Friday, January 30, 2009

Let me just talk about numbers again for one second

So let me ask you, what do you think would stimulate the economy more:

1. $819 billion of taxpayer money and bad debt on our national credit cards; distributed via political favoritism, cronyism, and cherry picking of favored causes

2. $2,676 in the pocket of every single man, woman, and child in America

3. $7,122 for each and every household in America

4. $11,870 for every household in America that actually pays taxes

5. $17,804 for every household in America that pays taxes above the margin line (they pay more taxes than the government costs per household)

Obviously, all but number one are politically unlikely because they would take control away from the politicians and actually give the people some of their money back...

...And of course 4 and 5 are right out, because that would be "taking money from the poor to give to the rich" (of course it wouldn't be, in fact all but 4 and 5 would be yet more redistribution of wealth from the middle class to the poor, or the politically favored).

Think about it though... which do you think would actually stimulate the economy the most? Which would result in the most job creation? Which would result in the most wealth creation? In fact, which would result in the most people with their lives materially improved in the long term?

Yes, that's right, it's options 4 and 5; because options 1, 2, and 3, are nothing more than broken windows.

The Unselfaware Irony of Fascism

Eric Arthur Blair famously said "The word FASCISM has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies
"something not desirable.
".

In this he was referring (among other things) to the tendency of those on the left to call anything which restricted their tendencies or desires in any way fascists; which in such usage has been the preferred cavil of liberals and leftists since the 1940s.

Sadly, most of those making such imprecations don't understand the true definition of fascism: a belief in the supremacy of the state and it's leaders, over that of individuals; elevated to a level of blind enforced obedience and popular obeisance.

Fascism, for all intents and purposes, is the worship of the state, and of the "Dear leader". Critically, when instituted it is always instituted by a majority, or a very strong minority, of willing subjects (I cannot call them citizens); who are looking for the government to "heal all their ills".

Pledge of Allegiance Becomes Pledge to Obama

By Alan Gray, NewsBlaze


A parent in the Clark County School District of Las Vegas, Henderson area reported January 27th that his son, who is in 1st grade, came home yesterday saying that he didn't want to go back to school anymore.

When asked why, the boy said that during the Pledge of Allegiance the teacher put up a large image of Obama next to the flag.

Thinking that the boy might be exaggerating, the man asked his son if he was sure, and suggested that by "large" he might mean an 8x10 photo of the president. The boy apparently said "No, it is a large picture of Obama and when we are done, the teacher turns off the image."

The same thing was not done for President Bush last year.

After investigating this morning, the other parent reported that what the boy said was true.

At least three of the five classrooms have an overhead projector and as the children stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the teacher turns on the classroom overhead and a full body image of Obama, with six U.S. flags behind him, comes up about 4 feet away from the flag that hangs on the wall. The screen is apparently around five feet by six feet.

In the image, President Obama appears to be staring straight out with no facial expression, just a serious look. All of the kids in each class faced the President, instead of the flag that hangs in the corner.


15 years ago, I swore an oath to defend this country, and our constitution. Not our president, or our government; but our constitution. The president is our commander in chief; but our loyalty, our duty, our honor; is owed to the constitution, not to the president.

10 days ago, President Obama swore a similar oath; not to defend our government, or our leaders; but our nation, and our constitution.

America is an idea, not a man, or a government. That idea is expressed, however imperfectly, in our constitution; and those of us who chose to serve, be it in government, or the military; swear to defend that idea.

Isn't it ironic, how the only serious proponents of fascism today are militant islamicists, and western leftists; the very people who, in form at least, rail against fascism... which they are most often accusing US of?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Let's just say, I'm familiar with the lesson

Though this programmer doesn't work in my organization (we're between three and four times larger than that), I am very familiar with his pain:

Here's a brief overview of what Bruce had to go through to get four (one each for development, testing, staging, and production) Windows-based Web servers:

Week 1 -
At the same time Bruce's group started the project he went to procure the servers. He was told that all he needed to do was put in a Service Request with the Windows Server Team and they would get what we needed. However, that request is cancelled because when the Windows Server Team saw that the servers were for a new application they said, "Whoa, you have violated rule #38,991 of the Mega Bureaucracy! New applications must go through the Process for Application Implementation and Navigation."

Bruce starts into the fill the first two PAIN forms (one being 20 pages long with 150 questions), sends them off to the server team, and immediately receives a response that, no, do not directly send PAIN forms to the group they go to. Instead, open a project with the Mega Bureaucracy's project tracking system, attach the forms and THEN assign the project to the group.

A few days later, he receives word that the project has been accepted, slotted, and a project manager assigned. Bruce figures, "Cool, now we are moving! I'll have my servers in no time!" He and his boss have a conference call with the PM and express to him the time critical nature of these servers. The PM agrees to push them forward saying that the request isn't complex and shouldn't take much effort.

...Snip...

Week 18 - The head of IT for our division finds out that we are still waiting. Heads start rolling...even poor Bruce's. "WHY DIDN'T YOU CALL ME SIX %($$!*& WEEKS AGO???" the IT head blasts.

Week 19 - The servers are built (it only took 2 days to build them!) and are signed off for production support.

Week 20 - Bruce distributes the application URL pointing to the brand new servers.

Through all of this Bruce learned a couple things. First, don't even think of going around the Mega Bureaucracy, even if somebody says you can. The Mega Bureaucracy remembers and brands you a heretic. Second, if you think you will need help from the Mega Bureaucracy, start early, fill out all of the forms, stand in the right lines, sacrifice to the appropriate gods, and don't even hint that you would think of going around them. Finally, he who yells loudest gets move the front of the queue soonest - as holy and almighty as The Mega Bureaucracy is, they're happiest to get rid of their crabbiest customers first.

The silver lining in all of this? Apparently, the Guardians of the Mega Bureaucracy seem to now be willing to consider that there is a different tier of requests that don't require so many stopping points, designed to make sure that users really, REALLY know what they want to request. Bruce remains positive saying that, maybe in a few years, after meetings to plan meetings, forms to request forms, they will have a process that only has an initial questionnaire of 10 pages and 75 questions.

Remember how I said I love my job, when I'm able to thwart the bureaucracy enough to actually do it? That's pretty much what I'm talking about; though because I'm at a higher level, I've actually got more layers, more forms, and more questions to deal with.

Oh and 20 weeks start to finish for four servers? That's fast. I've had similar requests take 18 months before.

We do have an "accelerated" process that's supposed to take 10 days... and it does... 10 days from the forecast install date until the server it turned over to testing. Then two weeks in testing before it's handed over to you.

Of course you have to be on the forecast 30 days in advance of your planned install date. And to get on that forecast you have to project the funding and capacity request six weeks to three months in advance of the forecasting date; and get enterprise planning approval from your organizations enterprise planner.

It's all very complicated.

Say you have a need for computing resources to run your application. What you do is you go to your enterprise planner and let them know you need computing resources (if you have a very good idea of what you need already, including approximate costs); or before you go to your planner, you come to me and say "I think I might need some servers".

Either way, the next step is to consult with me and my team. We work with you to figure out your business and technical requirements. Then we architect a high level solution to fit within enterprise standards, practices, and direction; or if necessary get exceptions to those standards, practices, and direction. We also decide if your solution can be met from our standard catalog of preconfigured (not really) offerings, or if it has to be a custom configuration.

If you can use a standard offering, then you MAY be eligible to go through the "10 day" process. Otherwise, it's the "custom" non-expedited process for you.

At the end of that initial consultation we give you a high level architecture, and a guidance number, that will be your budget request to within +/- 20%, and the core of your business case.

Then you go back and write up a business case; and take it to your planner, and your management, with that guidance number; and ask for the budget allocation and to be put in the project pipeline.

If your planner and management give you approval, then your project is opened by your planner and the project manager for your organization, and the timeline officially begins.

This could be any time from the day after you ask your planner, to 12 months later by the way.

Your first step in the project pipeline is back to my team; where we re-evaluate the project and account for any changes that may have occurred since we first consulted with you. Then we take the high level architecture we originally created, and refine it into a detailed architecture and design. We also get guidance quotes from any outside vendors, and internal quotes from all the supporting groups; and produce a costing document accounting for all hardware, software, support, infrastructure, facilities, and labor costs, extended out for four years.

This will be your final budget number to within 10% unless there are changes to the project made during the implementation process.

Finally, we all meet together to ensure that the proposed solution meets the business needs of your group, that it is within budget, that it fits on the schedule, and that it meets enterprise standards, practices, and direction; or that exceptions for such have been approved.

You sign off on it as the project requester, the planner signs off on it, and as chief architect, I sign off on it; certifying it as ready to go.

But wait, there's more.

