What the Heck is This?

A Garden Spot

Okay, I give up trying to figure out what all these things in my new garden are. The former owners left a lot of plants here (which is cool!) that I don't know what they are. Every time I think something is a weed, it starts to show flowers.

Anyway, I think before I rip these plants screaming out of the ground, I'm going to put their pictures on the web and ask if you recognize them. Here's the first one.

Any clue what this is? Should I kill it? Posted by Hello

Greenbelt to Medical Center


  • 7:11 - 7:29 Bike to Greenbelt station
  • 7:34 - 8:21 Metro to Medical Center (via Ft Totten)
  • 8:21 - 8:30 Walk to site



Up to this year, I haven't been impressed with the Library of Congress' Book Festival. I know that not every event can be the Edinburgh Book Festival. But I'm excited about the addition of SF & Fantasy to the festival. Neil Gaimon, Ben Bova, Connie Willis, and Neal Stephenson. Wow.

Of course, I might not be so excited when I'm mingling with 69,999 of my closest friends:

"As America's library, the Library of Congress invites readers from around the country to this widely anticipated national event," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "More than 70,000 people joined us on the National Mall last year to celebrate books, reading and creativity. We hope many more will come this year and join in the fun."

DC Metro Parking Fiasco

What Did Taleswapper Forget Today?
His SmarTrip Card

When did Taleswapper realize he had forgotten his only method of leaving the Metro parking lot?
When he drove into the Grosvenor parking lot.

Who is Taleswapper mad at?
Of course, he left his valuable SmarTrip card at home and didn't pause to thing about how he was going to pay for parking before he entered the lot, so he's blaming Metro. Who else?

And why is that?
Because there is no reasonable excuse for a transportation system to be so backward that its payment method costs more than the payment itself. I've had to join the ranks of all the poor, uninformed tourists who park in Metro lots only to find that they've had to lay out $5 for a one-use piece of plastic. Disgraceful, especially in a city that is harder for tourists to drive in than any other in the US ( other than Boston). I see them every week at Greenbelt station, and I feel their pain. The paper Metro card system already exists; why not use it for parking, too? These folks do it right.

Is that all?
Oh, and the stupid machines won't take twenty dollar bills. What do most people have available after a trip to the ATM? Twenty dollar bills. Sheesh.

Watching Me Watching You

Someone to Watch Over Me

This odd contraption was towering over the Greenbelt station plaza the other day. Are they keeping an eye out for terrorists or rioters or what?

I've never noticed it upright during rush hours. Perhaps this is where they store all the missing SmarTrip cards?

Posted by Hello

Cat Outta the Bag

I'm not sure why, but I tend to be a magnet for all the imaginary friends nobody else wants. A case in point: Ed. He's not that nice. Just the other day, I ran into him on the Red Line. After a trip to the zoo, I had boarded the train at Woodley Park (which isn't anywhere near the zoo, no matter what Metro claims) and was surprised to find Ed sitting quietly in a front-facing seat.

"Watch this," he said. He didn't even bother greeting me as I plopped down beside him. A bookbag took up the seat opposite us. He turned to an older woman in the seat behind us. "Excuse me," he said quietly. "Is that your bag?"

She quickly shook her head, then her eyes got very big. Ed shrugged and turned back to face forward. The poor woman had trouble removing her eyes from the bag. What was at first an innocent parcel took on threatening overtones, and I had trouble not staring at it, too.

The woman sprinted from the train at the next stop. Ed sat quietly for a moment, then he turned to the guy sitting in the seat behind the bag. The man was reading a paperback. "Excuse me," said Ed. "Is that your bag?"

The man frowned and looked over the seatback. He carefully considered before answering: "No, as a matter of fact, it is not." Then he quickly stood and moved to the back of the car. Ed grinned at me. I looked with horror at the bag. It didn't move, but still.

Finally, Ed caught the attention of a teenager standing at the door as we cruised into Metro Center. "Dude," he said. "Is that your bag?"

The lad, startled, looked at the bag with concentration. His eyes flickered back and forth between it and Ed. Ed smirked. The doors opened at the station platform. Finally able to make a decision, the teenager grinned and said, "Yeah. That's mine." He grabbed it and left the train just before the doors closed.

