Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Ship's Barber, Thinning Shears and the Mean XO

This is about another experience sailing on the USS Saint Francis River (LFR-525), but before I tell that story, I need to tell you this one. I can't help but notice that I need a haircut and I'm a little peeved about that. Three months haven't passed yet and almost everyone who knows me know that I get a haircut once a quarter. That's because I'm a cheapskate. At $20 a pop, including a $2 tip, I refuse to spend more than $80 a year on haircuts. Call me eccentric if you want. So be it. I'm old enough, and probably deserve, to be that way.

So, when I do get a haircut, I like it short, just shy of white sidewalls. By the time I need one again, I'm pretty shaggy but it's still manageable. But, my last haircut was a “medium,” sold to me by persuasive “Little” Al at Castro Valley's Village Barber Shop. Well, it's probably my fault for two reasons. The first is that I specifically waited for Little Al's chair to empty because I noticed that Big Al was politically agitated, even though Big Al remembers how I like my hair and he gives a better haircut. A person shouldn't want Big Al cutting his hair when he's agitated. He was going on about Senator Boxer acting more like a Republican than a Democrat and that's not a time to have him cutting your hair. The last time he cut my hair while agitated, I walked out with REALLY SHORT hair. So, I chose Little Al.

The second reason is that explaining how one wants their hair cut is really difficult, so I usually just submit. In this visit, Little Al suggested a “medium,” whatever that is. It turns out that Al felt he needed to use “ thinning shears,” the most useless tool in a barber shop in my humble opinion, to get my hair to a medium state. I ask you, don't you think that if the hair on the side of your head is relatively short, shouldn't the hair on the top of your head be cut proportional to the length on the sides? I think so. I'm not a “top notch” kind of guy, walking around with thin hair on top standing up in the wind while the sides are laying nicely flat.

Al's first pass cut a lot of hair off my sides, as I expected and wanted, but he only snipped the ends of my hair on top. That left three inches on top, but only a half inch or less on the side, way out of proportion. I said, “Al. You need to take more off of the top.”

“We'll get it,” he said, and I kept quiet. Then out came the thinning shears. Crap. Thinning shears, in case someone doesn't know, are scissors that have one full, sharp blade and teeth on the other blade. The teeth cut half of the hair in a snip, leaving the remaining hair long. As the name implies, they thin the hair... which of course makes it wave in the slightest breeze or even when walking. I never wanted to be that guy who combs four strands of hair across the top of his head to cover a bald spot and who is constantly patting it down in the slightest breeze. If that's what life brings, then I'll just be bald. But, rather than tell Al how to do his job, I waited until I got home to shorten the top myself.

That brings me to the USS Saint Francis River and the question: How did I learn how to cut hair? I learned on that ship. If you've read my last blog, The Kraken and Other Leviathans, you know it was the most dangerous ship I was on. It was an accident waiting to happen, and it did more than once. I became the Ship's Barber for a little over four months on the River when our regular barber, Chicken Man, cut off his thumb in a rocket launcher loader. That ended his barbering, and any other enterprise with that hand. An opposing thumb is critical.

Chicken Man got his nickname because of the size of his nose, not because he was chicken. His nose was huge. From what I could tell, he wore it proudly. But, being a rocket loader, a “front man,” wasn't for the faint of heart. Not everyone qualified for the job. It took four extremely quick, coordinated men to keep a single rocket launcher firing; two to push fully armed rockets into the barrels and two others to take the empty casings out, and all of that happened in less than three seconds in steady firing. Harassment fire was slower, but when Army or Marines were in a hot spot with the Vietcong, we were in close to shore and shooting all we had to help them. We could empty our entire ship load of 5,000 rockets in fifteen minutes, if necessary, firing all ten launchers as fast as we could. When that happened, things got hectic. My loader and I were the only two sailors on the main deck manning the 40mm canon. We just ducked and pulled our shirts over our eyes and mouth, trying to breath in the thick rocket smoke and to not get hit by a side-winder, a bad rocket or misfire. No one was surprised about Chicken Man's accident. It was inevitable.

I hated to see Chicken Man leave. As senior Supply Petty Officer, I knew how hard his job was, especially with our S. O. B. XO the way he was. Doing anything for him was brutal. Nothing pleased him and cutting his hair was the worst. You may think that my mention in that past blog about fifty percent of the crew refusing to return to ship was a casual incident, but that was a serious breach of conduct, and our XO was more of a cause of that than anything else. The crew hated him. That incident was noted in the ship's log, and the logs are sent (some by teletype, as this one was) to the Commander, Pacific Fleet, the Pacific top dog, and HE demanded an investigation. On our next stop in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, a week or so later, a Rear Admiral Chaplain, hastily flown in from San Diego, commenced that investigation. As it was payday too, I, as senior Supply PO, sat beside the XO, acting as Disbursing Officer, at a mess deck table and counted the money as he gave each sailor their pay. I hated this chore; having to sit next to the XO. As usual, he withheld pay at his discretion and slightest whim, depending on whether “he liked” the man or not, a decision he had no right nor authority to make. Not even the highest Admiral had that authority. But this time the Rear Admiral was watching. I nearly burst out laughing when the Admiral, with all the investigative authority of the Commander, Pacific Fleet, leaned over into the XO's face, and said, “You're an ass hole. Pay these men what the Navy owes them or I'll court marshal your ass.” Whoa! In front of everyone! It was glorious. Not a soul on the mess deck breathed.

