Friday, October 24, 2008

Thoughts from this week...

I spent most of this week at our company summit meeting at Lake Monomonac, in Winchendon, MA. (It's near Leominster, which is pronounced Lemon-ster.) We're a small "virtual" company-- a total of just 8 employees, and we all work from home. Up until now, I had only met 3 of my coworkers in person, so I got to meet the other 4 this week.

I started calling our meeting a retreat, because the cell phone reception was pretty sketchy, but I'm pretty sure that our retreat didn't cost $440,000 because we were staying at my boss' 3-BR / 2-Bath lake cottage and one of my coworkers brought his camper. (Wall Street should take business frugality lessons from us!)

The Tip of the Iceberg

I know that our software does some complicated engineering analysis, but this week I realized that the expression "tip of the iceberg" is a gross understatement. I would guess that probably 99% of the software is "underwater" or behind the curtain of the user interface.

Maybe that's true of every product to a certain extent. I'm sure that surgeons never stop to think about all of the analysis and testing that go into the development of the devices that they use, which is what I used to work on.

But this week I realized that now I'm on the other side, sneaking a peak at what's happening behind the curtain, and I'm feeling a little sheepish because I'm out of my element. I have written computer programs to crunch data through equations, but I am not a programmer.

My coworkers spent several hours talking about graph theory, Dinic algorithms, valency, and supernodes. They did their best to explain some of these concepts to me, but I still have only the foggiest clue of what those terms really mean.

Airport Aggravation

Am I the only one who feels bullied by airports that don't offer free WiFi access?

I mean it's bad enough that you're holding me hostage for hours with crummy overpriced food, uncomfortable seating, and noisy announcements repeated over-and-over-and-over again. (Most airports banned smoking decades ago. Do we still need announcements to remind people of this fact?!?) Couldn't you please just let me check my email and surf the internet for an hour for free, to help take my mind off of how tired and miserable I am?

I really don't feel like I'm being unreasonable here.

I suspect that most people are like me-- They boot up their computer to see if there is a free connection, but when they find out that they have to pay for access, they just shut everything down again. (I actually use my iPod touch to test the waters first, so I don't have to deal with the hassle of waiting for my computer to boot up.) Because it's not worth paying $8-10 just to get online for 45 minutes. And if the cost isn't really the issue, then there's the hassle of having to submit the credit card charges for reimbursement on an expense account.

I just wonder how much revenue is actually being generated by the exclusive partnerships between airports and the internet service providers for "pay by the hour" access?

On that note, I just have to say that Dayton is a nice little airport. Free WiFi access, reasonable parking, quick security lines, and much cheaper flights than Cincinnati. I just wish they were closer to my house. I had to get up at 2:45am on Monday morning so that I could leave my house at 4am, and I was still a little bit rushed catching my 6:10 flight. So my busy week got off to a very early start!

I'm a Mac

I love these commercials, and I think The Bean Counter is especially great.

Maybe it's just fun to cheer for the underdog, but seriously, Microsoft has made themselves such an easy target with Vista...

You know you've really screwed up when you have to disguise your product as something else (i.e. the "Mojave" commercials) in order to get people to even consider taking a look at it.

My coworkers (i.e. brilliant software developers) have struggled with serious problems installing Vista on their computers, so I have a hard time believing that Vista is ready for prime-time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Tell me how this makes sense:
The government put itself four-square into the country's banking business Tuesday, resorting to what President Bush conceded was the unwelcome choice of a partial nationalization in order to loosen paralyzed channels of credit.


Nine major banks will participate initially including all of the country's largest institutions, he announced, in a move that sent stocks soaring on Wall Street.

Some of the nation's largest banks had to be pressured to participate by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who wanted healthy institutions that did not necessarily need capital from the government to go first as a way of removing any stigma that might be associated with banks getting bailouts.


Executives of the country's biggest banks were summoned to a remarkable meeting at the Treasury Department on Monday to be briefed on the plan. Paulson basically told the bank CEOs that they had to accept the government stock purchases for the good of the U.S. economy.


After the purchase of preferred stock in nine large banks, the new program is expected to be expanded to many others. Among the initial banks participating will be all of the country's largest institutions, including Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley, said one official, with each institution expected to receive billions of dollars in return for the sale to the government of preferred shares.

The advantage to the taxpayer is that if the rescue plan works, then the shares can be sold for more than the government initially paid, providing a profit on the transaction.

I just don't understand why we're buying shares in banks that aren't even in trouble. I really thought the whole point of a bailout was to rescue the financial institutions that are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, not to invest in a private industry for the fun of it.