Ed shook himself and jumped to the door, which had already closed. He pounded on the door, but the trained moved on. He leaned his head on the window.

"What's wrong, Ed?" I asked. "I'm glad that bag was gone, it was making me nervous."

Ed stood up straight, adjusted his shirt, and looked me in the eye.

He said, "It was my bag."

New Route


A Commuting Report

  • 7:03 - 7:50 Greenbelt Station to Medical Center Station (via Ft Totten)

TR Island

TR Monument

A DC Report

Well, I have a new favorite DC monument.

Although in the middle of a crowded metropolitan area, this park is visually secluded and it's easy to imagine you're taking a walk in some small forest when you come upon a clearing populated with a peaceful memorial to one of our former presidents. Something about the wooded setting gave me a feeling for Narnia.

Sadly, the impression is all visual. The island is in the middle of the Potomac, under the National Airport flightpaths and across a small channel from I-66 and the GW Parkway, so the sounds of the city are never far away.

Oh, and poor Teddy has gotten the Soviet Statue Treatment. Ah, well. Posted by Hello


While in New York, we'll be careful not to take an inappropriate book on the ferry:

He gets all pissy at me and says, "Don't you understand this is for your safety?"

"Confiscating someone's gun or bomb is for my safety. PErhaps confiscating someone's pocketknife or nailfile may be for my safety. What's so damn dangerous about my book?"


We'll remember that an almanac might be seen as dangerous.

Rail Sale


An Entertainment Forecast

We're going to New York this weekend to see Stomp. I have this great fear that a trash can lid will fly into the audience and bonk me on the head, but I'll work through it.

As I'm checking fares at Amtrak, I see that it would be cheaper to go to Chicago. Not only that, it would be cheaper to go from DC to Chicago to New York than to go straight to New York. Oi.

Major Reservations

"So, I thought we were meeting at Jaleo," the Brunette said, as Great-Uncle Leadbelly and I walked up to her in Adelphi Plaza.

"Great-Uncle preferred to re-live his halcyon days," I said.

"I don't know anything about no kingfishers," Leadbelly interjected. We both ignored my imaginary great uncle (on my sister's side).

"And Ledo's will be a bit more friendly, I think," I finished. She raised her eyebrows.

"What happened at Jaleo?" she wanted to know.

"Some people," I said, "have trouble dealing with the fact that the world isn't always fair." Leadbelly snorted. "I'll tell you about it over the pizza."

I picked up Leadbelly from his wee condo on the Republican Retirement Ranch and we drove down to Bethesda to peruse the used books at Second Story Books. Of course, I usually spend most of my time keeping my great uncle away from the store's cat, but this time he couldn't find the cat, so I was free to wander through the stacks.

I should have known better.

After a bit, it occurred to me to check on Leadbelly's activities. Even if he wasn't torturing the cat, he could be doing something worse: hiding all the JFK and FDR biographies, complaining to the cashier about tax rates, or chatting up the better-looking customers. I searched the store fairly quickly (it's not as large as the warehouse in Rockville) and found no trace of my great uncle. So I rushed outside. I saw him down the street; he turned the corner onto Woodmont and disappeared from sight.

I tried to catch up, but I had a bear of a time crossing the streets. When I finally caught up to him, Great Uncle Leadbelly was already inside the doors at Jaleo.

"Great Uncle!" I said, out of breath. "What are you doing?"

"I got tired of that enclave for social activism," he replied. "I thought I'd make it easier for us tonight, my boy, by making reservations."

"Ah," was the best I could do.

Leadbelly turned back to the hostess. She was one of those annoyingly skinny people who get lost in a UPC symbol. "As I was saying," he said, "I'd like to make a reservation for tonight at 7."

"I'm sorry," she said. "We don't take reservations after 6."

"You don't?" Great-Uncle replied. He used his fake-surprise voice. I started to look around nervously.

"No, sir."

"So, you're telling me," Leadbelly went on, "that nobody ever gets a reservation for after 6 here?"

His voice had kicked it up another notch. His head shook slightly from left to right and back with each word. I tugged on Leadbelly's sleeve. C'mon, man, I'm thinking. We already got the info...

"Well," the hostess admitted. "We will sometimes give reservations to very large parties, over 10 people. Like that."

