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Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Link from Matcor Blog

I saw an interesting referrer in my visitor’s log today coming from www.matcor.blogspot.com. The name leapt out – Matcor is a cathodic protection and corrosion engineering company. I’ve previously seen them visit my site from their Doylestown office.

I visited the site – and have a lot of questions. It’s hosted on Blogspot, a free blogging service. Not exactly an auspicious launching site for a company. The posts start on 9 March 2007, and there are eight so far. Eight contributors are listed, but only two have posted – Bill Schutt and Ted Huck. Not surprising, as two of the other listed contributors have closed profiles in Blogspot, and the remaining four are employees of Gregory FCA Communications. One of the closed profiles is named visualchutzpah.com. The listed contact resolves to a gregoryfca.com email address. Their headlining RSS feed link still points to a test site, with the sole post in Latin. My Latin is pretty rusty, but a quick search lead to a disappointing result – apparently, it’s a 400 year old sample typesetting text.

I’m going to try real hard here not to speculate about what’s going on, to editorialize, or to render a critical opinion. If anything, I should welcome any effort by corrosion engineers to start blogging. As far as I can tell through my searches, I am (correction: was) the only blogging corrosion engineer out there! A little competition would make things more interesting, and motivate me.

So I punched a bunch of links to make sure I’d get noticed in their Sitemeter log (I prefer Statcounter.) Maybe, after I finish this post, I’ll VPN back to Medina and punch a bunch more to freak them out; if they can, and bother to, trace the source of their visits. I also get real techie cred, because their logs will show that I was running Linux when I stumbled across this.

But I can’t resist covering the basics. If you want to start a blog, for less than a hundred bucks you can buy a unique name, shared hosting for a year, upload WordPress and get started. But then I started counting the hours that I’ve investing in just searching for distinctive WordPress themes and useful plugins, learning how to customize them, learning how to create and manipulate images, finding visitor logging services and monitoring them, and then – web site optimization. All those hours, to a corporation, would be a major investment. Hell, I’ve made a major investment.

I guess my only beef is that they linked to me. Well, not that they linked to me, but that they did it so haphazardly. Their link goes straight to an old, relatively uninteresting post. If they really want to link to me as a corrosion blog, they should point here:

http://www.gregrperry.com/blog/category/corrosion-control/

Hmmm. Maybe this counts as a reason to start a separate blog using my corrosionengineer.net url.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control at 22:09 PST

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Monday, March 26th, 2007

Blogging, Employers, and Discretion

Today I got my first request from management, passed down through my supervisor, to remove content I had written that included information about my employer.

The request was not condemning, but firm. I was given a rationale as to why I should remove it, and I found myself agreeing with it. I had crossed the line. I flagged the post in question, and at least one other, as private – not available for public viewing – until I can figure out what to do about it. But it really has made me rethink my situation.

When I first started mentioning my employer, I was pretty down on the company. I’d just lost a supervisor whom I had really admired and respected, and it hurt. Yes, I was a little confrontational, and I had looked at the situation as an individual rights issue. Since then, my attitude has made a complete turn around. I’m seen significant improvements, and I’ve become excited about the changes and started to see good things ahead for the company, and real opportunities for me as well. I was even thinking that I need to put up a lot more positive-sounding posts about what was going on.

But it’s an incredibly fine line to write about your employer, even when you think you’re being supportive. I’ve already learned that you can make mistakes, reveal things that should not be revealed, when you write about family; and a good employer is like a family in so many ways. I could inadvertently disclose things that would be valuable intelligence for a competitor, or that could offend a coworker or a customer.

There’s a certain amount of hubris involved in blogging. It’s nice to hit the search engines and see yourself show up high in the results, and if the search terms include your employer’s name, it makes you feel a little more important than you actually are. But business is not about individual aggrandizement – business is about performing a service for compensation that includes a profit, which in turn provides an attractive return on investment for those that finance the operations. Individual fame is only important when it has market value.

