January 2, 2007: Memorial for President Gerald Ford Day

The major US markets are closed today to honour our recently departed ex-President Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford was president of the United States when I was born in 1976 and so it is especially sad for me to have him now gone. This definitely marks the passing of time for me. Dominica was born under President Carter who is still alive but is not the oldest living president at this time. Gerald Ford had, in 1916, one of the very early Boston Terriers which was, of course, an indication that he would go on to be a great man.

Something that I discovered while looking into former presidents is that Chester Alan Arthur spent much of his young childhood in Perry, New York and that his father was the pastor of Perry Baptist Church which I have attended on several occassions, is directly next door to Brick Presbyterian where Nate, Joe and I grew up and where mom taught at Tiny Tot University! Chester A. Arthur attended church there as a boy. Very interesting indeed.

[In addition to being an impromptu American bank holiday, today is a standard Scottish bank holiday.]
Neither Dominica nor I got a lot of sleep last night. The incredibly high winds were so loud that it was hard to sleep and the stupid laundry dryer kept turning on every five minutes all night long. That is possibly the dumbest “feature” of an appliance that I have ever heard of. Personally I believe that it is a bug in the design of the dryer and they didn’t catch it until it was too late and had no way to fix the firmware. I will definitely use the existence of that “feature” to determine whether or not to purchase a particular appliance in the future.

I was up around half past five this morning. I haven’t been up and working that early in a long time. I showered and was on the road before seven and into the office in under half an hour. The express was completely empty this morning even in rush hour. I am looking forward to a whole week of almost nothing happening whatsoever.

I put my new “Forgotten English” desk calendar onto my desk (how apropos) this morning and today’s word of the day is “practic: artful, cunning, deceitful, treacherous” from 1895.

I started the day by going through all of my weekend email which wasn’t much, for a change, and reading Game Informer to see what their Top 50 Games of 2006 list looked like. Then it was on to my huge stack of IT rags and books that I have piling up in my office in preparation for this week. I have a lot of paper to burn through before Friday night but I have a lot of time to work on it as well. This is my big reading push to get the year started off right.

Raymond Chen writes today about the perils of family computer support in his blog, The Old New Thing. He points to an issue between technical support and the people who are looking for technical support that I think is an important distinction. Technical people are not simply normal people who use computers more often than others do. We simply are people who see computers in a completely different way. It would never occur to a technical person to refer to every program on a computer as Outlook or Internet Explorer or Netscape. We automatically separate the difference between the computer, the monitor and the Internet. We know that “programs” on the computer and executable files that the operating system runs and that data files must be opened with an appropriate application. For the average technical person there is no concept of computers as a strange ephemeral cloud and there is no appropriateness to using technical terms in abiguous, meaningless ways for technologies that we don’t understand. It would never occur to us to call storage memory or the entire computer the hard drive or the CPU. These are specific terms that mean something and if we don’t know what they are we know that they are still specific terms that can’t just be thrown around.

But the important piece here is that to technical people this is not the stuff that we consider technical! We have no concept of a world without these basics being true. We simply don’t understand what it means to think of every application being called Outlook, for example. We don’t understand what makes people confuse applications, like Internet Explorer, and a random web page within it that you occasionally open. We see it as an application and a document – two distinct entities. It doesn’t occur to us to confuse them. This is what makes technical support so hard. I imagine that car shops must have similar issues. It would never occur to a mechanic to call the entire car the engine or the trunk (engine like CPU or trunk like hard drive which is storage.) Your mechanic won’t call the wheel bearings the carburetor just because he has heard that word and wanted to use it. And if you do these things to him, he can’t communicate with you. He simply thinks that you have lost your mind. Computer professionals are no different. Once people lack the fundamentals and the underpinnings of the workings of computers we have no basis for communication and since we likely were never in the position of not knowing these things have little capability to be empathic about them.

Is there an answer for technical support? No, I think not. The ability to work with computers is, apparently, selective and there will be, I am told, always a segment of the population that is not capable of using computers effectively. The aspect of this situation that is hard for people to accept is that this segment of the population will rapidly lose all ability to work most jobs, to communicate, to protect themselves and will be relegated mostly to manual labour where records and communications are less necessary and where information security is purely physical. What will exacerbate the predicament of this segment of the population is that they very thing that forces them to earn lower wages will be the very same thing that keeps them from being able to shop easily and to hunt for better prices.

And people wonder why I am so adamant about the necessity for teaching children at a very early age about the basics of computers and not, in any way, abstracting these concepts in order to make computers “more friendly” at the cost of their long term understanding of them. No one can risk becoming a computer illiterate today. In today’s technology driven world not understanding computers is no different than being unable to read just fifty years ago and being unable to read today is closer to not having been able to feed oneself in the not so distant past.