"Did you happen to notice that I didn't tell you how large our party was?" Leadbelly said. He was nearly at shouting level, now. I happened to notice the bartender noticing us. He was one of those annoyingly large people who can cause great harm to medium sized people. Me, for example.

"Let's go, Great Uncle," I tried. There would only be three of us.

"And we won't seat you, if your whole party isn't here," the hostess said. She had an annoying little smirk.

"I just want to get this straight: Nobody in a group smaller than 10 ever gets a reservation for after 6 pm?" Great Uncle Leadbelly had reached the shouting level. The bartending gorilla began to move in our direction.

"No, uh.." She was starting to look a little nervous.

"Even, say, a party of six at 7 o'-clock? Or maybe only if my name were Richardson?" Leadbelly was turning purple. I grabbed his elbow and tried to steer him out of the restaurant. He turned his attention to me. "No, I will not have it! I will not be lied to."


"You can clearly see two names on her reservation list with times after 6 and groups smaller than 10! This is not right."

"I'm sorry, gentlemen," the bartender told us. "But I need to ask you to leave."

"Ha!" said Leadbelly. "The problem is that we don't fit your profile, isn't it? We're not young and hip enough to take up space in your precious little --"

This is the point at which Great Uncle's cane slipped. He has a tendency to wave it around when he pontificates, and somehow he lost his grip. The four of us watched breathlessly as the cane flew across the room toward a table of Asian diplomats. It crashed to their table, scattering plates and dishes everywhere. Amazingly, nobody was actually hit.

"So, that's when we left," I said. "It seemed like the time to go."

"I see," said the Brunette. "I imagine we won't be going back there for a while."

"It's the principle of the thing," my great uncle proclaimed. "Some things just aren't right!"

"Sometimes, he loses perspective," I said apologetically. "I don't know how to--" I stopped speaking.

"What?" she asked when I didn't finish my sentence. We were back in the parking lot and I had noticed something annoying.

"Over there," I said. "That cop. He's driving along talking on a hand-held mobile phone!" I could tell my voice was getting shrill, but I didn't care.


"So?! So, if the upholders of public safety start exhibiting unsafe behaviour, we are all lost." I get angry at regular drivers when they break the law, but when a police officer does it, boy, I'm livid. "It's the principle of the thing! They're supposed to be our models. They're supposed to be the paragons of law-abidanceship or something. I'm going to write his car number down."

I humphed and grumped for a few minutes more. I scratched and scrabbled through my pockets looking for paper and pen. Ooo, that dirty trap. Augh. As I was making this noisy display, an older couple passed by nervously.

"Some people," the Brunette said, "have trouble dealing with the fact that life isn't always fair." I had to walk into the parking lot to see the officer's car number so I could write it down. I knew what she meant; that Great Uncle of mine goes too far, sometimes.

By the way, the officer was a PG County officer. His cruiser's number was 477. Harrumph. And the tapas at Bambule are much more delicious, any way. The empanadillas are glorious. Yum.

Power Map

Fun with Maps

Third in a Series

As the Washington, DC, area radio stations induce panic in the masses because tropical storms will hit Florida and we might get some sprinkles as a result, I remembered this fun map that I captured when we were experiencing a power outage ourselves, last month.

Over at Pepco, they make pretty pictures. During the crisis, we were able to sit at College Perk (they had power) and watch the progress of power restoration, zip code by zip code. It'd be cool to go one level of granularity more, but you take what you can get.

I particularly like the wee hardhats indicating the location of work crews. Later in the morning, it became pretty obvious where US Route 1 is on the map, because there was this fairly straight line of hats running up through Hyattsville and College Park.

Posted by Hello

Vandal or Goth?

Last week, as floods still covered the land (or at least some control room along the Red Line), I took Metro home in the afternoon. Somehow, I missed hearing that the flood problems were causing alternating trains to stop at Brookland instead of going one station farther and stopping at Fort Totten (a connection to the Green Line). So, instead of disembarking at Gallery Place, I rode all the way 'round to Brookland and experienced the pleasure of standing in the heat waiting for the next train.

Fortunately, though, some artist was kind enough to leave this bit of wisdom for me to take with me through the rest of the week.

