Monday, August 31, 2009

Wasted Hours, Hidden Costs, and Perverse Incentives

I didn't get to save the company $15 million dollars today; and I'm a little upset about it.

So for the last five months I've been working on a major project; taking up about 1/3 of my work hours.

We've got a building, which isn't supposed to be used as a datacenter, but which has sort of organically grown into one. Right now there are over 1000 lab and dev servers in there, and even a few production server (which is a BIG no-no).

We've decided not to renew the lease on this building, and now we've got to have everything out of there before the end of first quarter 2010 or we face a $1 million a month penalty.

If you've ever moved a datacenter (and unfortunately I have) you know that seven months is basically NO time to do the job; especially when those months are split across two budgeting years.

Well, let me tell you a very long and very irritating story... or more accurately, let me bitch for a few minutes.

Ok, before we go on, this middle section here is going to be large enterprise IT geekish, with a lot of rather boring numbers, unless you're in the business. Y'all may just want to skip down a bit.

On the other hand if you ARE in the biz; or if perhaps you are an accountant, or just want to see how ridiculous large corporations can be; this may be interesting to you.

Actually, yaknow what? I'mna just cut a bit portion of the numbers bit out entirely, and put it into a separate post from my bitching.

Ok, moving on... Sorry, bad and unintentional pun...

As part of the move, we've been trying to get rid of a bunch of old servers that are beyond end of life (some of them as much as 9 years old). Especially since a lot of the older models are rather large and rather power inefficient; and all of them are long out of software support, and security patching etc...

Really, they're a big security risk; and they're just slow and underpowered as hell, while using up way too much juice, and putting out way too much heat.

Then there's the facilities charges (the actual cost of sitting in a space in the datacenter). They run about $85 per rack unit per month in the enterprise datacenters, and $185 per rack unit per month in the high cost (downtown in a major city) datacenters we're dealing with for this project (and the average server in question is 4 rack units).

Now, I don't know if you've ever moved a datacenter, but for secure moves (we are a financial institution after all. When we move boxes we need to either destroy the hard drives, securely wipe them, or move them under bonded physical security) the cost per box runs from $1500 to $2500 a piece, not including end user labor (getting the applications ready for a move, moving over to the business continuity site, testing the box when it comes back up in the new site etc...)

That sounds like an awful lot of money for just moving a box; but again, that's taking into account ALL the costs. You have to power the thing down, unrack it and uncable it, rack it, power it, and cable it at the other end (which takes a quantity of, rather expensive, labor; that can be surprising to the uninitiated), plus wiping the drives and moving the box by freight, or moving the boxes "securely"; and finally you have to test the boxes in their new location for power and proper network and application connectivity (before you hand it back to the end users for their testing).

Frankly, it just isn't cheap.

I tell you this so you understand, just MOVING 600 boxes, without otherwise touching them or changing anything, will run between $900,000 and $1.5 million.

By decomissioning everything we can, consolidating a bunch of what's left into a lower number of more powerful machines, then virtualizing everything we can, we managed to bring the numbers down from 1100 to 600.

We figured on an average cost to reprovision in the standard enterprise process (explained in another post) of about $19,000 per system to cover the entire 4 year extended cost (that's hardware, support, maintenance etc... for 4 years. The actual hardware cost is between 10% and 25% of that number). We only needed to budget for the upfront costs, because the extended costs get covered on the annual run rate budgets.

We run everything on a 49 month total cost accounting cost basis. That means we try to account for every cost associated with a system that we can; we take the acquisition cost, and first year of support and maintenace, plus labor and install fees, and pay that as "upfront", and the rest comes out as monthly "maintenance" charges over 49 months.

There is one significant element not included in that per system charge though, and that's the $85 to $185 cost per rack unit per month, for the facilities.

Through virtualization, consolidation, decommissioning and repurposing, we managed to cut the host count down from over 1080, to about 600 total (including virtuals), about 200 of which are going to go into other less expensive and better served locations.

The virtual count though...

We actually started off with the directive to virtualize everything that couldn't be decommissioned, except the systems that absolutely couldn't be virtualized (with approved business case and exception required). That was a tall order.

After months of interviews and discovery sessions with server and application end users, I managed to put 300 additional systems on the de-com list; intending to either eliminate them entirely, or consolidate their function with another box. I also manged to come up with a list of 600 potential virtualization candidates. The remaining 180 or so were just going to have to move, but not necessarily to the expensive location.

So, that's what we asked for as budget for the 600, up front $4.1 million; which would cover virtualization, plus the moving for whatever ones we couldn't virtualize.

That is what we honestly needed to do that many systems. It wasn't a blue sky "nice to have" number, it was the real number.

That's not what we got.

They gave us $1.8 million for upfront.

Not 1.8 million for virtualization, 1.8 million.


Including all the moves, and anything going into the enterprise solution.

Oh crap...

Ok... so, there was no way we were going to be able to do that using the standard enterprise methodologies. It just wasn't going to happen.

I said flat out, "at that budget, using standard enterprise costings, this project cannot be completed".

I was actually putting my neck on the line by saying that, but it was the truth, and it had to be said...


I had an idea.

So I said to the CIO, and the head of the "steering committee": "Ok... let us get creative here, and I think we can do it. We're going to need to throw the rules out the window, but I have an idea, and I know who to work with and how to get it done... If we have a free hand, we can do it."

He told me to run with it.

So, we went back to all our end users, and pared down even more, consolidated even more, convinced them we were going to do something really cool but they'd have to take the risk with us...

And after about a month of non stop effort, we whittled the "must move" list to about 240, 120 of which were going to go to cheaper facilities where there was more space. We found a few more decoms through creative consolidation, and moving more functions into virtual environments. We got the virtualization list down to about 290, with about 50 where they would be in the standard enterprise virtual farms, and the other 240 on the new "creative" solution.

