Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My mother is gone

Dancing with Mom in early 2009

Mom died just shy of three weeks ago. I can't really write about this yet, but here is a link to the obituary we placed in the Lancaster paper.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I like Halloween. It's a low-pressure, high-fun holiday. This year it wound up being spread out over several days, which made it even nicer.

RuthAnne dressed up for work on Saturday as a contruction worker...

...and again on Monday as a (pretty urban-looking) cowhand.

As usual, we carved pumpkins. The three really nice ones are Katy's handywork; the moon and stars is mine.

We had a lot of trick-or-treaters (as usual), including our dancing buddies Melissa and Robert, and their son, Ethan, who came in for for a chat.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sailing Vineyard Sound

Katy and I spent last Wednesday through Saturday sailing her father's 30' Morgan sailboat from its home in Waquoit Bay to Cuttyhunk, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. It was my first real sailing trip (I'd done one small overnight many years earlier) and, it turns out, the first time Katy has done a multi-day cruise as the "responsible adult" onboard. We had generally excellent weather; it was sunny all four days. Wednesday had extremely high winds that were, frankly, a little scary, but in general the sailing was great.

Pictures are available in this Picasa album.

Sailing, October 2011
I managed to break the 5th metatarsal bone in my right foot on the first day, as we set out to explore Cuttyhunk. I found I could stand and walk a little with the foot bandaged and shoved into a hiking boot (ouch...), so we decided not to abort the trip and, in fact, extended by a night. When we got to Oak Bluffs and Edgartown on Martha's Vineyard I was able to get around on rented bicycles, so even our sightseeing was only slightly curtailed. I did, however, have to spend most of my sailing time at the wheel; moving around on the boat, especially on rocking seas, was not practical.

We used a mixture of paper charts and GPS for navigation. The charts were good for trip planning and "the big picture", while the GPS excelled at helping us stay on course and navigate through the often-narrow channels (surrounded by shoals and, in many cases, submerged rocks...) of the Elizabeth Islands. It would be very easy to become GPS-dependent.

I had more fun that I actually expected to; I thought that much of the sailing would be boring, and it was anything but that. I'm eager to do more - next spring, once the weather warms up and my foot has healed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"We can barely defend ourselves."

Today's New York Times has several articles regarding the apparent debt ceiling deal, and this one contains this quote from Republican representative Bobby Schilling, member of the Armed Services Committee. He was expressing concern over the "automatic cuts" that would engage if certain legislative milestones are not met.

Mr. Schilling whipped out a little chart that showed a reduction in bombers and other weapons programs over recent years. He said the proposed cuts to the military if a new Congressional committee should fail to come up with a deficit reduction plan that passes muster with Congress “really scares me,” he said. “We’re on the fringe right now. We can barely defend ourselves.” (emphasis added)

Really??? We can barely defend ourselves???

OMG. What is this bozo doing on the House Armed Services Committee?

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Last Reentry

The crew of the International Space Station took these pictures of the final reentry of a space shuttle. For the original images, visit NASA's archive of images from ISS Expedition 28. I learned of these images from the August 1, 2011 edition of Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Latest Juxtacomm case stayed

In the continuing saga of the Juxtacomm patent tale, the case against Lanier Parking Systems has been stayed, pending the outcome of the reexamination of the patent. From Pacer:

Case 3:11-cv-00299-JRS   Document 74    Filed 07/21/11

Civil Action No. 3:11BCVB299

United States District Court
Eastern District of Virginia
Richmond Division


THIS MATTER is before the Court on a Motion to Stay Case Pending Reexamination filed by Defendant Lanier Parking Systems of Virginia, Inc. (ECF No. 39). Defendants Dominion Tower Financial Associates LLC, First Tower Associates LLC, First States Investors 3500 LLC, James Center Property LLC, and Hines Riverfront Plaza, LP have joined the motion (ECF Nos. 55, 57, 65, 71), which Plaintiff JuxtaComm-Texas Software, LLC, opposes. The Court held a hearing on this matter on July 20, 2011.

Courts deciding motions to stay patent litigation pending reexamination consider the following factors:

(1) whether discovery is complete and a trial date is scheduled;
(2) whether a stay would simplify the matters at issue; and
(3) whether a stay would unduly prejudice or clearly disadvantage the non-moving party.

