Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It's A Given

Am I the only person in America who is doing better this year than last year? You'd sure think that to listen to the media. I started reading an article by someone wondering just what Bush can say in his address tonight to make things look better than they are. I didn't read very far. It was obvious what the writer's agenda was, based on her initial points:

- The State of the Union stinketh, yea, doth roil in stench most foul, because:
- We're still in Iraq, and by her deep, far-reaching expertise in nation-building, we're making no progress whatsoever.
- Hurricane Katrina is Bush's fault.

I stopped reading at that point. I have little to gain from someone with such a warped world view. Am I really to think that the measure of our country can be taken by looking at a third-world country halfway around the world and by one of three regions hit by hurricanes last year? Am I to trust the intellectual honesty of someone who cannot find even the most remote sign of improvement in Iraq?

And why is it that even though he's never been blamed for hurricanes in the previous six years in office, Katrina is Bush's fault? Florida and Texas have been hit hard several times in the last few years, and if the Federal Government really is responsible for handling all such situations, he did a great job on those. Why is Katrina different? To listen to some people you'd think that Bush personally weakened the foundations of thousands of buildings in the area right before the storm hit.

So no, I saw no reason to continue. With that train of logic she'd probably go on to suggest that Bush personally campaigned for Iran's new president, gave him blueprints for nucular bombs, and stopped off in France on the way home to stir up some riots--all of which is proof positive that life in America is an excruciating existence comparable to an apendectomy with toe nail clippers and no anesthetic.

Last night on PBS they showed a documentary on the Nuremburg Trials. If you're looking for evil, folks, THERE is your model, not the current administration. If Bush et al are the nazis so many think they are, then why hasn't he declared Katrina to be the fault of Louisiana blacks and fined them for the cost of repairs? Why is the editorial staff of the New York Times still alive? Why are Mexico and Canada still independent? Why is Baghdad still standing?

If I learned anything last night it is that people really have learned nothing from history, and we're likely going to repeat it. Only this time people like the pathetic writer of that article (who probably believes she is not free to speak her mind under Bush's Nazi Regime, even while her article is carried into millions of homes free of charge) will make sure there is no United States of America left to stand up to the true evil when it rears its head.

Speaking of history, how many of the Great Civilizations, while too strong to be conquered from the outside, fell apart due to corruption from within? I think THAT is the lesson from history we should be paying attention to.

Friday, January 27, 2006

I Am Certifiable

Yesterday afternoon I took the Information Technology Infrastructure Library Foundations Certification exam and passed it. Part of me is irritated with myself that I only got a 75%. Part of me is relieved that I even passed it at all. I completed the program back in mid-November, and since then the course has been unavailable for whatever reason. I've been largely unable to review, so I should be happy to have done so well after two months.

Of course I was scoring in the mid-80's on the practice exam, and for some reason 85% seems so much more solid than 75%. On the other hand, these questions seemed harder. This was not a simple test.

At any rate I passed, and that not only gets me certified but allows me to charge it to the company. I'm also hoping it will mean something within the company, as I may be looking to shift my career focus in response to the recent acquisitions.

Of course it's still way too soon to tell what is going to happen, but assuming I'm not laid off there will still be two potential paths. One is to go with the main part of the company. The primary purchaser has bought all the successful segments of the company, and therefore stands a pretty good chance at staying successful.

On the other hand, the underperforming segment of the company has been picked up by a private investing group with a solid track record of turning around faltering companies. They also tend to reward those who help make it happen. It could also be very, very interesting and informative to get a glimpse into how they turn things around.

So, assuming I can even position myself to go one way or another, I need to decide which way to position myself. For starters, the section of our IT group that stands the best chance of being retained by either companies is not the section I am in. The certification I just obtained could make me more attractive to that group, however.

In any case, if our IT group is to survive the transition, our best bet is to embrace the IT Services approach championed by ITIL. Our IT Operations group--the one I think I want to join--is already well along in doing so. Our IT Development group pays lip-service to the services model, but in reality it's little more than a more highly-formalized version of the matrix structure the organization has had for awhile now. For the most part we provide services internal to the IT organization, and even then it's primarily on development projects.

What we really should be doing, if you ask me--and you didn't, is adopting the ITIL model across the organization to better position ourselves to become invaluable to whichever company we end up in. The "Successful" segment has a number of subsidiaries to which we could offer our services. The "Underperforming" segment has an immediate need for IT services, but plans to uncouple itself over time. If we provide them with excellent IT services, they'll either opt to stay with us or take us with them.

In short, for our IT group to survive, we need to prove ourselves essential to both companies, and we won't do that by being a revenue drain. We need to provide good service, and then carefully track of all the services we provide in order to help both companies recognize our worth and value--all the while preparing to be successful on both fronts to the point where we will need to split the IT group in two.

Of course this is all mindless speculation. I don't even have a clue as to what IT capabilities either organization already brings to the table. Perhaps all they will need from us is to show them how everything works and where the (lack of) documentation is. But frankly I'd be surprised if either company has the infrastructure in place to accommodate the scale of operations they've just purchased.