Then I went heads down with some of the lead architects at VMWare, HP, Sun, and IBM for an entire month; and we came up with something.

We used new products, new technologies, and new ways of putting things together, to come up with a certified and supportable software stack that could be virtualized at less than half the cost we had before.

I even got them all to give us SERIOUSLY special pricing, and agree to only charge us 25% up front, with the remainder payable as we filled up the virtual farms, in a capacity on demand model.

These are lab machines. They don't need the kind of support, or the kind of overhead, that running in the enterprise farms entails. They also don't need the high cost ultra reliable high performance storage, or the high cost ultra reliable everything else that goes with it.

All of those coasts add up.

Like I've said several times above, it isn't the hardware that makes up most of the cost. In the enterprise farms, a single virtual machines share of the hardware cost is less than $2000, including all the storage, etc... It's all the support, and supporting infrastructure.

By getting creative, we were able to cut the average 49 month cost per virtual machine down to about $5,000.

Of course, we still have to account for the staffing to support these NEW virtual farms; at 4 employees, 50% time for 4 years, at an average of about $70 an hour (the "standard rate" we use for internal chargeback of mid level sysadmins and system engineers). Basically 4160 hours per year, for about $300,000 a year over 4 years.

Total solution cost worked out to about $2.7 million, with $1.8 million in up front costs (not exactly the typical ratio, because we weren't doing things the typical way):

New virtual farms: $1.2 million with $700,000 up front (that's TCA not just hardware)
Staff: $1.2 million, with $300,000 up front
Moves: $600,000 (just in case, we used the $2500 estimate)
Enterprise VMs: $600,000 with $200,000 up front

If it came down to it, we could probably trim out another $240k on the upfronts by using the lower moving estimate, to get down to $1.56 million.

Now remember, when we started, it looked like we were going to have to move 1100 servers, at a total cost of almost $2.8 million just for moving, and a cumulative cost to the company of $814,000 per month in facilities fees; for a 49 month total cost of about $40 million dollars.

We're talking about going from $40 million, down to $2.7 million, with only $1.8 million up front.

We went back before the steering committee, presented the new solution along with the planning and the end users signoffs that they were good to go...

And they cut our budget again...

To 1.1 million...

Including the moves, and the stuff going into the enterprise...

Now, you can't even MOVE 530 boxes for $1.1 million; at least not without hitting the bottom end of projections. Not only that, but without doing the creative solution thing, we weren't going to be able to cut the numbers so far. We'd be back to 600 boxes.

Thing is though, we were the victim of our own success.

If we'd have had to move the original 1100 boxes, or even virtualize more than a couple hundred, there's no way they could have contemplated doing anything other than our new solution. The costs would have just been too high.

But we'd managed to cut that number down so far, and to split the moves up into several different locations so the new building (which only had capacity for 400 of those 1100) wouldn't take the full load; that they were able to contemplate just moving everything.

If you add up the totals... $2.7 million total and $1.8 million up front to implement the technically correct, and better for the business solution; vs. the cost of moving 600 boxes, with a low end estimate of $1500 a pop for a total of $900,000...

Of course that discounts the facilities costs, but apparently that's how they want to account for it.

I should say, there IS a valid reason for it.

The moving expenses can be written down as a one time structural charge related to our recent big mergers and acquisitions (like every surviving major bank, we ate another bank whole last year).

The ongoing floorspace charges on the other hand are already sunk into the buildings fixtures and facilities budgets (and reported as such); so by breaking them out into a cross charge, we actually disadvantage ourselves for earnings purposes.

This is completely honest by the way, all costs are being accounted for; it just skews the real cost of IT, by pushing some of that cost out onto facilities.

So, this morning I reported to the committee, the CIO and everyone else, that with the newly revised budget, and the numbers we managed to cut down to, and how they wanted to account for costs... that just moving all of the boxes, was the "right" solution.

Actually, I put it differently. I said that it was technically the wrong thing to do, but for accounting reasons, it was the right thing to do.

I did make clear I thought that long term, the new solution was better both technically and financially; and in prioritizing the upfront costs we were going to miss a potential savings of well over $15 million over four years

But that's over four years, vs the $900,000 today... Who was going to provide those staff members. where would we get clearance to hire them. Whose books would they be carried. Who was going to cover all that maintenance when the lab machines weren't seeing any maintenance charges now, and the end users didn't want to assume those charges in 12 months...

What I didn't mention, was that we had just flushed two and a third full time senior staff members labor (a full time senior technical project manage, a full time senior finance manager, and me, a 1/3 time chief architect) for 5 months as well, at $120 an hour (the internal chargeback rate for senior staff).

There's another $250k wasted.

Nor did I mention how great wasting those hours made us all feel.

Oh and now, we're going to have to go back to all those end users we convinced to come try something new with us, and we're going to have to get them to sign off on a straight move.

It's going to take us at least six weeks, by which time we're only going to have 5 months left to get everything moved, one month of which will be taken up by our mid December to mid January change freeze for end of year.

That means everything is going to have to be on an emergency escalated basis, and will take longer and cost more, and mistakes will be made...

The wasted political capital, wasted good will, lost trust, and wasted energy... They dwarf the wasted $250k... in fact they probably dwarf the wasted $15 million in the log run, because they make us all less effective at our jobs.

All because people don't want to think beyond the first 12 months... or the next 90 days for that matter. 4 years isn't even long term, but it's not THIS year, and THIS earnings period, and THIS bonus check...

What's scary, is that we're actually BETTER about this than almost every large company I've worked with. In fact, I've worked with every other major bank in the U.S. and many of them in Europe; and we're the best of all of them when it comes to being efficient, and adopting good solutions etc...

Yes, seriously. Everyone else is even more convoluted with more perverse incentives than we are.