Posted by Hello

Squirrel Art

Imagine Squirreled Peace Our new home in Greenbelt has a lovely (though wee) garden. It's a bit like a forest, and the former owners must have been avid wildlife feeders. There are bird feeders on both sides of the house, and a couple of suet cages nailed to the trees. And there is this lovely squirrel feeder. We bought a fake corn cob for the little rascals, and they seem to love it.

The Father-in-Law, when told about the poor birds who've been knocking on our door demanding food, quipped, "Leave it to a Greenbelter to make animals dependent on a welfare state."

Posted by Hello

History Repeats Itself

Don't Know Much About History

Much of the time, I look at ClearQuest designs and see a lot of repetitive data. This is especially prevalent in the case of action dates. ClearQuest stores actions and dates in a record type called history. This displays very nicely on a form, but I think that folks find queries and reports too difficult to manage when trying to show this information to others. So, you'll often see extra fields set up within the stateful record type to capture the current date when an action is performed.

I generally object to this approach because I think it is unnecessary duplication of data, and, even worse, leaves us with a bunch of scripts that have to be maintained. I prefer to do the hard stuff on the client side, instead of in the schema, when possible, because the reporting and querying functions aren't always forcibly managed by a review and testing process, so they're more flexible. Not only that, adding scripts to multiple fields is a pain.

The difficulty with mapping the history approach to Crystal Reports is that the report will often have too many repeated lines. This is generally easy to solve with groups, but today I came upon a more difficult reporting problem: I want to list a set of defects (id, headline) and, on the same line with the id and headline, I want to put the date of the approval, if it was approved. (If it isn't yet approved, I still want to list the defect, only without a date.)

If I simply make the report based on a query where the action.name is "Approve", then I don't get any of the defects that haven't been approved yet. If I make the query have all actions, then I get lots of repeated rows (the id and headline repeat for each and every action). This is how I solved the problem:

  • Create a formula field (call it DateFormula) to show the date if the action_name was "Approved" or blank if the action_name was anything else. The formula looks like:
    IIF ({~CRPT_TMP0001_ttx.history_action_name} = "Approve", " " & Date({~CRPT_TMP0001_ttx.history_action_timestamp}) ,"" )
  • Insert a group on the ID field. Any fields put into the Details section will still be repeated, but we don't put any fields in there and close the size of the Details section to nothing.
  • Put the fields for id and headline into the Group Footer. This way, they'll only be shown once, no matter how many actions were made.
  • Finally, Insert a Summary field that calculates the maximum of the DateFormula field. This will return the highest value (i.e., the date of approval if there is one; nothing if there isn't). This field goes into the same Group Footer. That way, all the data is on one line!
So, instead of a report that looks like:

TEST00000001 title
TEST00000001 title 08/10/2004
TEST00000001 title
TEST00000001 title
TEST00000001 title
TEST00000001 title
TEST00000002 other title

I get a report that looks like:

TEST00000001 title 08/10/2004
TEST00000002 other title

Show Some ID

Do CMers Dream of Identified Sheep?

The dream always starts the same way: I'm in our kitchen. The one and only true love of my life is sitting on a stool and paying rapt attention to my speech about the wonders a configuration control system could do for our kitchen management. After drawing a baseline through our current kitchen contents, I begin to explain the merits of the check out/check in system.

"Say I take this plate out of the cupboard. I've got it checked out. That means you can't use it. If you do a search, you can see how many plates are checked out and who has them!"

"So, I can see if the cat takes one of the tea cups?" the Brunette asks. I can never tell when she's just playing along; after all, we don't have a cat, yet.

"Yes, " I say. It's my dream, you know. "And we'll also have a promotion model, so the dishes can go from clean, to in-use, to dirty, and then back to clean. Then, we can see how long each step in the process takes."

The Brunette is in the middle of asking a very good question, about the problem of not really having versions of a plate, when they start crawling into the room: odd little things with funny characters and lots of dashes.

"Who are you?" I ask, though I already know the answer. They're all too common in our world, and I've been through this dream before.

"We're Intelligent Numbers," says U-571. "You'll notice that I start with a 'U'. That means I'm urgent, so pay attention to me!"

"Or you're an underwater vessel," I say, a beat too late.

