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and things went downhill from there
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7th-May-2017 03:59 pm - Frustration
Please Sir May I have Some More
The basement file server has been driving me to drink lately. It was rock solid when I was running it under Windows 7, but when I upgraded it to 10 (to try and address some network issues between it and the upstairs machines), it became unreliable. The networking is rock solid now, but the basement machine has issues.

It would run for about a week at a time before locking up and requiring a power cycle. I did some clean-up and repair, and got it to the stage where it could go for about two weeks at a time, but unless it was restarted in that time, it would eventually die again.

One of the last fixes I did was to set up a reboot script to restart the machine every Sunday morning. Yesterday the machine was working fine, and this morning I had to trek down to the basement to restart it. When I checked the logs, I saw that it had not restarted this morning like it was supposed to. I checked the schedule I had set up, and I caught my mistake there - I had not given it sufficient permissions to run when nobody is logged into the machine. I changed the settings, and I'll look in on it again next Sunday.

The issue seems to be one of resource exhaustion. A small handful of services are slowly chewing up the system resources until it does not have enough left to create a login session. I did a bit more Googling this morning, and I discovered that the swUSB process I had assumed was a Windows process is actually part of the drivers for the RealTEK LAN device I'd had hooked up to the machine when we first set it up. I was using that device until sometime after the swap to Windows 10, and I am thinking its drivers did not like the update.

I replaced it with a better ASUS device awhile back, but I guess I neglected to uninstall the RealTEK drivers. A couple of sources I read mentioned that their driver had a serious memory leak, and since it is one of the culprits that always comes up when the system runs out of resources, it was an easy hit.
Resource Exhaustion

Another process that keeps coming up in the list of resource-hogs is SMSvcHost.exe. It is a legitimate service (I checked to make sure it hadn't been replaced by a Trojan), but when I poked around at what it does, it did not seem especially critical. I have disabled the service for now to see what kind of an impact that has, but so far I have not noticed any difference. If I start seeing errors and warnings in the system logs about it, I'll turn it back on.

On a completely unrelated note, while I was puttering around the house this morning, I got to mulling on old friends I had in the Lion King fandom community back in the day, and it occurred to me that I have lost touch with all but a few of them. Some of them were very talented writers, and we would often bounce our stories off each other for comments and critique. One writer was a giant in the community, whose fan fictions spawned a whole genre of fan fictions of their own. When I say "he", it was actually a collaborative team. This one writer did most of the work, but he often paired up with others in the fandom to produce the stories.

I was never a huge fan of his work, but I was also not his target audience. They were very popular with the 13-21 age group, in part because each of his stories was as much an emotional roller-coaster as it was a tale. While I admired his work, and never really begrudged him his popularity... well, ok. Maybe a bit, but who isn't a bit jealous of the popular kids now and then? Anyway, I always felt that his writing was top quality, but I also found it to be somewhat manipulative. He was a master of wresting emotion out of his readers.

Anyway, he started on a fairly ambitious writing project with a mutual friend, and as he went, he often sent me chapters to review. For some reason he respected my opinion. For the most part I did not have much feedback, other than pointing out areas where the prose became a bit too purple, or minor issues like confused attributions and the like.

Then there was the chapter.

He sent me several chapters to read through, and I dutifully read through them, making minor notes, suggesting small revisions, and rolling my eyes at obvious emotional tugs here and there. Then I got to the chapter where he excruciatingly killed off one of the main characters in a very long, emotional orgy of sadness. I could tell that he had poured a lot into this chapter, because it really stood out from the others he had written. He had obviously given it a lot of thought. It looked like the chapter he had been waiting to write.

The problem was that it did not fit. It seemed to have no place in the story other than to make the readers sad. Other than that character falling out of the story from that point forward, nothing changed. It did not inspire any action on any of the others in the story, nor did it even affect the overall plot. Everybody else in the story continued on as if nothing had happened, other than expressing their sadness that the character's passing once or twice in the next couple of chapters.

When I gave him feedback, I fear that I may have been a bit too ruthless. I told him that the chapter was wonderfully written, but that it was just an interlude of pointless pathos. I asked him to explain its purpose in the story, and pointed out that if the chapter did not exist, the story would not actually change at all. He offered up some justifications for the chapter, and I pulled out the passive-aggressive card and said, "Well, it's your story; include or exclude it as you choose. You asked for my opinion, and I gave it."