Up 'til now, the clock isn't running. Once we sign off on it and get ready to kick it into implementation, this is where things get REALLY complicated.

The first step is funding approval (finance departments for the enterprise, and for your organization; as well as your management and your enterprise planner), hardware approval (hardware finance), software licensing approval (software finance).

We can't move to implementation phase without those; and they aren't covered by all the previous approvals.

For this process the clock IS running; and it's a 7 day clock, that can be extended out to 30 days. If that clock runs out the project is canceled and you have to start over.

Once you get the funding approvals, THEN the actual implementation phase begins, and we hand the project over to the Systems Integration department, who manage the implementation and integration process.

So then you get that 10 day server build thing right?

Well, no.

First, the project has to go through hardware engineering (the guys who write the build sheets and parts lists), and the output of the HE team goes back to ME for my approval (to ensure it matches what we specified in the design and architecture phase). From there, it goes back to the vendor for a final quote using the parts specified in the HE build sheet. That quote is sent to contracts to for contract approval, and then on to purchasing.

Then there's the network infrastructure approval (network engineering), security approval (security team), firewall approval (firewall team), hostname and IP address allocation and approval (DNS management), datacenter approval (datacenter engineering),power approval (power committee); before systems integration hands it off to the build team for your 10 day build.

And remember, that's the expedited "10 day" process. The groups involved in all the above have agreed that once the clock starts running at funding approval, that their inputs and approvals for projects that have been approved by my group to go through the expedited process, will be completed within the 30-45 day forecasting window (depdning on what exact date you submitted the request).

So when it comes down to it, the "10 day" process, is actually 6-13 weeks plus 10 days to actually build the box (it usually only takes a few hours actually, but they build it within a 10 day window), plus 14 days for testing.

The non-expedited process can take any amount of time at all; in my experience up to two years; so long as it doesn't take more than 90 days in any one stage (including each individual approval), which will trigger automatic cancellation and you have to start all over again.

Of course, it is entirely possible if someone with enough clout, shouts loud enough, or bad enough things are happening; to have 24 new $300,000 boxes and 20 terabytes of enterprise SAN storage, on the floor, built, tested, and ready to go in 7 days.

It's all about who's yelling, how loud, at whom.

Oh and all that stuff? My team does about five hundred of them a year; and that's actually only about 1/4 of my job responsibilities. The other stuff is even more convoluted and takes even more time.

Aint big business just grand?

What getting it wrong means


Today was the 23rd anniversary of the Challenger disaster; January 28th 1986.

I was one of the schoolchildren that NASA had arranged to watch the challenger launch via closed circuit TV. I remember sitting there in science class, gray haired and floral printed Mrs. Burke and the kids I'd been with since kindergarten all around me.

It seemed like it took forever for the countdown, and then the engines, and the steam and smoke and it took FOOOOREVER for it to lift off; but there it went.

73 seconds...

When you're a kid, 73 seconds seems like an awful long time.

Most of the kids were already starting to turn away, bored; but I was still watching, and so was Mrs. Burke.

73 seconds...

I don't remember seeing the explosion honestly. I know I was watching, I know I saw it, I remember the emotions.. confusion, anger, fear, sorrow, more confusion... but I don't remember seeing the explosion.

What I remember most is Mrs. Burke gasping, and crying. I'd never seen a grownup outside of my own family cry in public before. and in the halls you could hear the sound of more crying. More grownups crying.

We were all sent home that day. Everyones faces looked wrong. Everyone knew that those people had died; but bigger than that, something great had been wounded badly that day.

That's what happens when engineers get it wrong.

Occasionally in my work I have been asked why I make such an effort to make sure I get everything right.

Everyone who knows me, knows that I am absolutely driven to get things right. There are a lot of reasons for that, involving my family, my ego, and just my general character; but there's also something that was absolutely ingrained in me during my education.

This question always shocks me; in that I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't try to do things right whenever possible; after all, it's your job, and any job worth doing is worth taking pride in; but I have a very specific example, and a very specific reason to explain it.

My degrees are in aerospace engineering and computer science. My aerospace engineering degree taught me to get it right no matter what it takes; because aerospace engineers can't afford to be wrong.

My degree advisor (a famous safety expert actually, who was involved in the Challenger investigation) said something to all of us that has stuck with me ever since. "When a programmer screws up, maybe a few hundred people lose some data. when an aerospace engineer screws up, a few hundred people die".

Remember Challenger? That's what happens when Aerospace Engineers get it wrong.

Challenger blew up, because some O-Rings were not quite as resilient as they should have been, because it was a little colder than planned on launch day.

It's an awfully small mistake, to cause such an awfully big problem; but that is the nature of the beast.

The engineers in charge of the o-rings were convinced by their bosses that it could be OK to go ahead with the launch, because they had designed enough safety factor in, that things wouldn't go wrong. They were told to "take off their engineer hats, and put on their manager hats"; and in their manager hats, decided that the risks were low enough, and having the launch on schedule was important enough, that they should continue.

They were obviously, tragically, wrong.

Richard Feynman (a personal hero of mine) was a part of the committee investigating the accident, and he famously said:

"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

No, it cannot. The laws of physics do not forgive error.

There's another example that struck me from when I first read of it as a child; and has had a profound impact on me ever since; informing on everything that I do.

Do you remember what the first jetliner was?

Most people remember it as the Boeing 707, and indeed it was the first commercially successful jet airliner; but the first jetliner to enter service was in fact the Dehaviland Comet, in 1952.

The reason people don't remember the Comet as the first jetliner, is because it was withdrawn from service in 1954, after suffering five crashes in two years, killing 109 people; and wasn't returned to service until late 1958, after the Boeing 707 had already started to become the dominant airliner.

It turns out, that there were two very small errors in the design; that had very large consequences.

The first problem, was that leading edge of the engine inlets was curved a little bit too sharply, causing the engines to lose power at certain angles. This caused the first two crashes, both within a few months of entering service.

The second mistake was even smaller, but was far more serious.

The comet was not only the first jetliner; but also the first aircraft in airline service that flew as high, or in as great temperature extremes. This of course has an impact on the aircraft, which is after all made of aluminum only as thick as heavy paper.

When an aircraft is pressurized, it turns into an aluminum baloon; stretching very slightly. It contracts slightly when depressurized. While pressurized (well... at all times really, but the impact is greater while pressurized), turning, climbing, and descending; stretch, compress, and stress the aircraft in many ways.

This is reasonably well understood, and was even then; but this was a whole new category of aircraft. The only similar aircraft in existence at the time were military bombers (in fact the Comet was itself a variant of a military bomber design, the "Nimrod" which served in the RAF for over 20 years); and military bombers don't have amenities like cabin windows.

A cabin window is of course a hole in the aluminum skin of the aircraft; which as I said is being stretched tight like a baloon.

You might have noticed when flying in a modern jetliner that the windows are kind of a flattened oval shape at the top and bottom; with very gently rounded corners.

The Dehaviland Comet is the reason why... or rather physics is the reason why, but the Comet is what taught us the lesson.

The windows of the Comet had roughly square corners. In physics, square corners are often called something else: Stress Risers; because stress tends to concentrate at those points.

Over the course of a few hundred flights, pressurizing and depressurizing, small cracks would form at the square corners of the windows. Eventually these small cracks would travel along the skin, becoming large cracks; and causing the entire fuselage to fail in mid flight.

It's a very small error, caused because the designer liked the look of square windows (which previous unpressurized airliners had); and didn't take stress risers into account.

It was a very small error, that cost 109 people their lives.

That's what happens when you don't do everything humanly possible to get it right.

In my current job of course, peoples lives don't depend on me getting things right. I'm not a doctor, or an aerospace engineer, or a fighter pilot; but it's still important that I get things right, and not just for my own satisfaction.

In my position, if I get something important wrong, my company could lose millions, or even hundreds of millions of dollars. Peoples jobs are lost over such things; their lives changed greatly for the worse.

And the thing is, you never know what's going to be important. Get the corners of windows wrong, or the flexibility of a little piece of rubber at 32 degrees; and people die. The law of unintended consequences is always in play.

Remember, you can never do just one thing. No matter what you do, or try, or say; no matter what precautions you take; you cannot know all the consequences, effects and impact of your actions.

So you better get it right.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bronchitis busts my ass

So, the sinus thing from last week has drained into my chest and gone bronchial.

No biggy, happens to me about once a year; but it's still a pain in the ass... or rather chest.

I'm still working though. 12,000 word storage architecture doc published today.

Mental energy gone. Physical energy gone. G'night.

More Lethal to Artistic Types

The age of 27, Seconal, or their own egos...

Just a random thought...

Just in case, I'd avoid taking barbiturates when you're 27.

