Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Back on the Air...

...sort of. While my phone service at the new house came back up as expected, the DSL did not. The phone company is running line tests but it appears that they either have to re-wire part of their central office facility handling my new neck of the woods or they have to jump my circuit around a fiber segment in the mix somewhere. Either way, my connection at the new house is spotty at best. I say "spotty" because several of my new neighbors are apparently running wireless access points (WAPs) without any security features active. Under normal circumstances, I'd have never thought to access them like that, but I needed drivers for devices I'm setting up and the disks have apparently disappeared into thin air. That or into a mislabeled box, whatever makes more sense.

In any case, I'm back at work this morning and wanted to toss in a quick hello. More to come...

Friday, July 23, 2004

Signing off...

No, not permanently. We're moving today. It's about 4:45 am here and we're getting the final items packed up. The broadband connection's being unplugged here in about 15 minutes since I have "better" things to do than surf the blogs! When next I'm on, it'll be at the new place. See all of you there!

Monday, July 19, 2004

Air Travel in the Modern Age

I remember the 1st time my mother took us with her to the grocery store where they were using the barcodes and laser scanners. It was quite a change. Instead of the near-deafening cacaphony of cashiers whacking away at mechanical keypads and banging the prices in by hand, there was the sudden pass of the products over the scanner window and the now-familiar beep of the computer successfully reading the code. A quick lookup in a database and the correct item description and price got put onto the paper tape. Techno-magic at both it's finest and most basic. Within a few years, literally everyone was using the system - or something similarly technologically dependent - and it was an accepted part of normal life. Of course, no computer system is without problems and even the best will crash eventually. For those first few years, such an event would generate exasperated sighs from the clerks, a call to the manager, and (after all other recourse was exhausted) a quick rollback to a manual system to make sure the customers were taken care of. After all, the newfangled computer system was the store's problem, not the customers'.

There came a day, however, when the stores stopped training their personnel in how to do things manually. This was a combination of more reliable systems and more desire on the part of the stores to reduce to as near zero as possible the training time required to get an employee out there generating revenue. Whatever the reason, the day came when, as my father & I were trying to buy something at Sears, the clerk gave us an apologetic look and told us he couldn't sell us whatever thingamabob we had come there to buy.

"Why not?" my father asked, honestly not getting the point.
"Well, sir, the computer's down", the clerk replied.
"The computer is down", he repeated. "You mean you can't make a sale at all unless your computer is working?"
"That's right, sir. I'm very sorry."

You'd have thought the man had claimed my father's head had 2 evergreen trees sprouting from it from the look on Dad's face. As we turned to leave Dad remarked to the clerk that Sears was going to have real trouble staying in business if they'd only make sales while the computer was up. As we left, he said to me (between colorful anglo-saxonisms) that he wondered if the clerk was only getting paid while the computer was up. I think I said I doubted it but Dad wasn't really listening. He was so upset at being told he couldn't buy something from the store because their systems were inadequate for the task.

Fast forward to about ((*cough*)) years later and here I am walking into Dulles International Airport preparing to fly out for a business trip. My business? I'm a network engineer. Specifically, I design and implement high-capacity and high-availability networks. Now, what that means in non-marketing speak is that I put together information systems for needs bigger than your average family of 5 and for where those systems can not be not available. Our clients pay us to put systems together that will never force a clerk to turn away a customer who wants to give our clients money. Having worked in the airline industry before, I made sure to get to the airport the full 2 hours prior to departure. You know how they say "you never know what can go wrong"? Well, I do know. So I come early and patronize the airport coffee shop if things surprise me and go well. Coming up to Continental Airlines' ticket counter at Dulles, I am presented with the sight of 4 airline counter clerks all on the telephone with impatient-looking customers standing in front of them. The line's got at least 6 more of those impatient-looking folks. Yes, that's right - the airline's computer system is down.

