Friday, January 30, 2009

Peanut salmonella outbreak, new discovery

There's a new development in the salmonella-contaminated peanut-product case. Apparently the FDA caught a (badly) contaminated shipment from Peanut Corp. coming back into the country after having been rejected abroad. They refused to allow the shipment back in and ordered it destroyed. They didn't order any inspection of the plant that was the source of the shipment, and didn't do any testing of their own despite having heartburn over the company's in-house testing methods. And apparently the company had a history of problems being found during inspections.

Methinks that, given the new administration and their lack of abject worship of the glory of corporate ultra-capitalism, there's going to be a few changes in FDA policies and procedures going forward. Increased inspections and decreased taking companies at their word, at the very least.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

E-mail at work

They installed Office 2007 at work today. I'm primarily interested in Outlook, since that's what I have to use for e-mail. My impression: meh.

What it gives me: Nothing. It does exactly what it did before. It doesn't add any new features that I use. It doesn't improve anything I was already doing. It leaves me exactly where I was before the "upgrade".

Annoyances: Appearance. It doesn't look anything like any other program on my desktop. It doesn't follow the desktop theme, it doesn't use the standard Windows appearance. It's a jarring out-of-place window that looks completely alien on my desktop. I'm a programmer, I'd rather these programs blended in and didn't distract me from what I'm doing with a radically different appearance. It also changes the flagging scheme for messages to something more complicated. Before it was just a set of colored flags, and I just chose a color. Now there's two parallel tracks: the color code and the date it's flagged for. I don't need the extra track, I just need to flag messages so I can distinguish a couple of categories.

All in all I'd've preferred not to upgrade. I get nothing but annoyances from this. Not major ones, but IMO you need to get something positive and there isn't anything here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Treasury appointment

For those pontificating about Geithner's tax problems, bear this in mind: if you hand the exact same set of original income/expense documents to 5 different IRS agents, you'll get 5 different numbers for the amount of taxes owed. If you take each one and hand it to one of the others to audit, you'll likely end up with 10 different numbers. And that's for returns a lot less complex than his likely is. Income from the IMF means dealing with international income and tax rules, and those are even more complex than the ones for purely domestic income. It's not hard to end up with a dispute about the amount of taxes owed, and it's not always the IRS that has the right numbers.

I'm minded of advice my tax instructor gave: "Never go into an audit or IRS hearing aiming to justify why you can take that deduction. Be ready to do that, but start off by making the IRS justify why they think you can't take it. And if they can't come up with a reason, dig your heels in and make them explain clearly why they're trying to disallow something without any justification."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

FOIA policy changes

Obama issued several policy orders related to the Freedom of Information Act. The biggest one was an instruction to agencies to consider FOIA requests starting with a presumption that information should be disclosed unless a good reason could be found not to disclose it. This is in stark contrast to the policy under Bush and Ashcroft, which was that information should not be disclosed unless the agency absolutely could not find any reason at all to restrict access to it. Another order also instructed agencies to not wait for citizens to specifically request access to information but to consider ways to actively make it available to the public.

This is the way government should work.

I'd also note that it's a practical advantage. If a President builds up a track record of being open, and a record of having a good reason for it on those occasions when he's secretive, people are going to cut him some slack and assume that, when he's got to keep something secret and can't discuss it, he's got a good reason for it this time too.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Zookeepers and Presidents

This post from Silverblue pretty much sums up my opinion. And IMO it's a pretty sad commentary on a President when people will be happy with a successor who simply refrains from actively screwing things up.


"No, saying "within 3 years" isn't wildly optimistic. It's possible you're planning on having it fail quickly, in which case the most annoying thing it can do is hang on for a couple of years tormenting you."

"Aches, pains, stiffness. Ah, the joys of aging. Consider the alternative, and enjoy the fact that you've lived long enough to not be as young as you used to be."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Circuit City bankruptcy

Circuit City joins CompUSA in going out of business. Their attempt to find a buyer failed, so they're liquidating and going out of business completely. I'm perfectly happy with this, my experience with both chains (and others) is that they sell so-so products at excessive prices and make you suffer through high-pressure sales pitches from clueless salescritters for the privilege.

Hint to the brick-and-mortar stores: you can't compete with Newegg and Amazon on price. And you can't compete with them on quality, they're selling the same items you are. There's only two things you've got left: convenience and customer service. Convenience only works for small-ticket items, you can't make a large business out of that. And customer service requires hiring salesmen who have a clue about what they're selling and are willing to sell the customer what they need, not what brings in the biggest commission. You've a big advantage over on-line in that I can walk in to your store and see the actual item, look it over, check things and make absolutely sure it's what I want. I can explain to a salesman what I want and get advice. But you seem bound and determined to make it as hard as possible for me to deal with you. Change your ways, or you'll be joining CompUSA and Circuit City before a bankruptcy judge.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gun calibers

"Son, if you don't need integer inches for the caliber, it's not a BFG." -- Jeran

