Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fools – A Little Early

Over at a blog I follow called One More Thing, Kate is doing something called “the madhouse”.  Basically, a set of topics is laid out for other bloggers to post about.   Anyone can follow along and see what other’s think when presented with a specific topic.  “the madhouse” happens every Wednesday.  This week’s topic is Fools.

What’s more “Fool”ish than an Internet Worm set to go off on, of course, April Fool’s Day.  Yep, today is April 1st (well, it’s really  March 31st, but I wanted to give you a bit of fair warning to perhaps protect yourself) and in the tech world all hell is suppose to break loose due to the Conflicter Worm.  No one is certain exactly what the worm that is set to go off on April Fool’s Day will do.  It could simply pop up and say, “FOOL”.  Or, it could wipe your hard drive.  Or, perhaps steal your online banking password.  Whatever, it’s worth it to ensure you’re protected.  I’ve listed some defenses at the end of this blog entry.

When I saw this week’s topic I immediately tried to recall my best April Fool’s memory.  Unfortunately, I really don’t have any fantastic prank that I pulled on someone or someone pulled on me.  All I could recall was some radio DJs losing their jobs over some stupid prank they pulled. 

Next thing that entered my mind was who do I know that’s a fool?  No one popped to mind that I would openly embarrass here on this blog.  (Although I will say that recent discussions about straight men knitting made me pause.)

So, that left me to the “fools” who create computer viruses designed to show off their computer skills.  It’s much like a graffiti “artist” defiling other’s property to show off their artistic skills.  It’s not every year that the tech world has to be worried about this kind of “fool”, but it’s become rather common.  So, my life today is all about ensuring the computers at my employer’s place of business are protected.  It really is a waste of time for me and my staff.  It really is quite “foolish” that I , or anyone for that matter, have to go through this.

Now, if you’re unsure of your own computer’s vulnerability, the best place I can find is http://www.microsoft.com/protect/computer/viruses/worms/conficker.mspx.  Run the Protection Scan.  Also, if you haven’t already, run an update on your AntiVirus program.  Having the latest virus definitions really can’t hurt.

Oh, and if you happen to know the person who started this “foolish” worm, drop Microsoft a line.  They are offering $250,000 for assistance with an arrest and conviction.  Click here for more info. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

Summer (Carnival Wednesday)

Over at a blog I follow called One More Thing, Kate is doing something called Carnival.  Basically, a set of topics is laid out for other bloggers to post about.   Anyone can follow along and see what other’s think when presented with a specific topic.  They call it Carnival Wednesday.  This week’s topic is Summer.

Here’s my shot.  It’s short, late, and somewhat thrown together so not very thought out.   (if you’re interested in other’s follow the link to Kate’s blog as she’s got a link to the others there.)

Personally, I like all the seasons.  I don’t think I really have a favorite.  Fall I enjoy the change of colors (being raised in the San Francisco Bay Area I never witnessed a true sense of seasons and Fall was just Indian Summer).  Winter I enjoy the cold and the snow (again I didn’t enjoy much of that growing up).  Spring lets’ me enjoy the new growth although I find myself getting impatient with Spring (buds just pop too slowly). 

Summer, in a nutshell, to me is vacation.  

I have fond recollections of Summer as a youth.  I always anxiously awaited that wonderful day in June – the last day of school.  The last day of school was often followed by a trip to the barber for a Summer crewcut.  I don’t think it was my idea, but my parents might disagree. 

Summer also meant my family’s annual trip to Los Angeles.  We’d either travel by car on US 101 or CA 1 (stopping to visit the Missions) or by train.  We’d visit Disneyland, Hollywood, and Olvera Street.  (I think I still have my velvet Peanuts painting that I spent my hard earned allowance on on Olvera Street.)  Every year was a great memory. 

During my youth I also fondly recall my Summer visit to my relatives in Santa Clara whom I would spend a couple of weeks.  My cousin Ginny and I were the same age and we’d do everything together.  Wander through the local orchards, climb the apricot and walnut trees.  Build treehouses.  Those were later followed with my joining them on their vacations (they were campers, my family was not.)  We’d sometimes camp and my folks would meet up with us, but they’d stay in the lodge.  The closest we came to camping as a family was Camp Mather near Yosemite.  Ah, Camp Mather, now there’s some fond Summer memories.  Camp Mather was really a bunch of cabins and a dining hall with cool outdoorsy stuff.  Swimming in the pond, catching tadpoles, pulling bark off the Ponderosa Pines in neat puzzle shapes, walks at night in pitch black trying to follow a double yellow line you could not see, up to the store which had a real working soda fountain.  Oh, and there were girls there, too.  I guess you could say Summer was crushes.

