Saturday, May 27

Wait wait!


Our illustrious Oregon Legislature made it into this week's "Wait wait ... don't tell me!"

That's right, no more drinking while driving the Ship of State.

Friday, May 26


Wow. I knew it's be a little hard leaving the office today, but I never suspected I'd this sad about it. As I packed up the last box of stuff from my desk and hauled it out to the car I was really glad all the others had gone home already. I don't think I could have handled seeing anyone I knew at the moment.

In hindsight, I suppose I should have expected it. After all, I've spent exactly a third of my life putting my heart and soul into the job. I suspect I've spent more cumulative time in that one room at that desk than any other single place in my life. Twelve years in one job, ten of which were at the same desk, nine of which were with the same five co-workers. With my departure and another's premature retirement at the end of June, only two will be left. It was a great team. I am profoundly sad that the team is no more.

All the systems I ran were ones I built and shepherded from their very beginnings. I'm proud of what I built and proud of the services I've provided to the taxpayers of Oregon. I'm bitterly angry at the political hacks in Salem who have completely destroyed the team and the organization that enabled me to produce those systems. I wrote up a huge blog post ranting and venting about it, but I don't think I'll post it. Dwelling on and sharing my anger won't do anyone any good. It certainly won't do the co-workers I leave behind any good. I sincerely hope the mess gets straightened out. I hope that saner heads will prevail so that they can salvage whatever talent is left in the organization and get back to their duty of providing quality information technology services to the taxpayers of Oregon. Both for the sake of my friends who stayed behind to stick it out, and the people of the state as a whole.

So I find myself on the threshold of a new stage in my life. An unusual experience. I've really only quit three jobs in my life, and one of them was the McDonald's hell job in high school. The only real career-type job I ever quit was the one I left to come to work for ED-NET back in 1994. I hadn't realized how complacent and acclimated I'd become in my safe little pigeonhole. Suddenly I find myself taking a leap, sacrificing all that seniority and comfort, and trusting someone who I haven't always had the best relationship with, and a funding source that isn't assured beyond the biennium. It's scary not to be in control. I'd forgotten what it's like not being the big kid on the block who's been there the longest. At the same time, I think it's a good thing. I've gotten lazy and complacent over the past few years. The uncertainty will keep me on my toes and thinking - hopefully juicing up that creativity that has been becoming more elusive.

Well, then. No looking back. Forward ho!

Goodbye, ED-NET

Thank you to you former ED-NET staff and customers for making it a truly memorable experience. I'd do it all over again. It's been an interesting and entertaining 12 years, but ED-NET is dead and gone and the time has come to move on.

I've accepted a position starting on Tuesday as a developer and project manager with a prominent open source lab building distance education systems. It's a perfect blend of all the things I'm passionate about: education, communications, and open source software. I can't wait to get started!

Wednesday, May 17

Thank you vote by mail!

I heard a bit about a new security flaw in the Diebold touchscreen voting machines a few days ago, but I didn't really look that closely at it at the time. After all, we don't use the Diebold systems in our vote-by-mail system here in Oregon. Now that our election is past, I took a look at this article:

"[a BlackBoxVoting security expert] was able to--from the keyboard that appears on the machine--create a macro that doesn't even show up that you created it, go and pickup a program through the modem, and run it," [Emery County, Utah clerk and auditor Bruce] Funk said during an interview with SecurityFocus from his home in Clawson, Utah. "I was thinking that this was not right."

Wait a second. A poll worker primed with the knowledge of a few filenames and instructions could, in a few minutes, load whatever software he or she wanted on a voting machine using nothing but the built-in hardware?

Holy voter fraud, Batman!

Thank you vote by mail! May Diebold never cross the Oregon state line.

Monday, May 15

A great loss

Last Wednesday a great man died. His name was Major Pruitt.

Unless you're active in the conservative Jewish community in Portland you may not have heard of Major, but this one man touched thousands of lives in a way that we all could learn from.

For more than fifty years Major served as the sextant and caretaker to Congregation Ahava Shalom and, later, Congregation Neveh Shalom here in Portland. Not only did he take care of the buildings and the grounds, he took care of something far more important: the people who came there. Not only did he make sure the lights worked and the heat was on, he made sure everything was perfect for thousands of weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs. Not only did he know where every candlestick and lightbulb was in the synagogue, he made sure the elderly members of the congregation - especially those who were diabetic - got what they needed to make it through the High Holy Days. He installed the Ten Commandments above the Ark when they built the new synagogue, and he made sure bride and bridesmaids made it down the aisle in good order. He touched every aspect of life for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people over the past half century.

Major was not Jewish, but he knew more about Jewish tradition and ceremony than much of the congregation. He studied for hours in the congregation's library, learning the details of the complex Jewish calendar so that the congregations' records showed the right date.