I like writing about what I do, and that includes my work. I need to find a new way of including details about my work that will not compromise the company that I work for. I think there’s a way to do it, but I’ll have to consider it carefully. A blog is a double-edged sword in that everything you say becomes accessible to everyone. I think, in fact, that I am going to need to go back through my entire blog and delete all references to my company. I may even need to start a separate blog just to deal with professional issues. I hate the idea of compartmentalizing my life to that extent, but it might be the prudent thing to do. It’s a pity, because the whole point of corrosion engineering is to resist entropy – which is my theme for this blog. But I’ve been thinking about going back and reclassifying everything into new categories, anyway, and I should be able to accomplish all this in one fell swoop.

I guess my mother was right.

Your comments are solicited. Just click on the comments link below. If you really want to be anonymous, just leave an untraceable email, like “nobody@noneofyourdamnbusiness.com”. (Ha! that’s an actual domain! The correct way to make an untraceable email is to use a reserved domain, such as x@example.com or x@invalid.com.) I promise to respect your privacy and not try to trace you through your ip address or anything like that.

I’m going to tag this post with the name of my employer so that it shows up with all the other ones, and least until I get the chance to go back and purge my employer’s name from the entire blog.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control, Posts About Me at 21:39 PST

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Sunday, March 25th, 2007

Funny APoD

I had to laugh at today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day, NASA’s daily picture and “brief explanation written by a professional astronomer”, usually chock full of links. The picture was the famous 1972 pic of the Earth, as taken from Apollo 17. The write-up concludes:

… Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

“Potentially intelligent?” I’ve been trying to think of some snarky comment about that, but the more I thought about it, the more I tend to agree.

Posted by Greg as General Science, Society at 00:49 PST

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Saturday, March 24th, 2007

New Hotel in Honolulu

Because I dallied in booking my hotel in Hawai’i, the place that had been recommended to me by one of our other engineers, Derek, told me that they were full on the Friday and Saturday night in the middle of my planned two weeks.

So yesterday morning I checked out, went to work at MCBH Kaneohe Bay, and last evening, checked into the place I had found for the intervening two nights. This place is just a little more expensive, but the last place was charging an extra ten US dollars for parking, plus I needed to tip the valets. I think it breaks out even, maybe a tad cheaper. I was unprepared for the elevator – glass walls, running up and down the exterior of the building. I’m still afraid of heights, but I used the determination that got me through jumping out of airplanes and rappelling – trust in your equipment, remember the favorable statistics, and don’t give in to the fear.

When I got into my new room, I immediately starting thinking about how I could cancel my reservation for next week and finding out if I could stay here instead. My new room is a cozy little studio with a small refrigerator, microwave, two burners and even a dishwasher. The cupboards contained an adequate set of cookware and eating ware. The view of the Pacific is spectacular. And the internet is hard-wired.

However, this is a non-smoking hotel, and my room is on the thirty-second floor. Although my window cracks open, it faces the ocean and the breeze flows into the room.

When I checked in, I asked for a smoking room, but the clerk told me that smoking in hotels in Hawai’i was prohibited by the new anti-smoking law, called by many one of the nation’s strictest. I protested that the hotel that I had stayed in the night before had let me smoke in my room, and she responded with surprise, sawing that they would be fined if anyone found out. I asked if it was law or hotel policy, and she insisted that it was law.

Well, she had either been duped or was lying to me. I thought that is was very strange that the last hotel would have deliberately violated the law to let me smoke in my room, especially when they had been strict about enforcing regulations in the bar and lobby, so I had to look it up. The law does not prohibit smoking in hotel rooms, but limits smoking rooms to 20% of capacity. I think this sounds reasonable, because it’s fairly aligned with the percentage of American adults who smoke.

But apparently, many hotels are using the crackdown as an excuse to ban smoking entirely. I was able to find a listing of these hotels at Travel-Hawaii.com, and several major chains are starting the policy nation-wide.