As I started my own family, Summer recollections move to what my girls were interested in.  Jenn loved Girl Scout Camp (Ashley did it a couple of times, but never really took to it.)  Ashley had cheerleader daily starting August 1st.  A trip across country as we moved from DC to the Philippines was another highlight.  Arizona is HOT in the Summer.  Memories of Summer life in the Philippines reminds me of monsoon and Leta making the girls Summer clothes.  Walking or golfing in the rain in shorts and flip flops.  The only drawback to the Summer monsoon season was being hot and wet and then entering an A/C building. 

Today Summers make me thing of the beach in Westport with Una watching crabs, running from the waves, and of course, sand in her food.  Una and Sally both love the beach.  I do, too.  I look forward to this year as Una is obviously a lot more mobile.  Should be fun watching Sally and Nana chase after her.  :-)  The other Summer highlight is “Paradise Found”, our vacationing at the “T'” house in Westport.  We had a terrific time last year and are booked again for this year.   We’re anxiously awaiting the end of June. 

Summer really is a wonderful season.  Each season has its pluses, but to me, Summer has vacation memories.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Scarf for Sally

DSC_6458 Having been inspired to knit by some friends wonderfully knitted clothes, I took the knitting kit I had purchased for Sally about three years ago and taught myself some basics (thanks to online videos from Knitting Help.)  This picture to the left is my second effort.  The first was a small scarf knitted for Una.  

Here’s a pic of that:


I’ve found a nice group of friends who knit and I look forward to taking on more difficult projects.  Perhaps I’ll get good enough to make some handmade Christmas gifts.  We’ll see. 

I’ve joined the Slater’s Mill Community Knit & Crochet Guild to meet some fellow knitters, and also support the Mill’s textile roots.  It seems like a perfect fit.  For the knitters out there who follow this blog, I’m on Ravelry as RIlurky.  Drop me a line there or follow along on my latest project. 

I'm enjoying this new hobby.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Taking Chance

Sally and I watched a movie last weekend and I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since.  It’s HBO’s Taking Chance.

What a terrific movie.  The storyline focuses on the long trip home for a Lance Cpl killed in action in Iraq.  Kevin Bacon plays a Lt. Col. who volunteers to act as escort.  It’s wonderfully acted, but what I enjoyed the most, was the respect shown for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice.  At every step of the journey home respect is shown, both by those in uniform and those not. 

Even if you don’t watch a lot of movies, this is one to see.  You’ll be proud of your fellow Americans.  I know I was.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Community Involvement -- A First Step

Being inspired by this post on The Bucket Blog, I attended my first Pawtucket City Council meeting last evening.  It’s my 2nd attempt at getting involved with my local community (the first was our family joining the Slater Mill.)

I never was much into civics during my school days so I didn’t really know what to expect.  I’ve seen town meetings on local access television (but not Pawtucket’s), but really had no clue as to the process.  I sat through the entire meeting, sometimes confused, almost wanting to raise my hand for a clarification.  When the Council President note a motion and a second, and then says “discussion"?”  Is he talking about Council discussion or discussion form citizens?  No one else in the audience said a single word, so I just sat and took my notes.  I will be more prepared next time.

Speaking of prepared, I attempted to get a listing of what was to be discussed at the council meeting.  I went to the City of Pawtucket website thinking I’d find information there.  Being in the technology field I think I can safely say that the City of Pawtucket website is not the most user friendly.   Decent homepage, but so many links take you to a page with a ton of white space.  There’s a nice link on the left to the City Council page.  “Ah, that’s where I’ll find what I need”, I thought.  Clicking to that page merely gives me the names, addresses, phones, and email (except Councilman Barry’s).  Along the right column are links to various PDFs for upcoming meetings.  There also is a spot entitle Related Links (more on that later).  Since I was interested in an Upcoming Meeting I found the March 11th City Council link and magically I had  the agenda.  The only problem was, the agenda was greek to me.  The agenda starts with “Previous Minutes 02/25/09” and then proceeds to 1.  Consent Agenda, 2. Correspondence (A-N), 3. Petition, blah, blah, blah, etc.  Now is that the agenda for the 3/11/09 meeting or the review of the minutes from 02/25/09?  (I learned it’s the former, btw.  The phrase “Previous Minutes 02/25/09” simply means the Council will acknowledge and accept the previous meeting minutes.) 