In today's flying environment, I can hardly think of systems more mission-critical than that of the airlines. It is that system which houses the reservations lists, the actual boarding list, the seat assignments, the international document checklists, the flight status of the incoming aircraft, etc, etc, etc. Not having them built to survive failures of individual components just smacks of negligence to meand I was about to let one of their managers know my feelings on the matter. They got lucky, though - turns out the problem wasn't with Continental, but with Dulles airport. Seems all the airlines' computer systems were having the same issue. I guess the systems all get their feeds back to headquarters though a cental room at Dulles and that room's having the trouble. So we're all working with handwritten boarding passes and hoping the computer guys here at the airport know their stuff.

Hmmm, maybe I should give out a business card.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

UN Officials Knew About Oil-For-Food Scandal Years Ago

The UN head of the Oil-for-Food program apparently received a letter nearly 2 years ago showing that funny business was going on with the program. His immediate reaction? Step aside from the UN hierarchy and go talk to Hussein's Iraqi government instead.

Space HereUNITED NATIONS — United Nations officials apparently knew of specific allegations that bribes were being paid in the oil-for-food program but there's no sign they did anything to change the program, documents obtained by FOX News show.

Nearly two years ago, U.N. official Benon Sevan — the man who ran the oil-for-food program — received a copy of a letter from Lakia, a Russian-owned oil company, that was sent to Iraqi authorities.
Space Here

Lakia's letter referred to a $60,000 payment that Iraq's Oil ministry had required as "an advance payment." Lakia paid the sum then did the math and concluded that the payment wasn't any such thing. Their letter demanding a refund was copied to Benon Sevan. What he should have done was notify the Security Council and begin an investigation, since the scandal was already becoming public at that point. He did neither. Instead, he contacted the Iraqi ambassador to get his take on the matter. No investigation was ever done. The story asks why Sevan went to the Iraqis instead of the Security Council and wonders if he was tipping Saddam off that people were going to start asking questions. Good question. Better one is why the Security Council, once they were advised, failed to start an investigation.

I have another question to add to that: why has the American Media all but ignored the story? If that were President Bush's administration staff allegedly getting kickbacks, you'd be hearing it night and day. Scores of reporters and analysts and talking heads all over the place would be screaming for independent investigators. They'd be demanding a lot more of those Senate and House reports. But here we have this scandal in the UN, the darling of the news media, and they don't make a peep.

The story's on Fox News. Good thing at least one of them is looking into all the stories.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Let's not panic

I heard on the radio today on my ride in that the DHS is looking at options to postpone the elections in November in the event of a terrorist attack aimed at disrupting the process. I know our friends on the Left are going to be just screaming about that, but let's all take a moment.

First, they're not suggesting we do any such thing. They're examining options. Planning for contingencies. That's what we want them to do. It's what we'd hold independent investigations of if they didn't do it and something happened. They are playing the forever game of "what if?" and seeing what they can possibly do should the worst happen. Nobody's saying we need to postpone yet, nor is anyone trying to get that done.

Second, it's a fair thing to look at what we do should there be a 9/11 - scale attack on November 2. Recall what New York City was like that day. Or Washington. Don't forget the thousands of people stranded at airports and train stations who couldn't get home. Not to mention the people trying to fly back into the country. All of those people would certainly not have been voting that day had there been an election that day. We've not had to worry about the kind of event that would make it impossible for an entire city to vote in the past and the question of how we handle that - how we not disenfranchise an entire city or county of voters, to use a term that's been bandied about a bit - is a valid one to discuss.

Thinking about it even further, this is something that we could use on the books anyway. What if "the big one" hit southern California the morning of November 2? LA, San Diego, and their surrounds are not going to be overly concerned about tabulating votes when they're trying to put out fires and rescue people. What would we do then? Or perhaps if a Category 5 tornado dropped onto St. Louis? How about another Hurricane Andrew running over Miami? Or a repeat of the blizzards over the past couple of years in the northeast that just so happened to start at about 4:00 am and socked in everything from Philadelphia to the Canadian border? It's not just a question of a terror attack knocking our election process off, there's all sorts of events that can do a number of a significant section of the country. What can we, as a country, do to make sure our election process stays as inclusive as we can make it in the face of these events? That's the question being asked and one obvious solution is to delay the election. If that's the option we go with, how do we implement that?