 NTP, Inc. v. T-Mobile, USA, Inc., No. 3:07–CV–548, 2007 WL 3254796, at *2 (E.D.Va. Nov. 2, 2007).

Each of these considerations favors granting a stay. First, the status of the reexamination is advanced when juxtaposed with the stage of litigation—that is, while the reexamination has reached the Final Office Action stage, this litigation is in its infancy. Furthermore, JuxtaComm served the Defendants after receiving a Final Office Action that rejected virtually all the claims at issue in this litigation. Next, it appears likely that final resolution of the reexamination would simplify matters in this case by indicating whether JuxtaComm has grounds to proceed in this patent infringement matter. Finally, any harms that JuxtaComm experiences as a result of a stay would be recoverable through monetary damages.

For these reasons, which will be discussed in greater detail in the forthcoming Memorandum Opinion, the Court finds that the Defendants’ request is not a dilatory litigation tactic but a reasonable request designed to prevent this litigation from proceeding under a “cloud of invalidity.” Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the motion to stay and DIRECTS the Plaintiff to file reexamination status reports every 120 days.
Let the Clerk send a copy of this Order to all counsel of record.


ENTERED this 21st day of July 2011.
James R. Spencer
Chief United States District Judge

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Noanet Woodlands

This morning I drove out to Dover to visit Noanet Woodlands, yet another Trustees of Reservations site. It turns out to be a bit tricky to find. It's not marked with the usual, large "Trustees of Reservations" sign; it's actually accessed thru Caryl Park. If you look closely at the entrance to the eastern parking lot for the park there's a small mention of the Trustees site, but you'll never see it from the road.

I only covered a small portion of the available trails; this is a very large reservation.

View Larger Map

I suggest staying on the side trails as much as possible; the wealthy good people of Dover use this heavily for dog-walking and mountain-biking. The dogs kinda got to me; they were generally off-leash and roaming freely. You won't see a lot of wildlife for that reason.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nature Walks in the Western burbs

I spent today riding my scooter around the western suburbs of Boston, in search of nature walks. Before leaving I picked out a few places to visit, based on our family memberships in the Mass Audubon Society and Trustees of Reservations; I would definitely visit Drumlin Farm in Lincoln and the Broadmoor sanctuary in Natick. As it turned out, I did more than that, and just missed a place I really want to go back and pick up. I also stopped in for a visit with Dan, one of my former colleagues at IBM.

View Larger Map

We used to take the kids out to Drumlin Farm pretty regularly, but I haven't been there in probably at least 10 years. It is bigger than I remembered, and it now has this cool, solar-powered bird mobile.

From 2011-07-16

I wandered around for about an hour, and then rode down to Dan's house in Wayland. He suggested I visit nearby Garden in the Woods, so when I left his house, I did.

The New England Wild Flower Society runs the Garden, and it's a lovely spot. Here are some of the pictures I took as I walked around.

From 2011-07-16

From 2011-07-16

From 2011-07-16

From 2011-07-16

From 2011-07-16

From there I made my way, not especially directly, to the Broadmoor sanctuary in Natick. Because of our connection with Drumlin Farm, we've been Mass Audubon members for probably 20 years, but this was the first time I've visited Broadmoor. It's enormous, with a large trail system.

From 2011-07-16

From 2011-07-16

From 2011-07-16

From 2011-07-16

From 2011-07-16

I want to go back to Broadmoor again; they open a portion of the trails in the winter for cross-country skiing.

My last two stops were accidental; I passed the Trustees of Reservations sites Chase Woodlands and Powisset Farm. I was unfortunately unaware that, while at Powisset Farm, I was literally across the street from Noanet Highlands, a truly gigantic preserve with views of downtown Boston. Ah, well - something for another day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

...and yet...

Today's APOD has a picture of Atlantis making its last docking approach to the International Space Station.

I've long felt that the Shuttle was a terrible mistake for NASA - fragile, expensive, limited in usefulness. I can't help but think that we could, instead, have gone to Mars, pursued a much more robust robotic planetary exploration program, and in general gotten a lot more for our money.

And yet - the images, the hardware, the teamwork required to fly these monsters are inspiring.