In the end, he removed the chapter, but I think it hurt him to do it. I do feel a bit bad about that in retrospect, since it didn't really hurt anything by being in there, and I can't help thinking that I overstepped a bit by calling him on it. He stopped sending me stories for feedback after that. I guess I can't really blame him.
6th-May-2017 10:52 am - Winnipeg Rye
Masturbatory Mood
Somebody posted a question to a local forum recently, asking why rye bread is so popular in Winnipeg.

I had not given it much thought, but it occurs to me that I eat far more rye bread now than I did before I moved here. In fairness, the most popular form of rye bread here is not the type of bread that I associated with it when I was growing up. I always pictured rye bread as something close to pumpernickel, with caraway seeds in it. Winnipeg-style rye is actually very light, and baked in a manner that makes for good toast, but awkward sandwiches.

Winnipeg Rye

One poster in the forum suggested that sandwiches made with rye bread are popular here because folks wouldn't live in Winnipeg at all if they did not like a challenge. It's hard to argue with that.

The population here is anecdotally divided along cultural lines when it comes to their choice of rye bread as well, with the Jewish community favouring it from one bakery, and the Ukrainian community preferring it from another. There is a third major bakery in the background jumping and waving and calling, "hey, we make it too!" Other than the shape and size of the loaves, I cannot tell much difference between the bread produced by the three major players here, though I was not born here, so my opinion on the matter is tempered by being a recent arrival versus people born into the rye situation.

While Winnipeg rye is the predominant player in the market here, there are obviously other styles available as well. Many breakfast places will give you marble rye if you order rye toast in the morning, and some of the fancier restaurants will sneak dark rye into the complementary bread plates they serve before a meal. One long-established steak house has their own in-house dark rye with a salted crust that [personal profile] atara and I both really like.

On a broader note, Winnipeg has a few cuisines that - while not unique - are an integral part of the local dining experience. If I was going to list five foods that I consider integral to the Winnipeg culture, just off the top of my head I would list:
Winnipeg Rye
Honey Dill Sauce

As a fun footnote, if you happen to visit Winnipeg and want to get a group of people into an argument, ask them how to spell "Perogies" or "Koubasa".
3rd-May-2017 10:55 pm - I may have to dust off my wallet
Somewhat Pleased Mood
One of the hardest things for me in moving from Livejournal to Dreamwidth has been giving up the bulk of my user avatars. That's not to say that I have bailed on LJ. I thought about it, and to my mind, the worst case is that they end up nuking my account. The vast bulk of my posts there were public postings, so if the new Russian owners decide to scan my journal for their own purposes, there is little they will find there that they will not also find here, or on a Google search of my on-line handle.

But I digress.

The point of this post was to whine about how I only have fifteen avatars available on a free account here. That's enough, or at least it should be enough. I think that I am spoiled from having close to 150 of them available at my fingertips over on the other journal service, even if I only used a dozen of them regularly. It was nice having the weird ones available, like when I wanted to post with the avatar of a baby smoking a cigarette, or a plastic nun with sparks shooting out of her mouth.

I have read that people can become paralysed by too much choice. [personal profile] atara and I became gripped by this phenomenon when we were shopping for a new television, and we spent months researching the best set before heading down to the store and staring helplessly at a wall of screens with such minuscule differences in specifications between them as to effectively be the same model over and over. We were intimidated into inaction by the illusion of too many options in a situation where there were very few choices of consequence.

I guess what I am saying is that I want to have the option of poring over a sea of avatars before picking one of the usual three that I tend to use.

I might buck up for a paid account here.
2nd-May-2017 10:15 am - CONNECT ALL THE THINGS
Hipster Mood
There is this disparaging, ironic term that used to get tossed around a lot a few years ago, but has fallen a bit out of fashion; first world problems. I encountered one of these in the wild today on a sous vide forum.

A user in the forum posted the sad saga of how his iPhone keeps disconnecting from his Anova cooker, and he has to switch to his iPad if he wants to use the remote app.

Oh no. Of all possible things, this is the worst … thing … ever.