"Hey, you," says FRD-62-0000008. "Watch it! I'm the eighth Count of Frederickstein, born in 1962, and I'm itching for a fight."

"Rumor has it," says a number I can't repeat for fear of embarrassment. "You don't respect us."

"Yes," I break down, hands over my teary eyes. "You're right. In my heart, I'm dissing you all of the time. You're a waste of time and energy! There, I've said it. Are you happy?"

"Uh, not really," says MD-67-0109-12y. Should we be?"

"Your checksum is out-of-whack," I tell it confidentially. I refrained from finishing with "And your mother dresses you funny."

"Look how valuable I am," says GB-CQM-2004-AE-12-1.0. "I come from the Greenbelt division of the Configuration and Quality Management group. I was the twelfth one this year to eat American Eagle snacks."

"That's great," I say. "So?"

"So?" he sputters. "So, you know just from looking at me that there were eleven before me and I'm version 1.0!"

"You could get that AND more just by querying the database," I say. Then, I whisper: "I heard that they're changing the name of your organization to Configuration Change Request and Quality Control (CCRQC). Will that make you GB-QCCRQC-2004-AE-12-1.0.0? If so, will we have to go and renumber all your predecessors?"

"Don't be absurd," says he. "My identifier is permanent and unique."

"So what will the next ID be? If it's GB-QCCRQC-2004-AE-1-1.0, I won't be able to know there are already 12 this year."

"Um," he says, identity crisis already setting in.

"And if it's GB-CCRQC-2004-AE-13-1.0.0, then I won't be able to even find its predecessor -- you!"

"Yeah, but, as long as I'm unique --"

"What if another group changes its name to California Quantity Magnification? Will they be able to create a GB-CQM-2004-AE-12-1.0, too?"

"You're missing the point," he whinges.

"The point all along was simply communication," I say. "It's important that you and I name things so we know who we're talking about, but there's no reason to overload that with a bunch of other useless data that can be acquired from a meta-data search."

"But, but..." he shouts. "It's always been this way."

"Sure, that's a good argument," I say. I'm growing tired of this confrontation. "One of the best I've ever heard."


"Oh, yeah. You're quite right about that. Look, there's this yellow line in the middle of the road, see it?"

They all nod.

"Well, that line," I say confidentially, "leads to CM Nirvana."

"You mean," says U-571. "The great CCB in the sky?" All of the numbers gasp.

"That's right," I say. "Now, run along." The numbers and other assorted identifiers scurry out of the room and down the lost highway.

"Wow," says the Brunette. "They bought that line."

"Of course," I say. "You know what they say: Intelligent numbers rarely are."

Then, I wake up.



  • 6:20 - 7:05 Drive to Grosvenor
  • 7:08 - 7:12 Metro to Medical Center
  • 7:12 - 7:19 Walk to site
That weird travel itinerary is because I have visit both clients today, and I cannot park at Medical Center. (Well, I can park, but it's expensive.)

The good news is: The parking garage at Grosvenor is open for use. Very nice.

The bad news is: The customer has cancelled my meeting and I didn't have to come here, so it's off to the other site.

Bug Me Not


For those of you who don't want to give up personal information to faceless organizations to see their web content, go to Bug Me Not and type www.washingtonpost.com. You'll get a nice clean id with no fuss.

Red Line Craziness

Weird Behaviour

I knew there was something weird about Red Line trains. It's even affecting the train operators. (Discovered on Live From the Third Rail.)

A Metro train operator abandoned her train in a station during the evening rush hour Monday, hopping aboard a train going in the opposite direction and leaving behind hundreds of bewildered homebound commuters, according to passengers and transit officials.

Metro eventually got the idling train on its way through a series of maneuvers that appeared to combine aspects of chess and vaudeville.

The former operator of the idled train was told to take control of the Glenmont-bound train she had just boarded -- Train 202. The regular operator of Train 202 was told to get off that train at the Woodley Park station, cross the platform and board a third train, 104, which was headed to Shady Grove.

Train 104 then was instructed to enter the Van Ness Station -- slowly -- and creep up close behind the idling Train 107.

Once Train 104 had nuzzled up to Train 107, the second operator on train 104 got off and ran to the cab of waiting Train 107 to take it on its way, Farbstein said.