Unfortunately, the XO was not ordered off the ship as everyone expected. He left the ship on our return to our home port, Yokosuka, Japan, more than four months later. So, I soon got the word that I was the new Ship's Barber, ordered by the XO of course. From that point on until the ship returned to Yokosuka, I cut hair on the fantail every Saturday and Sunday. We had fun cutting hair. We made it a social event, talking and laughing at unintended hair “styles.” At first, most of the crew wanted a buzz using clippers. It was easy and clean cut and they were afraid of any other cut they might end up with. But, the XO noticed how easy that was and he ordered no more buzzes, I believed out of spite. So, I began using a comb and scissors and I used the clippers only for trimming edges. By the time we returned to Yokosuka, I was the only crew member with a buzz because none of the crew could cut my hair any other way. I had also given about 1,000 haircuts and the later ones were pretty good. Cutting hair was not that difficult, except the XO's hair.

The XO's hair was pretty long by the time he sat down for a hair cut. He ordered me to the Ship's Barber Shop to do it, out of sight (and laughter) of the crew, and usually after a tiring day on the gun-line, not on a relaxing Saturday or Sunday. The shop was just big enough for a barber's chair, upright, and one person – me. As usual, the XO was determined to make things difficult and he insisted on leaning the chair back, which took up more space, made it difficult to move or bend over his hair and usually ended up giving me a back pain. I gave him about eight haircuts over the four month period. He insisted that I use Thinning Shears, which, I learned, did nothing more than make him look stupid. It didn't make his hair shorter, it only made it thinner. There is always a breeze at sea, and in spite of his hat, he couldn't keep his hair under control. He looked like an idiot and everyone snickered behind his back. I got more facetious “good job” comments from the crew for his haircut than any other joke I pulled on that ship. On the occasion of the last haircut I gave him, I accidentally (on purpose) cut a gouge through his hair on the back of his head and then pleaded, “I'm so, so sorry, XO. I slipped.” He wrote me up for non-judicial punishment and tried to reduce me by one rank, but the Skipper wouldn't sign the reduction in rank order nor the hearing findings. The Skipper winked at me as he told me to behave myself.

Three days later we arrived in Yokosuka and our new XO reported aboard. As our old one walked down the gangway for the last time, a chief yelled out, “Hey XO. You need a haircut.” Everyone on deck burst out laughing. He just turned and scowled.


Friday, February 26, 2010

The People's Healthcare

I listened to the Healthcare Summit as long as I could, until I became nauseous. As far as I'm concerned, Republicans were not there to solve the problem. They were there to obstruct. The main difference, and the reason Republicans will obstruct any healthcare bill in Congress, was stated by (I think he said it – I could be wrong) Republican Senator Lemar Alexander (Tenn) when he said, “The People don't want government-run healthcare. The People want to run healthcare,” or words to that effect. What? That statement struck me as one of those typically dumb statements I hear from Republicans everyday. It isn't intended to clear up ambiguity. It is intended to fog up the issue. But, Lemar has a specific idea in mind when he says “The People:” privatization. Think about it. His idea of who “The People” are are those CEOs and corporate boards of insurance companies who are now running healthcare. It's a perversion of language where the meanings of words are turned on their heads. (That's a common theme I preach – turning things on their heads – whenever I rant about Republicans.)

I'm sure that when he said it, Tea Partiers and Palin-ites said, “yea, yea. The People want to run it!” Then they all joined arms and danced a jig. Believe me, there was not one ounce of thought between the ears of any of them. It was all air.

Our government is a representative republic where “The People” is Congress and that IS government. The Executive Branch “executes” the “Will” of the “The People,” i.e., Congress, and it's Congress' duty to watch the Executive Branch do it – and give it a slap if it missteps. That's called “oversight.” That's “The People” running the show. We, you and I, “The Real People” get into the act when we vote and call (or pester) Congress to do what we want. That's as simple as my meager vocabulary and knowledge can make it. That's it!

If you haven't seen the Republican's “The People” idea in action, take a look at the student loan program. Sallie May (speak SLM Corporation) was the privatization of the student loan program back in the Reagan, Bush-I and Gingrich years. Ha! Students are gouged with high interest rates, go deeply in debt and student (and parent) bankruptcies sky-rocketed all the while SLM Corp's CEOs and board members went home with multimillion dollar bonuses... or was that our tax dollars? How'd you like those apples? The Congressional Budget Office now says that we can save about $80 billion if the government takes the student loan program back. That means that privatizing that program was less efficient and more costly than a government-run program. Oops. That didn't work out too well, did it President Reagan?