A Kind of Coming Out and a Confession

Well, for those of you who haven't figured it out already, I'm a submissive.

A what?

A submissive. Someone who's foremost desire is to submit and please, who is happiest and healthiest with someone else else in control.

I had a big long post semi-written up where I explained all of this, and then realized what I was doing.

I was trying to justify myself, but there's no justification needed.

I am a submissive. I am not weak, or stupid, I'd just much rather my dom (Chris) be in control.

It's honestly that simple. I don't know why I've been so ashamed of the way I am for so long. So ashamed that I've been writing about it at another site instead of just coming out and saying it.

That is who I am. I am no longer ashamed of being who I am.

More anon.

Mel

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Oh Believe Me, We've Got the Postage

Dilbert.com

The most dangerous phrase strikes again

Seriously, congresscritters are morons. There can be no other explanation.

Sadly, this is not the most idiotic, ridiculous, laughable, or embarrassingly stupid law ever proposed; but it's close:

" New Law Will Require Camera Phones to 'Click'
Author: Michael Horton

A new bill is being introduced called, Camera Phone Predator Alert Act, which would require any mobile phone containing a digital camera to sound a tone whenever a photograph is taken with the camera's phone. It would also prohibit such a phone from being equipped with a means of disabling or silencing the tone.

While its a good gesture, I do not believe having such a law would deter criminals from hacking their camera phones to take pictures in inappropriate ways. Also, the real criminals would not even use a camera phone but would probably use other devices such as a hidden camera. Regardless, at least with the bill signed into law it would allow prosecution and jail time for individuals that get caught with a camera phone that does not make the noise.

One question does remain, what if you have a camera phone that doesn't make the noise at all or is suppressible? Would older phones still be covered under this new law?"
So, if my finger happens to be blocking the speaker, what then?

What if my phone breaks and the tone doesn't work?

What about digital cameras; they're quite small and easy to conceal?

What about deliberately hidden cameras, or novelty cameras that look like other things, will those be illegal as well?

Yet another example of one idiot... or given the subject matter probably thousands of idiots... saying to another idiot (one with power over us, god help us) "There ought to be a law"; the most dangerous phrase in the English language.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Unintentional Straight Pull Bolt Action Rifle

So it seems like Ambulance Driver is having a little trouble with his AR. It'll run for 30-100 rounds, then it becomes a straight pull bolt action.

Well, we've all been there at one time or another. Hell, I had it happen to me at a rifle event once (bad ammo).

Thank god it never happened when I actually NEEDED the rifle for serious social purposes (which is why I always have known good ammo and magazines, and clean and lubricate properly).

Since the rifle in question is a decent quality piece (a Bushmaster), the problem gets progressively worse the more he shoots, and he doesn't mention having problems with his magazines (the usual culprit when ANY semi-auto isn't cycling properly); I'm guessing it's one of two problems:
  1. Cheap nasty steel cased ammo

  2. Overlubrication
Seriously folks, I don't care how cheap you are, or how expensive ammo is, AR's are not designed to function with anything other than brass cased ammo.

Brass and steel cases expand to seal the chamber (called obturation) differently, and retract from that seal differently. This alters the timing of the weapon and causes unreliable extraction. This is especially true of M4's with their shorter, higher pressure gas system; which is much more sensitive to proper timing.

Also, steel rims, combined with that different timing, work the extractor of an AR MUCH harder than designed; and can detension an extractor spring in as little as 500 rounds instead of the 5000 or so (or 20,000 if you have the machine gun spring buffer, and an o or d ring in) you'll get with brass.

Also, the powders they tend to use in steel cased ammo are nastydirty; and will gum up the gas system and bolt, and blowback more residue into the receiver, coating everything with FAR more carbon than in higher quality ammmo.

Additionally, that difference in obturation causes firing residue to blow back into the chamber, progressively coating it with more hot sticky stuff; until extraction and even feeding become difficult. If the extraction get's sticky enough, it can actually chip the extractor, or tear the head off a cartridge leaving you with a not every effective club.

Again, these issues are exacerbated in shorter length carbines.

It doesn't matter whether it's polymer or Lacquer coated; steel is just generally not great for ARs. It will have problems with extraction over time, I guarantee it to you.

Seriously, that's just more to clean, and less reliability; don't use it.

I suspect the biggest problem he's having though, is that he's overlubing the weapon.

Almost everyone does.

Even better, most folks don't recognize overlubricating for what it is, think they're UNDER lubricating the weapon, and make the problem worse by squirting even more goop in there.

Then when that fails, they make it yet worse by switching to another product incompatible with the first that has suspended nano super slip lube in it or somesuch crap; and they might as well squirt superglue into their action.

Overlubing will gum up your rifle in a magazine or three pretty easily; even if you're using clean ammo, and you're not in a dusty environment. Add in dirty ammo or dust, and again, you might as well be using superglue for lube.

So, what is the proper lubrication for an AR (this applies to an M16 as well; you just need an additional drop or two for the auto sear mechanism)

Alright first things first, you need to undo the damage.... actually you should do this when you first get your AR, and every 1500 to 5000 rounds (depending on conditions and ammunition) or every six months anyway.

For this you will need your normal cleaning supplies, CLP (or something similar), original Militec (or something similar), and a non-chlorinated degreaser/cleaner that doesn't attack ABS plastic (I use M-Pro 7, Slip, or Hoppes elite; all essentially the same thing); and you may need a carbon solvent (I use Hoppes elite).
  1. Detail strip and clean the rifle, paying special attention to your bolt and carrier, trigger mechanism, and your chamber and chamber extension. Clean them to bare metal, with a degreaser, and if necessary a carbon solvent (especially the internal passages of the bolt and carrier). Use a chamber brush and barrel extension brush to make sure they are really properly clean.

  2. Spray your trigger mechanism, the internal surfaces of your receiver, your barrel extension, and your receiver pin bosses, LIGHTLY with CLP. Then cycle the trigger a few times to distribute, and let sit to dry.

  3. After a few minutes, wipe every surface you can reach clean and dry. If you happen to have some compressed air, you can let it sit a few minutes then blow it off; but lightly means lightly, so that shouldn't be necessary.

  4. If you reassembled them after cleaning, disassemble your bolt and carrier mechanism; then coat your bolt and carrier mechanism and all components thereof (including the internal passages, using a q-tip if necessary) liberally with CLP.

  5. Let sit for a few minutes, and wipe all the parts down til completely dry. Remember to pass a Q tip through the firing pin passage in the bolt and carrier to wipe them dry.

  6. Then let it sit for a few more minutes, and wipe them all down again.

  7. Put a single drop of militec or something similar on each trigger pin.

  8. Put single drop of militec into the trigger and sear, and smear a bit into the hammer hooks and disconnector, then cycle the trigger a few times to distribute. If this is an M16/M4, also put a single drop on the auto hooks, and a single drop on the auto sear pin.

  9. Put a single drop of militec on the safety or selector, and smear it around with a q-tip; then cycle the safety a few times to distribute.

  10. Wipe everything you can reach with your fingers or a qtip, to distribute the lube. Nothing should look "wet" or greasy.
That may seem like it's a bit fussy, or a lot of work; but remember this isn't your general clean and lube procedure. You only need to do this every few thousand rounds.

Also, it sounds a lot more fussy than it really is. It took me longer to write it up than it does to actually do it.

What you're doing there is cleaning off all the pre-existing or built up residue and lubricant; then establishing a coat of protectant and baseline lubrication level on all surfaces.

Now, when you reassemble from your detail strip, and again every time you clean the rifle:
  1. Put a single drop of militec on both of the bolt rails, then spread up and down the rails.

  2. Put a single drop smeared evenly around the body of the bolt and a little into the cam slot and onto the cam. DO NOT put any lubricant into the gas rings, the firing pin passage, or under the extractor; enough will be there from the CLP earlier, or will migrate there during use.

  3. Fit the bolt and cam back into the bolt carrier, then work them back and forth a bit to distribute the lube, and disassemble again.

  4. Put single drop on a q tip wiped around the entirety of the bolt ears; then wipe it off with your finger tip to spread it out a bit, and a dry q-tip to make sure no lube builds up in the corners. DO NOT LUBRICATE THE BOLT FACE, EJECTOR, OR EXTRACTOR; they will get enough lubrication from the initial CLP coat, and through surface migration.

  5. Wipe all the bolt and carrier parts down with your fingers to spread the lube evenly; and so none of the parts or surfaces are actually "wet".

  6. You generally don't want to re-lube the trigger mechanism with every cleaning; because you don't detail clean the trigger every cleaning, and it can cause lubricant and residue to build up. If however you're feeling any drag or grit in the trigger or selector mechanism and don't have time for a detail cleaning, re-lube the trigger and selector as above.

