The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects

Some get moved to the living room.

Maryland, My Maryland

In case you were wondering, Maryland is called the Free State because we're a bunch of drunks:

The nickname "Free State" was created by Hamilton Owens, editor of the Baltimore Sun. In 1923, Georgia Congressman William D. Upshaw, a firm supporter of Prohibition, denounced Maryland as a traitor to the Union for refusing to pass a State enforcement act. Mr. Owens thereupon wrote a mock-serious editorial entitled "The Maryland Free State," arguing that Maryland should secede from the Union rather than prohibit the sale of liquor.

Now, I'm wondering if the other nickname is related to other illicit substances.

I Can't Do It All On My Own

Ah, the saga of the missing Kryptonite lock shipment has finally resolved itself. Kryptonite announced the problem back in September, but just today I received my replacement lock!

Ok, that's unfair. I waited from September to January to actually send in my request for a new lock. But still.

Don't Worry; Be Happy

An IrRational Tools Report

After our nation's year-long ordeal in 2004, the word "vote" should have left us pessimistic. But we are, after all, Americans. Even the most cynical of us are engineered to automatically increase our level of optimism when confronted with challenges.

We were optimistic because, let's face it, we are ClearQuest experts, right?

Here's what we were optimistic about. In the middle of the lifecycle of a change request, it is shackled and brought before a star chamber for judgment. We often call this panel a Configuration Control Board (CCB). In a recent customer's organization, CCB deliberation is not merely pass/fail. Instead, each member of the CCB is given a pool of points which they assign to the change requests appearing before the board. The voting members distribute the points according to their ranking of each item's importance. At the end, the points are tallied and high-scoring change requests move on to be assigned to release/implementation.

The existing ballot-based system (using paper and pen) left participants pessimistic about the value and ease of deliberation. Ballots were difficult to track; scores were erased or scratched out leading to misunderstandings; voters had difficulty remembering how many points they had remaining.

We were optimistic that ClearQuest could be configured to enable the voting process electronically. We created a stateless record to represent the meeting of the CCB. The CCB record was designed to hold voter assignment and each voter's available points. It also identified (via a back-referenced REFERENCE_LIST) the change requests associated with the meeting. Even better, using ClearQuest Web, voters could vote from the comfort of their hotel rooms.

So, we cooked up hooks to calculate total scores and subtract allocated points from the voter's available pool. Our initial testing worked like a dream. Charts showing point spreads and change request rankings were easy to concoct. Our optimism soared.

Then we tested the schema with two users. We immediately started seeing this error message:

ERROR! Cannot apply the requested changes to the Defect "TALE00000067". The record probably has been updated or deleted by another user while you were working on it.
(Details: ID = TALE00000067, rows = 0, old version = 33, object version = 34, new version = 34)
Can you guess what our problem was? It seems that ClearQuest is optimistic, too. ClearQuest's optimistic locking design allows us to set up a race condition. This is the use case:

  1. User A opens a ClearQuest record for modification.
  2. User B opens the same ClearQuest record for modification.
  3. User A changes a field or two and saves the record.
  4. User B changes data and attempts to save.
  5. ClearQuest doesn't know how to merge the changes and so prevents User B from saving to keep from wiping out User A's changes.
It would be nice if ClearQuest were more pessimistic. I suspect (and I can only suspect) that it is not more pessimistic because ClearQuest is not truly client-server. It is client-database. Imagine this scenario:

  1. User A opens a ClearQuest record for modification using ClearQuest Web.
  2. ClearQuest locks the record so nobody else can use it.
  3. User B attempts to open the record and is rebuffed.
  4. User A's browser closes without logging out.
    • There is nothing to tell ClearQuest to unlock!
  5. Six weeks later, User B still can't modify the record. It's stuck.
For defects and enhancement requests, this race condition will rarely appear because of dispersed timing and process limits on who is responsible for changes to a record at any given time. But a system that has multiple users responsible for entering data to the same record in a small time-box (like, say, an election) is bound to run into this issue.

Is there something we could do to make this work? I'll go on about that more at some other point. For now, let's just say that I have reason to be optimistic.

Zombie Update (Late)

Pepper Update (Late)

A Garden Report

This is a bit late.

In no time at all, the pepper plants started to outgrow their home. The Brunette insisted that, for their own good, the plants must be culled. (Call it what you want; it's still murder!) We placed the survivors in individual planting pots. (I snuck outside with the cullees and planted them in the garden. They'll probably die a horrible painful death from the cold. But it won't be my fault, right?)