Republicans are like Greeks. Have to be careful of the gifts they're bringing to “The People.” They are not what they appear to be. They'll “The People” you to the poor house, in a perverse way.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Preditory Credit Card Companies and Cuttin' Hogs

The news is all 'a twitter this morning about the new credit card consumer protection laws taking effect today. And, of course the news is full of tidbits about how the credit card companies have ways to “work around” the law. Is there anyone else out there who have these questions pop into their head? How does it happen, in America, that we must have laws to protect ourselves from our own companies? How did we come to have CEOs and company managers who can cheat and scheme ways to cheat its customers, put them in debt, and force them to pay years of payments, way over any reasonable limit of income, to the extent that any reasonable person would consider it bondage? Is anyone else angry about this situation? In my search for answers to these questions, I come up speechless. I have no answer.

It seems to me that predatory credit card behavior is a testosterone thing. A bragging right among the fat cats. Who got the biggest bonus for the best scheming? Who has the most customers paying the highest interest rates? Who has the most customers filing the most bankruptcies? Who has the most customers they schemed with “special offers” then screwed them with new fees and interest increases?

The only other animal, other than man, that is associated with greed and gluttony is the pig; or more appropriately in the vernacular of my youth – hogs. I can't think of a better word describing credit card company managers; they're hogs.

On that farm of my youth we “cut” pigs that were raised for market to limit the effect of testosterone on the pigs' behavior. They were less active, ate more and more apt to get fatter quicker. “Cuttin' hogs” was grabbing a young thirty or forty pound pig by a hind leg and its ear, flopping it over on its side and placing a knee on its ribcage to hold it down while someone else castrated the pig with a razor blade. That had to hurt... and the squealing pig confirmed that. Usually we dosed the cut with oil to prevent infection.

Maybe that's the answer, without anesthetic....


Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Kraken and Other Leviathans

My problem is that I think too much. There's a saying that many sailors quote when they retire from the Navy; “I'm going to tow a rowboat to a spot farthest from water, salty and fresh, and that's where I'm going to live.” I didn't quite make it there. I live 600 feet above sea level about five miles, as the crow flies, from the Pacific coast. It sounds safe. But, even here, the Pacific Ocean can reach out and grab me, although the event would be so rare as to be a catastrophe for the entire California coastal region. I still look to the west occasionally to see if that huge tsunami coming to get me is breaching the South San Francisco hills. I always visualize having time to contemplate my death before I drown. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to be creamed, instantly, by a house that the tsunami picked up on its way. I'll stand and give it the finger, like the mouse to the eagle, defiantly... I hope.
So, this story about students who went sailing off the coast of Brazil brings back good and bad memories of adventures on the high seas. A “microburst” pushed their sail boat to its edge and beyond and left them floating in life rafts until fate picked them up three days later. They had plenty of time to contemplate their deaths. I spent twenty years in the Navy, twelve of which were on ships of various sizes, and hindsight is scarier every time a reminder triggers my mind. It is through that hindsight that I realize how many times fate pulled me from the edge and beyond in the nick of time. Youth is immortal.
My first ship was the U. S. S. Princeton, LPH-5, an Amphibious Assault Ship (Helicopter), that was a World War II era Aircraft Carrier, home ported in Long Beach, CA. I reported in September 1965 as a Seaman Storekeeper and I was assigned to the ship's Supply Office and became the financial record keeper. At 888 feet long and displacing 36,500 tons, who can think that this ship can shudder and shake and roll under the weight of heavy seas? It did. The Kraken is a powerful monster, or maybe it was just an angry Poseidon. My “GQ” station was an aft port-side hanger bay area as a phone-talker and fire fighter, semi-exposed to the elements, because the adjacent elevator that lifted helicopters to the flight deck, had no door. It's hindsight that makes me fear that stormy day at GQ when we rolled to the left to the point I thought we were “going over” and in a deep, deep trough that I looked out that bay door to see water higher than the ship's flight deck. All of us ten or so sailors were grappling for a hand-hold, as if our puny strength can stand in the face of 50 tons of rushing water. The water rushed over the elevator, closer and closer, and in the nick of time the ship shuddered and began to right itself. We looked at each other, wide-eyed, pale and shaken and thanked God. That day was forgotten on those Sundays we sun-bathed on the flight deck, or the stop in Hawaii, or the days Marines went ashore in Vietnam to fight the Vietcong. But, it is not entirely forgotten.
The most dangerous ship I sailed on was my next ship, the U. S. S. St. Francis River, LFR-525, an Inshore Fire Support Ship home ported in Yokosuka, Japan. It was the original “rust bucket,” a World War II era ship. I reported in November 1968, three days before it was scheduled to depart for Vietnam to support Army and Marine Corp inshore operations. Three months in Nam, three weeks home, was our normal schedule, although it usually turned out to be five to six months in Nam and three weeks home. We operated “close in,” one-eighth or less of a mile from shore, close enough to “take rounds” from shore. My GQ station was as phone talker inside, but later, in Nam, my “Battle Station” was on the twin 40mm canons on the bow, usually facing the shore, with ten rocket launchers spewing rockets behind me. The most frequent order I heard in my earphones was, “shoot that goddamned sniper! Twenty degrees, elevation thirty. Fire it damn it!” I jerked the gun into position in a split second and fired it – ten rounds a burst, rattling your bones and teeth, blowing the hell out of trees and bush and anything else there. Listen for a “ping,” return fire. Fire again if you hear it, or better if you can see him move.
Or, at the mouth of the Siagon River, a river flowing with the tides all the way to Siagon, a Sanpan is getting too close and Fire Control says, “Cong in the Sanpan. Blow it.” So, I blow it out of the water. We come along side, the boat filling with water, and see women and children, all dead, but no “Cong.” Oops. Well, what if there had been Cong in it? I'd be dead.
Swim call was a normal thing on the St. Francis River, usually on the way to Subic Bay, Philippines, the armpit of the world in those days. About half the crew joined in the swim, but I didn't. The tradition is that one strips to skivvies and jumps the ten or so feet into the water while three or four others watch, with M-1 rifles, for sharks. I couldn't get over the idea that sharks don't have to show their fins to expose their position and those with rifles could be just as dangerous as the sharks. I watched for sharks, too, but I didn't have a rifle. I didn't want one.
The fantail on ships is a favorite gathering spot at the end of a workday after supper or at anytime on Sunday to talk and smoke a cigarette. It's also the place where the garbage chute is located and when the garbage is dumped, I've seen times when thirty or forty Hammerhead Sharks would trail along, eating anything and everything that was dumped, even tin cans. Some of those sharks were so big that I'm convinced they were half the length of the ship. Swim call? No way. I never got over a day at Newport's Number One Beach, Newport, RI, when I, looking to catch a wave for body-surfing, got out a little too far, felt the cold depth of the water and something swam by, long and sleek, touching my leg. I swam to shore so fast I could have beat Michael Phelps. I've done nothing more than wade in the ocean since. There are Leviathans in that water.
A lot happened on the St. Francis River. I hurt my back, once, returning to the ship from leave, when I had to ride a Patrol “PT” Boat in rough seas to catch my ship, and then spent a month in Subic Bay's hospital to recover. There was also that time when we were resupplying 5,000 rockets, five-inch gun ammunition and 40mm and 20mm canon ammunition in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, when nearly fifty percent of our crew refused to return to the ship from the base “club.” They were all drunk and it was getting dark and the ship, a floating powder keg, was not allowed in Cam Ranh after dark. We put the harbor at great risk. I, and three other petty officers, were ordered to run the one mile to the club to get our crew back to the ship. We left the harbor after dusk. We could hear explosions from Vietcong rockets in the dark night, a nightly routine for Cam Ranh Bay. Had they hit us, the explosion would have destroyed the harbor and reverberated for miles around. Fate plucked us from disaster in the nick of time.
The St. Francis River was scheduled for decommissioning in Bremerton, WA, and was to depart for Puget Sound a few months after the Cam Ranh Bay incident. But, our last trip from Vietnam to Yokosuka proved to be too much stress on the hull, with cracks and water leaks, and we worked hard, around the clock, to get home without sinking. The ship was in such bad shape that it was decided it would probably sink on a month-long voyage to Bremerton. It was a rust bucket. It was decommissioned in Yokosuka and we felt very lucky it made it that far. The next stop for LFR-525 was scrap metal.
My next ship was the most fun; U. S. S. Beacon , PG-99, or as we were known to P-3 Orion pilots, “Cowboy 99.” The Naval Source description is here . The Beacon's home port was San Diego, CA while I was aboard from late 1969 to June 1971. The Beacon was just a big toy. It had four diesel engines and a Pratt-Whitney Jet Engine for dual propulsion. My GQ and Special Detail post was at the con, steering the ship and operating the controls. What a kick. It had a 25-man crew that did everything, whether it was entering or leaving a harbor or trying to outrun an Aircraft Carrier to San Francisco at top, 41 knot (47 mph), speed. We won. I left the Beacon in June 1971 when it was ordered to the East Coast for anti-Russian operations. Its luck ran out on the East Coast many times, it seems, as indicated in its Wikipedia history. It was rammed by a merchant ship, as one example. Glad I left – in the nick of time.
My next two ships could not beat my experience on the Beacon, the U. S. S. Ajax (AR-6), a World War II era repair ship, and the U. S. S. Lockwood (FF-1064), a Fast Frigate made cheaply with only one, very slow propeller. Online Lockwood photos and details are here and as a Destroyer Escort, as originally intended, here . It really wasn't designed to be a Fast Frigate.
Three Ajax experiences enforce my belief that going to sea is a bad idea. The first was that, while the ship's mission is to repair ships, we couldn't repair ourselves. We lost power on our voyage from San Diego to the Western Pacific exactly in the middle, to within a few feet, equal-distance between California and Hawaii. And, there we sat, waddling in the ocean for a day and a half. We were so lucky that the seas were calm. The Ajax, the size of an ocean passenger liner, lolled and rolled in the calm seas like a cradle. Had there been a storm, we would have rolled over like a log. Good luck struck again! We finally repaired our evaporators, those engines that convert salt water to fresh water to cool our engines. We can't have salt water coursing through engine cooling systems.
The second and third incidents occurred in the same Typhoon off the coast of the Philippines. Had they asked me whether to stay in the Subic Bay harbor or go to sea when a Typhoon is approaching, I would have stayed. I've never understood the logic of any other choice in that regard; the choice being whether to sink in fifty feet of harbor water or one thousand feet of ocean. Who, in their right mind, would make any other choice? But, they didn't ask me. So, we set sail as the typhoon approached and tried, I say “tried,” to outrun it. A typhoon can go 20 knots per hour or more. The old Ajax did only ten.
That typhoon tossed and punched us like we were a one-ounce cork. We were right in the center of the strongest winds and highest waves. The Ajax leaned over at least five times to the point that I knew we were going over, but somehow came back. Only by the Grace of God did we make it. And, as the storm only slightly lessened, those words nobody wants to hear blurted from the ship's speaker system; “Man Overboard!” Someone was missing from muster! “Man overboard detail report to the con.” Oh shit. I'm on that detail. In this storm? Everyone knew our XO was crazy. But, this crazy?
Out we went into the night, in a harness tethered to a line. Searchlights scanned the huge, black-green and ugly ocean waves. I held on to the rail for dear life. If I was swept off my feet I knew I would dangle in the 100 mph winds at the end of the tether like a rag doll. What a joke to think that I could hold on if a monster wave came crashing over me. And, as the ship rolled, those waves washed around my feet, 35 feet above the normal waterline, sometimes with considerable force. I was lucky, again, to have kept my footing. We saw no one in the water and it was painfully obvious to us, who were outside looking, that we wouldn't – we couldn't. In only a few moments, seemingly an hour, we were called back inside. As I turned to go in, the wind whipped off my earphones and the microphone strapped to my neck, causing a red welt that lasted for several days. I made it inside. Several months later we were back in San Diego and I left the ship before it, too, went to Bremerton for decommissioning. And, Petty Officer Hann, the missing man? We found him waiting to be found in a storeroom where he had attempted to get a part, but had been trapped by heavy items falling in front of the storeroom door. He had a ship's phone. He could have called for help.
As for the Lockwood – nothing happened. We trailed Russians ships, watched their exercises and refueling ops. We nearly lost our variable depth sonar a few hundred miles from Vladivostok chasing Russian subs. But, I wasn't involved. I watched others try to get the cable back in the pulley wheel while the ocean sent waves in the back door.
So, those Canadian students had fate on their side. They were lucky. As for me, if you hear I'm going on a sea cruise to Mexico, or anyplace, then you should pay your respects soon. I'm likely in a coma near death and I'm delirious. Both “micro” and “macro” bursts happen on the high seas and you never know how it's going to turn out.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cyber Attacks from China and Europe

