, but they’ve been removed from service after four or five years of heavy duty), but that didn’t help my problem. So this weekend, I brought a rubber band home and a printer service manual and decided to give it a shot.

When I turned the printer over, the rubber band was in good shape and so I didn’t replace it. I was able to turn the wheel it was attached to by hand, which, if I read the manual correctly, was a bad sign. But I decided to give it one more shot — and now the printer seems to work fine (or as well as it ever did — the fuser runs too hot and so the paper curls), but only with the replacement paper tray.

All I can figure is that somehow the rubber band wasn’t making good contact with the paper and my turning it by hand fixed the problem, at least for now.

Boy, I wish I knew what the real problem was and how to fix it! But in the meantime, I’ll keep using this printer as long as it works — it would be nice to get through at least one toner cartridge before discarding the printer.

More bad news/good news

Our painter called yesterday while we were at services; they aren’t going to be able to start until next week. That’s not entirely bad news — that way, we don’t have to try to get the rooms cleaned up until next weekend. But it will be nice to have the rooms all painted, especially the master bathroom, where we’re getting rid of very yucky wallpaper.

If only reality were so easy

Thanks to all who’ve noticed the New Year’s card I sent on Friday. If only it were so easy to get the paper ones into the mail!