Secretary Ridge is doing the right thing in directing staff to look at the problem and plan for the possibility.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Show yourselves

This from the editorial pages of the Tampa Tribune:

Space HereTo the kidnappers in Iraq:

If you truly believe in the righteousness of Allah, take off your masks. If you truly believe that Allah is all powerful, take off your masks. If you truly believe that your death will lead you to paradise, take off your masks. If you truly believe that we are the great Satan, take off your masks. If you have the ``courage'' to stand behind your victims with guns and knives, take off your masks. If any of the above is true for you, take off your masks. Show us your faces and your beliefs or know yourselves for the cowards and hypocrites that you are.

Bernard Lax
Zephyrhills, FL
Space Here

Well said.

Winner of the 2004 "Cojones Mas Grande" Award is...

Mr. Bernie Ebbers, former CEO of WorldCom, who filed to have his severance arrangement reinstated by MCI. In a "2-things-I-can't-believe" situation for the price of 1, Ebbers' severance agreement consists of being paid $1.5 million as a severance, having his medical insurance covered by the company for the rest of his life, limited use of the company's corporate jets, and having his wife paid $750,000 after his death. First, what set of colossal morons got this proposal on their desks and thought that was a good example of a severance package? (Yes, that'd be the Board of the bankrupt company, who have since become ex-Boardmembers.) That part about the medical coverage is especially nice. Considering the man was a multi-millionaire, shouldn't he be expected to pay his own medical bills after he's stopped working for the company?

Second, the fact that this fraudulent clown managed to torpedo both a huge company and millions of investors with his criminal behavior then wants to have the survivors pay him for the service is absolutely ridiculous. And we haven't even gotten to the actual headline of the story. Seems the action by Ebbers to file for the reinstatement has goaded the current Board of MCI to basically turn around to Ebbers and say, "Yeah? Well what about the $340 million you owe us in unpaid personal loans?" Read that again: $340 million in unpaid personal loans. And the ironic upshot of all that is the fact that Ebbers needed the money to pay off margin calls on his personal investments. He borrowed from the company so as not to have to sell his stock in Worldcom at a loss due to the price dropping like a brick. I know a dozen former Worldcom investors who would have loved to have that kind of safety cushion to fall on.

Ebbers has been indicted for his fraud in a New York court and is due to go on trial in November. I look forward to seeing him do his "perp walk" like Enron's Ken Lay has done. Both need to see the inside of a jail cell for a long time.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Time flies when you're having... work?

Been a helluva week, folks. I honestly never thought I'd have so many projects in the air at the same time. Lots of very time sensitive projects at work and - did I mention? - my family's moving in 2 weeks. Yowza.

I am in the process of building up a lab mock-up of a client's network infrastructure. The client is huge, with over 600 locations worldwide and a presence in literally every major American city. Up to recently, their approach to network design was to hook the wires up and pray. (ed. note: This is not considered "industry best practice".) When they needed to push out a new version of software or a change in their configuration, they just did so on the live, production network and hoped they could recover it if everything went "boom." Well, not when I get through with 'em.

The lab will contain at least 1 of every single piece of hardware they use. It will be connected together in exactly the same way using ATM , Frame-Relay, and ISDN simulators so that when we're one, the lab will look, feel, and work exactly as the real mccoy. So far, I have 4 Cisco Catalyst 6509 switches with router blades, 2 Cisco Catalyst 4006 switches, 1 Cisco 3660 router, 1 Cisco 8510, 6 Cisco 7204 routers, and 23 Cisco 3620's. That's about $1.2 Million retail. And I'm only two-thirds of the way done. This is, by far, the largest single concentration of this kind of gear that I've ever dealt with and - frankly - I'm like a kid in a candy shop. I'm a CCNP at this point and was looking ahead to the next certification level, the CCIE. The prep work for that test generally takes about a year and requires about $6000 - $9000 in equipment.

I'm going to get to study with gear that's orders of magnitude more powerful than what's normally available. Gonna be fun...

I've been keeping an eye on the news and politics, too, but haven't had the chance to sit down and write coherently about it. Look for more this weekend.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Moore's Deceits

Go ahead and see Moore's latest propaganda, or download it from the Net. Just be sure you balance it with research into the facts of what he's slinging.

Terrorist Group now claims they have not killed Marine

The Washington Post has a story this morning saying the terrorists holding Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun have denied killing him.