By nine this morning the other people from my team that were working today as well signed on and announced that they were working from home leaving me as the sole person in the office for the day. It can be a lonely existence sometimes. I have come to realize that most people, who do not work in IT, think that IT jobs are generally loner jobs where people with few social skills go to hide from the rest of society. But, in fact, IT is a massively social job function. We provide support and infrastructure for communications! Few jobs are so based around social interactions. Many of us choose IT as a job field because of our love of communications and networking. The entire global push for massive interconnections and world wide communications and instant access to everyone is all a side effect of what IT people want and create for themselves. Everyone else just communicates as an afterthought. Many traditional IT communications modes have recently caught on for non-technical people but email and instant messaging have been stalwarts of the IT pro for decades and it is IT that is making voice communications ubiquitous today. And when working in IT I can vouch for the fact that IT professionals interact with each other more than people in any other field that I have ever seen.

Unlike my day, Dominica’s day was totally crazy. Her office was back to work full swing this morning with all of the associated help desk headaches that come with people having been off for two weeks and forgetting how to do the things that they do everyday. All kinds of fun there.

Did you know that: In 1916 and again in 1948 the superstitious municipality of San Diego, California hired rainmakers to force it to rain on the city. When the rainmaker of 1916 was followed by a flood the city claimed that although the man had delivered on his promise that since he could not prove that he had been the one to make the rain that they would not pay him. They considered it to be an act of God. And while this is true it means that they entered into a contract in bad faith, in contradictions of their supposed belief in God and with intent to defraud. But, then again, God did take fifty of the city’s residents to stand for judgment in the flood that followed.

The cafeteria at the office was closed today which I discovered when I wanted to get some lunch. The cafeteria has developed this nasty habit of being closed or closing early without alerting the consultants who work in the building. No one was notified of the facility being closed today at all. You are just expected to know these things apparently. There is food available in other buildings significantly across the campus from us and it is not worth making the trip. I have Christmas chocolate on my desk to hold me until I go home for the day.

Today’s fish keeping tip: Don’t raise pets that want to eat you. That is just dumb. I will stick with snuggly Boston Terriers and hamsters, thank you very much.

Quote of the Day: “The captain that goes down with his ship often finds it difficult to secure another command.”

I finished reading “Ship It! A Practical Guide to Successful Software Projects” from the Pragmatic Programmers Library by Jared Richardson and William Gwaltney, Jr. I read almost the entire book just today while sitting in the office with just about nothing to do. At least I am able to make good use of the time. Today is actually a very fruitful day for me in my personal educational quests.

I headed for home just a little before three. Boy was it nice to be able to get out of the office so early. I got to the apartment and headed straight for Food for Life to get some lunch / dinner. I tried the Tuna BLT today for the first time which was really awesome. That is one huge sandwich!

Dominica checked the CompTIA A+ exam today (she has been studing for the 2003 exam and as of yesterday the 2006 exam is now available.) She has been hoping that the test will be extended through the end of the month. It has been rumored that some testing locations will offer the exam for the next few weeks. She checked with CompTIA today and it turns out that they are offering both versions of the exam until June 30th! The Lord was really watching over her. Getting ready for the exam in just two weeks would be really tough especially now that we are going to be moving and will be traveling back and forth to Geneseo a lot over the next few months.

Dominica sent over a good article from Time magazine about Gerald Ford and His Faith.

Dominica and Oreo got home a little before seven and Dominica wanted to watch Disney’s The Gummi Bears to celebrate not having to take her A+ exam right away.  We watched an episode or two and then she got to work on her studying for the evening.  Jonathan Stagno called tonight to say that he just took a new position as a Senior Network Administrator – still is LA where he has been living for over a year now.  We have been hoping to be able to get out there to visit with him and his wife but with the move from Geneseo it is going to be even longer now before we can get out there to visit.  We have lost our opportunity to get to Disney World for a weekend this month like we had been planning on as well.  Planning is such a waste of time I have discovered.

I converted some more movies and television shows over to Xvid so that I can watch them on the Creative Zen Vision W.  We are now starting to convert the classic BBC shows that we love to watch.  We will really start getting some mileage out of the media players once we have BBC shows on them.

I spent the evening working on web site maintenance issues for Andy.  With the rapidly approaching move to Scranton and out of Geneseo there is just so much that needs to be done ASAP.  We are in quite the panic.

Oreo was in a very good mood tonight.  We think that he is very happy to be back home and back at day care.  He had a good time today and has been “smiling” all night since he got home.

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