I'm glad the program is ending - and I will miss it.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Bottle Bill

Tonight I walked over to my local beer outlet in Davis Square, Downtown Wine and Spirits, to return empties and buy more beer. I really like the selection at Downtown, but they are a pain to deal with regarding empties. Like many liquor stores, they have gone to the freakin' redemption machines that turn what should be a really quick transaction into a drawn-out process of shoving in bottles one...at...a...time. Downtown is also slow to update the machines when they add new brands, with the result that you have to return some bottles outside and then get on line to return the rest inside - where they take them rather grudgingly.

Tonight, the machine was just flat-out down, and when I took the bottles inside, the guy behind the counter tried to tell me that I'd have to come back once the machine was repaired. I got pushy and got him to take my bottles - but the confrontation sucked.

SO - when I got home, I checked on the law. Here's a part of what the Massachusetts state government site has to say about the bottle bill (I've added some emphasis at places):

Where can I return empty beverage containers?
Residents can return empty containers to any redemption center that agrees to accept the containers, or any retail outlet that sells or sold within the past sixty days the same brand, type and size of container. Retail outlets must redeem containers for their full redemption value. 

What obligations do retailers have in accepting containers?
Retailers must redeem empty containers during all of their business hours. There is no similar restriction on redemption centers. Restaurants charging a deposit on containers for off- or on-premise consumption must redeem empty containers. Restaurants do not have to redeem empty containers if they sell beverages for on-premise consumption and do not charge a deposit. Vending machine operators must redeem containers at the location of the vending machine, or post a conspicuous notice on the machine stating where and from whom a refund may be obtained. The notice does not have to specify how close the refund location is to the vending machine. If you encounter a business that is not complying with any of these requirements, you may register a complaint by calling the MassDEP Bottle Bill Hotline at 617-556-1054.

Is there a limit on the number of containers that can be returned at one time?
A retailer is only required to accept 120 containers in one day from any one person, but may choose to accept more. There is no similar restriction on redemption centers.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hiking Monadnock with Anil

Today Anil and I hiked to the summit of Mt. Monadnock. This was Anil's first hike ever.

This GPS track shows where we went, and contains placemarks with pictures.

View Larger Map

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Juxtacomm patent may soon be invalidated

I learned yesterday (via Vincent McBurney's blog) that the infamous "ETL patent" (technically, patent 6,195,662 - System for transforming and exchanging data between distributed heterogeneous computer systems) is being re-examined by the U.S. Patent Office. The examiner intends to withdraw essentially all of the claims.

It's a bit tricky to get information about this from the USPTO web site, and it's not possible to link to much of its content. If you want to look, here are the necessary steps:

  • Go to the Public PAIR start page, type in the captcha, and click "continue".
  • In the "search for application" panel, make sure the top radio button is selected ("Application number"), enter 90/011267 in the box, and click "search".
  • Click on the "Image File Wrapper" tab. You'll then see a list of documents associated with the application. You may want to look at Reexam proceeding - Advisory Action, dated 06-07-2011, 9 pages. It states the intent to withdraw claims 1-11 and 14-19.
The patent is held by Teilhard Technologies, a privately-held Canadian firm, also known as Juxtacomm. They successfully used this patent to reach settlements with a large number of companies (Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Informatica, and many more) worth millions of dollars.

In 2009, while working for IBM, I was deposed in the matter and got to see, up close and personal, how this kind of legal action works. I can't discuss my involvement in any detail, but I will say that it was my impression that there was adequate prior art to have prevented this patent from issuing. This was a stupendous waste of resources; the defendants in the case seem to have paid out nearly $100 million in settlements, to say nothing of the money spent on legal fees. The supposed purpose of the patent system - to encourage innovation - was not served in any way by this affair. 

I don't know how to fix our patent system, but this case is a clear demonstration that it's broken.

Update This American Life has done a show on patent trolls.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

If you want to feel tiny...

...just take a look at today's Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD). It's a picture of  Abell 2744, also known as  Pandora's cluster.

That's a lot of galaxies!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Utha Graduates

About a month ago RuthAnne was awarded her Associate of Arts from Harvard Extension School; I've finally tracked down my SD flash card reader so I can upload the pictures. I expect complaints about this from RuthAnne...

Owen testing out the cap

See, they can smile!
The cap on its rightful dome
The Goods
So - tell me how...
...you really feel.