The one good spot is that I think I've convinced the management who counts, that we can use the new architecture we developed for our datacenter reclamation efforts next year, as we try to take 25% of all our servers off the floor, while still expanding our capacity by 40%.

By the by, when I say reducing footprint by 25%, that's from about 50,000 servers. About half of those are development and testing systems that don't need all that overhead associated with production systems.

By going that way, we could save some serious money. Enough to make that $15 million we didn't save today, look like nothing (maybe $200 million); and the $250k we spent developing the solution as less than nothing.

If they let us do it.

There are days I love my job. When I'm allowed to do it, it's great.

Then there are days like today.

Says it all

An actual mission patch (well, a Friday patch anyway):

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An Aristorcacy of Talent, and the Triumph of Markets

This is possibly the single best business document I have ever read; and I mean that with no hyperbole. It is also the single most libertarian document I have ever seen applied to a large corporate environment.

You HAVE TO read this.

As I post this...

My work laptop has been grinding away on the "office 2007 sp2" automatic forced update for over an hour now, and has been completely useless the entire time...

Oh, wait, now it's forcing me to reboot. Yay.

Because of all the crap they put on the work laptop, and the scripts they run, it takes about 12 minutes (no that's not an exaggeration) to reboot.

My doctor believes in being thorough...

Just got back from having my SEVENTH vial of blood being drawn. Have to go back later this afternoon (it's a morning and evening hormone level test) for the eighth and hopefully finall for a while.

The insides of my forearms and elbow look like a junkies at the moment. I ALWAYS bruise up around sticks (always have).

Then, hopefully alter this week, we will go over all the results with the doc. Hopefully I'll get my cortisone shots then as well, because I'mna need'em before we head off for vacation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Oh God, how many times have I done this....

The HOA Model and Next-to-Impossible Dreams

A comment from long time reader Glenn Bartley sparked something:

I just got done reading that piece again (about the 5th time, maybe the 6th) because something was bugging me about it. No not bugging me in how you want to live your life, not bugging me in that you want the government out of most of your life. Heck I work for the government and I would like to see a lot the same as you would like to see it. Less government from both the federal level and the state level would be a much better thing for all of us as far as I am concerned. Less government in general would be great - fewer lawyers, legislators, executive bureaucrats and judiciary types would mean a lot less legislation to trouble all of us.

Yeah I agree with you, but I had to read it again, and again, because something just was not clicking, something seemed terribly wrong with what you said and I just could not figure it for the life of me. I could not put my finger on it after a second, even a third reading, not even after a fourth, but each time I was done reading it, I came to the same conclusion - you had just said something that seemed to bother me for some unknown reason.

I slept on it, then came back to it again today, and read it again, and again and just as I finished this last time around BANG - realization went off like a shot fired next to my head. Do you realize what you just did in your anti government piece? You yourself became the government ruling others or at least stated your unwitting capacity to do so. No games from me - so here is what I mean:

You said this:
"Well I have a message for all you busybodies, bureaucrats, rent-seekers, and whored-out legislators.


Get out of my contracts.

Get off of my land.

Leave my property alone.

Stay the hell out of my bedroom.

Which is all well and fine for you and me for those who think like us. Then though, you added this:
"And everyone else's for that matter."

That is the part that for the past couple of days has been eating away at me, making me wonder why the heck am I so uncomfortable with what you have written when I in general agree with the overwhelming majority of it.

The thing that made me uncomfortable was the fact that you were so ready to demand the government not only to stay out of your business but out of everyone's business and therefore in essence you replace the government interference in other people's lives with interference created by your demands.

What I just said was not meant as a flame, nor as a troll, nor as disagreement with your opinion. It was meant only as an intellectual observation, one that raises a few questions.

Here is what I mean by that: We live in a Republic where we elect officials to represent us in government. We are in the mess we are in now because too many of us, over many years, have agreed that government intrusion into our lives is the way to go. Too many of us have agreed that they need a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, a crutch to get them through it.

Yet at the same time, may of us, probably at least half if not more of our citizens wish the government would only minimally involve itself in our lives. This is an inevitable conundrum of our type of government; it is also one that is very difficult to overcome, isn't it?

So just how do we overcome that issue. How do we get less government interference in our lives while at the same time not interfering with the lives of others who have elected to allow for government control in their lives? Is it possible? I think it is, but not to the extent you seem to want it to attain.

I am very interested to hear what you have to say in answer to this dilemma because if we can get enough people to elucidate on this topic, we may come up with the answer, we may yet be able to save the Republic and our Constitution and at the same time give Americans a better America while at the same time reducing unnecessary government and governmental control.

All the best,
Glenn B

Glenn, you make an excellent point. Yes, it seems hypocritical for me to tell the .gov to get out of everyone else's business when I myself rage against control freaks in government. What about those people who voted for such intrusive government? Shouldn't we support their right to ask for intrusion?

Oh yes. We certainly should.

It's called voluntary association.

Technically, it's called "voluntary collectivism" and it's historically been expressed in many way; but I like to call it the HOA Model.

People are not required to join an HOA, it is a choice. The choice to move into a neighborhood with an HOA, sign onto the contract, and obey the rules. The rest of us may not understand their zeal to be controlled, but we don't interfere with the choice either. They have designed a mini-government that meets their needs.

Military service members, by voluntarily enlisting, leave behind the civilian code and embrace the UCMJ, which is a separate justice system (though they intersect and interact of course), and certainly a separate system of regulation.

Those joining a religion also voluntarily join a quasi-government, with its own rules and regulations. Catholics for example have rules around who can join in the sacraments and who can be married.

These are all forms of government, except with consensual interference and nannying. Hell, voluntary associations are Constitutionally protected for a reason.

The only problem is that those who want to be nannied by a secular civil government, want the rest of us to be treated like infants too.

That's the problem.