I’ve recapped the meeting below for those interested.  After the meeting adjourned I approached the City Clerk to ask where one finds the various resolutions discussed, the correspondence, etc.  He directed me to the website and said it was all linked there and that if I had a problem I could call the City Clerk’s office.  When I got home I decided to look further on the website as I didn’t find anything other than the agenda when I had looked previously.  Knowing there should be more on the website I looked a bit closer and found a “related link” on the City Council page entitled “Search City Council Docket, Minutes, Resolutions & Ordinances (Includes Ordinances not yet codified)”   That link brought me to very nice site called ClerkBase.  The City must contract this service out (it appears to be a RI company -- bravo).  Using ClerkBase I was able to find the docket for the meeting with links to the communications, resolutions, etc.  They were all in tiff format and the ClerkBase homepage had a download for a free tiff viewer if needed.  The ClerkBase has tons of info, including minutes, ordinances, and resolutions dating back to the 1980s.  Very nice.  I just wish I had discovered it before attending the meeting.  With this knowledge in hand, I’ll be much better prepared for the next meeting.

A couple of other general notes before I dive into the meeting recap.  The Council Chamber was very nice (although I struggled to find it.  Thankfully the lobby does have a directory and I could figure out that Room 300-something would be on the third floor.  A sign below the front and center “Welcome” signage from Mayor Doyle saying something like, “Council Chambers – 3rd Floor” would be nice.)  BTW: It’s easy to see why our City Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.  The Council members were all very professional.  I was surprised to see the television camera as I’d never found the Council Meeting on local access TV (although I must admit I’ve not really looked).  I was disappointed by the number of everyday city residents like myself in attendance.  There were at most 20 and many of them were there only to hear their license renewal request be addressed.  There were probably five firefighters in attendance, but they left after their issues were taken up.  I’d say there were probably five people in attendance who like myself, were just interested in what was going on in our local government. 

In all I consider the evening a good experience.  I still have questions, but I’m sure I’ll get them addressed.  I know I will participate again in future City Council meetings. 

Recap of the meeting for those interested:

The Council deviated a bit from the outlined agenda to take up the appointment of a young man to the Juvenile Hearing Board.  His family was in the audience and the Council President wanted to confirm his appointment first.  Philips J. Shea, III, who had been nominated for a position on the board by Mayor Doyle was briefly interviewed and approved for the board position.  Mr. Shea is a 22 year old man who had a very nice resume working with Pawtucket youth.  I applaud his volunteerism.

After the previous minutes were approved the Council moved on to the Consent Agenda.  My notes show only, “Where is Agenda?”  It was that confusing to me having only previously seen the agenda outline. 

Next in my notes was a proposal by Councilman Vitali for an Ad Hoc Committee For Economic Development.  It seems the previous evening there had been a meeting at the Comfort Inn (possibly convened by Mayor Doyle) with local business people.  Council President Kinch reminded everyone that there already was such a committee setup nearly four years ago, which technically had never been disbanded.  After much discussion it was decided to try and resurrect the committee, ask the old committee members if they’d still like to serve, and potentially solicit new volunteers.  It was almost the most interesting discussion I witnessed.  (I say almost because the discussion later about tax anticipation notes was tops for the night.)  It was the only “new” item I witnessed all evening.  I came away thinking so much must go on outside of the general Council meeting.  The “work” must get done in committees.  (To be fair there were committee meetings before the general meeting which I could not attend.  I assume they, too, are open to the public.  Next time I’ll try and attend those as well.)

Next was Correspondence.  It must have been accepted/approved en mass as I have nothing in my notes, yet there are 14 correspondence items listed in the agenda.  Where are all these correspondence items?  Nothing was read that I recall.  So, for a layman in the audience, it was just bewildering. [Note:  I found those correspondence items on ClerkBase when I got home.]

The next item on the agenda was just bizarre to me.  It was a petition by the Pawtucket Red Sox Baseball Club, Inc (such an official sounding name).  Anyway, old blue laws must still exist as the petition was for the playing of baseball at McCoy on Sundays.  I found this odd in this politically correct 21st century.

After a few councilmember appointments to various committees were taken up, the most interesting discussion of the evening took place.  It was about a request for a $3 million “tax anticipation note”.  It seems Pawtucket is pretty much broke.  They have a $5 million bond due April 30th.  I’m not clear what this bond was for, but I believe it has to do with school financing.  They also have payroll to meet.  With income tax collection being delinquent the city may not be able to make it’s bond payment (not a good thing – the term “junk bond status” was tossed out.)  So, a lively discussion was had between council members and I believe the City Finance Manager.  The council members knew they had no choice but to approve the measure, but they wanted their reservations on the record (at least that’s what I took from the discussion).  So, the City of Pawtucket is basically going to issue a short-term bond in the amount of $3 million.  It will become due on June 30th and cost the City approximately $150,000.00 in interest for the use of the $3 million for three months.  It’s expected that the City can pay off the bond when due on June 30th with the next tax collection cycle revenue.  I’ve heard of tax anticipation bonds in the past, and I imagine it’s somewhat common for states or municipalities to use this bridge.  From what I gathered, what is concerning is that Pawtucket set in place a method that the city would not be impacted by the quarterly payment of taxes.  This should not have happened.  More disturbing is that the city has depleted the reserves (our savings account).  What will happen next time the bond comes due.  I have in my notes that the bond payment started at $2.8 million and is now at $5.1 million.  It was my understanding that this was for schools and perhaps is tied to increases in those budgets.  I did pickup on a bit of disdain from some council members for the School Committee.  When you start referring to “those people on Main St”, things can’t be good.  [Note: it took me awhile to get the reference to “Main St”.  I’m not sure everyone would.]

