john's blog

Technical Support Blues

The company I work for sells software to large organizations whose users tend to be on the older side -- some as old as 90.

My boss is a member of one of the organizations we've sold the software to and has volunteered to support the end users. The trouble is that my boss is out of the office with some frequency.

Users call our office expecting support, a service for which we're not being paid, out of anyone who answers the phone. We don't want to be rude to these people, but at the same time, when they get belligerent about being told to wait for a call-back from my boss, it can make for a frustrating experience.

Anyone else in a similar situation? I'd love to hear about how you handle it.

Renting From Employer

I am soon to be faced with the prospect of paying rent to my employer. I think the idea makes me uncomfortable. It has too much of a 16 Tons feel to it: "Tell saint peter that I can't go. I owe my soul to the company store."

I have been renting from his father for the past three years and now his son, my boss, is looking to buy the property. My boss has told me he plans to raise rents across the board when he owns the property. To me, this feels like a pay cut.

The rent is a bit below market, I'll freely admit that; and, it hasn't increased the entire time I've lived here. That said, my pay has been the same for the past three years and will likely decrease this year (without a jump in the rent.)

Anyone got any advise? I'd love to hear it.

More About headlines

Another format change for the main page today. I'm moving away from the overly pithy Headlines articles and am breaking the stories back out into individual articles.

Instead of short 1 or 2 sentence summaries, I'm beefing the summaries up to a few paragraphs. I think that this will better facilitate commentary from both myself and anyone who want to respond.

This does mean more stories per day, which I have to believe is a good thing.

$3 A Day

One of today's headlines struck me as particularly moving. Congressman Tim Ryan accepted the "Food Stamp Challenge" to live on $3 a day worth of food.

If you've been to a grocery store lately, you have to know that that is no easy challenge. Many sources of protein, fresh fruit, and vegetables are literally off the table. His choices of food, a lot of it sandwich fixings, weren't the best for his long term health if he had had to actually survive on the diet for more than a week.

In case you are wondering, $3 a day is the average amount given to Food Stamp recipients under current legislation. While it may not result in starvation, it could result in long term malnutrition if you had to survive solely on food stamps.

The next time you pick out a nice $10 steak, remember that others in the store are trying to eat for 3 days on that money.


Why does Blogging appeal to people? Is it a creative outlet? Do people do it for notoriety, for money, to socialize? If, as Technorati claims, there are 55 million people worldwide blogging away, there could be as many reasons.

I guess the more important question is why do people read them. I have read my share of blog posts but follow very view blogs on a day-to-day basis. Too often, blog posts are about people talking about themselves rather than focusing on any one particular interest. That can certainly be said of mine so far -- which is probably why no one reads it either.

It is my plan over the next few months to roll out several discreet blogs that are topical. The first will be about my writing. Then my passion for movies and television shows. Books will also be big. will be a root domain for all these other sites to revolve around however.

Writing In The Works

One of my aspirations at this stage in my life is to establish myself as a writer. I have had an interest in writing fiction, particularly Fantasy and Sci-Fi for some time. A first baby-step in that direction will be a launching of a new blog to chronicle my writing career from the beginning.

The blog will be more than just my ramblings however: I intend to link to other blogs, podcasts, and other resources to help writers; I will research solutions about how to write, get published, find an agent, publicize, etc. and share those insights; and I will provide a forum for writers to share their ideas, concerns and works.

This is a project that has been long coming. I am anxious to get started and expect to do so within the next week. More here when the blog is ready to launch.

Why Software Patents Are A Bad Idea

This little rant is in response to Microsoft's claim that the FOSS community violates 235 of their patents. What is at issue is the idea of patenting things that are ideas rather than things that are inventions.

Were this applied to other industries, you could have patents in the home construction industry on the idea of a house having a mud room. All the other designers of homes would have to pay a fee to license the idea, if the original designer even lets them, for 17 years before they too could have mud rooms in their design.

Let's apply idea patents to art. If Monet patented Impressionism, would we have Van Gogh? Degas? Renoir?

How about something more practical? Jeff Bezos and hold a patent on one-click purchasing -- basically, once you've setup your account, you click a button next to the product and it shows up. Sounds novel, right? Well, at some point, using a shopping cart when at the grocery store was a novel idea. What would shopping be like if the first store to use shopping carts patented the idea and prevented customers of other stores from having the same convenience? Suddenly, the whole idea sounds ridiculous, right?

Link Spam

What is it with people always trying to game the system? My site is now under constant attack from people trying to post comments that link to their site.

The site will not allow comments with embedded links. If you add a link, it will strip the link out of the post. Many spammish posts just get flagged as spam and aren't even displayed.

The site uses the Drupal Captcha module and requires that you answer a math question to be able to post your message. For someone to bypass captcha, they need to brute force their way through the question, likely submitting posts over-and-over again until their answer is right for the random question. I see this happening in my logs. A thousand attempts a day to get a handful of posts into the spam trap.

The worst part of all this is that the attacks are coming from computers all over the world. These people are using compromised computers, a bot-net, to do their dirty work. Very aggravating.