If the government minimalists (like you and I) had our way, we'd have a minimal federal government. The individual states would be more like tiny countries, with different levels of interference, different taxes, different laws etc. Those of us who want to be left alone would gravitate towards states with minimal interference; the rest could gravitate towards the nanny states. That's how we would solve the problem.

Not coincidentally, that's how the founders intended our country to be, and that's how our constitution is written (if, sadly, not how it is followed).

Unfortunately, many states would then become like Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. All 3 states are becoming Californicated as unhappy residents of Cali leave the conditions but keep the ideology that made the conditions in the first place.

I'm more than happy to leave everyone else alone. Unfortunately the pro-government control freaks are not content to leave us alone. Their "peace of mind" absolutely REQUIRES all of us to be as controlled... or really MORE controlled... than they are.

In fact, many of them believe that our mere desire for freedom, and a lack of government interference, PROVES just how much more we need to be controlled than they, the "civilized" and "enlightened" do.

What's the solution? I really have no idea. Every civilization trends towards interference, we're not exactly the first. Last time we solved the problem by moving to a new country and fighting a war; this time it won't be so simple. There isn't any place left to go to...

The only way we can ever go back is to get enough of a majority to reverse centuries of damage to the system. The only way to accomplish that is to convince our friends and neighbors that less government is a good thing, and for them to act accordingly.

Yes, and if wishes were horses...

I do see a bit of hope in technology though, and oddly enough in the attempts of the Greenies.

Currently most people are dependent on government and well... dependence to live their lives at the level they have become accustomed to. Electricity is regional and generated in bulk so we all share the same supplies. Water is too, as well as phone connections, internet, cable... nevermind that most jobs are to be found in urban centers. Food is grown or raised on huge farms and delivered to regional centers. Mass transit is still cheaper than operating a car (on an individual basis anyway), and less stressful in urban centers. Those of us who have cars are dependent on gas stations, which are dependent on long supply chains.

All of this, well, togetherness (and I don't mean that in a good way), encourages dependence on everyone else and dependence on government to keep the peace and make sure no one gets screwed over by their neighbors. And to enforce standards. And keep traffic moving. And, and, and...

My hope is, that with distributed technologies, and efficiencies in transportation; much of that is changing.

More and more jobs are mental, not physical, enabling telecommuting (at least in theory). The price of individual electricity generation is dropping precipitously. Wireless phone coverage is expanding, keeping those in rural areas in the loop. Internet can be delivered wirelessly. Satellite TV keeps getting cheaper. Amazon offers memberships where you can pay one fee a year and get free 2-day shipping. Netflix. Apple TV. HD TVs and high-end entertainment centers are more comfy than the theatres.

The cost of operating a vehicle? Dropping every day. Cross-country travel? Not a problem.

Oh, and the Greenies are pushing a "return" to family farming and energy dependence, as well as biodiesel. Between organic gardening, solar cells, wind turbines, hydroelectric, and water catchment and recycling we're fast approaching a time where family could supply much of their needs on their own rural property (if they had a couple acres per family member anyway).

Soon no one will have to be tied to landlines, cable, city water and sewer, or huge utilities. The cost of biodiesel converters is rapidly dropping while efficiency is improving, and every gardener has waste of one form or another to convert. Gas stations may eventually become obsolete.

Once we don't HAVE to live close together to have all the "modern conveniences", and technological independence is possible, how many will opt for independence? How many, upon experiencing independence, will take kindly to government interference? How much more intrusive will government become if we aren't so easy to find anymore, not as dependent, and we have to be hunted down?

That right there is basis for a new revolution; and my hope is that it will be both a successful one, and require no (or no more) bloodshed.

Maybe there is hope after all.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Leave Us the Hell Alone

I've been in an incredibly foul mood the last couple of days, and until this morning I did not understand why.

We're planning on moving to where we actually want to be. We're constantly being asked why we want to move to the middle of nowhere. I tell everyone, "because I feel hemmed in and trapped." Almost no one understands what I mean. Until this morning I could not explain the feeling of being a rat in a cage. Now I can.

This morning I woke up on my "don't remove the tag" mattress, walked through my building code compliant house, used the federally compliant toilet, dressed the kids and drove them to their "state certified" charter school where they'll eat a state approved lunch.

I got back in my state registered, emissions compliant, insured (by state requirement) car and drove the legal speed limit back to the house. I then walked through my Scottsdale code compliant yard (no weeds in our "desert" landscaping")into the house, drank pasteurized (USDA required) juice, and ate cereal processed in an inspected facility with milk from an USDA compliant dairy. I then took my FDA approved prescription pills (from a licensed pharmacy of course) and played with the state-licensed dogs.

I took a call on my federally taxed cell phone (instead of the federally taxed land line), stopped by our FDIC insured bank (which received TARP money that it didn't want and is not allowed to pay back), and drove along city streets (paid for by sales and property taxes) to the closest Costco (which has a business license of course and pays mandated worker's comp). I bought beef franks made from inspected beef in an inspected facility, buns made in an OSHA compliant factory, and a gallon of Frank's in an approved plastic bottle.

All of this before 10:15 am.

This is not restricted to me of course. This is normal daily life for the vast majority of Americans. Almost everything we do is touched by one agency or another.

In preparation for moving I've been researching what I want to do with the land. We want to build our own house and outbuildings and drink our own water and make our own electricity.