Monday, January 12, 2009

Violence and competence

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. The competent realize it's going to be needed and resort to it sooner, before they've made a complete mess of the situation." -- Jeran

Further Confusion plans

Going to have to plan for FC next year. First thing: keep an eagle eye out for the hotel reservations opening and jump on a room immediately. And by immediately I don't mean "sometime the day it opens", I mean "the moment it opens, even if it means staying up past midnight the night before". The block for FC this year was filled literally within a couple of days of opening, if I want a room in the con hotel (and I do) I'm going to have to make sure I'm at the head of the line.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chargers... done

The Chargers aren't going to the Superbowl this year. After pulling off a miracle to get into the playoffs, and winning their first playoff game, they lose to the Steelers 35-24. Everyone (including them) thought they were on a roll. Problem is, rolls come to an end. You need to start playing consistent, guys.

And along with their hopes for a Superbowl ring, this also ends the owner's hopes for getting someone else to pay for a new stadium for them. With the economy tanking and municipal budgets taking the hit, the team isn't going to find anyone willing to sink public money into them.

Really absent-minded tenants

I've had regular problems with people who don't take their clothes out of the dryer here, but this one sets a new record. Back on Tuesday or so I had to do laundry. Someone had a load in the dryer when I went down, but the washer was open. When my load was done washing, the dryer had shut off but the clothes were still in it. I gave them an hour, then pulled them out of the dryer and put them on the table so I could dry my clothes before it got too late. The next morning the clothes were still on the table. Today when I went down to put a load of sheets in, the same clothes were still on the table, shoved back into the corner. Monday if they're still there I'm going to call the landlord and let them know.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Senate appointment

There's some flap over the appointment of Burris to replace Obama in the US Senate. The Democrats aren't going to seat a senator appointed by Governor Blagojevich. The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the appointment is legal even without the Illinois Sect'y of State's approval. But that doesn't matter. You see, there's these little clauses in the United States Constitution regarding the Senate. Article I, Section 5 begins paragraph 1 with:

"Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members,"

and and then in paragraph 2 says:

"Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behavior, and, with the Concurrence of two-thirds, expel a Member.".

So, it's not the Illinois Supreme Court, or even the US Supreme Court, that gets to decide whether a Senatorial appointee meets the qualifications. The Constitution gives that authority to the Senate itself. And if their rules require the approval of the state's Secretary of State before allowing an appointee to take his seat, only the Senate has the authority to make and change those rules. And articles of impeachment have been voted in against Blagojevich. The trial hasn't happened yet, but the articles have been entered. That means it's very much a question of whether Burris meets the qualification of having been appointed by the executive authority of the state of Illinois. So, in the hands of the Senate again to decide.

One wonders now whether all those neo-cons who were ranting about "activist judges" will be demanding that the courts follow the Constitution here, or will they be demanding that the courts read in the requirement that the Senate defer to someone else as to the qualifications of an appointee.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

LJ being moved to Russia

LJ is being moved to Russia, according to it's owner SUP. Well, at least all the development work. This doesn't suprise me, it's a natural consequence of LJ being bought by SUP which is based in Russia. The Russian portion of LJ is a money-maker. The US portion brings in very little in the way of solid revenue, the majority is based on advertising which isn't doing very well. So from a business standpoint it makes sense for the Russian owner to move things to Russia and concentrate on it's core business, letting the unprofitable American portion languish with minimal investment other than getting any code changes that result from normal development for the Russian market.

The fact is, I expected this. That's why I stopped using LJ for posts and made sure I had a backup of all posts and comments, why I switched to BlogSpot for my journals, and why I started using RSS to aggregate my own feeds of posts without needing to depend on a service. A lot of LJ users are going to learn a hard lesson: when you outsource to someone else, you place yourself at the mercy of their business interests. And for LJ, those business interests no longer include maintaining an expensive service for the benefit of a user base that doesn't want to pay enough to justify keeping them.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Browser changes

For years I've depended on Mozilla/Firefox's built-in facilities and DNS-based blocking of the most offensive advertising sites and malicious hosts. I've decided to start altering that. I'm putting in AdBlock Plus and NoScript as standard add-ons to FireFox. I'll deal with enabling scripts on a site-by-site basis as needed. I'm also going to aggressively expand the list I use for DNS-based blocking. At a minimum it's going to be based on domains included in the AdBlock Plus subscription I'll be using, and I'm going to try and find a reliable outside blacklist of malicious sites to include. I'm going to hack up a script to automate maintaining the blackhole zone file on the DNS server.

I'll also have to update Dean and Lia to the latest FireFox, and install AdBlock Plus and NoScript on their machines and show them how to enable scripts as needed and when and why not to enable them.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Good-bye 2008, let's see what 2009 holds

Another year gone, and a new one starting. Here's hoping this year's better than the last few have been. It's like, ever since the 21st century started, Murphy has been trying to demonstrate to the world just how much of a pain in the ass he can be.

Work is being fun. First problem today: "Why are you generating an E099 error? That's not a valid code" "... because your CR says to generate an E099 error, maybe?"