And while the mental exercise is fun, in the end I've got a family to feed. It may be that I won't be around long enough to care which way the companies go. In the end they will do what is best for them, and I need to do what is best for me, even if it that means doing it somewhere else.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Numerical Gymnastics

From ABCNews online:
In two separate incidents, kids are accused of accidentally shooting other kids. Why are so many children getting their hands on guns and what can be done about it?

Two kids is "so many?" Granted, it's two too many, but they make it sound like half the kids in elementary school are packing heat.

And if you want to look at statistics, there are about as many people in my town as there are US soldiers in Iraq. Census statistics indicate that we averaged about 1050 deaths per year between 2000 and 2005. Is it more dangerous to live here than in Iraq?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Distopia and Dattopia

I'm feeling a little better today. Nothing like a little time away from work to make it a little more endurable. I'm not completely ready to cut and run, but at the same time, I'm going to start looking. Things might be okay around here for awhile longer, and within a month at least they may have some answers and be able to give me a better idea of whether or not there is any reason to stay.

When I got home from work last night it was almost like a totally different family. Richard was feeling considerably better, and that had a positive influence on everyone. We had a pleasant evening, and even our Family Home Evening went relatively well. Walter didn't even mind that his mouse kept getting caught when we played Mousetrap.

That's not the Mousetrap where you build a Rube Goldberg contraption to catch the world's stupidest mouse, but one we used to play when I was a kid. You take a metal nut or washer, tie a string to it, and place it in the middle of the table, while holding the other end of the string. One person has a pot lid and a die. He rolls the die over and over, and if he rolls a one (or was it a six?) he gets to try to catch the mice before the players can yank them away.

I know there are more rules to it than that, but I couldn't remember. Not that it mattered. That was as complicated as the kids could easily handle, and more than enough fun for them. I always knew there was a good reason to play Warhammer: graphical dice. Rather than have the kids have to worry about counting spots in a hurry I'd just roll an artillery die from my game. It has two sides that show an explosive cloud, while the others all show arrows. It both made the game go faster having two sides that could come up, and made it easy for them to tell when to yank their mice.

Anyway, I need the rest of the family to fill me in on the rest of the rules just in case they want to play it when they're a little older and need more complexity.

I got a flier today for a lawn company that wants to fertilize my lawn this year. It's tempting. Boy is it tempting...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Oh Dash It All! Here We Go Again!

It looks like my company will be sold. I guess I'll have to do some thinking and praying about things, but at this point I don't think I want to be stay around to see what happens. Though they've indicated a desire to keep a "significant presence" in my home town, that could mean anything. I don't see how my job could be maintained in the long run.

On the other hand, it looks like we're through the worst part of the plague at our house. Walter and Emma are pretty much back to normal, and Richard is showing significant signs of improvement. With any luck, the winter of our discontent is nearly over.

It's a good thing. We thought we were getting cabin fever before! Being cooped up inside unable to even go to stores, the mall, etc., has really taken its toll on everyone, especially Terhi. I'm sure they'll be happy to be out and about again.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Doin' The Wave

Well, one kid is nearly recovered, the second went to the doctor yesterday--and has another appointment for this afternoon--and the third is struggling bravely through the early/middle stages. And my wife seems to be going back down for another round.

Me? So far I've managed to avoid it, knock on...uhm...particle board.

This whole experience has taught me just how much I despise our current insurance. Our old insurance had a fairly low co-pay on doctor's visits, whereas on our current program we pay everything out of pocket until we hit the deductible, wherein the insurance starts kicking in. Knowing that we'll have to pay the whole thing really makes us agaonize every time a kid gets sick. Should we go see a doctor or not?

As I mentioned above, our oldest went to the doctor yesterday, complaining of an ear ache. Sure enough, she has an ear infection. Today she's complaining of an ache in her throat. I guess she's had this before, and it turned out to be a throat infection. If this really is the same thing, then the antibiotics they prescribed for the ear infection should also help with this. But what if it's not?

If we take her in today and they say that she'll be fine when the antibiotics have had enough time to take effect I'll be grumbling. But the alternative is taking the chance that it IS something else and it WON'T get better on its own. Then we still pay for a doctor, and suffer the guilt that we could have done something sooner and spared her the suffering.

We're young parents, and eventually we'll gain enough experience to know how to decide these sorts of things more easily. But I can't help but wish the lessons would come cheaper. Like they used to.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Neighborhood Coughy House

The crud has hit our house. It's been toying with us for a week or more now, but this weekend it made its move. My middle son spent much of yesterday dripping and coughing and generally being miserable. His other two siblings seem to have lesser versions of it, though we're not entirely sure the baby is out of the woods. My wife has had some sort of crud most of the last week, and is either getting it again or has picked up a different strain.

As for me, if I did get it I didn't notice since I'm already high on decongestants for my allergies. I suspect, from watching my son go through it, I would have noticed. So either my day is coming or I've been extremely fortunate so far.

My company is back on the auction block again, so I'm officially and preemptively on the market again, too. I'm not hearing any convincing reasons to stay. It never hurts to start finding out what else is out there.