Peppers in Pots Now, we're just waiting for an extended bit of warmth and the time to put these guys outside. Before you know it, we'll be rolling in Brazillian Rainbow Peppers.

That sounds painful.


Other People Are Funny, Too

From the "While You're Waiting for the Download" section of the great Comics I Don't Understand site:
In my day, we didn't get that disembodied, slightly ticked-off voice saying 'Doors closing.' We got on the train, the doors closed, and if your hand was sticking out it scraped along the tunnel all the damn way to the Silver Spring station and it was a bloody stump at the end. But the base fare was only a dollar.

The Long and Winding Road


I just walked down to our little town square, Roosevelt Center. As I passed through the tunnel, one skateboard kid said to the other skateboard kid: "So, I was going like 95 down this road that wasn't made for it."

Do we have a lot of roads that are made for driving 95?

The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)

Normally, the hallways of the Republican Retirement Ranch and Conservative Condominium Complex are quiet, reserved places. Nearly tasteful patriotic displays decorate the mini-alcoves near each door; thick carpeting deadens sound; and you are made to whisper as in a library or museum.

So you can imagine my surprise when I entered the terrace level and heard shouting punctuated by door pounding. And you can understand my dismay when I discovered that the shouting was emanating from my imaginary Great Uncle. His sister, my Great Aunt (on my sister's side), looked on with alternating expressions of concern and glee.

"Come on out of there ya renegade!" Great Uncle Leadbelly told the door.

"Not until you calm down," responded the door.

"I'm VERY CALM!" shouted Great Uncle. Great Aunt Iva giggled. Great Uncle turned on her and exclaimed, "I am too!"

Great Aunt Iva burst right out with laughter. Leadbelly stomped back to his condo. As we followed, I tried to get Great Aunt Iva to explain. She handed me a book.

"He found The Shadow of the Wind in Herbie's living room," she said.

"I loved that book," I said. Great Uncle Leadbelly grumbled and slammed his door. Great Aunt Iva shrugged and opened it. "I really liked the storytelling, and, of course, any story that takes seriously the real impact of books on lives."

"Personally," Great Aunt said while she poured herself a spot of tea, "I found the women in that book rather like cardboard cut-outs."

"It's hard to argue with that," I said. "Great Uncle, I would have thought you'd like the whole detective thing."

"He's protecting me," Great Aunt Iva giggled again. Leadbelly threw a pillow at her.

"In two different instances," he grumbled, "a character in that book gets involved with his friend's sister."

"And you wanted to protect Great Aunt Iva from that?" I asked. Leadbelly shot me a look.

"Of course not," he said. "but I like my friend. I don't want her turning him against me."

Danger, Will Robinson

As I spend the evening preparing to provide a demonstration of Robot, I realise that it will take every gram of self-control I own to keep from actually doing the Robot.

Don't Go Back to Rockville

Okay, Monday:

  • Metro from Greenbelt to White Flint: 1.5 hours.
  • Bike from White Flint to Greenbelt: 2 hours.
The guy at the bike shop called my bike "festive," because I've got reflective tape. My friend, R---, told me, "I can't imagine riding a bike as cheap as yours."

But Lance says, "It's not about the bike."

Of course, he's retiring. Oh, I feel old.

MARC Series?

A Baseball Report

I doubt we'll be able to speculate on this again. Of course, I never thought that the Orioles and the Nationals would be in first place. Actually, I never thought that the Nationals or the Orioles would be in first place.

Yeah, and I know it's awful dang early to talk about first place like it means something, but folks, this may be our only chance.

John suggests we call it the "semi-subway series". Personally, I like "MARC series", but I'm worried that might offend the DC fans.

When we were biking in Wisconsin a few years ago, we stopped at this wildlife refuge/visitor center. The park ranger on duty was awfully young. He gabbed about the center and pointed out sites of interest. When he asked where we were from, he seemed delighted to find that we hailed from Maryland. He said he, too, was from the Free State. When we asked for a more specific location, he said, "The Corridor."

"The Corridor?" We looked blankly at him. What the heck was the Corridor?

"You know," he said. "The Baltimore-Washington Corridor."

"Ah," we thought knowingly. "He means Laurel, but is embarrassed to admit it."

So, here's to the "Corridor Series"!

I'd suggest that I need to go watch Fever Pitch again, but I'm conflicted. The movie was cute, but it really bugs me that Nick Hornby allowed them to change the sport. I can't decide whether he was selling out to American interests or insulting Americans by implying that we're too stupid to understand an obsession with (real) football.

