My name is Tom. Thanks for stopping by! I’m a veteran software developer in Richmond, Virginia. I have a fondness for writing, and this is one place where I do that. This blog mainly focuses on my life, technology, and current events. All of my opinions are entirely my own. Enjoy your stay!

North Korea? Really?

Seriously, North Korea is the country pushing us around?

Then again, in the realm of cyber attacks, the U.S. government is nowhere near the super-power that it is when it comes to bombs and guns. We should fear cyber attacks from other countries. Technology-wise, we are still using stone knives and bear skins.

Bush v. Clinton 2016

If 2016 turns out to be Bush v. Clinton, can we all agree that the American experiment has failed? I mean, just lock the doors and turn out the lights.

Actually I think they’re both too moderate to win their respective nominations in the modern “extreme positions or gtfo” political/media climate.

Back At The Old Grindstone

I realized I hadn’t updated this blog with new information since my unemployment. August was a very quiet vacation month for me. Then I accepted a part-time position working as a sub-contractor on my old project starting September 2. My role is to assist with an upcoming server migration (which keeps getting moved but is supposed to occur this upcoming week) and to help transition my knowledge about the project to the new hires. The project is slightly chaotic now, and it’s less money, but I’m rather enjoying the “part-time” status. This may or may not last through December, depending on many factors.

I’ve noticed that dusk is arriving earlier each day, which means that Fall and Winter is approaching again. For me, Fall means raking a ton of leaves and sneezing a lot since I am basically surrounded by trees on all sides, but on the plus side it means an end is in sight for mowing. This year I hope to do a little better job of winterizing my mower. If I’m very lucky, today may be the last day I mow. (But probably not. I made the mistake of letting my grass get too long before winter last year.)

Winter for me also means hoping that my dog doesn’t repeat the anxiety she experienced last year over my leaving for work in the morning. I still don’t know what triggered it but the only thing I can figure is that because of the season I was leaving the house when it was fully dark. This year I might adjust my schedule to leave a bit later after the time change.

Today Bella is experiencing an episode of “reverse sneezing.” These episodes are pretty scary for both me and the dog but I’m told there’s not much to be done about it except to try and keep the dog calm. They usually last a day and then she is fine. This weekend has been much cooler so I’m guessing that is what triggered it.

Shock Top Commercial

Watching this commercial for Shock Top beer during the 49ers vs. Eagles game. “My dream is to share a beer with my friends at America’s highest point.” Is the top of a mountain really the best place to have a beer? Just sayin’. Seems like that should be in the mountain-climbing rule book somewhere.

August Didn’t Arrive Too Soon

It’s finally August, and boy am I happy about that. July was one of the craziest months of uncertainty and turmoil that I can remember.

After the drama of July, I am now unemployed. I have plenty of time to find a job, though, so don’t worry. I was eligible for more severance than I expected, and I can stretch that to last for quite a while, assuming I don’t need to go to a doctor. (I may soon have more intimate knowledge of Obamacare than I cared to.) Even beyond that, I have some savings. More importantly, though, I have job skills that are at least a little bit in demand.

It may be surprising to reveal that everything turned out almost exactly the way I wanted it to turn out. It must be rare that being laid off is one of the better things that can happen to a person. But now I have an infinite number of possibilities ahead of me, and time to pursue them, whereas a little over a month ago, I didn’t.

It’s my hope that I can find a job that allows me to telecommute (ie. work from home), which is probably a pipe dream but I can afford to pursue it for a little while. I started my professional life working from home, so I’m familiar with the pros and cons. I’m curious to see if I can take the lessons I’ve learned from cubicle life and apply them to a home office.

July, The Month of Economic Turmoil

I work for a big federal government contractor, and they recently lost the contract for the project I’m working on, because a competitor swooped in and bid less. (The federal government is usually obligated to award contracts to the lowest bidder who is technically capable of performing the work.)

The point is that if nothing else happens, July 29th will be my last day of work, and I will have done my part to shrink the federal deficit.

But there’s no reason to panic about unemployment just yet. It’s a rapidly-evolving situation, and new information comes out daily. For one thing, my company is planning to "protest" the award. Realistically, it probably won’t amount to anything, but there’s a small chance that the decision will be reversed. (UPDATE: This didn’t happen.)

Secondly, there is a nearly 100% chance that the competitor in question will offer me (and my co-workers) a job to continue working on the project. (UPDATE: This did happen.) (Otherwise, the project will probably crash and burn almost immediately.)

Thirdly, if everything else falls through and I’m out of a job after the 29th, I should be eligible for 4 weeks of severance pay. My expenses are very low right now, so that plus my savings will carry me over until I can find a new job.