In order for this to work we have to:
  • Buy land with the proper zoning.
  • Wait for the required escrow to be completed.
  • Apply for building permits and well permits.
  • Possibly apply for a zoning variance in order to raise a wind turbine.
  • Build code-compliant buildings.
  • Wire the electricity according to code.
  • Pay sales tax on all materials used.
My biggest dream is to grow an orchard, plant some vegetables and grains, and raise our own milk and meat. In order for this to happen we have to
  • Buy only trees that can be delivered to the correct state (as decided by each state's government).
  • Use only approved pesticides (like we could buy anything else).
  • Buy a tractor (with applicable state tax).
If we find ourselves with an excess of food and would like to sell it we have to
  • Apply for a license.
  • Obtain a tax i.d. number.
  • Collect sales tax.
  • Label the goods according to code.
  • Submit to random inspections of the dairy operation.
  • Submit to random inspections of the meat process.
  • In order to sell prepared foods (like jams) submit to inspections of the "commercial" kitchen (which cannot be used to prepare the family's food).
  • Pay sales tax on all goods and materials used.
In order to set up the business properly, we have to
  • Apply for a business license.
  • Obtain a tax i.d. number.
  • Obtain permission from the state to use the name.
  • Collect sales tax.
God forbid we deal with the local fauna. We plan on moving in an area thick with moose and wolves, but in order to hunt we have to obtain
  • A hunting license.
  • A controlled-hunt tag for the moose (if we're lucky enough to get one).
  • Forget about the wolves, they're "protected".
Should we need to protect our livestock from the moose or wolves we are allowed to dispose of the threat, but we must
  • Inform game and fish.
  • Turn the carcass over to the state.
If we use firearms to dispose of the threat, we must
  • Use a "legal" firearm (as determined by the NFA and ATF).
  • If we choose to use a suppressor (because of dogs, horses, and our own hearing) we must pay the stamp.
This doesn't even account for all of the hoops the realtor and the vendors have to go through.

All of this instead of
  • Pay for property. Make contract with owner.
  • Build.
  • Dig well.
  • Wire.
  • Buy tractor.
  • Plant.
  • Sell food.
  • Sell services.
  • Protect livestock.
No wonder I feel trapped. I can't do a single thing with my own property that doesn't involve one government agency or another (or several). I feel like a rat being funneled through a maze, and I am cognizant of the danger that someone will block off the exit. It's my claustrophobia writ large.

This is just wrong. I'm a grown woman. Why does the government have to meddle in all of my affairs? Why do I have to jump through hoops just to accomplish the most simple things in life?

It's all about power and control. Always has been always will be.

I'm sure in the beginning the encroachment began with simple things. After all, isn't the government supposed to protect our rights? Isn't having a dedicated police force, justice system, military, etc. worth a little in taxes?

Then a little more encroachment. Who can disagree with a little tax to pay for state roads? That's entirely reasonable, right?

Then enforcement of standards. Who can disagree with licensing teachers? Making sure underage kids can't marry?

Then the panics set in. Contaminated meat? The government should "do something" so it won't happen again! E coli? Pasteurize EVERYTHING!

Of course, the NIMBY'S added their own input. Nuclear power plant? Not in my backyard! Enforce zoning so I won't have to worry about it! Require my neighbor to clean up their yard so my house values don't go down!

Then the lobbyists. Require farm inspections and multiple hoops so small farmers give up and "our big backers don't have competition". Give into the "green" lobby so they don't pull their campaign contributions.

Of course there's always the pure tax whores. "It's just a little reasonable fee. On everything. You want to pay your share, right?"

Of course all of this gets codified into law, and the ultimate persuasive tactic is put into play.

"You don't want to be a criminal, do you? You don't want to go to prison, do you?"

This is exactly how we went from a system in which the government's job of protecting our rights to a system where government determines WHO is ALLOWED to trample on our rights.

Well I have a message for all you busybodies, bureaucrats, rent-seekers, and whored-out legislators.


Get out of my contracts.

Get off of my land.

Leave my property alone.

Stay the hell out of my bedroom.


And everyone else's for that matter.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

State Certified, Grade A, Number 1 Cripple

So I went to the doctor today.

He was very unhappy with stuff I was telling him, and he sent me for tests right then. I had a bunch of blood tests and xrays immediately (six of the damn big vials. Had to get two sticks, AND I need to go back tomorrow twice, for morning and evening hormone level tests. I was already fasting because I expected a fasting blood test). I also had an EKG, an O2 sat test and a couple others, right in the office.

The blood isn't back yet, but the doc is deadnuts sure I have either a thyroid problem, a testosterone deficiency, or both.

He's pretty sure I DON'T have diabetes, but he's testing for that as well (I AM overweight, and I have a family history on both sides).

The X-Rays ARE back, and they're bad. Way worse than we thought. I have basically no cartilage left in either knee, and the arthritis is advanced further than we thought. I may have no choice but bi-lateral TKR, which is what I've wanted to avoid.

So the doctor gave me a nice piece of paper, and I took it to a nice bureaucrat (Actually, she really was very nice), and now I have myself one of these:

After the blood gets back, he's going to give me some cortisone directly into the knees, possibly some steroid therapy, and likely testosterone and thyroxine supplementation.

After we get the rest of the test results back he's likely to give me a referral to an orthapedist, and an orthapedic surgeon.

The good news is, my EKG is great, my blood pressure is fine, and he's pretty sure I don't have diabetes.

Piston Slap

Got a question on a forum this morning, and I thought I'd share it, and my answer, here.

"I'm thinking about buying a piston AR, specifically the Ruger 556. Anyone know anything about them?"

Well, I haven't shot one, but I got a good chance to handle it; plus I got about a 20 minute interview with the chief designer, and the head of the production line on the project; at the NRA convention earlier this year (unfortunately my recorder had a mic malf, and I could barely hear them over the crowd noise on the recording, so I couldn't run a transcript).

My take, is that it's pretty much like every other piston AR, but less expensive. They're sourcing all their standard parts, from the standard manufacturers; they took the time to get the non-standard engineering right; and it looks well made, to a higher standard of fit and finish than most other Rugers.

I also got to talk with Michael Bane a while about the gun. He had taken it out and tested it a couple days earlier; and they put 1500 rounds through it without a malf. It shot well, but like all piston AR's the recoil felt different, and it wasn't QUITE as accurate as a conventional AR would be (a couple percentage points difference).