Google says the huge cyber-attacks are coming from China. I don't doubt that. This article says another gang in Eastern Europe has released the “Kneber bot,” Trojans that reproduce themselves in all connected computers making all connected computers “cooperate” to give the thieves what they want, i.e., logins, passwords, financial data, etc. The largest, so far, invasion of corporate computers to date. I don't doubt that either. I wonder if some of this is our own fault.

A few years ago I sat in on a job interview for my company's Supervisor Customer Relations Management (CRM) Software Engineer position, a position that would be my immediate supervisor. My Division's Director wanted my opinion of the candidate and asked me to participate. The candidate was an American who had spent the previous five years (my memory may be off a year or so) in Europe as a lead CRM programmer for a well known European Company, although I can't remember the company's name. He knew ALL the latest buzz word and HOT topics in the programming world, although after two years in retirement, I can't remember those either. But, he was HOT! Just ask him.

Before I go further I should tell you about CRM systems. They are the programs that keep your data, your personal identity and your credit card stuff and your banking stuff. While there may be differences between one company to another, all CRM systems have a common purpose and common programming “code” no matter who writes the code. Most use encryption to protect important data, but programmers decide what's important and what's not, and programmers come with various skills, personalities, experience AND personal predilection on what's important. Also, encryption algorithms are known the world over, even though there are laws against “exporting” the highest security encryption programs. And, how many programmers know about the law? Not all of them. So, you may be the best and brightest (and honest and concerned) programmer, but there are others out there determined to get in your code.

So, this guy says one of his responsibilities is supervising a group of CRM programmers in Beijing, China. Huh? “How's that work?” I asked. We, he says, send the specs to the Chinese programmers along with templates and base code and the Chinese fill in the blanks to make a usable Windows screen or Web page or middle-tier dynamic library or database structure. They (the Chinese) return the completed work and he reviews and tests it. His company “outsourced” important programming to China.