For those who are not familiar with the process, an immersion cooker is a (usually) small appliance that cooks food in a slow, precise way. Typically you vacuum seal the food in a bag, and then immerse it in a temperature-controlled water bath for a few hours. It is the very essence of "set and forget" cooking.

There are a myriad of important uses for an iPhone app connected to your immersion cooker. It can tell you if the cooker is turned on, and if it is maintaining the temperature to which you set it. This can be very important if, say, you forgot that you turned it on, or at what temperature you set it, and you happened to fire up the app on a whim and were all like, “Oh no, my immersion cooker is turned on and its holding the temperature at 145°. How could this have happened?”

I suppose it would not hurt me to spare some sympathy for somebody who can’t use a (mostly) pointless app – though the fact that it works on his iPad hints that the problem might not actually lie with the appliance. I should check the shoes forum to see if anyone is complaining that their iLaces app keeps losing connectivity with their shoes, and they are tripping because it does not warn them that their shoes have come untied.
28th-Apr-2017 04:52 pm - Enigma wrapped in a mystery
Trying to be cute
I was filling in some details on a data dictionary for a co-worker for whom I’d built a data extractor. For the most part that just involved going down the column names, identifying the data types, and giving a brief explanation on what the data represented.

While I am used to a lot of our industry acronyms (SCAC, FSAC, SPLC, etc), I took the time to expand them out for her in the explanations (“Standard Carrier Alpha Code”, “Freight Station Accounting Number”, “Standard Point Location Code”, etc). All was well until I got to a number that we use internally for referencing trains within our integrated operating plan.

The number has always had an odd name, and I have always assumed that the name was an acronym for something. The system that uses it has been in place for the past 25 years ( remember when it came online back in ’92), but even though I have always known what the number was for, it occurred to me that I never knew what it was short for.

As I started asking around, it became clear that nobody else know either.

It may be that the only people who could tell us if this was an arbitrary name, or an acronym are either retired, or dead. I have a couple more long-shots that I am going to pursue on Monday to see if they can answer the question, but I have a hunch this will remain a mystery until the day I retire. Technically I’ve become one of the old-timers at the railway who is supposed to know these kinds of things.

And I don’t know. I guess this gives me the opportunity to make something up…
It is possible that I have spoken of this in the past, but [personal profile] atara has accused me of repeating myself on more than one occasion, so if this is a repeat, then know that it comes naturally to me.

Any time I get sucked into a community, I invariably get sucked into the writing side of the community. At various points over the years I have written stories based on Dungeons and Dragons, Star Trek, The Lion King, Furry, and My Little Pony. Since I consider myself to be a moderately better-than-average writer, I will sometimes roll up my sleeves and jump in to help other writers who are still learning the craft. This can take the form of giving helpful critique, all the way to actually doing rudimentary editing for somebody if they are especially receptive to help, and are taking the assistance to heart.

I have my biases, but I try to avoid steering people toward the way that I would write something, and just stick to steering them away from stylistic pitfalls and rookie mistakes.

One mistake that is surprisingly common among beginning writers is changing tense during the story. Their narration swings between past and present tense without it being relevant to the story. Most writers seem to be surprised when I point it out to them, often claiming that I was the first to notice it. How could one not notice? Another common mistake is switching speakers in mid-paragraph, often without changing attribution. Maybe the rules have changed since I was taught, but I learned that any time the speaker changed, you started a new paragraph. One of the benefits of this is that even if you did not attribute the new speaker, the paragraph break gives a clue that it may have changed. Finally, there are writers who switch the narrative voice throughout the story. They will jump from first person to third and back for no reason other than that they forgot which voice they were using between writing sessions.

Does nobody ever go back and re-read their own work?

Stylistic pitfalls are a messier subject, because that starts to tread into the territory of, "This is just how I write." While there is nothing technically wrong with some of the styles, I have noticed that they are often popular with novice writers. I recognize some of them from my early writing, and I owe a debt to a friend who helped break me of some of the habits.

One that I see often is staccato writing. The author uses really short sentences. The sentences are all grammatically correct. They are all strung together into a story. The story will have a character. He walks to the table. He picks up a book. He reads the book. He puts it back. He walks to the door. He opens the door. He goes outside.

I think you can probably see the problem. The story never gets a chance to develop much of a flow, and it becomes fatiguing to read.