If you want a piston AR, and don't feel like paying Leitner-Weise (or later this year HK) their rather significant premium, then it should be a good choice; but as was said, wait a couple months and see how they shakeout in the field. Ruger has had some issues with early production run guns lately and it would be wise to let other people experience those problems before you jump in.

Two years ago I would have also thrown POF into the mix, but reports are that they are having some production issues right now, and may be having some cracking and failures in action. Until those settle out, I'd stay away.

POF is actually local to me, and I know a couple of the POF guys read my blog on occaison, so if y'all feel like commenting, go for it. I'd love to hear that you're sorted out.

Of course there's a larger question you have to ask: Are you sure you want to pay the premium at all for a piston AR?

No evidence has shown that a piston AR is any more reliable than a conventional AR of equivalent quality, fit, and finish. The only real improvement is that they are easier to detail clean, and you don't necessarily have to do it as often.

You all know how I feel about cleaning a service rifle. You shoot, you clean. You move, you clean. You breath funny, you clean. So increased cleaning intervals don't mean much to me; but there is a slight advantage there in being easier to clean.

Lord knows I would be happy to have a rifle where I can get a pipe cleaner through the gas port without risking getting something jammed in the gas tube an buggering the whole thing up; and if I never have to clean carbon out of a gas key or bolt recess again, that would be great.

On the minus side, they are much more expensive, considerably more mechanically complex (which is a REDUCTION in reliability. More moving parts to fail), and somewhat less inherently accurate (more moving parts means more reciprocating mass, more vibrations, more disturbances etc...)...

Oh and they're all a bit heavier than an equivalent conventional AR, and most of them get a LOT hotter under the handguards a lot faster (and don't dissipate that heat as fast) in rapid fire than conventional ARs do (hot enough to induce failures in some cases).

'Course I've had a gas tube disintegrate on me before as well, so it's not like conventional AR's are without fault in that department.

Actually, there is one other point in favor of the piston systems: If they have an adjustable gas regulator, you can adjust the timing better for your conditions and configurations (direct impingement systems can sue adjustable gas regulators as well, but to lesser effect).

Because of that, they'll tend to function better in extremely dusty environments, or with extremely dirty or inconsistent ammo; and you can adjust to compensate for barrel length, your load (high pressure 77gr vs subsonic loads for suppressors for example), or if you're going to use a suppressor (suppressors foul gas systems very easily, and often do not cycle gas actions reliably).

That point right there could make them worth it all by themselves.

Unfortunately, not all piston ARs HAVE an adjustable gas system, and some of those that do (including the SR-556) have it as "open, 50%, closed"; which is still an advantage, but less of one than a fully adjustable system would be.

Of course, in a field rifle, you don't want something fiddly, or prone to backing out, or difficult to adjust in the dark, with gloves on... so it's a tradeoff. On balance, it's still useful to have.

Overall, I'd call the SR-556 a good rifle buy, once it's been in the market for a while, and the kinks have been worked out. Oh and I'd like to see more options and more configurations like other AR makers offer. This being Ruger though, I think they may be going for simplicity of production more than tactical Barbie.

At the $1500 to $1700 price point the SR-556 is at (or will be at once full production capacity is reached, initial demand lessens, and the Obama hoarding is completely over), I think it's probably worth buying over a conventional AR of similar configuration. Realistically, you're only paying, at most, a $400 premium (and generally, much less than that) over a similarly configured conventional AR, when you count the rail system, sights etc...

As far as the other piston rifles go, I just think they're too expensive for what you're getting. LWRC, POF, and HK all make very good rifles (yes, really, even with the current problems the POF's have in general been very good); but to me, not good enough to justify their premium pricing (all $2000 or more, fully equipped), now that a lower cost alternative is available.

Honestly, if I'm going to spend LWRC kind of money, I would rather spend it on a Wilson or a Noveske, or something similar; and get a much better conventional AR.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Works as advertised I guess...

Hmmm... I remember them announcing this a while back as "the toughest flashlight in the world" or some such, and thinking "How good can it be, it's made by energizer?"

Apparently quite good, and since woot has it for $20 at the moment, I think I'll snag one just for the heck of it. It's not like I have enough flashlights (it's not actually possible to have enough flashlights).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dammit, still working on it

It's one of those pieces that wont let anything else get finished before it is.

Now I've got like three others backed up behind it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Big piece in the offing

So I've been writing a huge piece all week. I hoped to finish yesterday but work kinda gets in the way.

I'm trying to finish it tonight.

It's like he's reading my mind

I actually had this discussion just this morning:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Thing that Ate Cleveland, Ate Itself Yesterday

A few months back I mentioned I was getting a new laptop under warranty replacement from HP; an HDX18 to be specific.

Well, the last month or two, the sucker has been running hot...real hot... uncomfortably hot. So hot that sometimes when running I couldn't touch the bottom of it.

Now, that isn't necessarily a replacement issue; lot's of laptops run very hot. So I got one of those little laptop cooler stands, and soldiered on.

Then the heat killed the fingerprint sensor... but I didn't want the bother of dealing with another replacement so I didn't call it in. After all I really don't care about the fingerprint sensor.

Then the heat started making the backlight on the screen get dimmer, and killing my battery life. I could actually feel the heat through the closed screen.

Ok at that point I was saying "damn I need to call HP and get this thing replaced"... but I still didn't want to deal with it again. This would be the third new laptop in less than a year, and it's WEEKS of being unproductive until I get things sorted right the way want them...

Finally, in the last couple days, the soft buttons (they're touch sensitive and backlit bits, like on apple products, but there's no physical button) stopped working, and the wifi started shutting itself off; and it started crashing.

Then yesterday while I was trying to back the thing up, kablooey. The hard drive started click of deathing me.

It's dead Jim.