Broken Ground

Broken Ground

A Garden Report

The first of my zombie children have poked their wee heads into the world. And less than two weeks after their burial, too!

Is There a RequisiteAmateur?

Turns out that the RequisitePro baseline tool has a bug (at least through version 2003.06.13). If you use Oracle as ReqPro's database server, you want to make sure that your user called admin has a blank password before creating a baseline. If you don't, you're likely to see an error message when creating a new project based on that baseline:

Error in CopyXMLExtProjInfo (-2147220457): This object is marked as invalid. Please release this reference.

Although I haven't been able to verify this yet, it's possible that if you have more than one user in the administrator's group (we had an "admin1"), you might see other problems, too. All of our requirements came into the new project, but we saw that each one had an Author of unknown (on the Revision tab of the properties). This led to an error message any time we tried to modify an attribute. ReqPro wanted us to know that the requirement had been changed by unknown since we started work and that the database would be refreshed.

Not that it helped, mind you. We'd still come back and not be able to modify the requirement (with the same error message). While I went to town trying to noodle a fix using scripts against the Rational Extensibility Interface (I'm too geeky for my shirt), my customer overcame the obstacle by going to an attribute matrix view and selecting multiple requirements. When he changed an attribute using the multi-select, ReqPro seemed to skip the error message; it allowed the changes to occur and saved his id as the new Author. From then on, those requirements were editable individually again.

Sometimes, you gotta just keep trying stuff.

Shipping Kryptonite

Shipping Kryptonite Modern technology! Combine UPS and the web, and I get to see that although I shipped my lock back to Kryptonite back in January, they didn't bother sending a new one to me until the end of March. Unfortunately, they put the wrong address on it, so it went back to Kryptonite, too.

Hopefully, the duct tape is keeping my bike safe over at the Metro station.

Unchained Melody

Finally ran out of excuses, so I had to bike to the Metro this morning.

A list of excuses:

  • I'm traveling: Today, though, I'm in Rosslyn for a meeting. Tomorrow, I'll be back on the road again.
  • It's too cold, rainy, and/or windy: Today seems to be continuing the weekend's beautiful weather. Besides, I commuted in Glasgow, for goodness' sake. There, every day is a rain day.
  • I still don't have a replacement for my Kryptonite lock: This one was a great excuse until the Brunette offered to let me borrow her lock. Thanks, Love!
  • My bike's broken: During a ride from Silver Spring in January, I found I couldn't shift gears any more. I fnally got around to trying to fix this, but I was having no luck. The guy at Proteus pointed out that my problem was not the shifter; in fact, the chain was split. A couple of links were flared into big Ys. My choices were:
    • Buy a new bike ($350-$2000)
    • Replace the drive train, and probably the crankshaft, too ($150-$200)
    • Slap on a new chain and see if it will mesh with the gears. ($40)
    Of course, I went with option #3. And the bike rides like a dream.

Last Bathroom Tale for A While

Neabsco Historic Marker "I can't imagine why I keep doing this," Izzy said.

"You're as fascinated by historic markers as I am," I told him.

"I feel like some kind of bleeding trainspotter," he said. "You dragged me all the way down to some rest area in Virginia --"

"It is a bit far from home," I allowed.

"--And you won't even let me use the restrooms," he ended in a huff.

"We have to think of a story to go with the sign," I pointed out. "That's the point of this exercise. We should study the sign. Focus -- that's what we need."

The sign read:


The Neabsco Mills Ironworks complex, under the ownership of three generations of the Tayloe family, of Richmond County, operated between 1737 and 1828. Located near this site, it was one of the longest continuously operating ironworks in present-day Northern Virginia. The 5,000-acre iron plantation, which was worked by resident free laborers, indentured servants, and slaves, was a multifaceted operation. The workers produced not only pig and bar iron for sale at home and export to Great Britain, but also engaged in shipbuilding, milling, leartherworking, shoe making, and farming. The complex was an important supplier of iron for weaponry during the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

"Nope, I got nothin'," Izzy said. "Can I go to the bathroom now?"

"Aw, now, you haven't given it a chance," I said. "What do you think of the connection with our last sign, what with weapons and all."

"All I can think of is running water," he said.

"Hush. Perhaps some wizard started his life working at the ironworks before he goes on to save the world."

"Too much like A Wizard of Earthsea," he suggested. "They spent a lot of time on the ocean in that book, didn't they? Sloshing back and forth between the islands. Slosh, slosh, slosh."

I gave him a look. "Being a blacksmith is not really the same as ironworking, is it?"