It’s hard for me to understand the business sense of this move. Smoking is down, but despite the trend towards outrageous taxes on cigarettes and restrictions, there is still a significant portion of hard-core smokers that are not giving it up. Why would any business want to deliberately exclude 20% of their market? Tolerance towards second-hand smoke by non-smokers is way down, and I understand that, and don’t condemn it, but how does it affect whether someone can smoke in the privacy of their own room? I find it hard to imagine that it’s done out of sympathy by management towards the traditionally underpaid hotel cleaning staff, who have to empty dirty ashtrays and endure the lingering odor. The only thing that makes sense is bigotry on the part of hotel management.

I have to balance my avarice – how much money I could save from my per diem by cooking in my own room – against the inconvenience of submitting to my addiction. I’ve already had to take a break from writing to run downstairs for a smoke break (writing about it puts it front and center in my mind.)

Posted by Greg as Current Events, Travel at 12:37 PST

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Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

CorrosionEngineer.Net

A couple of weeks back I was poking through whois and discovered that corrosionengineer.net was available, so I picked it up. I might actually be able to do something with this, set up an instructional/reference site, and finally put my forum software to use. Or I could just use it to blather about all things corrosion engineering. I’ll have to find some more generic content management system software that doesn’t run as achingly slow as the ones I’ve already tried. Right now, I’ve just pointed it to this blog.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control, My Website at 08:47 PST

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F**kin’ A, Bro!

It’s not everyday that your little brother makes it into the showbiz trade rag, Variety: Ant Farm Plants Trio at Top.

Webwire, Market Wire, and dBusinessNews (Los Angeles) also picked it up, with more detail:

LOS ANGELES — Mike Greenfeld and Barbara Glazer, co-chairs of The Ant Farm, one of the entertainment industry’s leading advertising firms, have announced a new management team. Rodd Perry, Amanda Edwards, and Andy Solomon have been elevated to co-presidents, creative directors, audio/visual. Perry will also take on the title of Chief Executive Officer, joining Chief Financial Officer Melissa Palazzo, who will also assume the role of Chief Operating Officer. Together Perry and Palazzo will manage day-to-day operations and corporate duties of the agency.

According to Greenfeld and Glazer, Perry, Solomon and Edwards, who have been with the firm for ten, eight and six years, respectively, have been key to the growth of the company from a small boutique to a full-service advertising powerhouse.

Together at Ant Farm they have worked on hundreds of motion picture marketing campaigns ranging from “The Lord of the Rings,” “Shrek,” the “Harry Potter” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises, to many independent successes such as “Sideways” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” Along with Greenfeld and Glazer, they will continue to help expand the scope of advertising services to the entertainment community.

(emphasis and link mine.)

And yet he still finds time to crank out daily the cartoon Brevity, syndicated to 130 newspapers in the US and Canada.

Way to go Rodd!!

Posted by Greg as Family & Friends at 00:07 PST

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Monday, March 19th, 2007

Victim of the Time Difference

Despite spending 19 hours on the road yesterday, that 3 or so hours of sleep I caught on my last flight leg left me wide awake, so at half past midnight last night, after completing my post, I went out. I walked the three short blocks down to Waikiki and verified that yes, the Pacific is still here. Then I walked back to the hotel and found the bar. Friendly place. I ended up talking with the bartender, several locals, and one other traveling military contractor. I left there at about 02:00 and decided I wasn’t going to be getting my usual early start on the day.

At 05:45 my phone rang. It was the office. A major client was trying to get a hold of me, and oh, where’s my timesheet?

Luckily, I have a coffee maker in my room. I like my coffee with just coffee – black and no sugar. Also, I don’t like Kona. It is going to be a long two weeks.

The hotel’s breakfast bar should be open in a couple of minutes. Mmmm! Really fresh pineapple and guava juice!

Posted by Greg as Travel at 09:27 PST

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Arrival in Honolulu

Ok, I’m going to jump past the other couple of half-finished posts and announce my arrival in Honolulu, Hawai’i.