  7. Reassemble taking care to ensure the gas ring gaps are not aligned; then cycle the weapon and dry fire a few times to distribute the lubricant.

  8. Finally, wipe down every visible surface you can get to with a clean dry cloth.
When you're done, no surface on the rifle should look "wet", and if you wipe any part with a clean white cloth you should come back with a slight oily residue, but no heavy smear of oil and no carbon.

Again, this sounds a lot more fussy than it really is. It takes less than five minutes, and no tools; and even the q-tips are optional (you can spread lube into small spaces with the firing pin and your fingers; it's just not as easy or convenient as a q-tip).

That's it. Everything else is overlubing and will attract residue, dirt, and grit like a magnet.

UPDATE: Reposting with some edits on a Monday, because there's a lot of AR owners who really need to read this; and nobody ever reads anything posted on a Saturday.

Also, I have heard several supposedly knowledgeable "authorities" stat that it is "impossible to overlubricate an AR". Those people are on crack.

Actually, I'd guess they are overgeneralizing from their own personal experience; which is limited to environments where overlubrication isn't a problem. They are most likely people who never shoot anywhere but on a clean range with clean commercial ammo; or they are garrison or fleet marines who never served in a desert environment.

Seriously, I think sailors and fleet marines believe lubricant is best applied with a firehose. Also someone should teach them yes, it is actually possible to clean your weapon too much. When you're wearing off the hard anodizing, that's a sign you've gone too far.

Most airmen on the other hand (outside of those who have served in combat support of course), if they even remember what an M16 looks like, think lubricant is something purchased with their other Class VI "critical supplies".

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Is it my imagination...

... or do Snickers not taste as good as they used to?

Maybe it's my imagination, or maybe it's my palette changing; but to me, snickers definitely taste less rich, and less savory than they used to.

And I'm not talking better than 20 years ago, I'm talking better than 2 or 3 years ago.

I've heard that some major candymakers have stopped putting cocoa butter in their chocolate and are now using hydrogenated palm oil and soy lecithin... at which point you shouldn't even call it chocolate; but I don't think that would account for it all by itself.

To me, the chocolate has a milder, less intense flavor, and a poorer "lower quality" mouth feel. The caramel seems chewier but less sticky, and less salty... in fact it has no savoriness at all, and very little buttery flavor; and the peanuts definitely seem less salty to me.

Snickers used to be my favorite candy bar (though my favorite mass market chocolate candy has always been, and still is, Reeses peanut butter cups); now I really don't care for them.

I think I've noticed the same lack of savoriness and poorer mouthfeel in M&Ms as well; and I'm SURE that neither the chocolate nor the peanut butter in peanut butter cups are as good as they used to be (though I still like them).

Random Pop Culture Thought Excercise

So, imagine they are producing a modern 3 stooges Biopic, and you have to cast Larry, Curly, and Mo (not Shemp, Curly Joe, or Joe Besser).

Who would you cast?

Seriously this is tricky. They're going to need to able to play natural physical comedy, as well as drama and depression. Also, they need to be short (Curly was the tallest, at 5'5), but have physical presence. Oh and they're going to need to play a broad age range.

Larry is easy, David Paymer. He not only looks the part, he can sound it too. My only concern is that he might be a little old at this point.

Curly, there are a lot of options; but I'd love Michael Chiklis in the role (update: apparently he played Curly in a 2000 tv movie that I didn't know about. So I guess I'm not the only one).

The hard one is Mo, and I'm really having a hard time with it.

I think Jason Alexander could pull it off, but he's just too... small isn't the word, maybe pinched? I mean he's short (5'5 just like the boys) and broad, but he doesn't have a broad presence. Like he's wound up too tight.

Actually... thinking of it, Alexander could probably play any one of the three; but he's not "just right" for any of them.

Wallace Shawn could probably pull it off; and he's just one of my favorite actors on the planet; but he's just a little TOO short.

Paul Giamatti maybe? He's another one of my favorite actors, and he's relatively short at 5'8; and again he could probably play any one of the three... maybe not Curley, but definitely either larry or moe... still not sure he's "just right" though.

I dunno I'd have to think about it some more, and I'm not going to bother right now.

Who'd y'all pick?

Oh and if I were to cast for Shemp, my ideal choice as a performer would be Richard Kind; but for the fact that he's too tall.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

No Joy

There's an old pilots expression "No Joy" which means "No contact" or "action unsuccessful" depending on the context.

I have a problem in my life... one I suspect I share with a lot of folks out there.

Other than my wife and kids, I have no joy in my life.

Or perhaps it's better put that while there is joy in my life, I can't see it; or I can't reach it.. or the action is unsuccessful... thus the phrase is both literal, and appropriate in its military context here.

Oh, I have fun sometimes, and I have satisfactions. I get satisfaction from my job; when the bureaucracy can be thwarted enough so I can actually do it. I have hobbies, and interests, but I'm rarely able to pursue them between money and time consideration. I love my friends, and have some fun in spending time with them. I love my kids, my wife, my dogs... but the joy in them is tempered with care and responsibility and worry.

I'm not depressed by any means. In fact I don't think I ever really have been depressed in the way most people mean. Misery, melancholy, and despair are just not in my nature. Also, I'm not "unhappy" in a general sense. Sure there are specific things that I'm unhappy about; but I love my wife and kids, I like my job, and in general my life is just fine (if a bit boring... by my standards anyway. Other people tell me my life is soap operaish, but you don't really see it that way from the inside. My standard of "not boring" is almost dying on a regular basis).

I just have no joy.

I've lived this way before, for years at a time sometimes (and worse, no joy, and being alone); but some years ago I decided I wasn't going to do that any more. Life isn't life without joy.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do about it; but I am going to do something.

There are many things I COULD be taking joy in, were it not for the pressing cares and burdens of my life. I used to take great joy in shooting, driving, flying, boating, hiking, reading, music, and movies... now at best they are a relief, not a joy.

It's a bit hard to explain, but it's kind of like chronic pain. If you live your entire life with pain at level 4 or 5, going down to pain level 1 or 0 is a tremendous relief; but it's the absence or lessning of, or relief from, pain and stress; it's not truly joy.

Even typing this, it feels something= like "Poor poor pitiful me"; but it's surprisingly wearing supporting four on a single income (even if that income is substantial); helping my mother out, dealing with Mels family, dealing with the legal issues, dealing with the stress of work, trying to improve our life together, and find the money to pay for it all...

I'm not one of those to go hermit, but I need some simple joys.

There's always my kids of course, but tempered with that joy is always the responsibility, and the care, and the worry (and yes the aggravation and the irritation). It's a duty and responsibilityI gladly bear, but you can't just throw it all away, and that's the kind of joy I need.

Maybe it's an odd quirk of my own psychology, but the second something becomes a duty, it is no longer a pleasure.... maybe I'm saying that wrong. When there is an expectation attached to a pursuit, other than my own internal expectation, then it is no longer strictly a joy for me; even though I may enjoy it.

I HATE having my vacations and weekends scheduled. I can't rest I can't relax. It's no vacation if I HAVE to do it.

I need to have something I have the freedom to enjoy or abandon as whim strikes me. I need to have something that excites and energizes me. I need to have something that is stress relieving; but is not only stress relief.

I need to ride motorcycles again, or fly, or fly RC airplanes, or build things, or do something that is nothing but fun (I have a very different definition of fun than most); and I need to be able to enjoy that fun without worry or care, at least for a time.

And no, before you ask, shooting doesn't do that for me. I love shooting, I have fun shooting, I get tremendous satisfaction and stress relief from shooting; but it isn't joyful (except in certain limited circumstances, like my first 1000 yard group, or achieving a goal I haven't reached before, or blowing things up with guns and explosives).

I guess the first step is to try to reduce some of the burden.

We're working on it. The legal bills have destroyed us financially for over three years now, and will be doing so for a while yet. I suppose that is our biggest burden.

Taking care of the kids, I've never seen as a burden, nor providing for the family. A sacred duty, and the only thing I really take joy in now, even if it is tempered; but not a burden.

My mother... oy... I'm not even going to talk about that anymore.

Mels family... well they aren't as bad as mine at least.

Other than getting the legal bills out of the way, I think lessening the burdens isn't going to be too productive in the next few years. Over time they may work themselves out, but there's nothing I can really do about them right now... not and live with myself afterwards anyway.

So I guess I'm just going to need to find some way to wrest joy out of the jaws of the grinder of life.

Wish me luck.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Just a little check on the numbers

So, as of today, the FedGov has committed, or is planning to commit to approximate $4 trillion (with a T) worth of "bailout" and "stimulus".

Just so we understand that number let's see what that means relative to personal and household income in the united states.