Do you trust them? How do you know they, or even the Chinese Government, isn't appropriating your code for their own uses?” I asked, or words to that effect.

Oh,” he says. “We have them sign an agreement that they will not give or sell our proprietary code.”

Huh?... There you go! There's that honor system where “they” trust you just because you signed an agreement. Well, I signed one of those statements too. I made a promise and I'll keep it. But China? A country where the over 70% of millions of computers run on pirated software? A country where an individual “can't” keep his promises if the government doesn't want him to? A country that is “determined,” under any circumstances and by any means, to become the world's greatest economy? Personally, I wouldn't trust any Chinese programmer farther than I can spit to keep their promise no matter how honest that programmer is.

As far as I know, Google doesn't know where the attacks are coming from. Is it a criminal? Or is it the Chinese Government? Or is it Google's Chinese competitor who is taking over Google's Chinese market? From the news, the Chinese Government is opposed to Google's stance. I haven't heard China say that it's investigating the attacks, which would be appropriate and reasonable if the attacker is a criminal or competitor.

Ever since NAFTA and CAFTA, U. S. companies “outsource” work for cheap labor. The software industry is no different. When you call tech support, you're likely talking to someone in India, probably an employee of Satyam, Inc. or Mahindra Corp., or maybe Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore or Philippines. When they ask for your “last four” of your Social Security Number or Credit Card, they can see the first seven or twelve numbers. They can see your stuff. They signed that statement too. They know the code that keeps your stuff. It only takes one or two dishonest programmers to build the bots that get your stuff.

We didn't hire the guy. He knew too many buzz words and, as I recall, asked too many questions about our company “bonus” structure; more interested in pay than the job. And, as an after thought, how would we ever find out if some of our proprietary code made it to one of his Chinese friends? Perhaps for a nice little sum of money​? We would never know.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shove it, Republicans!

This is great news on the economy. Take this and shove it up your butts, Republicans!


Agreeing with Sarah Palin

This is one time I agree with Sarah Palin about “Down's Syndrome” commentary. Enough is enough. Of course, I think enough is enough when I hear Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Rielly, Anderson Cooper etal., Hardball and a thousand other so-called political commentators when they get “personal.” I'm pretty tired of it.


Senator Evan Bayh and Dan Coats

One thing should be true regarding Senator Evan Bayh's leaving the Senate: He can now vote his conscious without having to worry about what the people back home think about him. If he really is for healthcare reform, he'll vote for it. He may even vote for the Public Option in reconciliation procedures so the Republicans can't filibuster it. He could vote for another jobs stimulus bill for jobs in Indiana, too. But, for the past year he's been a Blue Dog Democrat and voting more Republican than Democrat against any real change that might help the American people and his fellow Indiana citizens. His latest remarks doesn't indicate he's changed that much.

Brother Dan has money on him coming back as “something,” maybe President. I'm not so sure. He made the short list and was passed over for Vice President twice, once under Clinton and once under Obama. My money is on him doing what Dan Coats did. Getting a cushy Ambassadorship job for a while and then becoming a lobbyist for big money. The $13 million he has in his campaign war chest didn't come from Indiana citizens. It came from big corporate sponsors and rich Political Action Committees, mostly lobbying him for his Republican vote. He knows the ropes and all the big players in Foggy Bottom (Washington D. C.), i.e., those who can cut through the fog to buy congressional votes that screw the American people. It's more like Smoggy Bottom, if you ask me, where Senators like Ben Nelson and Max Baucus cut dirty-air deals that stink of foul odors.

I wouldn't be surprised if Republican and corporate interests didn't cut a deal with Bayh, a dark backroom big money offer he couldn't refuse, that convinced him to quit so Dan Coats would be a shoo-in. Dan Coats is the last person I'd pick for Bayh's Senate seat. Indiana really needs an honest Senator who will really be for the people. But, I don't see one.

Bayh got on all of the popular trains as Senator, such as spouting off about The Bridge to Nowhere that would have connected the community of Ketchikan to its airport, created a thousand or more steady jobs immediately and allowed the community to safely travel to and to build businesses in and around its airport for economic growth. Buyh got on the Sarah Palin Train against the bridge. He didn't know the facts and he didn't care about the facts. If he really was “for people,” he would have been “for” the bridge. On the flip side of that coin, he managed to get plenty of earmarks, both deserved and not, for his state that he was silent about while complaining about “other” senators' earmarks.

It could be that Bayh simply has pangs of conscious about being a hypocrite and wants to stop. But, I doubt it. I think he'll be back, but he'll be making a lot more money than the President does as a lobbyist in the backroom, just like Dan Coats was.