A final update: the "official" picture.

From RuthAnne 2011-06-29

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Henna, again

Last weekend RuthAnne re-dyed my hair with henna. I've been using henna from hennaforhair.com, which is quite expensive; this time I use henna from a local store in Central Square.

It was $3.00 for a 5 and a half ounce bag (of which I used about half a bag, with a lot of what I mixed left over). It's excellent henna; there was a very strong dye release, and I like the resulting color.

So much for the high-priced spread. But The Henna Page (same people as hennaforhair.com) is still a great information source for henna, both for use as a hair dye and for mehandi.

...and the sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons to the third and fourth generation...

Jose Antonio Vargas is a former reporter for The Washington Post and shared a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. He was sent by his family to the US. from the Philippines when he was 12. Four years later, he discovered that he is an illegal immigrant.

some of Vargas' papers, from the New York Times Sunday Magazine

Vargas went to college and, as noted earlier, became a successful journalist. He has a Social Security number (obtained illegally) and pays state and federal income tax. He did not choose to enter the U.S. illegally. But here he is. What should we do about it?

He has decided he can no longer live this lie and tells his story in this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine (and also at defineamerican.com). If we can't provide a legal, reasonable path to citizenship for someone like Vargas, then what are we?

Update: Vargas is not alone.Recently the government agreed to an unusual deal in the case of an Iraq veteran who was brought to the U.S illegally as a baby. According to the New York Times, the government offered to drop a passport violation charge against the Navy petty officer if he completed a term of probation.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rant, rant, rant

I can't stand it. I have to vent.

Yesterday the Republicans walked out of negotiations on raising the federal debt limit - because they absolutely refuse to consider any tax increases - not even simply revoking the Bush tax cuts on households earning over $250,000/year.

This is absurd.

I can't bring myself to provide calm, reasoned argument about this. These guys are nuts! The plutocracy owns Washington, and the rest of us are doomed.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Then and Now

Today is the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard's 15 minute suborbital Mercury flight, which initiated the U.S. manned space program. According to the NASA press kit for the MR-3 launch, the combined height of the launch vehicle and spacecraft was 83 feet, with a liftoff weight of about 66,000 pounds.

Compare this to the lift-off of the space shuttle Atlantis on the nearly 12 day STS-132 mission. The NASA press kit for STS-132 lists combined weight of the shuttle system at launch as 4,519,769 pounds, with a height of 184 feet.

Mercury Redstone 3 and Atlantis are perhaps the bookends for the NASA manned spaced program; the last flight of Atlantis (STS-135) may well be the last time U.S. astronauts fly aboard spacecraft designed and built by NASA.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Alive Enough

On Being has once again come through with a fascinating interview, this one with Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor and current director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. I haven't listened to the produced version of the interview, just the unedited version; after discovering these raw interviews with the Scott Atran episode, I often don't bother with the produced version at all.

I found the show interesting enough that I inflicted a portion of it (from 26:53 to 37:00) on my kids as we ate dinner together a few nights ago (thereby allowing technology to invade the sanctity of the dinner table...) so we could discuss it. There was a description of someone walking the dunes on Cape Code listening to an iPod and texting, a discussion of a child texting in the car (and therefor not engaging with the parent), and a family where the father texted through fantastic family dinners prepared by his gourmet chef spouse, ignoring his family. The segment included a couple of wonderful quotes:

  • An uncredited psychology bromide: "If you don't teach your children to be alone, they'll only always know how to be lonely."
  • From Jill Ker Conway, former president of Smith College: "A child has to live in her generation."
In the ensuing discussion, my kids really took issue with the notion that simply having a soundtrack going in their earbuds inherently cuts them off from their surroundings. Several years ago the kids took a summer-long road trip out west together; they would often stop and walk through the stunning scenery with the iPod going and each with an earbud, so they were sharing the scenery to the same music. They did feel that the dinnertime texting was pretty terrible, and in-the-car texting had to be judged on the basis of the situation. I can't say that we agreed on all points, but their positions were at least comprehensible to me. As noted: they have to live in their generation, and since they've grown up with technology in a way that even their geeky dad did not, we're bound to have differing outlooks. We did get a good solid hour of discussion out of the segment.