If we assume the current US population (2008 estimate) is relatively accurate at 306 million spread across approximately 115 million households; that's approximately $13,000 for every individual in the United States, or about $35,000 for every household.

The median personal income in the United States for those over 25, and with earnings (meaning it discounts all the unemployed, retired, and children and teens); is approximately $32,000. The mean household income for all households (including the unemployed, retired, children and teens) is approximately $46,000 with an individual earnings mean of about $23,000.

$13,000 for every individual, where the mean individual income for the employed is $32,000. $35,000 for every household, where the mean household income is $46,000.

It get's even worse if you account for the fact that approximately 40% of individuals and households pay effectively no income taxes; and only about 40% are above the margin line (meaning they pay more in taxes than the government pays out in expenses per person).

For the 40% of households and individuals above the margin line, that means a load of $32,500 per individual, or $87,500 per household.

Oh and of course that doesn't include the load posed by our $3 trillion dollar funded federal budget, and our $1 trillion budget deficit.... which conveniently matches the so called "stimulus" and "bailout" numbers.

...wait a sec...

So congress and the president have committed to, or are proposing that we spend a sum equal to our total budget; which is already in deficit by 1 trillion dollars (with a T)... thus increasing our deficit to 5 trillion dollars.

Oh and then there's our $11 trillion dollar national debt... which means they would effectively increase our national debt by almost 50% (to $16 trillion) in just one year.

In case you were interested, our gross domestic product per year is about $14 trillion; or $47,000 per capita... which happens to also be about the same as our median household income.

So let me get this straight...

In order to "bail out" and "stimulate" our economy, the politicians have committed to, or are proposing, that we spend an amount equal to our entire current budget; in the process increasing our national debut to more than our annual gross domestic product; and imposing a debt load on every household larger than their median yearly income.

Someone tell me again how this is anything other than a bad idea?

That's a little like saying "in order to get out of mortgage debt, we should put our mortgage on our credit cards".

Yeah... some folks tried that recently... didn't work out too well for them.

UPDATE: A reader comments that this makes perfect sense if you understand what the "stimulus" is really about.

I disagree. He presumes that I believe the so called stimulus plans are even intended to work.

They are not, and I am well aware of that.

Were they actually intended to work, they would be given as tax credits, deductions, and rate reductions or exemptions. This would directly increase the amount of money EVERYONE had to spend, and reduce all costs across the board. It would also eliminate the overhead of administering the program etc...

That would greatly and rapidly stimulate economic activity. In fact, in general, it would result in revenues HIGHER than they were before the tax cuts; though there is certainly a point of diminishing returns.

However, that would also reduce government funding, government power, and government control; and it would dramatically reduce politicians vote buying opportunities.

Their real purpose is to:
  • Increase governmental authority and control over the private sector
  • Increase the patronage money and opportunities for politicians to buy votes…
… but I’m pretty sure most of my readers understood that already.

The thing is, this mechanism won't achieve the true intended results either; or it will, but in an inefficient and suboptimal way.

The problem is, the people pulling this scam don't have even the most basic clue about economics.

David Poyer Fans

Hey guys, please tell me that they get better as they go; because I finished "The Med" yesterday; and it was a disjointed, poorly plotted, poorly paced, not very well written book.

The sections focused directly on Lenson were well done; but the rest... Junk.

UPDATE: Got a cople comments i the "sorry you didn't like it" vein, but I think I was a bit unclear.

I see great potential in the story, but the first novel in the series was poorly executed, excepting those portions of it directly relating to Lenson, and in Lensons POV (the book is in first person passive present, and switches back and forth between four POV characters).

My question is, does the writing technique, style, and execution improve, to allow that potential to become something good.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Just a Thought...

You might end up with a lot more converts to your cause if you didn't insinuate that everyone who looks into a government job is an unprincipled apparatchik.

Just a thought.

Bullseye

Updates, Both Legal and Personal

Some of you may have been wondering how it is that Chris and I could get married, yet no legal update had been posted.

It's quite simple; only half of our legal issues (or really, 1/4) are resolved at this moment. The judge decided something very odd, and so we've been grappling with what to do ever since.

We expected the judge to rule on jurisdiction in one of two ways, either by ruling that AZ had jurisdiction, or ruling that BC had jurisdiction.

He did neither. He ruled that although he could take jurisdiction over the divorce (which he did, yay!) he did not think AZ could have jurisdiction over the children. He did not decline jurisdiction, nor hand it to BC, he just essentially said, "I don't think AZ can take jurisdiction."

We essentially ended up with a non-ruling ruling. Since then, after recovering from the "huh?" reaction Chris, my lawyer, and I had, we've been pursuing legal avenues to get the case looked at again. We've filed a Motion for New Trial and Additional Findings of Fact which, when translated to plain English means, "hey judge, we think you overlooked something and if you didn't, we'd like to know what you're referring to in your ruling."

My lawyer filed the final paperwork on Tuesday, and now it goes before the judge. Within the next 60 days we'll have one of three things; an "oops, I was wrong and here's the new ruling," a new trial, or an actual basis for an appeal.

Obviously life for us continues to be expensive while we wait for the judge. No matter what, our legal expenses keep coming. We have a plan for catching up (other than me finding a job that doesn't require the additional cost of day care) that will be revealed shortly. And no, this will not be another appeal for help, we've come up with an actual way to raise money that we think will be well received.

Unfortunately this means we will not be doing the big wedding in May. Legal costs are still in the "oh my god" range and we can't afford to do the wedding at this point in time. We've decided to wait the 2 1/2 years until my Catholic annulment comes through and have the big wedding when we have our religious wedding. However we will still be at the 2nd Amendment Blog Bash, since there's nothing like attending a nation-wide blogger meetup 20 minutes from your own house.

Despite the wedding plans falling through, we hope to see you all at the annual meeting in May.

Mel

The Nomination Game

Well, the academy award nominations were released this morning; and there are some actual surprises mixed in among the usual indie crap that no-one saw, and politically motivated BS.

I'm going to intersperse my commentary, and my predictions will be in bold. If I bold two, it's because I can't really decide which one. If I italizcize it, it's because I think that entry SHOULD win, instead of the one I think WILL win.
Best Motion Picture Of The Year:

Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This is the one that's going to piss the most people off I think. For one thing, I think most people are going to be surprised that a movie about a NAZI pedophile is on the best picture list, and Dark Knight isn't.

Oh and for the I don't know how manyth year in a row, I have seen two or less of the nominees. In fact, I haven't seen any of them, and this is coming from a certified movie nut; though admittedly I'll probably watch Milk, Frost Nixon, and Slumdog on DVD.

As to my prediction, it's Slumdog all the way. It's going to win for every major category the movie is nominated for (though surprisingly, it wasn't nominated for any of the performance categories). There is way too much buzz and way to much bandwagon, with NO backlash (which is almost unheard of) for it not to.
Achievement In Directing:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button David Fincher
Frost/Nixon Ron Howard
Milk Gus Van Sant
The Reader Stephen Daldry
Slumdog Millionaire Danny Boyle
No question here, Danny Boyle is getting his Oscar. There isn't even an outside shot for anyone else.

Still haven't seen any of them.
Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role:

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Richard Jenkins in The Visitor
Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn in Milk
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
Again, I haven't seen any of the movies; though I will also be watching "The Wrestler" on DVD in addition to the others mentioned above.

There's a HUGE backlash against Sean Penn right now, for playing a gay man while at the same time sucking up to Castro and Chavez, dictators who persecute gays.

Also, people just don't like Sean Penn. He's a nasty, not very bright, and seriously offensive man; even to other liberals. I predict that will take him out of the running, and leave it to Mickey Rourke.

Brad Pitt is the more obvious choice, especially given how many nominations Benjamin Button recieved; but I'm predicting a shutout for Button; and the day hollywood gives the guy who started in soap operas and sitcoms, and whose first notable role was as the beefcake in thelma and louise... Well I'd say that's ice skates in hell day, but the Cardinals are in the superbowl, so I think we've already passed that milestone.
Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role:

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Josh Brolin in Milk
Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt
Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road
There doesn't even need to be any discussion on this one. Heath Ledger has been anointed for this since they put his coffin in the ground.

I am thrilled to see Downey nominated for "Tropic Thunder" however. Everyone knows that Ledger is a dead lock, so the real win here is for Downey; and it's especially nice because his second nomination comes from a comedy.
Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role:

Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie in Changeling
Melissa Leo in Frozen River
Kate Winslet in The Reader
Again, there's that Nazi Pedophile thing... But Winslet has a huge steamroller of momentum going for her, and only a relatively minor backlash. No-one else has any kind of buzz or momentum.