Indiana voters are no different than those in other states. We are all misinformed and gullible about candidates for public office and we have no idea how an official will perform once they're elected. It would be nice to get an honest Senator, but Dan Coats will not be that, as Evan Bayh wasn't. Coats is not going to give up his lobby contacts and their money after he's elected. They've given him, and will continue to give him, all he wants and he'll return the favor.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dark Queen Sarah Palin - The Next Despot in the World

I wonder if the Tea Party movement and its Queen, Sarah Palin, isn't the way all despots in history began. I see a lawless, discontented mob, ignorant of the Constitution and laws of civility, who believe freedom means absolute freedom to do anything without the slightest regard for their neighbor, community or country. I see an anti-American, anti-government movement that ignores the democratic process that elected a President. It, the Tea Party movement, clearly wants a government coup that puts Palin in the White House. That would be a disaster.
Her comment that Obama could rouse support by “playing the war card” shows her own inclinations; to start a war with Iran for her own political gain. Her finger on the nuclear trigger as an American President should cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up. She would plunge the world into chaos and darkness for her own glory. Our Congress would have to show some serious backbone, that it does not now have, to stop her. But, with an electorate more than willing to vote into office people like Senator Richard Shelby, who will hold up important legislation for his own political career, or people like Michele Bachmann who is absolutely bonkers, would they? Our military leadership would, for the first time in its existence, have to say “no” to its erratic and psychotic civilian Commander in Chief. But, as President and after appointing new military leaders, would they?
The Tea Party gang and Queen Sarah is that faction James Madison was so afraid of. They are “the Beast” Alexander Hamilton feared. They are unruly thugs that appeal to the most base of animal instincts and have somehow twisted the meaning of freedom to satisfaction of prejudices, self-servitude and greed. She and they have no discernible, reasonable knowledge about anything. We should fear the Dark Queen Sarah.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Goldman Sachs - AIG Scam

If it talks like a scam, walks like a scam and smells like a scam – then it must be a scam. I can't get past the smell in the deal between Goldman Sachs and A.I.G., and it is Goldman Sachs that seems to be the source of the biggest stench. The more I read about Goldman, the more I believe someone needs to go to jail.
The way I read this article, Sachs stacked the deck for its profit from every angle. It knew before hand that the mortgage securities it bought were over-the-top inflated and it knew that AIG would fail by insuring, those Credit Default Swaps, the securities against loss and it knew that a global economic crisis would occur when the mortgage bubble burst. And, it didn't care. It hedged its bets in the dark backroom and let the nation falter on the brink of disaster. It made record profits on the securities. It made record profits from AIG payments when the securities went south. And, it made record profits when the tax payers bailed AIG out because AIG had to use the bailout money to pay off the insurance policies Sachs bought. Sachs paid record bonuses and stock options to the people who schemed the best. It even schemed to launder money through the French Societe Generale Bank to its coffers.
If some (many?) at Goldman Sachs don't go to jail, I will be very, very disappointed.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wayne, Local Hardware Stores and Good Advice