Exercise and Fitness

I've never been a big fan of exercise unless it involves actually accomplishing something. Getting some exercise cleaning, ok. Riding a stationary bike, not ok.

But, in today's electronic world, how does one get enough exercise to stay fit. I don't have farm chores to keep me fit. I sit at a desk and do programming all day long.

To make matters worse, there are suggestions now that cardio workouts (i.e., exercises that raise your heart rate) do burn some calories, but they're no where near as effective as strength training if you want to lose weight.

I can appreciate the irony of buying weights to lose weight; but, to me, lifting weights is the worst form of do-nothing exercise there is -- and it's negative reinforcement. Everything about lifting weights screams STOP DOING THIS. It hurts while you're doing it, and it hurts after you do it.

Exercise reminds me of a classic joke: It's not clear if exercise extends your life or just makes it seem longer.

Headline News

Coming under a lot more time pressure again at work. As a result, I have moved to posting a daily collection of headlines to the main feed. If something strikes me worthy of devoting a full article to that one story, I will post a whole article complete with comments.

Time management dictates that I need to concentrate my time on work, but I want to do something to keep rolling. Capturing the headlines and a few quick comments about the stories that I read I think will do the job for now.

Dealing With Over-Commitment

If you ever feel like there are not enough hours in the day, you can count on me being in the same boat. There are several things I seem to never find the time to do -- all the while feeling that I'm falling behind in the things I am doing.

The punch-list for my continuing project at work is nearly 100 items long -- each of which can take anywhere from half a day to several days to complete.

Outside of work, I work on adding to this site and some others. Then, of course, there are real-life obligations as well.

How does one deal with having more commitments than there is time in the day? Shedding commitments has been my past response, but I don't think that that is a truly mature response to being overloaded.

Instead, I think it is all a matter of prioritization. Obviously, work responsibilities have to be a priority. For everything else, I think the best solution is to budget your time. Trying to do ongoing commitments in equal parts per day (e.g., 1/2 hour for this, a 1/

A 4-Hour Work Week?

While browsing a local bookstore, I came across a book called The 4-Hour Work Week. I was, of course, curious about the premise; so, I gave it a look through.

The book is all about trying to do the same work you do in a 40 hour week in as little time as possible so that you can have more time to yourself. The biggest point he makes is to try to get yourself out of being expected to be in one place from 9-5 Monday through Friday. If your job involves having to be in an office all week, you have no hope of cutting down your work week.

The key, really, is to get employers to recognize that a 40 hour week is a disincentive to productivity. Get your employer to reward your hard work by letting you work from outside the office. That frees you to get the same amount of work done that you do in 40 hours at a faster pace and thereby gives you more free time.

He then goes into your basic work smart, not hard lecture. With the most important point being to recognize the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. You can do something efficient, like organizing your email; but, have you done something effective? Are you getting your job done, or keeping yourself busy?

Further Thoughts On Organization

When you simply have too many things, it is difficult to deal with the sentimental attachment to some of the items. Asking your partner to part with cherished belongings is not an option.

So, how do you handle the situation when you simply don't have enough space for your belongings. Storage, while expensive, may be the only option.

I have led a mostly gypsy lifestyle, carrying a limited number of possessions with me from place to place. My partner, while living in apartments most of her life, has been acquiring possessions in preparation for owning a house. This is, perhaps, the greatest difference between the two of us, and one I am determined to overcome.

I believe that until we get a house, we simply have to bite the bullet and find someplace to store the balance of the items. Storage units can be expensive, but I think that that is our only option.

However, some math I haven't done troubles me. How long would we have to have possessions in storage before it would be cheaper to replace them when we buy a house.

Drupal Forum Options

While implementing a replacement site for the Schenectady Wargamers Association, I found myself looking for a decent Forum solution. The old site uses phpBB, a well-known, popular, and infamously-insecure system.

The list of options is somewhat small when you want a forum in Drupal. There is a forum built into the system. You can download a module called UIEForum from the guys who run, which respects many of the central tenets of the Drupal architecture. Or, you can get modules that will "integrate" phpBB, vBulletin, and a few others.

The downloads that integrate other systems basically work to propogate user information and logins between the two systems, but the BBs effectively run outside of Drupal.

I decided early on that I wanted something that followed the Drupal philosophy and would be more tightly coupled to the platform. Very quickly, that narrowed the choices to UIEForum and the built in module. At first glance, UIE forum seems superior -- and it probably is. But, at this moment, it lacks a few important things: No containers (i.e., headings to group forums together). Forum searching is not integrated into the search tool. The grouping mechanism seems clumsy.

Another Busy Week

When it rains, it pours. The company I work for, Vita Rara, continues to be more and more successful. This, in turn, is making me more and more busy. Busy enough that it interferes with the time I have to write blog posts, stories, or any other personal writing.

I need to recommit myself to setting aside time, no matter how busy I am, to do the person stuff -- like this blog.

At the same time, I have to balance concerns that my work load not eliminate personal time either. It is important to me that time with my family not suffer. I guess I need to find ways to work smarter in the time that I have.

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