Neither Jolie nor Hathaway deserve to be in that list... in fact Jolie didn't deserve her first Oscar either (for Girl Interrrupted; but the vote split between Katherine Keener and Chloe Sevigny that year and she got it by default). She's there mostly because Hollywood likes good stories, and it's a great story having Pitt and Jolie nominated simultaneously.

Oh and yet again, haven't seen any of them; and in this case don't plan to.
Performance By An Actress n A Supporting Role:

Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Amy Adams in Doubt
Penélope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis in Doubt
Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler
This one is a little tougher, as there is no strong momentum for any particular candidate; but the buzz is around Penelope Cruz.

If it wasn't a Woody Allen movie, she wouldn't even have been nominated; but it is, and the academy likes to throw Woody a bone whenever he's got a movie. Also, her costars are last years golden boy Javier Bardem, and hollywood IT girl Scarlett Johansen.

With two noms from "Doubt" their vote would be split anyway; and I doubt Marisa has a shot given the role she was playing.

Oh and you guessed it, haven't seen any of them, don't plan to see any of them but "The Wrestler".
Best Animated Feature Film Of The Year:

Bolt
Kung Fu Panda
WALL-E
Well, the fact that they included "Bolt" should be an indication of how thin the pickings were in this category this year; but it doesn't matter because Wall-E is a dead solid lock... and if there were any kind of justice in the academy award process, it would be up for best picture as well. It wouldn't win, but it should be up there.
Original Screenplay:

WALL-E
Frozen River
Happy-Go-Lucky
In Bruges
Milk
I'll be honest with you, I'm having a hard time predicting this one. It could end up being a sop to Milk, for being swept off the stage in all the other categories; especially since the writer himself is both a well known gay activist, filmmaker and writer; and an ex mormon who is very publicly critical of the church.

On the other hand, there is a strong feeling among the actors in the academy that "Happy Go Lucky"should win something; and it isn't going to in any other category.

I think in the end, I'm going with Milk for this one.
Adapted Screenplay:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Doubt
Frost/Nixon
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire
Again, I'm guessing Slumdog continues it's sweep; though there is an outside chance "The Reader" will pick this up.

It also may go to Button as a consolation prize for being the best $150 million dollar movie spanked in every way by a $15 million dollar movie... but I doubt it.

So, another year in which I, a certified movie nut, have seen a grand total of four of the movies nominated in any major category.

Funny enough only those four have broken the 100 million mark (actually Benjamin Button has if you count international, and Vicki... made 80m or so including international)... in fact only six of them even broke 50 million domestic, and not one of the under 100s earned out (including Button).

Meanwhile, the second most successful movie of all time, and a massive critical hit as well (a rare combination); having grossed just 3 million less than a billion dollars (and still going strong internationally) gets one nomination in a major category, and it's for a dead man.

Anyone want to predict how big a ratings disaster this years Oscars will be?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Perception Issue

If you ask most people in this country whether we have gun control, they'll say no we don't. If you ask them why, they'll say something like "because the NRA keeps it from passing.

This may seem impossible to those of us in the gun world, but the vast majority of people in this country are entirely ignorant about gun laws... in fact I'd wager to say the majority of gun owners are even ignorant.

Frederik Pohl is a quite well known science fiction author; who has recently decided to start a blog. In one of his first posts, he mentioned his wife was a college professor, a former state rep, and worked with the teachers union in her state; and in the comment thread someone made some disparaging comments about such unions.

She responded with a defense of her union; but also an attack against the NRA, and gun rights supporters:
"So I take exception to my union’s being linked by my husband with an organization like the National Rifle Association. I admit, their members are primarily not lobbying for financial gain either, but I also do not believe that the majority of people who are card-carrying members of that organization are as fanatic as their leadership in defending the right of anyone to bear automatic assault weapons. Many of their members are simply hunters or collectors who want to join an organization which is supposed to defend their right to own rifles and shotguns."
I see this thing everywhere, all the time. It is completely and utterly false; but usually it is motivated not by bigotry, but by ignorance; as most people are informed only by those hostile to gun rights, and their accomplices, the media.

As gun owners, as gun lovers, as gun rights activists, and as those who support human freedom; we MUST correct such perceptions wherever they arise.

We must do so politely, and in an informed manner; and we must engage anyone who is willing to listen; rather than simply shouting "what part of shall not be infringed don't you understand" and "from my cold dead hands" over and over again.

I left this rather long comment; which I hope they choose to publish (update: they did publish it) but even if they don't perhaps at least one or two people will be more informed, and will not take the medias pronouncements to heart so uncritically:
I realize you mean well here, and you make your comments out of ignorance; but as you are angered by people speaking about teachers unions without direct knowledge or understanding; you should recognize that your statements on guns and gun rights are similarly ill informed.

From what you have said, and how you have said it, I'll wager your information and perceptions of the NRA, gun rights, gun owners and shooters are primarily created and informed by media and lobbying groups hostile to guns and gun rights.

Oh and by the way, there is no functional difference whatsoever between a hunting shotgun or many hunting rifles, and the so called "assault weapons" banned under various state laws (and federally from 1994-2004); excepting that the banned weapons are in fact LESS powerful than weapons typically used for hunting.

The common perception, falsely created by anti-gun lobbying organizations, and reinforced at every opportunity by an uncritical and largely anti-gun media; is that such laws keep machine guns out of the hands of criminals. This is completely and utterly false.

Machine guns are legal in the United States (in about 40 out of 50 states)for civilians to own by the way; and always have been. Since 1934, they have been subject to strict federal regulation and background checks; and they cost enormous sums of money (the cheapest are around $5000 and they can easily exceed $100,000).

Since machine guns were specially regulated in 1934, only two crimes have ever been committed using lawfully owned machine guns; and both were by police officers (both were instances of domestic violence).

These "assault weapon" bans;and there is sure to be another proposed shortly now that Obama has been inaugurated; do nothing more than restrict lawful access to law abiding citizens, weapons that LOOK LIKE machine guns.

There are constant calls for "reasonable gun control" when in fact we already have a HUGE amount of gun control in this country.

Most people hear this repeated propaganda about "easy access to guns" etc... and simply assume that it's a wide open field for everyone to buy guns willynilly out there with no control. This is also utterly false.

It is illegal for a felon, the mentally ill, the legally incompetent, substance abusers, and anyone who has been convicted of a crime of domestic violence, or has a domestic violence restraining order against them; to own, purchase, or possess any firearm. It is also illegal to sell, give, or loan a firearm to those people.

Firearms can only be sold across state lines by federally licensed dealers. Firearms cannot be sold mail order. Firearms cannot be purchased over the internet without first being shipped to a federally licensed dealer (unless both the buyer and seller are in the same states, and that state allows private sales without a dealer).

All firearms purchases from federally licensed dealers must be approved through the national instant background check system; which verifies that the person the gun being sold to is not prohibited from owning or possessing firearms under the law.

And that's just federal. There are 28,000 federal, state, and local gun control laws in this country.

And not one of them has any impact at all on criminals. Criminals don't buy guns from federally licensed dealers. They don't buy guns from law abiding citizens. They buy guns from other criminals. The law doesn't do a thing to stop them, BECAUSE THEY ARE CRIMINALS.

I could go on like this for hours, but I hope I have illustrated my point. If you want to make such a comparison, please educate yourself first; and don't count the media or those who oppose that which you'd like to talk about as valid sourcees. You wouldn't treat any academic subject in such a manner, you shouldnt treat this subject as such.


If we don't do this, we lose. It's that simple.

Sick, Sore, and Sleep won't come

Just one of those days. Insomnia is killing me still, and now I'm sick.

Sore throat, achy joints, sore and irritated eyes, sinus, intestinal difficulty, and a light fever.

All the hallmarks of some kind of inflammatory infection. Probably viral, but not flu (no nausea, no upper respiratory involvement, fever is barely registering); though with the unseasonably warm temperatures the last two weeks, after a few weeks of cold and damp, it might be fungal.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day Activities

Today, while some people are worshiping at the altar of the Obamessiah, and many are just grumbling, I'm off to do something useful.

In half an hour I will be off to take the Census Workers test. Hopefully in a few weeks I'll be earning some extra cash for the household in the ultimate of fixed-term, flexible contracts.

And, honestly, I consider it somewhat of a patriotic duty to do what I can to ensure an accurate census. It is not lost on me that the census determines electoral votes, and may be a major factor in the next presidential election (not to mention reassigning House seats).

So I'm off to do what I can to land a job in the 2010 Census.

Wish me luck.

Mel

Cross-posted at Mrs. Anarchangel

Congratulations to President Barack Obama

And may god have mercy on our souls.

Somehow, I just feel like watching "The Life of Brian" right about now.




Why do I have the nagging feeling that Obama is Bill McKay?

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Little Career Advice

A couple weeks back, a reader was asking for some career advice.