Later on in the interview, Turkle worries about the replacement of physical artifacts - books, printed photographs, paper letters - with intangible, potentially ephemeral and less readily accessed digital artifacts. I worry about this, too, and I have a background project cooking away to produce printed picture books from some of my vast digital photo collection.

At the same time, I'm embracing digital media as an alternative approach to preserving my memories. This blog is a case in point. As I noted two years ago, "I want touchstones to help me recall who I am." This blog has become, at least in part, the journal I never seemed to be able to keep on paper. I'm sure not writing for my vast audience; according to Google Analytics, I've had not a single hit in the past month.

I've downloaded samples of some of Turkle's books to my Kindle; if anything really grabs me, I'll update this entry.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Getting the Subversion server version

I recently needed to know what version of Subversion we are running, and this turned out to be harder to determine than I would have guessed.

Getting the version of the client is easy:

bash-4.1$ svn --version
svn, version 1.6.15 (r1038135)
compiled Nov 29 2010, 14:09:28
[... other stuff ...]

But the client doesn't provide an option for getting the server version. Using The Google, I found a Python script at Apache that does the trick:

bash-4.1$ python server-version.py https://svnserver/repos/root_of_repository

Here's a copy of that script (as of 7/9/2013) in case the link dies:

#!/usr/bin/env python
# Licensed to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) under one
# or more contributor license agreements.  See the NOTICE file
# distributed with this work for additional information
# regarding copyright ownership.  The ASF licenses this file
# to you under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the
# "License"); you may not use this file except in compliance
# with the License.  You may obtain a copy of the License at
#   http://www.apache.org/licenses/LICENSE-2.0
# Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing,
# software distributed under the License is distributed on an
# KIND, either express or implied.  See the License for the
# specific language governing permissions and limitations
# under the License.
# server-version.py: print a Subversion server's version number
# USAGE: server-version.py URL
# The URL can contain any path on the server, as we are simply looking
# for Apache's response to OPTIONS, and its Server: header.
#   $ ./server-version.py http://svn.collab.net/
#                   or
#   $ ./server-version.py https://svn.collab.net/

import sys
  # Python >=3.0
  from http.client import HTTPConnection as http_client_HTTPConnection
  from http.client import HTTPSConnection as http_client_HTTPSConnection
  from urllib.parse import urlparse as urllib_parse_urlparse
except ImportError:
  # Python <3.0
  from httplib import HTTPConnection as http_client_HTTPConnection
  from httplib import HTTPSConnection as http_client_HTTPSConnection
  from urlparse import urlparse as urllib_parse_urlparse

def print_version(url):
  scheme, netloc, path, params, query, fragment = urllib_parse_urlparse(url)
  if scheme == 'http':
    conn = http_client_HTTPConnection(netloc)
  elif scheme == 'https':
    conn = http_client_HTTPSConnection(netloc)
    print('ERROR: this script only supports "http" and "https" URLs')
  conn.putrequest('OPTIONS', path)
  conn.putheader('Host', netloc)
  resp = conn.getresponse()
  status, msg, server = (resp.status, resp.msg, resp.getheader('Server'))

  # 1) Handle "OK" (200)
  # 2) Handle redirect requests (302), if requested resource
  #    resides temporarily under a different URL
  # 3) Handle authorization (401), if server requests for authorization
  #    ignore it, since we are interested in server version only
  if status != 200 and status != 302 and status != 401:
    print('ERROR: bad status response: %s %s' % (status, msg))
  if not server:
    # a missing Server: header. Bad, bad server! Go sit in the corner!
    print('WARNING: missing header')
    for part in server.split(' '):
      if part[:4] == 'SVN/':
      # the server might be configured to hide this information, or it
      # might not have mod_dav_svn loaded into it.
      print('NOTICE: version unknown')

if __name__ == '__main__':
  if len(sys.argv) != 2:
    print('USAGE: %s URL' % sys.argv[0])

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Gmail account hijacking

I've just spent the morning helping a friend recover from having her Gmail account hijacked. I still haven't discovered a root cause, but the initial symptom was when I received this email from her:

My apologies for any troubles this might cause you. This is quite strange and funny.Actually I came down here to England in the UK for a brief Trip and unfortunately I was mugged at the park on my way to the hotel where I lodged, with all my cash, credit card and cell phone stolen from me but luckily for me I still have my passports.