Another style that I see fairly regularly is what I call the witness testimony style of writing. This happened, and then that happened, and then they went over there, and then that happened, and then he said this, and then he did that, and then... I started counting the uses of "then" in one story, and hit fifteen by the end of the second paragraph. As with my first example, it is not technically wrong, but it flows badly, and is very dry to read.

Two more styles that I often see with beginning writers are where every line is a combination of dialogue and action. Usually the story alternates between each of the characters in the scene, with each one taking a turn to say something, and then do something. The other style is what I call the Superman narrative. Virtually the whole story is told through narration by the characters. It's a style better suited to old radio plays than a written story.

"Why are you walking over to that table and grabbing the gun?" said the professor.
"I plan to shoot you, of course. See? Look at how I am pointing it at you and pulling back the hammer," said the mobster.
"Are you mad? Can't you see that I am just sitting here at my desk writing down formulas and smoking a cigar? Clearly I post no threat to you," said the professor.
"And now you pose even less of a threat as I have unloaded three bullets into you," said the mobster.

Finally, there are the writers who combine many of the above with a need to find their own voice by playing with conventional style.

"I am going to write my entire story in future perfect tense!"

The problem with picking a weird tense (even present), is that writing in past tense just comes naturally, and the writers invariably slip in and out of past tense as they are writing. My advice to them is usually to try and master the easy stuff before they start trying to stretch their skills.

I think the worst are the ones who decide they are going to write in second person. I don't know why anybody would write in second person other than when they are writing an instruction manual, or a "build your own adventure" story. Yet in my experience in some writing circles, this is a strangely popular thing among younger writers, and goes over remarkably well with some of the younger readers. I do not find second-person stories to be the least bit immersive, and in fact they often come across to me as slightly insulting. I don't appreciate a story that tries to tell me what I am doing, or thinking, or feeling.

My response to the author boils down to, "You seem to think you know me, but you don't. Please stop writing with the misguided conceit that you do."

A lovely day to get out in #winnipeg. #kildonanpark was busy.
9th-Apr-2017 10:43 pm - Moving in slow motion
Unless I have buggered up the settings again, this post should automatically cross-post to both LJ and Dreamwidth. I will keep posting to both for as long as my LJ account remains active (I don't tend to delve into the kind of politics that would get my account banned by their new TOS), but DW is my new backup plan, and probably my long-term future plan as well. Once I start building up a bigger network of friends over there I am probably going to spring for a paid account.

I have about a half-dozen posts to just LJ that I thought were posting to both sites, but I derped the settings in Semagic. I've fixed that now. I think. This is my test post to check that theory.

If you are still reading me here, and want to follow me over to DW as well, you can find me here.

I went for a walk last week and caught a couple of post-melt pictures. Other than some of the larger stacks, our snow is effectively gone now.

As I was walking past the cemetary, I barely spared it a second glance before I backpedalled a quarter of a block to capture this shot.
Watery grave
30th-Mar-2017 11:38 pm - Vacation and back.
Kinda bleah mood
I really feel like I should say something about takaza, but as usual atara has already said it more eloquently than I could. He was a wonderful individual who touched more lives than most of us would even hope to meet. He will be missed.

We returned earlier this week from a short vacation to Arizona, where we hooked up with atara's folks and uncle to take on some sights, and catch a couple of Cleveland Indians pre-season games. The weather was gorgeous for the whole trip, and the scenery in the parks we visited was lovely this time of year (much greener than I expect is the norm for that part of the country). We both enjoyed the trip, but we agreed that we are not in a huge rush to return to the land of god and guns1.

I took around 600 shots on the trip, but so far I've only procesed and posted about half a dozen of them. I took well over one hundred pictures up on Kitt's Peak, but so far this is the only one I have to show for it - a turkey buzzard circling over the desert.

This is an example of what I meant when I said it was surprisingly green. I took this picture by pointing my camera out the window of the car while we were driving ~80KMH, but that gives you some idea of how pretty the parkland was once you got outside of Pheonix.

Down closer to Tucson, there was a desert museum that we took in. Big cats are not always the most cooperative subjects for pictures, but this lynx was being very photogenic.

For as much as we enjoyed the vacation, there were two definite low points. Obviously the first was the crushing news of takazas' death.