This guy has got 10 years of experience in IT, doing phone, desktop/deskside support, and light admin work; but he has no degree and no certifications.

He's currently making about $30,000 a year, and he wanted to know what he should do to improve his financial position, and career in general. More specifically, he wanted to know if I thought certifications would help in that; and how important not having a degree was.

The short answer is, not very much, and not very important.

The long answer is a bit more complicated, but it's important to understand. I know literally hundreds of guys like this; who have five to ten years experience, and are stuck in $30,000 to $45,000 a year, near-entry level positions.

So first, let's address certifications specifically:

I have, literally, dozens; from dozens of vendors, including some very expensive, rare, theoretically high demand ones.

They're mostly useless.

Other than CISSP (which is used to be worth a lot more, but now is only nearly worthless) and CCIE (which still means at least a $20,000 pay bump); IT certifications mean very little to your actual earning potential or career advancement past entry level (actually, management and financial certifications can be more valuable, even in IT jobs).

In the real world, the purpose of certifications are to:
  1. Get you an interview for a job you are not (or are only marginally) qualified for

  2. Fulfill a contractual requirement ("all the engineers on the contract have to be MCSEs")

  3. Allow you to teach professional courses and certifications in a technology (I have over a dozen of these teaching certifications)

  4. Qualify your company for higher partnership status (the highest levels of Cisco partnership require you employ at least 2 CCIEs for example)

  5. Get more press for the companies letterhead ("we employ more CCIEs than anyone in the market")

    And MOST importantly

  6. Get your resume past the recruiter, and HR staffs buzzword filter
Remember, your hiring manager generally decides whether he's going to hire you or not based on your interview, experience, and references; but you can't GET the interview if HR never forwards your resume.

HR staff rarely understand what they are looking for in technical staff. They tend to ask for "wish lists" of buzzwords, experience, certifications etc... and they decide what resumes to send on, based on how many buzzwords they see, how well the resume is written and formatted (yes, it's really that important), and how much of their "wish list" is fulfilled.

That by the way, is why it's important in the IT world to have a "skills and qualifications" summary right at the top of your resume, that lists all your buzzwords, and your length of experience with them. Everyone is lazy when it comes to reading resumes; make it easy on them.

What about a degree?

By all means, get a degree; but don't expect it to do much for your career past the entry level (unless you work for the government, or a university).

I've been in this business for almost 20 years; since I was in high school, with a few year gap when I was in the Air Force and doing security contracting.

In that entire time, my degrees (double BS in aerospace engineering and computer science) haven't got me a single job; and before I had them, the lack of them didn't prevent me from getting any job I was otherwise qualified for.

For the last three years I've been the chief architect for the largest division of one of the largest banks in the world. I, and the team I lead, are responsible for literally billions of dollars worth of infrastructure. Not one of my certifications, nor my degrees; are relevant, useful, or in any way helped me get or do this job; except in that they indicate to some extent my overall breadth of skills and experience.

Degrees (and certifications) are good; I recommend you get one if you can. Aside from making you a more interesting and well rounded person; in general they will help at least some with earning potential, and they make you more promotable later in life.

The thing is though, they may make it EASIER to get a job you are marginally qualified for, or tip you over the line for a promotion; but they don't get you a job, they don't get you a promotion, and they don't automatically make you more money.

That bit is all up to you.

So why are so many good guys with 5-10 years experience stuck in low level jobs?

I'm going to say something that may be very hard for some of you to listen to:

If you have 10 years experience, and you're good at your job, the only reason you're making $30,000 a year is you.

Either you want to make that much (or that little depending on your perspective); there is something "wrong" with you (social skills, interview skills, background issues, work habits etc...), or you haven't been aggressive enough in pursuing career development.

Somehow I think the latter is likely true for most folks in that position (whether the second is also true or not).

Actually, I think this applies to every "professional" job in America today, not just technology. There is no reason for a well rounded person who is good at their job, with 10 years experience, and no other impediment to earning; to be making less than $45,000 for a full years work in any professional field or job I can think of; unless they have deliberately chosen to stay in a job that limits their earnings.

I'm not successful because of my experience, I HAVE that experience, because I MADE myself successful; and it didn't take me twenty, or even ten years to do it.

I haven't made less than $100,000 for a full years work since I was 24 years old. Partly this is because I'm very good at what I do; but it's also because I aggressively pursue career development, and insist on being paid my proper value as an employee or contractor.

A couple of side notes on money

One, as long term readers know, earning a good salary is no guarantee that you will be well off. Expenses have a habit of expanding to fill the budget; and the stuff of life has a habit of happening all over you on occasion.

Three and a bit years ago I acquired a wife, two kids, and an expensive legal battle; and what money I had put aside went away very quickly. Two years before that I lost a job just after using most of my savings to help my mother buy a house; and ended up broke. A couple years before that I had a business partner screw me and a business go bust, and ended up broke.

Starting to see a common theme here?

It happens; and it happens more to people who are more aggressive in pursuing career opportunities. If you want bigger rewards, you have to take bigger risks.

Two, think about your expenses every month; then think about how much you have in savings. Now that you have those numbers in mind, divide the first into the second, and think about how long you could be out of work before going broke.

Never fool yourself into thinking that a good job and a good salary are wealth. Earnings are not wealth, nor are they security; they're just a help along the way.

Three, don't forget with higher earnings come higher taxes, greater costs for benefits; it seems greater costs in general. It doesn't all go into your pocket, or your bank account. A better job with higher pay will always help you improve your financial situation; but it won't automatically put you where you want to be.

Finally, don't ever compromise your quality of life for more money. If you have higher priorities, don't let money get in the way of them. Especially don't let money get in the way of being with your family.

Remember above all else, money is a means to an end; not the end in itself.

So, that's all been about what NOT to do, and what thing's aren't. How about some useful advice about what to actually DO?

Ok, into list land.

First, and most important by far, is to develop your written and verbal communications skills. It doesn't matter how smart or how good you are, if you can't effectively communicate.

This is by far the biggest problem technical people have in their careers. They never learn to write well or present well, and no matter how good their technical work is, that deadends them.

You will never be promoted past the low-mid grade if you can't write or present. It's that simple.

Second, you need to develop time management and project management skills.

You cannot be successful if you can't manage your OWN resource allocation; the most valuable of which is time. Not only that, but if you can't understand, and document, what resources you need on projects, you will never be able to deal with projects that involve more than just your own efforts. This will limit you to entry and low-mid level jobs.

Third, develop your interpersonal interaction skills; particularly your skill at civil debate and persuasion, and your skill at negotiation.

This isn't just about salary, this is about every interaction you have in the work place every day.

That last bit there is probably the hardest for engineers in particular. It's also why I'm where I am, and other people with more experience and higher qualifications than I have are earning half as much.

How many times have I heard "I just couldn't sell myself" or "I just couldn't sell my idea", from an engineer... The problem isn't that their idea wasn't good, it's that they either didn't communicate effectively, or that they didn't hit the persuasion points that people needed to hear for the idea to be "sold".

Even those engineers who have decent writing and communications skills are rarely able to deal with negotiation, compromise, and the interplay of low level politics in the work environment.

Worse, even if they could do well with these skills, many technical people disdain them as "below" them, or demeaning, or "games".

Guess what sparky, you're not only wrong; but your attitude offends the non-technical people you have to work with; who do it every day.

Let me say this again: YOU ARE WRONG

One more time: YOU ARE WRONG, AND THE "NORMAL" PEOPLE ARE RIGHT

Yes you. You're wrong. You may think you're right, you may feel self justified in this; but really you're just being self righteous and condescending.

Sometimes, when the world is saying one thing, and you're saying another thing; you're right and the world is wrong. Einstein, Newton, Copernicus...

Guess what: You're not Einstein, and this is not one of those times. You're Tesla, the death ray doesn't work; and you're going to die broke, in debt, and covered in pigeon crap if you don't smarten up.

But wait, there is hope for the hopeless

The good news, is that you CAN learn all of these things. You may never be a social and political genius, but you can get a basic grasp of what to do, and how, through books and videos. They sell them by the hundreds of thousands; and they aren't even that expensive.

Even better, there are classes that are taught by management and leadership experts; in negotiation, staff management, time management, written and verbal communication, and other valuable business skills. MBAs are going to these courses all the time; think maybe if they were a waste of time, and didn't give good return on investment, that all those business savvy folks would be wasting their time with them?

I put those three skillsets first, because they ARE FIRST. Someone good at those skills will earn at least twice as much as someone only adequate at them, and at least four times as much as someone with an inadequate grasp of them.

Next, into the more advanced areas so to speak.

If you ever want to get beyond entry to low-mid level; it's critical that you work on your management and financial skills.