And despite all the dire economic news from the media, I’m not especially worried about finding another developer job. In fact I’m strongly tempted to explore more freelance-type work for a while. There probably won’t be a better time for me to try that.

In other news, it’s really frickin’ hot in Richmond again. This seems to happen practically every year now.

Spring Update

Currently I’m spending most of my online time on another blogging project. I rarely see anything of interest to write about in this particular space. News is boring and repetitive.

I could write a lot about work, but that wouldn’t be very smart. Work is turbulent right now, let’s just leave it at that. There isn’t much I can do except wait and see what happens, unless I decide to preemptively turn my life upside-down.

I could also write about ants. Tiny black ants have invaded my kitchen, but I’ve been fighting back with various deadly pharmaceutical products. It’s surprisingly disheartening to have ants all over the place. Sometimes you just want to give up and say, "Fine, ants, just live here, I don’t care anymore." It’s like trying to fight against an unstoppable force of nature.

I’m probably developing arthritis in my left hip, which is a bit like having a toothache, except it’s in my hip. It makes it difficult to stand up for any length of time. I suppose it could be something like bone cancer, but statistically, it probably isn’t. It’s most likely the result of spending so much time sitting at computers, which the young folks now tell us is more dangerous to your health than smoking.

Spring is upon us, and while I do enjoy the warmer temperatures, additional light, and festive greenery that comes with it, I find myself missing the fact that nothing grows during the winter. Now there are weeds and trees and plants and grass sprouting all over the place, and it requires constant maintenance, particularly after it rains like it has been this week.

Also, Spring is like a giant slap in the face of humanity. All the plants get to die once a year, but we humans only get to die once. But we can still gloat about having sentience.

Ukraine and Crimea

I’m trying to wrap my head around this Ukraine situation. I haven’t been paying a huge amount of attention to news lately, so I only get bits and pieces of it at a time. I seem to recall having difficulty the last time something happened in Ukraine, too. If I’m understanding the incredibly obtuse explanations from the media correctly, it’s something like this:

Grossly simplified, Ukraine is made up of two basic ethnic regions. The western side is more of a Ukrainian ethnicity, while the eastern side is more of a Russian ethnicity. The people of Crimea in the southeast, a penninsula sitting smack between Ukraine and Russia, want to leave Ukraine. I don’t know why, but I guess because they speak Russian while the rest of their country speaks Ukrainian. I’m not sure if the Crimean people want their own country, or if they just want to become part of Russia. The latter would make more sense, since they would probably be a shambles by themselves.

Unfortunately in these modern times, you can’t just up and decide to move your land from one country to another. The Ukrainian government doesn’t particularly want a big chunk of their territory to disappear. It would look bad on their yearly evaluations or something. Also, presumably, whatever revenue and resources come from Crimea would be lost.

Complicating matters is that the U.S. and Russia are on opposing sides. Russia seems fine with the idea of Crimea becoming Russian. The U.S., perhaps sympathetic because of its own Civil War, is firmly behind Ukraine. If Crimea left for Russia, it would be a big political black eye for us, as we would "lose" to Russia, and we certainly can’t have that.

To put this in terms more Americans might understand, it’s a bit like this hypothetical situation: California decides to leave the U.S. for Mexico. California is filled with Spanish-speaking people, right? I think so. Anyway, the U.S. obviously wouldn’t allow that to happen, because we set a rather harsh precedent during the Civil War that no State would be leaving the Union, or else. In this analogy, Ukraine is the U.S., Crimea is California, and Mexico is Russia.

It’s entirely possible that analogy is totally wrong, but it sounds good to me. (In reality, Mexico may not want California, given its generally horrible financial state.)

I have no strong feelings about the politics of the situation one way or another, which is to say that I don’t care if Crimea is part of Ukraine or part of Russia. I just feel horrible for the people living in that area. And as a U.S. citizen I don’t particularly want to get involved in a potential Ukrainian civil war, especially with Russia on the other side. Can’t we spend a little time not being involved in a conflict somewhere in the world? Just for a change of pace?

I’ve said before that I couldn’t conceive of how the Civil War came about, but this looks like a living example of it happening right before our eyes. Still, I can’t comprehend being so passionate about one’s national identity that one would be willing to start shooting people over it. That seems like an incredibly Middle Ages attitude to me. (Actually the entire concept of national identity in general seems obsolete, with the explosion of cross-border communciation possible through the Internet.)

Anyway, as of this writing, Crimea has essentially voted to become part of Russia. Of course, Ukraine (and the U.S.) doesn’t recognize their authority to make that decision. Let’s hope they find a way to resolve everything without creating a lot of innocent dead people.