That particular time, it got so hot that the part of the case by the main heat sink vent actually bubbled and charred a bit.
HP is sending out a mailer for it shortly it looks like it's going to be a total write-off and I'll end up with a "new" (more likely remanufactured) machine.

Now I need to figure out how bad the data corruption was, and how long it was going for, because some of the files I thought were cleanly back up definitely were not, starting from more than a month ago. It looks like I may have lost a TON of work, pictures, research, and other important crap that I thought I had copied safely elsewhere.

Not the first time I was an idiot and didnt verify my backups. Made worse by the fact that I replaced my storage array about two months ago, and haven't been doing my regularly automated backups since (I haven't bothered to reconfigure them for the new array).

I've got to do that tonight, or tomorrow.

Every June through September...

Oh how well do I know this situation.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I Keel Yew Indeed

funny pictures of dogs with captions
see more dog and puppy pictures

Gee, that looks familiar. I don't know where I've ever seen a scene like that...

Oh yeah. At the house. For the past week and a half.

Take one 2 year old Rottweiler/Pitbull mix, all 130 muscular pounds of him. Add one 10 week old Rottweiler/Coonhound mix, all 10 pounds of her.

Of course in her mind, she's not 10 pounds. She's 100 pounds of spunk in a little bitty body. So she throws herself at Jayne, pouncing and barking and yipping. Jayne puts up with it very good-naturedly and sometimes goads her into it.

So they get into play fights where she leaps 3 times her body length and he barely moves his head and gets his mouth on her neck. They think this is great fun.

However, when she tries to get away that mouth on her neck turns into a hold on her collar. Yes, Jayne has figured out he can drag the puppy back to him with a hold on her collar.

It's funny as all hell, and she soooooo deserves it.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Up for a major promotion at work

So, like the title says, I'm up for a major promotion at work.

My boss is going to retire next year; and between then and now, he's being moved into a position to focus on strategic architecture and special projects.

Basically he's going to be his bosses personal architect and troubleshooter. He's already doing that, but because of changes in the division he has to split to one side or the other; and because he's retiring next year, his boss wants him to focus on the special projects rather than be the new manager.

They're doing this, because the role is expanding to encompass more staff and more responsibility. So it's effectively an entirely new position, and he's not going to be able to do the special stuff he's already doing, and be the manager at the same time.

We're going to probably increase the size of the group by 50% or more, and take over two whole new areas of responsibility, that will require new technologies, training, and expertise. We're also going to take a stronger role in the enterprise as a whole, driving more of the architecture for the whole company, and moving us more towards our strategic goals.

I would be moving from the lead of my team, to being the design, engineering, and architecture manager for the whole division; and we'd both be reporting to the guy who is now his boss (who is effectively the senior VP of the divison. He reports to a director who runs 5 divisions, who reports to the CIO).

Basically, I'd be going from 5 guys between me and the CEO, to 4 guys between me and the CEO; and from being the lead of 8 guys including me, to being the manager of 12 guys not including me.

The new job would be about a $20k pay bump, an increase in bonus to 20%, and a doubling of my annual stock options.

It would also be a lot more responsibility, a little bit of travel, a lot more BS etc... But I would get the chance to really help and protect my guys, and help move the organization where it should be.

I had my formal interview for the position this morning. It went very well. I've effectively been working directly for my bosses boss for a while now anyway, and he knows me very well. We have the same vision, goals, and ideas for the division, the group, and the position in question.

I've already got the relationships with all the other managers in the division, I know the players, I know the game; and none of the other applicants for the position do.

Importantly, he agrees with me that a drastic change in management would be very detrimental to our groups morale and productivity. Also, he knows that my guys want me to be their manager, and so do the other managers in the division (well... except for the two who actually applied for the job as well. Good guys, but I don't think they are the right choice)

The only negative factors are that I've technically only been a full time employee for a year and a half (I was a contractor for two and a half years before that); and the fact that I am VERY effective at my current job, and losing most of my time to management rather than being the lead architect I am now, would reduce the effectiveness of our team somewhat. Basically it's a little harder to promote me because he really needs me doing the job I'm doing. But we talked about that as well, and I think we've got a good solution for it.

So, I'm very confident in my chances. I should know in about two weeks.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Of life, and Death, and Music

I finally found a a YouTube video of this piece that I like. It is one of my favorite pieces of music, and I thought I would share it with you, and the story that goes along with it.

This one is going to get a bit esoteric, so if you have no interest, just listen to the pretty music.

Oh and all you folklore nuts, or gaelic nuts, I'm trying to render all these spellings, in english, and without using the extended character sets. Yes, they're going to be messed up, but I'm doing the best I can under those conditions, so don't nitpick.
Moving on...

"Sidhe Bheag an Sidhe Mhor", also rendered as "Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór", or phonetically as Sheebeg Sheemore (Gaelic accenting and pronunciation doesn't work well with English spelling), is an Irish lament; originally composed for Harp, by the great Irish harper and composer, Turlogh O'Carolan.

The piece refers to a battle in an oak grove between two hills, between two groups of the folk who live underhill, or "sidhe".

This is where things get a little more complicated. Most folks just say "it's about elves" and leave it at that, but there are no "elves" in celtic legend. In fact, the whole concept of elves is originally a Norse/German/Scandanvian thing.

It was Tolkien (himself a great student of celtic legend) who conflated the sidhe, with the elves, in popular culture. Prior to Tolkien, the popular culture (what of it there was. Tolkien essentially created the modern concept of elves) would have referred to them as the Fae, the Faerie, (both of which mean "fated ones") or the "Fair Folk" (which itself was actually an english corruption of Fae, taken because it had a double meaning, in that the Fae were pretty).

You may have heard sidhe referred to as "fairy mounds", and often the folk are themselves referred to as Sidhe, because they live underhill.