Current meatspace coordinates: 21.279, -157.823
Local appellation: Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawai’i

Honolulu, Hawai’i

It took a long time to get here. I got the airport at El Paso, Texas at 07:30 MDT (03:00 HST) for my 10:00 flight, left my car in long term parking, and managed to score emergency exit row seats on all my flights by checking in early. It was at this point that I realized that one of the things that I forgot to do the day before was buy some nicotine gum. I flew to Dallas-Fort Worth (1 hr, 40 min) and had 15 minutes before my next flight started boarding. I was lucky; my next gate was very close, and I managed to go out to the curb, power down a cigarette and a half, and get back in through security in time. Next leg: LAX, Los Angeles, California. I had a two and a half hour layover, so it was go out, smoke, come back in, grab some food, camp out next to a power outlet to recharge my computer, then dash back out again for another smoke. Thank good for assigned seating – I was flying American. My last six trips have been on Southwest, and getting in line early is essential for finding a seat with any sort of leg room.

The flight to Honolulu was six hours and I managed to get some sleep. After waiting anxiously to find out if my luggage had made it, and that my toolbox hadn’t broken open and spewed tools, my printer, and my ergonomic split keyboard all over the place (they had, and it hadn’t), it was out to try and cram myself into the rental shuttle. Just barely made it on the second one. When I got there, they didn’t have my car ready, but the really nice girl at Avis took my preferred reservation in so I didn’t have to fight the crowd, and upgraded me to an SUV for the leg room. Cool!

Then it was the crash course on learning how to pronounce Hawai’ian so that I could pick out and follow way points on my map. It was dark, the was occasional light rain, and I had to put on my new reading glasses (grrr!) to have any chance at all of reading the map, drove looking over them, but I got to my hotel, instantly gave up on looking for street parking and left the car for the valet, checked in, and dragged my bags up to my room. I got in at about 22:30 HST, or 19 hours after I got to the El Paso airport. Then it was a quick unpack, hanging up my wrinkled, very un-Hawai’ian shirts, setting up my portable computer rig, and a bandwidth speed test. Hmmm. 932 kbps. It’s going to be a long two weeks – especially since I’ve got to find another place to stay over the upcoming weekend.

I’m going to be coordinating some repair/construction work on the cathodic protection systems for the fuel piping at the Marine Corp Base in Kaneohe Bay, across the island on the North Shore. I would have liked to have stayed closer to the base, but all the hotels I could find over there are mega expensive resorts. Maybe boots on the ground will turn up something, and instead of checking out here for the weekend and coming back, I can just relocate once and stay put. I might also be going over to Pearl Harbor to do some estimating for our paint team out of San Diego.

Tomorrow I will find out whether my materials have arrived yet. I’m pessimistic. I’m also suspecting that I’m going to have to put in a couple of insulating flange kits myself, and fabricating a junction box. This is not going to be a laid-back, beach-going trip – every spare moment I get will be spent writing the report for my last job. Sigh.

Posted by Greg as Corrosion Control, Travel at 03:35 PST

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Saturday, March 17th, 2007

Swiping Driver’s Licenses

A couple of days ago I was in a Walmart, here in El Paso, and was purchasing beer and cigarettes. But I was taken off-guard when I was asked for ID. I’m forty-one years old – maybe a high-mileage forty-one. When I let my hair grow out (which I usually don’t) there’s quite a bit of grey at the temples, and the blond highlights in my Van Dyck are turning white.

So I haven’t been carded for a long, long time, except on the few occasions where I’ve been somewhere that they card everybody. But the reason for the checkout girl’s request became clear when, after I handed her my driver’s license, she glanced at it and swiped it.

I immediately got hot under the collar. I know that there’s normally enough information encoded in a driver’s license that, if it is entered in a computer, there is immediate access to those who have invested in commercial databases to know all sorts of things about you that you wouldn’t necessarily want them to know. I don’t want anybody to swipe my license. But I was mollified slightly when the young girl looked puzzled, glanced at the back of the license, and handed it back, saying that she was used to the magnetic strip on Texas driver’s licenses. I looked at it myself.

I’ve only had my Missouri driver’s license for five months, and it hasn’t stuck into my head yet that there is no magnetic stripe on the back. Yeah Missouri! Now, there is a large optical scan code there, and I’ve been meaning to decode it for a while, but the magnetic stripe is the gold standard of machine-readable cards, and I find its absence very comforting.