I've been to the embassy and the Police here haven't been quite helpful enough. My flight leaves shortly from now but I'm having problems paying the hotel bills and the hotel manager here won't let me leave until I pay up the bills. I was hoping if you could loan me some quick cash that I can pay back as soon as I get back.I really need your help from here on out.

Since I knew my friend wasn't in England, there was clearly a problem. Looking at the mail headers, I noticed that the  reply-to address was friendsID@ymail.com. Clearly a phishing attempt. 

Shortly thereafter I was contacted by said friend for help regaining access to her gmail account.

This turned out to be a bit tricky. The first think I needed was an email account to be used for recovery purposes. Setting one up at gmail is possible, but non-obvious, since the normal account creation links at gmail all require an existing email address. Eventually I discovered this link to create a gmail account without an existing email account.

Once this was set up, we could then work through the gmail procedure for regaining access to your account if you think its been compromised. 

A crucial piece of this involved email forwarding - something it would not have occurred to me to check if it hadn't been on Google's list of issues. Gmail allows you to forward mail to other addresses; my friend's account had been configured to forward mail to a yahoo account and had POP access enabled. As soon as she regained access to the account we immediately disabled both.

The account was also configured with a reply-to address of friendsID@ymail.com. Pretty sneaky.

Unfortunately, it appears that her inbox is GONE; I don't know if gmail has any sort of recovery option. Luckily her contacts survived, but this highlights the value of periodically exporting your contact information out of gmail.

Update: I notified Yahoo (via their abuse reporting page) that an account is being used to conduct fraud. I got back a canned response, and it was obvious that my detailed description hadn't been read. Thanks, Yahoo.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How People Work

I just finished listening to the February 10th broadcast of Speaking of Faith Krista Tippett on Being, an interview with anthropologist Scott Atran. It's a phenomenal show! Here's the blurb:

We make deeper sense of the human dynamics unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa. Anthropologist Scott Atran offers bracing context on the promise of this moment and the response it asks from the watching world.

Atran's understanding of the Middle East, and human nature in general, is just astounding. I urge you to give it a listen. It's worth listening to the unedited version of the show; there's a lot of very interesting background on how Atran became an anthropologist that didn't make it into the edited, broadcast version.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chapters from a Broken Novel

Last night RuthAnne and I went to see Doug Varone and Dancers at the nifty performance space at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The performance of Chapters from a Broken Novel was so moving that I asked Katy to go see it with me tonight, so I got to experience it twice. What a show!

Excerpts from the show, with commentary, such as this one, are available on the company's web site. Enjoy!

The Evolution of "Tile Riot" from Doug Varone on Vimeo.

Stop the self-check-out madness!

This morning I walked into my local CVS to buy tissues. As I approached the check-out area, my heart sank; there was one register open (with 4 people already in line), and a nice young woman was directing customers to use the shiny new self-service check-out machines instead.

An older woman in front of me was convinced to try the machines, and then got more and more frustrated as the machine clearly had trouble dealing with her cash purchase. She eventually asked the attendant, "Isn't there something you can do about this?" When the response came -- "No, I'm sorry, ma'am, there isn't." -- I loudly observed, "Yes there is. You can hire more cashiers."

It was like lancing a boil -- the whole check-out area erupted in cheers! I continued, stating that these machines take away entry-level jobs and essentially outsource the company's labor costs to its customers. The people around me were nodding and muttering support, and eventually the store supervisor opened another register, to another round of cheers.

Note to retailers making customers take over cashier positions: We don't like it!

If you don't like it, take action:

  • Refuse to use self-service check-out machines.
  • If you have to wait in line because there aren't enough cashiers, complain! Doing it loudly, in the store as I did, is good (because it lets other people vent along with you), but you should also complain to the highest management person on-site (typically a shift supervisor) and lodge a complaint at the company's web site. Be specific: be prepared to provide the time of day, a rough idea of line length (a number, not just "long"), and the store location.
Here are links to customer feedback pages for some of the stores aggressively pushing self-checkout:
  • Shaws
  • CVS - This astonished me, but CVS doesn't seem to have any sort of web-based feedback page. You have to call or write a letter:

    CVS Corporation
    One CVS Drive
    Woonsocket, RI 02895
  • Publix
  • Kroger
I'm not the only person unhappy about this:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Another time waster from Microsoft

I'm trying to get a new laptop at work up and running, using Windows 7 (gulp). After the initial system install, Windows Update downloaded over 60 updates; I told it to go ahead and install them. Everything seemed to be cooking along fine; the updates installed, the system rebooted - and then I got a screen saying "Step 3 of 3 - Preparing To Configure Windows. Please Do Not Turn Off Your Computer". And waited. And waited.