Totally Insensitive Thoughts on Shooters

A thought struck me when I saw a Louisiana mass shooting headline in my news reader today. Actually a bunch of thoughts.

First I thought, "Ugh, not another one."

Then I pragmatically thought, "Well, at least he killed himself so there’s one less crazy person in the world."

Then I got mad at the shooter for not having the courage of his own convictions. I’m generally a "if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime" kind of person. So this shooter annoyed me for "cheating" and avoiding his punishment.

But then I thought the shooter probably didn’t have any convictions, and he probably just wanted attention. Then I got mad at him for just being stupid. What’s the point of getting attention if you’re not going to stick around to see it?

Then I thought that he must have thought that if he killed himself while he thought he was going to get attention, then he’d save himself from the burden of finding out that he really didn’t get any attention, because bloggers like me aren’t putting his name in their blog. So in a way killing himself assured his own success. So then I got mad at him again because now he was cheating by insulating himself from the possibility of failure that the rest of us have to face all the time.

Then I figured maybe I should actually read some details about the case before I make all these snap judgments.

Well, it wasn’t a random shooting spree like the headline led us to believe. It looks like there was a clear cause-and-effect in this case.

Then I got depressed because it’s one of those cases where all of the warning signs were there, but we can’t arrest people in this country for behaving like they might be dangerous. We have to wait for them to commit actual crimes before we can lock them up. Which I guess is one of the down sides of a free society. In this one area, the oppressive dictatorships that squash all human rights probably have us beat.

There should be a lesson to learn from this, but I’m not sure what it would be. I guess if you know someone acting like they might be dangerous, don’t expect the police to protect you. Everyone is ultimately responsible for their own safety.

I’m still mad at the shooter though. Something about murder-suicides particularly infuriates me. It’s like they’re "getting away with it" somehow.

But from a practical standpoint, it’s probably best for society as a whole if the shooter just goes ahead and kills himself. It would just be nice if they did it before shooting anyone.

In Which I Hate Shopping For Clothes

(This rant was inspired by fifteen incredibly frustrating minutes of looking for new clothes on my smart phone.)

I really detest shopping for clothes. I’m probably not alone in that, but I really, really hate it. I’ll wear clothes until they are literally falling apart before I go into a retail clothing store. It’s one of the creepiest environments imaginable, filled with obnoxious kids running around, moms standing in the middle of aisles yelling at their kids, and endless numbers of surfaces teeming with germs.

So you can probably guess how much I love the concept of shopping for clothes online. And yet, here we are at the end of 2013, and this technology is still nowhere near where it should be.

I play a lot of MMORPGs, and one of the biggest features of these games is character creation, and virtual costumes. You can easily choose how your character looks, and dress him or her in shirts, pants, hats, shoes, or whatever with a few clicks of some buttons. WHY CAN’T I DO THAT WHEN I SHOP FOR REAL. Why can’t I see what this shirt looks like next to those pants. It’s almost the year of Back to the Future, Part 2 for god’s sake.

Google says that "virtual dressing rooms" are barely even off the drawing boards, and if they exist, they are for women.

But that’s okay. I’ll just use trial-and-error, because that’s just as efficient, right? So I go to a typical clothing retailer’s web site. I probably have to navigate through the most awful search interface possible to narrow it down to button-down shirts. Maybe I use Amazon, which has marginally better searching abilities. Whatever. Eventually I find a picture of a shirt I like. Then it suddenly turns into advanced calculus and nuclear physics before I can even think about buying. What the hell is a size "3XB"? Is that bigger than "2XB?" What about "2 XLT"? WHAT THE HELL ARE THESE LETTERS AND NUMBERS. THEY SAID I WOULDN’T NEED MATH IN THE REAL WORLD.

Well, maybe I can find some pants. Pants are easier than shirts, right? Oh no they aren’t. What the hell is a "relaxed fit" and how does that compare to a "regular?" Where is the comparison diagram? WHY DOES ANYONE THINK I WOULD KNOW THESE THINGS? And then, as if things couldn’t get any more enragening, why isn’t there a 38×31? This isn’t my local K-Mart that’s been picked over like carcasses in the desert. This is the INTERNET! IT HAS EVERYTHING. MAKE ME A 38X31!

I heard about a place called Trunk Club from a conveniently-placed advertisement right at the start of the CBS Evening News podcast. It sounds like a gift from the gods. Until you dig down to find out how much the clothes cost. But then I remember how much I hate buying clothes and how bad clothing web sites are, and I think that maybe paying two or three times the amount I normally pay for clothes is a bargain. Perhaps it just might save me from having a stroke.