The Council when they approved the tax anticipation bill made note that the money was to be spent in this order:  Bond payment, municipal payroll, and lastly school payroll.  In particular, Councilman Moran was deeply disturbed that the teacher’s union would not negotiate to help the city in these tough fiscal times.  It seems they have a 3.5% raise approved and they do not want to come back to the table and risk that. 

Various resolutions, licenses, and claims were taken up next.  Again, without the benefit of having seen the resolutions it was somewhat hard to follow along.  An interesting point came up about the claims, however.  It seems that there have been a sudden influx of claims caused by the fire department.  While the claims committee often sees claims for damages caused by fire department vehicles, they usually are mixed in with pothole damages, etc.  It was requested that the Fire Chief be asked to attend the next claims committee meeting to discuss ways to curtail these claims resulting from fire department personnel.  The concern and request were done with a very professional tone.

The meeting adjourned in the memory of Eleanor Coughlin.  A long time resident (I think she was 92) of Pawtucket who passed away recently. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Baby Powder and Ocean State Job Lot

What in the world does Ocean State Job Lot have to do with Baby Powder you ask?

First off, thanks for asking.  The story goes like this:  

Put Miss Una down at her usual time of about 8pm.  Simple enough.  Change her diaper, cave on the request for "powder", and then place the "powder" on her changing table.  Read to her, sing to her, turn on the lullaby CD, and remind her to stay in her bed (she recently graduated to a "big girl" bed).  Head downstairs for some mindless TV (oh and the sound of the lullabies through the monitor).  20 minutes later and the monitor is quiet as the CD has ended.  Not a peep.  She's asleep.  

Not so fast.  

10pm rolls around and Sally heads upstairs while I do my usual of turning lights off,  set the coffee maker up, etc.  I usually hear Sally checking on Una, but things are different tonight.  Suddenly, Sally calls out, "Daddy, can you come up here?"  I would normally be concerned, but  the use of "Daddy" instead of John makes me think things are not too urgent.  I nevertheless quickly head upstairs.  Sally stops me outside of Una's room and says, "Smell anything?"  [sniff sniff]  Ah...The sweet fragrant smell of...you guess it...baby powder.  

There in the middle of her room in the center of her carpet is a 1 foot in diameter pile of baby powder with the bottle laying along side the circle.  My first thought was she broke the top and it all spilled out.  NOPE.  She shook the entire contents out.  (Note:  Baby powder being shaken form its bottle does not make any noise!!!)

Sally and I controlled our desire to bust out laughing and proceeded to tell Una that what she did was very naughty.   She looked at us in amazement.  Sally retrieved the vacuum cleaner to clean things up and while she did I talked with Miss Una.  "Why did you do that?" "I know" (Una has a tendency to drop the "don't" when stalling).  "Well, now we don't have any for your bum.  What are we going to do?" I lost it when the response was:

"We can get some more from Job Lot"

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pawtucket St. Patrick's Day Parade

There is nothing better than a nice springlike day and a parade. Here are a few pics.  

Enjoy...John and Sally

Friday, March 6, 2009

The power of the Search Engine

I have been lax in updating and checking this blog lately.  Things have been busy and life has just gotten in the way. 

I checked on things last night and I discovered a comment to my blog about Playing With the Enemy by Gary Ward.  The comment was actually from Gary Ward himself and left two weeks ago (thank you, btw, for the comment).  I point this out mostly as an example as to the power of the internet search engine.  I imagine Gary found my blog through a Google Alert or something of the sort.  It’s a great way to stay on top of things that interest you. 

If you haven’t already subscribed to an Alert I encourage you to try it.  Sally and I have a Google Alert about anything Pawtucket.  It’s helped us keep in touch with all things Pawtucket.  A couple of other examples would be an alert to your alma mater to see what's going on at the old school, or an alert for your business (or employer) to see what people are saying about your business.

The search engines are powerful,  and the alerts are a way to leverage them.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Missing the Reunion :-(

My grammar school class is holding a reunion this weekend.  40 years.  Wow!!!  I’m bummed I couldn’t attend, but the timing just did not work out for me.

Wayne has promised to blog starting tonight.  I look forward to his notes.  I hope there are lots of pics.

Have fun Class of ‘69.  You’re missed and being thought of.