He could be gruff and stubborn, but he gave the utmost respect to everyone and in doing so earned everyone's respect in return. He loved and was loved in return by all. Especially the children. Major's touch spanned generations: from wedding, to baby naming, to bar and bat mitzvah, to the next generation's weddings and baby namings, and the next. He knew everyone. He knew who was married to who, who was whose cousin, whose children had stayed in the area and whose had moved away (and to where). His phenomenal memory kept track of an astounding number of details about the lives of every member of a congregation than numbers nearly a thousand families. His "Hello, stranger" (by the Rabbi's own admission) could carry more weight than the admonition the clergy had for those who attended services less often than Major thought they should.

I am not a religious person, nor am I Jewish. I only knew Major for a fleetingly-brief time because my wife worked in the synagogue office a few years ago. But Major had a profound impact on me. I didn't even realize it until we got word that he had died. His funeral was today, and even though we are not members of the congregation there was absolutely no doubt in our minds that we needed to attend. As we sat in the sanctuary that Major cared for, with the people of the congregation that he cared for, and listened to the eulogies I realized that I finally understood the meaning of the word "mensch".

Thank you, Major. Thank you for showing us all how to be a good, tireless, honest, reliable, generous, humble, selfless human being. Rest now, Major, knowing that we have watched and learned from your example. The dedication and generosity, the caring and love you showed for the people of the community is astounding. May we all aspire to do even a fraction of the good you have done in this world.

Sunday, May 14

Wild weather

So I get up this morning and fire up a browser to read a few blogs. My home page is my personalized Google home - which includes the weather:

Say what?

Have we been moved to somewhere south of the Equator?

Thursday, May 11

You're kidding, right?

"There's no innovation that we've seen come out of -- at least -- Linux,"
Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer at PSU's new Maseeh Engineering and Computer Science building

Methinks the US Department of Defense, IBM, Intel, and a few other little companies might disagree a wee bit, don't you?

Tuesday, May 9


Twice in two weeks. Power is out at our "world class" data center.

Let's see, that makes two outages in less than a month of having a full staff running full operations. Shall we do a bit of simple arithmetic? Say the two downtimes total one hour in the past 30 days: 24 hours * 30 days = 720 hours/month. 719 hours of uptime / 720 hours total = 0.9986. So much for a "five nines" facility.

Woohoo! We the taxpayers of Oregon spent fifteen million dollars and got ourselves a whopping two nines facility!

Gee, isn't is so nice that we're here to bail them out?

Monday, May 8

Damn, I love Beethoven

A and I went to the Portland Youth Philharmonic concert on Saturday at the Schnitz. Great show. Delightfully-talented young people playing beautiful music is always a pleasure, but in some ways the show was somewhat stolen by their conductor: Mei-Ann Chen.

We had seats off to one side down on the orchestra level, so we were low enough, close enough, and far enough to the side that we could see Ms. Chen's face for much of the performance. Ms. Chen has to be one of the most entertaining conductors I've ever seen. It's abundantly clear that she has a deep and vibrant passion for the music. It was if she was dancing as she led the young musicians. No. Not "if". She was dancing. She was conducting, but it was so expressive that it went beyond mere direction and became a dance. It was really wonderful to see an artist and educator so enjoying her work.

Then, to top it all off, at the end of the program on Saturday they played pieces from my favorite two composers - Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. They played the first three movements of Tchaikovsky's Suite No. 4 in G Major. A beautiful piece, they played it beautifully. I was happy. Then they played the last two movements of Beethoven's 5th Symphony (yes, that symphony).

Oh. Wow.

We so often hear the famous "da da da dum" of the first movement that it's easy to forget just how breathtaking the other three movements really are - the third movement's scherzo leading uninterrupted into the finale is truly beautiful. All I could do was sit there and marvel at the beauty and the passionate power of the music.

Oh yeah. Beethoven rocks.

Tchaikovsky is great - just as powerful, but a precise, graceful, controlled power. I love his work, but to me nothing can compare to the raw emotion of Beethoven at his best - whether it's the famous stormy Fifth, the joy of the Ninth, or the love of the Pathetique.

Thank you, PYP for reminding me why I love Beethoven so much.

Wednesday, May 3

Our brand new "world class" data center ...

... lost power this morning for the better part of an hour.

Five nines? Nah, that's just for those private indusrty pukes. We're government. We don' need no stinkin' reliability!

There was even a cherry on top of this irony sundae - the operations staff down in Salem had to call us up here and ask us to answer their hotlines until the power came back on.

Gee. What was that you said to us a few months back?
Mr. SDC Manager Man: "We don't need a Portland office. We want everyone sitting together in Salem."
Me: "But what about geographic rudundancy? What happens if something takes out the Salem facility?"
Mr. SDC Manager Man: " ... " [insert 30 second pause here] "What?"