You just don't get the service in big box stores, like WalMart or Home Depot, like you do in local community stores. Take Pete's Hardware or Workbench Hardware in Castro Valley, for example. Pete's is an Ace Hardware store and Workbench, on Center Street, is a True Value Hardware store. You get good service in these stores. Pete's is the larger of the two.
I'm not a “shopper.” I don't go to Macy's or WalMart just to browse. Home Depot is not a browsing store, either, where you try to find what you're looking for among all the labels on warehouse pallets. But, I can browse at Pete's or Workbench. There's something about Pete's that reminds me of a hardware store of my childhood, Marvel's Hardware in the early 50s, then Smith's Hardware into the 60s. Pete's is updated with the times. I remember stopping at that childhood hardware store after school on a cold winter day and standing over the big heat register in the back of the store to get warm. And, it was a daily thing to see a customer come in and say, “Hey Wayne, I need some nails to fix a window pane, [or door jam, or a squeaky floor, or whatever]. I need 10-penny nails.”
No, you need...” this or that size nails, and Dad would dig his hand in a bin full of nails, weigh them and bag them. Nails didn't come in boxes in the 1950s. Pete's sells nails in boxes, but it sells screws individually. I'm not aware that Home Depot sells screws individually. If there's one thing I hate, it's having to buy a box or a bag of screws, using only one or two, and then keeping the other 50 in the box on a shelf for the rest of my life. I usually forget I have them and buy another box the next time I need screws.
Most of the time, Dad would explain where to nail the window pane or door jam. “You don't use nails to fix a squeaky floor,” he'd say. “Got to use wood screws for that. If it squeaks with the nails that are already in it, it will squeak again with nails you put in it. But, the first thing you do is find the squeaky nail, pull it out, and re-nail it in the joist. It's squeaking because it just missed the joist in the first place.” Then, he'd explain how to cover the screw with a wooden plug cut from a wooden dowel. “Countersink the screw,” he'd say, “and cut off a plug from this.”
That's what you get at Pete's and Workbench hardware stores; specific instructions and good service. Try getting that at Home Depot. They, at Pete's, know everything. Like the other day when I had to fix a hole in the drywall. But, to tell that story, I have to go back to the beginning.
We're having some remodeling done, including a new vanity in the bathroom. New vanities, it turns out, are about five inches taller now days. That means that the wall-to-wall mirror that sits on it must be moved higher, and that means that the light fixture above the mirror needs to be moved higher. It was an old fixture anyway, so we decided to replace it. Doing that wasn't part of our contractor's contract, so I decided to do it myself. There are always surprises in life, and this was no exception.
I expected to find an electrical junction box behind the light, but what I found was a big foot-long hole in the drywall and the wire running around the front side of a two by six main support stud in a load-bearing wall, causing a six inch gouge through the finished side of the drywall, directly to the light. Our new light required a junction box, centered on the wall. This presented me with a whole new set of problems especially since I knew nothing about installing a junction box nor fixing a drywall hole.
I started with YouTube here , for installing a junction box, and here for fixing a drywall hole. These were okay, but they leave out a few necessary details which, as usual, are clear as mud until after the job is done. Shit. I should have done it that way (more on this later) . So, I went to Pete's with my problem and the light fixture bracket I had to attach to the junction box. If I knew what Kim, Jerry or Shawn, my nephews, know about this stuff, I wouldn't need help. But, while I'm handy with tools, I usually don't know what I'm talking about. I need help.
The name tag on the guy at Pete's who ask, “do you need help?” said “Wayne.”
Yea, I need help.” I explained my problem; no junction box, big drywall hole, I'll have to make a bigger hole for the junction box, can't center the box if I attach it to the two by six stud, need a spacer between the stud and the box, and on and on. Wayne figured out what I needed in two seconds, and a minute later I was checking out with my stuff; a drywall repair kit, a quart of joint compound (mud), a small roll of joint tape, a sheet of drywall screen (for sanding) and an 18 by 18 piece of sheetrock. Not only did I have the stuff, Wayne explained how to use it, including the repair kit that was more important than I thought. All the kit contains are six clips that attaches the existing drywall to the new patch to make the patch surface even with the other drywall. That's important! More later on that.
What about a spacer between the stud and the junction box?” I asked. “I need it moved over about an inch to center it on the wall.”
Use a piece of wood,” he said. Oh. I can do that.
The junction box YouTube video didn't explain other things, though, and it was too late to ask Wayne. For example, how do I make sure the box doesn't protrude beyond the surface of the drywall? Bob, my neighbor engineer who does his own remodeling and with lots of knowledge on this stuff, says, “See these bent tips on the bracket?”
Those are guides. Just line those up on the front corner of the stud, and it should work.”
Oh. Bob is handy. But, remember that piece of wood I had to nail to the stud to center the junction box? Maybe I was a bit off making sure it lined up with the stud, because I attached the box to “it,” not the stud. After all was done, I used a level on the box to see if it was straight up and down. It was a bit off.
I followed the YouTube instructions for the drywall patch, which says to simply nail or screw the patch to the studs. It turns out that doing that to a small patch doesn't guarantee that the patch surface is EVEN with what's already there. The repair kit does that. But, it's too late to use the kit after the patch is screwed in. There you go. I should have listened to Wayne. My patch was ¼ inch off on one side. That's a big difference! I hoped the joint compound would fill it in.
Next is the joint compound. The tools needed are a 3 to 4 inch putty knife, a 6 to 8 inch putty knife, a 10 inch or so putty knife and a mud pan. I had no idea if we had this stuff. But, since we have two estates of stuff, plus our own stuff, all crammed in our garage, I figured the chances were good that we had the knives. So, I went searching and I found suitable knives. But, a mud pan? Odds were against it, but I looked and poked through the shelves, not entirely sure that I would recognize one if we had one, and whoa-la! There it is. A pan about twelve inches long, four inches wide and four inches deep with a sharp edge on one side for scraping a knife on. That must be a mud pan! And, sitting beside the pan was a gallon bucket of usable joint compound! Go figure. Where did that come from? I could return both the kit and the compound I bought for a refund.
I suppose a skilled drywaller would have finished the first coat of joint compound in about five minutes. I finished it in twenty minutes. But, the peaks and valleys were not as prominent and a second coat would fill those in. Three coats of joint compound smoothed out the wall and another YouTube video on how to apply a knockdown texture. I was ready to paint.
My total time was about six hours. It could have been much less and easier had I listened to Wayne. Sorry, Dad. You tried to tell me once again and, as usual, I wasn't listening.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Toyota Gas Pedal Problem My Foot

I've been listening to all the noise about the Toyota gas pedal problem. It's not a gas pedal problem. It's a software problem. I hate to go there, but it wouldn't surprise me to hear that it is a malicious software problem.


Monday, February 1, 2010

How Many Idiots are there in Texas?

I know how many idiots there are in Texas. Over 50% of the voters in the 2008 Senate election. That's how many there are. They voted Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, into office.

He released a statement on President Obama's State of the Union speech saying, “flawed, but well delivered.” Ha. He released the statement before the President's speech! Then, when Politico blogger Ben Smith wrote about his little trick, the Senator said Smith “lacked journalistic ethics.” Huh? Does anyone else see logic turned on its head, here?