For most of the last fifteen years I’ve had a California driver’s license, with the exception of a couple of years each as Nevada and Rhode Island. California has the magnetic strip, but I recall that at least some of the time, I would degauss it after I got it. I don’t have to worry about that now, but I fear that it will be mandated by the Real ID Act. As an individual concerned about privacy, I strong oppose this thinly-veiled attempt to slip in a national ID card, and I’m thrilled that so many states are fighting it.

But what can you do to defend yourself against commercial operations that have a legitimate need to verify your age or identity, but who swipe your license without your consent? Usually, you have over the card for them to read, and they just quickly swipe it before you realize they’re going to do it. Once it’s been done, it’s too late. I can think a couple of habits that I need to start immediately.

  1. Hold the card up for them to see, instead of just handing it over.
  2. Keep your license in a clear plastic sheath that takes some effort to get it out, so you’ve got a little time to react in case it gets out of your hands. Of course, this means it probably won’t fit in most standard wallets.
  3. Tell anyone who insists on swiping your license that you charge a fee of US$25 ($50, $200? What would identity theft cost you?) for your personal information in machine-readable form. Maybe I can even make up a little sticker to attach to the plastic sheath, or better yet, over the magnetic strip, that informs the reader that such a fee will be charged. I don’t think that there is any law that requires a commercial interest to scan your license, but I’ve heard places will lie to you and tell you that there is to get that information. No one, of course, is going to pay this fee. But asking for it, especially if that means getting a supervisor involved, is at least sending the message that they’re trying to take something from you that has value.
  4. I know it will be hard on occasion, especially at some kick-ass bar you want to get into, but refuse to patronize a place that insists on scanning your license.
  5. This won’t work for everyone, but start using your passport as proof of id. A passport has a lot less info on it – specifically, it doesn’t show your home address, which is used to pin down the specific you in those huge databases. Personally, I’d had a passport since I was thirteen years old. I carried a US passport with me even when my military ID was enough to get me through Customs. I learned from what happened to Robert Stethem, the US Navy SEAL who was killed in 1985 when his plane was hijacked.

UPDATE: It’s only been a couple of days, and I’ve already screwed up. When I checked into my hotel in Hawai’i last night, I noticed without comment that they put my driver’s license on a little scanner that scanned the front face. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized that, with OCR as good as it is nowadays, that that’s as good as swiping the license. I’m used to people making a photocopy of my license, but this is definitely one step further. How do you refuse to patronize a place when you’re tired and checking in at ten thirty at night? I’m going to have to think more about this.

Posted by Greg as Privacy at 10:21 PST

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Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Joined the VFW

After years of delay, I finally walked into my nearest VFW post and joined the organization. I’ve always been eligible to join because of my service in Korea, which is technically still a war zone; I just didn’t know it. After I found out, I had to send to the National Personnel Records Center to get records of my service, since I couldn’t find copies of my orders. What they send back was very limited, and it didn’t show conclusive evidence that I had been there long enough.

Then I found out about the Korea Defense Service Medal, created in 2002 and retroactive to 1954. I applied for retroactive award and it was finally approved. With that documentation, I was able to go down to the VFW and join.

A fellow ex-service member asked me why I wanted to join. To me it was pretty simple. I’m a pretty private person, and it’s not natural for me to go out glad-handing everyone I meet. I tend to have few friends, but the ones I do have are very special. I just want the opportunity to bump into a bunch of new people with whom I already have a lot in common. The VFW provides me with that opportunity, and I strongly support their service missions.

Growing up, I was always impressed when my father talked about his experiences as a member of the Lion’s Club. I’d like to belong to a service organization, and of all the opportunities available, the VFW best represents my interests. With all the combat vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan right now, I’d like to be their supporter and advocate. And with all my traveling of late, and the fact that I expect to be doing a lot more over the next year and a half, it would be nice to be able to go to just about any place in the world near a US military base and be able to find and walk into a VFW and find company.

Posted by Greg as Posts About Me at 16:43 PST

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