These organizations systematically destroyed their own reputations and undermined our entire economy, and we're stuck bailing them out. And now they're going to divert extra money to "remove the stigma" from their failure?


And then there's that tiny little word "if" hidden in the last paragraph:
...if the rescue plan works...

And what if it doesn't?

Does anybody know where I can find Galt's Gulch? I'm ready to move!

Monday, October 13, 2008

You know you're an adult when... suffer through a Thirtysomething Crisis.

I spent an hour or two on the phone with my friend J---- last night. She's having a Thirtysomething Crisis. She loves her job, but she's also under more stress than any human being was meant to carry. Having been through this sort of thing myself, I can empathize completely with what she's going through, so we both wound up sniffling and crying while we were talking on the phone.

I have several friends who have suffered through this type of crisis in the past couple of years, and I can only wonder why Life has chosen to haul off and punch us in the gut at this particular age.

It can't be called a Midlife Crisis, because we're only in our thirties. And it's not an Existential Crisis, because it's NOT triggered by a search for significance, but rather by an external voice telling us that we're failing at the one thing that we thought was our purpose in life.

Being an adult is really hard sometimes.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Joy of Skiing

They've implemented a new online registration process for getting season passes at the ski area.

You know, when you put it this way it doesn't sound like fun at all:
I am aware that the sport of skiing/boarding/sliding involves numerous risks of injury or death, including, but not limited to, injury due to loss of control; falls; the failure of skiers/snowboarders/sliders to ski/ride/tube within their own abilities; use of ski lifts; collisions with or falls resulting from trees, rocks, lift towers, fences, snowmaking equipment, snow vehicles, signs, other skiers/snowboarders/sliders and other manmade or natural obstacles.

[I have to say that the bit about "failure of sliders to tube within their own abilities" is especially ridiculous. You sit on a tube, and gravity does the rest. How is there any skill involved in that?]
I understand that I may encounter obstacles that are inherent in the sport, including but not limited to, bare spots, variations in snow, ice and terrain including bumps, moguls, terrain features, stumps, forest growth and debris, rocks, and other slope hazards or obstacles whether they are marked or unmarked, manmade or natural, or a result of slope design or modifications. I understand and agree that ------- ----- ------ shall have no duty to warn me of or to remedy any natural or manmade risks, dangers or hazards.

[I'm only surprised that they didn't mention any other natural hazards, like running into a deer, for example... which actually happened to someone at our ski area.]
I agree that, as a skier/snowboarder/slider, I have responsibilities to myself and to others to ski/ride/tube safely and in control.

[I'd guess that 90% of all injuries in skiing and/or snowboarding happen because people ignore that one little sentence.]
I also understand and agree that it is important to my safety to pay attention while loading, riding and unloading ski lifts, and I agree that I will not attempt to load, ride or unload a lift unless familiar with the proper way to do so.

I understand that I am voluntarily choosing to participate in the sport of snow skiing/boarding/sliding at ------- ----- ------ with knowledge of the aforesaid risks of injury or death involved and hereby expressly agree to accept and assume all such risks of injury or death associated with the sport of snow skiing/boarding/tubing.

As lawful consideration for being permitted by ------- ----- ------ to participate in the sport of snow skiing/boarding/tubing, I hereby agree to release from any and all legal liability and agree not to sue or make a claim against, and to indemnify, defend and hold harmless ------- ----- ------, all of the owners, officers, members, agents and employees for any and all claims for damage, injuries, death to myself or any person or property, including all defense costs, attorney's fees, and other expenses of any type, caused by or resulting from my participation in the sport of snow skiing/boarding/tubing or other alpine activities while on the premises, whether such costs, damage, injury or death was caused by their negligence or from any other cause.

I authorize ------- ----- ------ Ski Patrol to administer treatment in the event of an injury to myself or to the the minor for whom I am signing.

And that's why they pay us the big bucks!

Oh, wait...

Actually, we're a volunteer patrol, which means that we don't get paid.

But our ski area gives us free family & guest passes, they offer discounts on food & gear, and they pay for first aid supplies and equipment for the patrol, which more than most other ski areas do for their patrollers. We pay for our parkas and our annual membership fees to National Ski Patrol, but we get to ski for free, we have lots of fun, and we help people.

Seems like a good deal to me!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Random Vices

Random thoughts on the Vice Presidential debate tonight:

  • Isn't "a team of mavericks" an oxymoron?

  • When did candidates start referring to their opponents by their first names during debates? I'm hearing a lot about "Joe believes X," "Barak voted for Y," and "John's plan is Z."

  • You know that there has been a major upheaval when a Republican candidate starts talking about big, bad corporations (specifically, Banks and Oil Companies) taking advantage of average people. I really thought that was a Democratic platform...