The other was a run-in with US Border Services. They had set up a roadblock on the highway to Kitt's Peak, and they were stopping all traffic heading back toward town. They had waved us through as we came the other direction, and we both assumed that we were probably white enough not to catch their eye. Sadly, when they asked where we were from on our return trip, we made the mistake of confessing that we were visiting from Canada, and that we were Canadian and dual-citizen respectively.

Tactical error.

The nice young man immediately demanded to see our papers so that we could prove our citizenship and show that we were in the country legally. We told him that we had left our passports back at the hotel because we had not anticipated crossing any international borders between Pheonix and Kitt's Peak. He lectured us about how they had every right to demand our papers, and he advised that we should carry them with us at all times. He managed to achieve a good mix of disparaging and magnanimous as he told us that, were he not such a kind person, he would detain us for not having our passports.

"Another guy, not as nice as me, would be perfectly within his right to roll you and hold you here for a few hours."

We'd mentioned to him that we were down visiting with our inlaws/parents who were travelling in the car behind us, but it apparently went in one side of his little head and out the other, because when he finally waved us through and they pulled up, one of the first things he told them after they self-identified as Americans was, "It seems you've got a car full of Canadians in front of you."

"Yes," said my in-laws, "they're travelling with us."

I love visiting the states, since I have a lot of friends and family down there, but the creepy "papers please" mentality that is sneaking into that society makes me a bit nervous about crossing the border lately.

1When we stopped at a viewing place on our way up Mount Lemmon, the sounds of nature had to compete with the stacatto crack and sputter of automatic weapons from a nearby shooting range. I was a bit nervous as we walked around the site and I noticed scars and pocks from stray bullets all around the nature viewing area.
20th-Mar-2017 09:53 pm - Fearless Leader
Challenging Mood
Our CEO toured the office today. Our GM led him and his small entourage past my desk at a brisk walk, waxing poetic about the marketing guys who sit in our little area of the office as they passed. Just as they were about to round the corner she waved generally in our direction and said, "And these are IT people who do some kind of support stuff."

I don't suppose I am really offended by it, as ignorant and dismissive as it was. I am just as happy to fly under the radar of the top brass.

We knew that he was coming, and she reminded us twice last week when she stopped over and implored us to clear our desks of any evidence that they are used for real work. The CEO likes clean desks. I don't know how he'd have been able to spot a messy desk at the speed she was dragging him through the office, but I guess once you get to that pay level you can pick out a zen bamboo from a blur in passing (we're not allowed any kind of plants in the office, and those little bamboos were specifically mentioned). Curiously, they had them in the break room and washrooms when we first moved into the new office, but I guess word must have got back to the top brass.

He was in town to hold a town hall. It was halfway across town, so I did not bother to attend. I had too much work to do, and I figured I could get the condensed version of it from all the folks around me who drove out to hear him. All I know of the meeting so far is that there was a fair contingent of unhappy folks from operations who were directing a lot of very pointed questions at him. Many of the questions centred around the systematic bullying and harrassment happening in the company at the moment, but the guy who was describing the events does not speak English as a first language, so it was hard to get a good description from him. I'll squeeze the others for more details when I see them tomorrow.

One of the marketing guys just got back from a stint of inspecing and repairing railcars (yes, they are forcing managers into doing that as well as being conductors and engineers). Thanks to the deep cuts by our previous CEO, we are desperately short in a lot of departments. He said that while he was out there, he was chatting with one of the mechanical department heads about the situation. They are trying to address the shortage, but word has gotten out about what a wretched place we are to work.

They put out calls to twenty applicants for interviews, with the idea of hiring 5-6 of them.

Only one person actually showed up.

I got curious, so I checked a couple of online listings where people can read about prospective employers. Our company had comments about it like, "The pay is good, but the morale is abysmal."
15th-Mar-2017 10:40 pm - 2 b or not 2 b
Somewhat Pleased Mood
No more 2 performances at Anthrocon. Not surprised.

I really liked his earlier stuff, because he was that sharp-tongue, mildly abrasive guy who said what we were all just thinking. He's still that same guy, but now he says what other people are thinking.

He's a very talented individual, and he's done some good things for the fandom. I'd like to think that he'll take this as an opportunity to shake up the tired schtick and turn that talent in a new direction.
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