Over an hour later, with no evident disk activity or anything else, I decided something was actually wrong, and started Googling. I found this thread at Microsoft with many users complaining of the same thing. Microsoft never provided a useful response.

Luckily, though, some valiant soul tried Ye Olde three finger salute - Ctrl-Alt-Del - and, voile! The system put up a login prompt and everything was fine. This worked for me,too.

Wake up, Microsoft! Things like this really upset people! Would it be so hard to at least put a sticky comment at the top of the forum providing the workaround, so we don't have to wade through thousands of lines of rants to get to the solution?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Is this the best the New York Times can do?

The lead in this week's Sunday New York Times travel section is The 41 Places to Go in 2011, and my beloved Hyderabad made the list (number 19). Sadly, the meager two paragraphs (about 200 words) by travel writer Gisela Williams focus only on modern and commercial interests, and say almost nothing about the real reasons to visit Hyderabad. It's next to impossible to excerpt passages from such a short piece, so I'll risk the wrath of the copyright gods and include it verbatim:

Even in the 16th century, Hyderabad, in southern India, famous for its diamond trade and sultans’ palaces, was a city with serious bling. In the last decade, a new sort of wealth has arrived — the outsourcing of international companies, which has inspired a boom of sleek cafes and restaurants such as Fusion 9.

The latest buzz is the debut of two five-star hotels, both connected to the Nizam family, rulers of Hyderabad for the two centuries before India’s independence. The first, Park Hyderabad, is a futuristic structure designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, with an aluminum and glass facade inspired by the settings and metalwork found in the Nizams’ jewelry collection. The new Taj Falaknuma Palace, on the other hand, is a window into the past. It’s a wedding cake of a building that still belongs to the Nizam family, and it took the Taj Hotels group 10 years to renovate the European-style castle. “The Falaknuma Palace will complete the Indian palace tour for the south,” said Shanti Kohli, of New Delhi-based Amber Tours. “It makes a trip to Hyderabad worthwhile just on its own.”

Diamond trade, not pearls? Nothing about Golkonda, the Qutb Shahi and Paigah tombs, Charminar, Mecca Masjid, Birla Mandir, or the Salar Jung Museum? A little more research might be in order - such as reading this 1990 article from, er, the New York times travel section.

Here, let me take a stab at this:

Nowhere are India's contrasts more vivid than in the southern city of Hyderabad, where high-tech modernity meets a thousand years of history. Brightly painted Hindu temples share its narrow streets with the minarets of Muslim mosques, the arches and domes of Sikh gurudwaras and the more recent spires of Christian churches. From the marble decks of the beautiful Birla Mandir temple you can see a 55 foot statue of Buddha on an island in Hussain Sagar, Hyderabad's central lake.

Just a few miles from the gleaming new towers of India's software outsourcing giants you'll find the 16th century walls of Golkonda Fort and the Qutb Shahi tombs. Visit the old city center at Charminar (literally "four towers") and shop in the ever-busy Laad Bazaar. Splurge and stay in the newly renovated Falaknuma Palace, build by one of the last ruling Nizams and now a magnificent Taj hotel. Ramoji Film City, a sprawling 2000 acre studio complex and home to India's Telegu-language film industry (aka "Tollywood") lies nearby. Excellent restaurants abound, from the eclectic fare of Ohri's in Banjara Hills to the homey vegetarian delights of Chutneys at Nagarjuna Circle. What you won't find is a lot of western tourists; Hyderabad is one of India's best-kept secrets.

But, since this is a blog, I can do even better and provide some pictures and links.

Golkonda Fort, the Qutb Shahi tombs

Charminar, Mecca Masjid, the bangle merchants of Laad Bazaar

The Buddha Statue, Temples and Idols