My company gave me MLKj Day off yesterday, so I spent it (in addition to helping nursemaid sick kids) catching up on a few projects around the house like taking down the outdoor Christmas lights and attempting (successfully this time) to put a nice edge around the fireplace hearth.

For some reason the previous occupants decided it would be fun to rip up the carpet to run surround sound wiring beneath. They did a horrible job of replacing the carpet around the fireplace, and the tack strip was poking holes in our feet. I tried last month to do something about it only to find that our downstairs carpet is installed over concrete (and a pad, of course), which makes it very hard to nail anything down. I'm not sure how they got the tack strip in, quite frankly, unless they added it while the concrete was still wet.

So my next plan was to get some Gorilla Glue and glue some nails pointing upward around the edge of the tile heart so that I could take a piece of wooden moulding and hammer it down onto the nails, which would hold the carpet down and put a nice edge on it all. One problem: Gorilla Glue has to be clamped, and they mean it. I had no means of clamping a dozen or so nails to the floor.

So next I tried getting some 1/4-inch slats, driving nails up through it, and gluing that on the floor to secure the moulding against. The nails either didn't hold or the moulding split. I never even got far enough to try gluing the slat to the concrete flooring.

So yesterday I abandoned the idea of securing the moulding without any fasteners showing. I glued some more of the 1/4-inch slat to the concrete, "clamping" it with a pile of books on top to hold it down (I knew I held onto those darn books for a reason!), and then screwing the moulding down through the carpet and into the slats. After developing an impromptu countersink method, it went together like a charm.

One more item off the list. Just in time for the list to start growing again. With spring coming we've begun making plans for yard/garden/interior. I'm sure I'll keep plenty busy this year.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Tooth?! You Can't HANDLE The Tooth!

Actually, if we're talking about my baby boy, he can--at least better than we expected. He just got his first tooth a couple days ago, and that day was the first time we really suspected it. He's normally a fairly cheerful little guy, and so after a day of his being crabby and clingy, we decided to check his gums. Ouch! Poor little guy.

Things are not quite so bad at work now. I've started to settle into my new digs and have started being productive. Being productive helps a lot. I kinda like it.

Beyond that I've been knee-deep in a personal project. I've been writing a novel. It's fan fiction for a wargame I play, and I've been posting it in chapters on an online fan bulletin board. It's not terribly large, perhaps 50,000 words by the time I'm done with it, which according to this source makes it pushing the upper limit of a novella.

I haven't written a novel in about 15 years, so it feels good to crank out something that significant. And I've got at least two fans who loyally read each installment. I know that doesn't sound like much, but it's really made a difference. This bulletin board has a "hit" counter that lets you know how many times a post has been read. My readership has been falling off fairly steadily since I first started posting it, but these two not only always come back but regularly leave me comments. At this point I'd have to say I'm going to finish this as much for them as for me.

Another encouraging aspect of this work is that I have a desire to go back and rework it once I'm done. I usually finish something (if even that) and immediately abandon it. My previous novel I have intended to rework, but only after rereading it after a year or two and realizing it was pretty weak. This one I can already see where it can be made better, where it should be expanded, and how my writing style could be improved.

Right now the main pressure is to finish it. Once it's done I intend to leave it for awhile so it can become fresh again and I can become a little less attached. Then I plan to come back to it and rework it. After all, Robert Louis Stevenson once said that writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. I don't sweat enough for my art.

After that I've got another project simmering on the back burner. This one should be my first serious attempt at LDS historical fiction (two categories I've never tackled before). The last time I read through the Book of Mormon I became very impressed with King Limhi, the son of a wicked king who in spite of his father's example, remains relatively righteous and eventually becomes the spiritual leader of his people as well. There's a story there, and I'm itching to tell it.

Hold me to it, folks. If I don't have at least a full draft by the end of 2006 give me heaps of grief.

Friday, January 06, 2006

January Doldrums

I have decided I do not like my job any more. It's been months since I produced anything of value, and while it's not my fault I've had lousy assignments, it's really hard to feel useful and productive. I've been reassigned again, and it's done very little to eliminate my feeling of being cattle.

I've been putting out feelers in other areas of the company in hopes of arranging a change of position, but I have serious doubts that anything will come of it.

It's time to start looking for another job, I think.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Judgement Day

For the second time I've been recruited to be a judge by my sister-in-law as part of their PTO's talent competition. I'm the Musical Composition judge. I guess my degree is still useful for a few things.

It's not a hard job. Both years there has been only one entrant, so there's not much pressure. The kid will advance to the next level regardless of what I think. Not that they have to worry about it anyway. Writing songs when you are 11 years old is not an easy undertaking. Musical notation is tricky. I'm impressed that she used fairly sophisticated notation, even if she didn't use it perfectly.

My sister-in-law says I wrote more in my comments than just about any other judge. Well, I figure it's the least I can do. When I was in seventh grade I had a teacher tell me my writing was good and entered me in a city-wide competition where I took second place. That one shot in the arm led me to develop a talent that has opened more doors for me in life than just about anything else I can think of. The least I can do is pass it on.