Space HereBAGHDAD, July 4 -- An Islamic militant group denied Sunday that it had killed Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, a day after statements attributed to the group on two Web sites said that the U.S. Marine had been beheaded.

The Ansar al-Sunna Army said on its Web site that it had not issued the statements and that there was "no basis of truth" in the reports of Hassoun's death.
Space Here

The report of the Marine's death was apparently carried on the weight of statements from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry who claimed to have been in contact with people (who knew people who knew people...) confirming that he'd been killed. Now the Ministry says that statement was "unofficial."

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Congress Declares Independence

I was going to write up what I hoped to be a heartfelt tribute to the Founding Fathers this morning, this anniversary of American Independence but I read something else that I felt I just couldn't top. Want to see what blogging would have looked like that day, had the means existed? Smash's report on the Declaration of Independence is a great example.

American Eagle

Happy 4th of July, America!

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Murderous Terrorist Swine Behead Captured Marine

Reports are just starting to come up that the terrorist group Ansar al-Sunna Army has killed captured Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun. They claim to have beheaded him and that they'll be providing video, no doubt through the Terror TV network Al-Jazeera. More details to come as I get them.

Coalitions Forces find weapons, bomb factory in Iraq

Fox News is reporting that US Forces have uncovered a bomb-making facility in Baghdad. The story mentions automatic weapons, explosives, 4 vehicles that may have been undergoing modification for use as car bombs, and 51 people suspected of being a terrorist cell.

Space HereBAGHDAD — U.S. forces uncovered a facility where car and roadside bombs were made, and detained 51 people believed linked to an insurgent cell, U.S. military officials said Saturday.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion 8th Cavalry Regiment (search)discovered four vehicles that were to be potentially used as car bombs and several assembled roadside bombs.
Space Here

Reports are also surfacing that Polish troops in Iraq have discovered chemical weapons (that's WMD, by definition) in southern Iraq. The chemical warheads contain cyclosarin, a much more powerful nerve agent than sarin, which has also been discovered in Iraq. The Poles found the weapons last month, but more importantly have discovered that terrorist groups were in the process of bidding for the weapons. The Polish general making the report says they took care of the issue by simply buying the weapons themselves. Hey, if it works...

Moore Opinion

Ah, it begins. When you start to see usually-liberal news media such as the San Francisco Examiner running opinion pieces like this, it's a sure sign that people are starting to penetrate the smog screen Mr. Moore is spewing around the country.

Space HereThe only thing that appears to exceed Michael Moore's contempt for President Bush is his absolute distain for us, the American people.

In making such a dishonest piece of propaganda masquerading as a "documentary," Moore had to make a few very unpleasant assumptions about his audience.

First, he must be convinced that the American people are so ignorant that we will accept whatever we are told as gospel. As if we're a country of folks who believe, "Hey, if it's in writin' (or on the ole' big screen) it must be true."

Second, Moore must assume that even if we do possess some modicum of intelligence, we're too lazy to bother moseying over to the computer to research the innumerable inaccuracies his paranoid fantasy comprises.

He must also believe that we are so unsophisticated that we won't notice that his cut-and-paste method of editing resembles a brainwashing technique, barely allowing the brain time to digest one egregious distortion before slamming into another. (As I watched the film I could have sworn that I saw a message that said, "Paul is dead." But we'd have to run the movie backward at half speed to know for sure.)

Then, he'd again have to assume such a deficit of mental capacity on his audience's part as to believe that we wouldn't realize that most of his point regarding President Bush is completely contradictory.
Space Here

Thursday, July 01, 2004

A quick trip to the can

Every so often I read on a soldier's blog something small that really makes me remember how good we have it here. Sgt. Hook is in Afghanistan:

Space HereWe really can't complain with the improved housing, better walking conditions, and the introduction of fine quisine. However, I just sometimes wish that the bathroom, or latrine as we dogfaces call it, wasn't a football field away. I've been battling an intestinal virus the last day and a half and there is no joy in waking in a panic in the middle of the night and having to put on shoes and sprint 100 yards to salvation. None at all.Space Here

I can well imagine. Hope you're feeling better soon, Top.