You MUST understand how to lead projects, groups, and teams (at the least), if you ever want to be anything more than a jr. coder, jr. admin, or first level support tech.

If you ever want to be a leader, or a manager, you must be able to understand budgets, resource allocation, costings, and in general the "business side" of things.

Even if your only goal is to get to third level support, you need to be able to lead teams, delegate tasks, allocate resources, report on status, and manage projects and timelines.

I cannot emphasize this enough. Social and business skills are FAR more important to your career than technical skills are, especially once you get beyond the low-mid career grades; and the further you get in your career, the more important they get.

In fact, I will say to every technical person working in a commercial business (government and university are a little different); if you are going to get a masters degree, get an MBA; it will serve you better in your career than any technical degree.

Looking the part

While you're developing your business skills; learn how to dress the part when appropriate. You don't need to play dressup, or spend a fortune, or wear a suit every day; but you should dress professionally, respectably, and in a manner appropriate to your environment.

Unless it's being held on a factory floor, you should wear suits to interviews and important meetings; unless doing so would make you overdressed. In some companies business casual is overdressed; and different companies have different standards for business casual.

Know the culture, audience, and environment before you go in for the interview, or the meeting; and then dress to one level higher than is customary for your audience (for example in a casual company, wear business casual).

You'll never read this in a business book; probably because all the people who write business books are compulsive suit wearers; but there are some environments where wearing a suit will hurt you. If you want to get taken seriously by hardcore geeks, machinists, factory floor engineers and the like, wearing a suit isn't the way to do it. If you're meeting with your prospective boss, and he's in board shorts and a tshirt, wearing a suit is just going to make you look like an idiot.

...but generally speaking, the advice to wear a suit to an interview, is good...

Buy at least three decent suits, at least five good pairs of pants, at least 7 good button down shirts, a few non-ugly ties, and at least three good pairs of shoes with matching belts. You'll never regret it (especially the good shoes).

Always buy your clothes a little large, and have them properly tailored. Trust me. It's not expensive, and it's more than worth it.

Once you've bought them, learn how to wear them properly, and comfortably; and get used to doing so. If they are properly tailored, this won't be a problem.

Ok, I get it, business skills are important; but what about technical skills?

Well, those can be a lot harder to give advice on; just because there are so many specialties in the technology fields; but I can talk about the common paths and skills necessary to them.

First off, if you're a low level admin, coder, or support tech, you need to decide what areas of specialization you want to get into; or if you want to try and go for architecture and/or technical management.

If you want to go through administration, architecture, information security, solutions consulting, or any other field that requires a broad base of knowledge; this is what I'd recommend (in fact, I'd also recommend this same general skill set to any kind of consultant, and to DBAs, and senior programmers and software architects).
  • Learn Solaris, Redhats variant of Linux, and HPUX if you can (and/or AIX if you want to work in a sector with a lot of mainframes).

    These are FAR more valuable skills than Windows administration. You should still know basic Windows admin, especially Active Directory, Exchange, IIS and SQL server; but learning multiple forms of UNIX administration will bump your salary at least 25% over Windows administration, and open a lot more doors for you.

  • In the process of learning UNIX admin, learn to script in c shell, bash, k shell, and perl. It's not hard. Also learn to use regex.

  • Learn the basics of configuring and administering MySQL, Oracle, Apache, and sendmail; these are the minimum basic applications common to almost every business. Also, as I note above, MS-SQL, Active Directory, IIS, and Exchange from the Windows side.

  • Learn to use monitoring tools, especially Openview, and the various open source tools.

  • Learn basic and mid level security; enough to harden and properly administer systems, deal with audits and security breaches, and build and configure firewalls.

  • Learn least one major firewall technology (two or three are better; preferably checkpoint, cisco, or netscreen), at least one major VPN technology, and at least one major intrusion detection technology.

  • Learn basic networking technologies, including Cisco switching, and local and wide area Cisco routing. Get a CCNP if you feel like it.

  • Learn storage technologies, specifically EMC and hitachi SAN; cisco and brocade switching; Netapp, EMC, and Sun NAS; and Storagetek and ADIC tape libraries (actually they are quantum now, and they OEM for Sun, HP, IBM, etc...).

  • Also at the very least learn Veritas foundation suite, including VxFS and netbackup; along with best practices for backup, disaster recover, and business continuance.
Or short circuit all of this and just learn to be an Oracle DBA, or security or networking specialist for the same or more money; but less options and flexibility. Also as I said above, even as a specialist, the skills above would serve you well.

Oh and you can easily learn all of these skills at home except Oracle, HPUX, and Checkpoint; and you can get practical experience on most of them for free, with open source tools you can use at home.

Ok, how do I succeed in IT without really trying?

Obviously, you don't.

Reaching a basic level of knowledge and experience in all (or most) of the skills I listed above, will start you at at least mid level admin/architect/consultant work; up to around $85k in mid level markets, or $100k in top tier markets.

Then you get on the job carousel.

Your goal is to be promoted to a more senior job every two years, or to change employers to achieve the same result; with at least a 15% raise from your previous grade.

Never stay with an employer more than 4 years unless you receive two grade bumps in that time with at least a 10% bump each time (unless you hit the highest grade for your field, in which case look down below). If you go more than 4 years with a single employer without a grade bump, you are not going to get anywhere with them.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The advice above is for general commercial businesses. The academic and government world are different, including some of the private companies that service them. Also some highly beurocratized companies have very specific (and sometimes intricate and convoluted) processes for promotions and raises. In general the same advice applies, but the processes is more difficult, and slower; often taking 3-4 years per grade bump; but I still say that if you havent had a bump in 4 years, you aren't going anywhere and you should change jobs, or employers, or both.

Oh and by the way; this advancement advice isn't just for technical workers; I believe it applies to everyone in a career field with upward mobility. Some jobs simply are not upwardly mobile, like administrative assistant; and people who spend more than four years in those job need to understand and be happy with that

In an advancing career however, your goal should be at least a minor promotion every two years and a major one every four years; and you should be moving on if you don't get at least a minor bump in 4 years.

If you aren't willing to go through this process with your current job and career field, you should really consider whether or not you'd be happier in another career; either one where mobility isn't a consideration, or if you do want to be mobile, one that inspires you to advancement.

Money Money Money Money... Money

This isn't all about money; but money is how we keep the bill collectors at bay; and it's how this conversation got started.

My advice about pay is simple.

First, it's not all about salary. Salary is important, but what you want is a good standard of living and high quality of life; so understand what in your life is important, and how an employer can advance that, or accommodate that; and arrange your priorities and requests appropriately.

Second, always ask for what you think you're worth to your employer; and never accept meaningfully less. A percentage point or two, OK, but not 5%. An employer who offers more than 5% below a realistic market assessment of your value to them, is an employer who will not value you or treat you appropriately.

Third, make sure that what you think you are worth lines up with what the market thinks you are worth. Know what you're worth in the market (and remember, markets are specific to industry segments, not just career fields), know what you want, know what your prospective employer can afford; and ask for a reasonable amount based on that. It's that simple. If they can't meet your needs, go to someone who can.

Fourth, don't make a game out of negotiation. You're not there to "beat" the other guy, you want a job, or a raise, or a promotion; and playing games will just make you look worse, and hurt your future relationship with the person you're negotiating with.

Where does it all get me?

So, we're five to 15 years down the road; and you're skilling up and cashing up. What's the roadmap looklike?

Well, at any time in this process, you can choose to branch into specialty skills, like DBA, security, storage etc... which gives a big pay bump, but moves you into a different field track, which may have fewer options open to you for future career development.

Once you reach "Senior", or "Chief", or "Principal" (or whatever is the top technical level in your organization) status, which should take 6 to 10 years if you're smart and aggressive (or 15 years if you're less aggressive); you change the game.

At that point you should be making somewhere between $115k and $165k base (depending on your exact skills, and market) as an admin, or a bit higher as a specialist of some kind; plus bonuses and incentives of course.

Generally speaking, once you hit the $165k mark, you've topped out as an admin. You might be able to make a bit more (up to about $185k) as a top level DBA, Systems Architect, Storage Architect, or Security architect; but that's around the limit for technical staff (excluding bonuses, and incentives; which can be very large for consultants, or for long term senior staff).

Once you've topped out, you need to decide if you want to stay an admin/dba/architect; and just stay with the same company and ascend into Guru status; while accumulating COLA, PTO, and if you're lucky bigger bonuses (more years means more PTO in most companies, and higher bonus percentages in some); or move into technical management, which is a whole 'nother minefield in and of itself.

So, now that I've mapped out the next ten years of your life for you, it's up to you to go do it.

... or you could just chuck it all, and go collect seashells, or make birdhouses or somesuch.