Underhill is the world of the folk; fair, dark, and dusky; of celtic legend. It is the realm under the fairy mounds, where magic rules; and time, and the physical laws of the mortal world do not apply... or at least not in the same way.

Some refer to the sidhe as elves, but that is both inaccurate (as I said above), and incomplete; because the folk underhill comprise dozens of different types, not just the fair folk.

If you think that the phonetics of it are similar to "Banshee", you're right. A Banshee is more properly referred to as a "Bean Sidhe", which simply means "a woman who lives underhill"; but obviously has taken on a more sinister aspect in legend.

In this case, O'Carolan is specifically writing of what most people think of as elves, but who the legends call the Tuatha De' Danaan (or the "children of Danae"), the Aes Sidhe (meaning the "high people who live underhil") or the "daoine sidhe" (meaning the "fair folk who live underhill"); but also of their allies, the other sidhe (the dark and dusky).

The "fair" are the Tuatha de' Danaan, who resemble humans, but are not. The others (their allies), are the "dark" and the "dusky"; those who live underhill, but are not as attractive or as ... evolved perhaps... as the fair folk. Peoples like the goblins, brownies, pixies, trolls, bogarts, etc...

The Tuatha De' Danaan split themselves into two courts. The courts are further divided into high, which consists of the daoine sidhe; and low, which consists of all the other folk underhill who ally themselves with the courts; as well as those of the lesser Fae, who are too weak in magic to sustain themselves, and must be tied to others, or to a place or source of magic.

On one side, are the "court of light", the "summer court", the "court of life". In some stories they are called "the blessed" or "Seleigh" (in Scots Gaelic spelled "seelie").

On the other side are the "court of darkness",  the "winter court", or "court of death", "court of the moon" "the court of chaos". They are also called the "the forsaken" (or the un-blessed), or the "Unseleigh".

Just because they are called life and death, or light and dark however, don't presume that that means they are "good and bad".

In the legends, the fae breed and age very slowly. They cannot replace their numbers lost with new as we can. They have magic and we do not, but our cold iron destroys their magic, and they die at its touch.

As humans our numbers, and our cold iron, drove the fae underhill in the first place; and they are ALL resentful of it. The Sidhe of legend may look fair; but they are not humans, nor do they have our interests at heart. Both light and dark use and abuse us, as well as give us great gifts. Both light and dark trick us or treat us. We are apart from them. However, the light, in general, have more scruple about permanent damage, and undue suffering. They do not generally make war on humanity, while the dark see us as... fair game.

The song relies on multiple meanings in pronunciation, for its title and part of its meaning. Literally, the title as "Si' Beag, Si' Mhor", would mean "Little Hill, Big Hill"; but because of the multiple meanings, cultural context, and shadings of pronunciation it can also be rendered as "Sidhe Beathe and Sidhe Mhorgh".

Beathe means "life". Mhorgh or Mhoragh (and again, the spelling here is impossible to transliterate) can mean several things including: spirtual darkness, wickedness, chaos, or temptation; "mean woman", "evil woman"; or a "woman of strife" "woman of war" or "woman of chaos" (one side of the battle are ruled by an "evil" queen).
A revelatory aside: Morag is also a traditional womans name in Scotland; and yes, it retains the original meaning(s). Tells you a lot about the Scots eh?
In this case, the title refers to the two courts of the fae, at war with each other.

The courts are at war for many reasons; but this battle in particular is about the status of the world outside of underhill, in particular over an oak grove.

In legends, there are magical oak groves, that can act as a font of power, or a focal point for forming a new realm underhill, and a foucs and source of power for the lesser fae to sustain their magic.

In the legend, the light court want the grove to remain as it is, unused. The dark court wish to take it for themselves, and create a new stronghold and bind lesser fae to it, which would increase their power, and better their position in the war.

The courts gathered at moonrise, high and low, light and dark. Some say they fought for three days, some just one; the light court faltering in the moonlight, and the dark faltering in the sun.

At dawn on the third day (or perhaps just at dawn), the light court drove the dark court from the field; the grove spared, but scarred, unusable for centuries; many dead from both courts on the ground.

The song, is the lament of the Seliegh bard, as they gather up their dead and wounded. He knows the Sidhe are dying out, and cannot last forever; that in fact this battle killed many more of their number than would have otherwise died in centuries... but he cannot weep for it with great passion. He is so old, and has seen so much, that he can only feel a kind of gentle melancholy, as they die.

I don't know about you, but knowing whats behind the song, changes it completely. It has a different depth, and feeling for me than had I not known.

Oh, and if you notice the similarity between this piece, and "Ashokan Farewell" (the theme from Ken Burns "civil war"), that is deliberate.

Traditional American folk music is largely Scots and Irish folk music (mostly harp, fiddle, pipe, and whistle) transposed to the fiddle, banjo, and guitar.

The composer of "Ashokan Farewell", Jay Ungar, wanted to compose a traditional American folk song, in waltz meter, in the style of a traditional Scottish lament; and certainly could not help but have been influenced by O'Carolan (as several of his pieces have been).

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

...and so proceed ad infinitum

"The Vermin only teaze and pinch Their Foes superior by an Inch. So Nat'ralists observe, a Flea Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey, And these have smaller Fleas to bite 'em, And so proceed ad infinitum"

--Jonathan Swift

My regular readers might have noted, that I've been oddly silent on various issues lately. I haven't commented on the many abuses of the Obama administration; or the general political crap going on right now. I havent talked about Obamacare.. or really anything about politics in weeks.

There's a simple reason for that: I've already said it all. These are all just the same collectivist, authoritarian, evil fantasy ideology over and over again.

Each abuse, each bit of stupidity, each bootheel... they've all sprung from the same source; and I've spent the better part of the past five years denouncing that source, at great length, and varying degrees of vituperation.

Simply put, I've said it before, and doing so again would be redundant.... and frankly I'm tired of saying "I told you so"... and really, I'm just tired.