Sunday, March 28, 2004

Another system failure

Apparently, New York City's 911 system was down for a few hours [NY Times] on Friday night. The cause? Apparently, an engineer changing phone numbers for a bank accidentally changed the phone number for the dispatch center instead (the numbers were similar). Oops.

A similar thing happened to Pittsburgh a few years ago. The cause there? They added an overlay area code (which, ironically, has never been used) to the 412/724 area codes. FCC rules state that, when this happens, the affected area has to switch to ten digit dialing (where you always have to dial the area code, even if you are calling to the same area code). Nobody reprogrammed the 911 system to use the ten digit system; when they shut off the seven digit system, it could no longer relay the calls.

Both failures were caused by changed to systems outside of the scope of the basic 911 system. This illustrates why it's hard to make good systems (especially software systems): the interdependencies cause failures to propagate rapidly.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

If only we could make this work at the federal level...

Brace yourself. I've found a government that (gasp!) works!

For whatever archaic reasons, Pennsylvania does not collect income taxes for municipalities, i.e., the 3% I pay to the Commonwealth stays at the Commonwealth level. This means that most Pennsylvania residents end up filing at least three separate tax returns: federal, state, and local.

Now, Tamara and I moved from Pittsburgh to McCandless last year, which complicates things a bit. Between us, there are five returns: federal, state, Pittsburgh, and one each for McCandless (which does not have a married-filing-jointly status). Pittsburgh, though, loves to be annoying; to get off their tax list, you have to take a form to your local tax collector, who has to certify that you're a resident in their municipality and that you've paid $X in taxes, blah blah blah.

Furthermore, Tamara's W-2 forms were strangely incorrect with regard to her salary while in Pittsburgh vs. McCandless.

Anyway, I brought all of this to the town hall today to see what they could make of it. First, everyone there was friendly and helpful. That's just weird to begin with. Second, they have their crap together. The lady who certified the form for Pittsburgh was able to look everything up and signed it on the spot -- no waiting!

Finally, they took our McCandless forms and proceeded to check them for me while I was there! They pointed out that I used the wrong figure for one spot and redid the calculations for me! It ended up not making a difference in the end, but they took the time to explain why they wanted the different number (state vs. Social Security wages).


Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I need to find a way to work effectively while getting only 2-3 hours of sleep each night.

No, no. Speed, heroin, etc., are not good long-term solutions, and the point is to get more work done, not less; I need my faculties for that to happen...


Three hour meeting scheduled.

In at 1:00, out at 1:45.


Saturday, March 13, 2004

I've been looking at some of the odder things you can import from China.

Cartoon umbrellas
Unique solar-powered garden lights
Unbranded video equipment -- just slap your logo on
Injection molding equipment
Manhole covers

Some interesting stuff there... very inexpensive, but you have to order in quantities of 1000.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

1. Work hard on project.

2. Write paper; have it accepted at conference.

3. Get the following from upper management:
Date: Thu, 11 Mar 2004 16:58:31 -0500
From: Jim Cappucci
Organization: Neolinear, Inc.
To: Dave Cuthbert
CC: Tom Beckley , Glen Clark , Elias Fallon
Subject: Re: OpenAccess conference

Dave and Elias,
Tom and I discussed this and don't think there is enough of a benefit to warrant you two going to the conference. Bodgan can relay any necessary information.



Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Yeah! Paper is done! It's going to be submitted to this conference.

Hm... now, if only I can get the powers that be to actually send me to this conference...

Sunday, March 7, 2004

Ugh. The water heater broke yesterday, prompting an emergency run to Home Depot.

$630 and 24 hours later, I'm still sans hot water. I called Home Depot. It took 75 minutes to get a hold of someone. Turns out they forgot to call the installer yesterday. I was tempted to cancel the order and go get one from Lowe's and install it myself, but I wasn't sure that it would fit into my CR-V and apparently both the manufacturer and the county frown on non-professional installations (the former by making it difficult to make warranty claims, the latter by sending an inspector to your house).

I am quite annoyed by the county's $15 water heater permit. If this were a disposal or environmental impact fee, I could understand; but, no, I'm paying the installer for disposal of the old heater separately. If the county ran the water, sewer, or gas systems, I could also understand; they're somewhat responsible for making sure that I don't incorrectly hook up a utility line and cause a dangerous situation. But, no; this is purely a "we're going to tax this because we can" tax. Kind of like the city of Pittsburgh and its 50% (!) parking tax.

I did manage a bath by taking the largest pots I had, including and especially the 5 gallon stew pot, and running pots of hot water upstairs to the bath. Baths are always a good thing. Never pass up the opportunity to take a nice bath.

Friday, March 5, 2004

Heh. Drudge report headline: Summer Stripes?

Also: Three-headed frogs: cool freak of nature, or signs that the water isn't safe to drink?
I am starting to gather the items I need for my laboratory. I'm getting a logic analyzer with a 500 MHz sampling card, and trying to get both an analog and a digital oscilloscope.

I'm not currently winning the digital scope. I might bid higher (or even hit eBay's "buy it now" price), but (a) I'm not sure how well that scope works, and the "as-is" bit is a tad worrisome, (b) the scope doesn't come with any probes (and 500 MHz probes are not cheap), and (c) I've used that model of scope before and found its interface a bit unintuitive. On (c), I prefer scopes that have separate knobs for controlling vertical and horizontal gains and offsets; having to navigate a menu and whirl the single knob around can be annoying.

Ah, well. At least I'll be able to get a lot done with the analog scope (if I win it) and logic analyzer. If only I could win the lottery or stumble upon a bag of gold; the LeCroy WaveRunner 6200 is like the Nimbus 2000 of electrical engineers. Sadly, the WR6200 runs more than $100,000. Expensive toy, neh?