  • 6:39 - 6:58 Bike to Greenbelt station
  • 7:03 - 7:52 Metro to Medical Center (via Gallery Place/Chinatown)
  • 7:52 - 7:59 Walk to site
I think we're getting a pretty consistent picture of the current routes (changing trains at Chinatown or L'Enfant); I'm ready to start switching at Fort Totten and Metro Center to compare. In all likelihood, though, I'll regularly forget to change the habit.

Yesterday afternoon's bike ride was scorchingly hot, but it looks like the weather has broken for a couple of days. My bike might get wet today, but I look forward to the coolness.

Leaving on a Red Train

Well, I figured out I'd left it at my other customer. The trip from Merrifield to Medical Center (shuttle-Metro-walk) was just short of forever (or a little more than an hour). Oi.

So, if we're not allowed to play music on the Metro, why are folks allowed to bring screeeeeeeeeching children onto the train? And, after they've been screaming for a bit, why do the parents insist on moving the children from the back of the car to the front -- that is, closer to me? Some lady in a big hat ("Do you want to talk to me? I have a big hat," she said, I swear) eventually startled the kid into quietness. Everyone knows that there's something frightening about total strangers talking to you on the train, and nothing keeps you quiet like fear. ("I'm a nice person," she said. "I like little girls. I used to be one, myself.")

All Thumbs

What did Taleswapper forget today?

Thumbdrive. Idjit.

Back on the Bike


  • 6:23 - 6:38 Bike to Greenbelt station
  • 6:38 - 7:47 Metro to Dunn Loring (Via L'Enfant)
  • 7:47 - 7:54 Shuttle to site
A beautiful morning, not yet muggy. Amazingly, I hit every connection exactly right except at L'Enfant where I watched a Blue line train arrive and leave while I awaited Orange. So, I think this is the best possible time to bike/train/shuttle to Merrifield from Greenbelt (for me, any way).

You can see the impact of fixing the spoke. Before a spoke actually breaks, it gets progressively looser, which means the ride gets harder. I always think I'm going to notice this, but instead I forget and just find myself complaining that I'm getting older and the ride is harder. If I'd only stop and tighten the spokes, life would be a lot easier.

There's a sermon illustration lurking in there somewhere.

Experiments in Mail

Free Comic Book

Some sort of whacky experiment from Neil Gaiman can get you a free signed copy of Cerebus, but you have to use that old-fashioned mail thing. Not signed by Neil, of course:

If you'd like to read one of the Sandman parody issues of Cerebus, Dave will send you one. He'll send it to you very happily, free of charge. He will sign it for you, too. And he won't charge you a thing. Not even postage.

And if you're wondering what the catch is, it's this: Dave wants to know (as, I have to admit, do I) how many of the people out there in internet-land will actually go and do things that don't involve passively clicking on a link and going somewhere interesting. So what you have to do is write Dave a letter (not an e-mail. Dave doesn't have e-mail) telling him that you read that he'll send you a signed Cerebus, and telling him why you'd like him to send you a copy. It's as easy as that. And, quite possibly as difficult. The address to write to is:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674 Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

I think that Neil Gaiman's Journal is the only author blog I go to on a regular basis. You should go, too.

6:35 - 7:27 Metro Greenbelt to Medical Center (via L'Enfant)

And God Threw Squirrels

Secret Squirrel

Apparently, the first trip to the hospital wasn't enough, now God has decided to start throwing squirrels at my wife.

As she walked down to the Roosevelt Center, the Brunette was quite startled by a squirrel falling out of a tree. It didn't land well: she says it looked like it broke its leg. I'm not sure what the right thing to do in this situation is: she had trouble getting through to the animal control folks (what is it with people not being able to use the forward function? After three tries, she gave up on that) and the wild animal rescue folks will rescue hawks and things but not common squirrels.

Personally, I was worried about her getting bitten by a rabid squirrel.

But she continues to be safe. When she returned to the scene, the squirrel was gone. The Brunette suggested that a little squirrel ambulance came careening into the park; two wee squirrel EMTs jumped out with a stretcher and took the poor lad off to a squirrel hospital.

Or the squirrel has joined the circle of life. One or the other. Take your pick.