"Waterfalls and raindrops," Izzy said.

"Why would an ironworks get into shipbuilding, do you think?" I asked.

"Why would a company that makes diabetic accessories also make doggie clothes?" he replied with a shrug. "Drip drip drip."

"And why aren't there any good Revolutionary War books?"

"Sssssssssssssssssssssssss," said Izzy, mimicking the sound of running water. "All right, all right!" I said. "Go to the bathroom already."

He ran off to the restroom; I followed more slowly. I found him staring at the door. His mouth was slightly ajar.

"'Out of Order'," he read.

"Probably a broken pipe," I said. Izzy groaned. "Maybe it rusted through. Too bad there's not an ironworks around here."

And I ran to the car just ahead of Izzy's strangling hands.

Still in Suffolk

Ok. Well. Um. Etc.

Huh? Corporation

Ever wonder where I work? It might be a company like this one:

When one of our new-age marketing gurus or design experts or consultants has an idea, the rest of us look at him or her with serious expressions and write stuff down on paper.

We also have one of those dry-erase boards on the wall, and we take turns making flow-charts and brain-storming and talking about "injecting creativity into market positioning," and cool stuff like that.


A Blogging Report

Ok. So, I blame this woman named Martha O'Connor. She is the one to blame. Oh, I tried to limit my compulsive behaviour to incessant handwashing. It was quite a conversation starter there for a while. Sure, the conversations never seemed to get beyond "Really? How interesting."

But it gave me something to do.

Now, Ms. O'Connor pretended to protect us by not actually offering a link, but it was no use. Google is out there like our local pusher, ready to deal up the goods. And so I'm not afraid to give you the link to StatCounter. It's just another site visit counter, sure, but it offers statistics on your visitors.

So, every ten minutes or so, I need to go and check to see which countries are visiting me (Belgium was an early leader, but they've now disappeared) and what kinds of questions people are asking Google in order to find me (lots of ClearCase questions). Recently, there's been a burst of activity around searches for Doris Lessing. The most popular archive is July of last year, probably because of PowerBuilder more than Peter Loon.

This information is of no use to me whatsoever, but I can't stop looking. It's exciting to find that Swapping Tales is one of only three pages found when searching for "craft daft on a raft" on Google. It's disturbing to see how many people find me by searching for wife and swapping. (Dang. That'll probably up the number of hits on that search.) Maybe I should change the name? What does it mean if 72% of my visitors only stick around for five seconds or less? Hey! Hey! Stick around!

But the worst thing is, I don't have much desire to wash my hands anymore.

Follow Up on Weird

A Comics Report

As noted earlier, three comics shared a punchline on April Fool's Day. Okay, so I noted that two comics shared a punchline and a visitor added Foxtrot. At any rate, the artists told The Philadelphia Inquirer that they feel a little betrayed:

It was an April Fool's joke, no?

The artists all say: No way, buster! In e-mailed statements each says the idea was his own, and because he was foolish enough to share it with one of the other artists, it somehow got stolen by the others. Should we believe any of them?

Everything is just one big joke to those comic strip artists isn't it?

Oh, and if I owned a newspaper that I wanted to be taken seriously, I'd have to change its name if it had "Inquirer" in it.

Judging Books by Their Covers

I met my imaginary friends Bertie and Bob at Logan's Tavern. The Brunette and I had eaten there recently to support Food and Friends (Dining Out for Life). The twins were interested in rehearsing their new radio show -- the one where they review books by title alone. They didn't want to be influenced by actually reading the books, but they needed to make sure that they weren't too close to the mark.

"It's not so funny if we're close," Bertie said.

"Fine," I said. "As long as I get some wasabi meatloaf." The meatloaf at Logan Tavern has bits of wasabi smeared along the crust. It sits atop delicious mashed potatoes. I never thought I'd order meatloaf at a restaurant, but there you go.

Bob ran off to the restroom while Bertie and I discussed whether the Chinese character for taleswapper really is a combination of the characters for danger and opportunity. Bertie thought that it and full of were more likely. Bob returned in time to suggest a single word: syzygy. Once we ordered, we got down to the pile of books I brought. I held up the first one.

"Shear," Bob said nervously, "is a modern retelling of The Emperor Has No Clothes. It's set in the seamy world of Paris fashion in the twenties. Our protagonist finds initial success, but ultimate failure, in introducing translucent clothing to an unsuspecting populace."

"Um, I think that kind of sheer is spelled differently," I said.

"I think it might be funnier, too," Bertie said, "if people have actually heard of the book." I put the book away.

"What's it really about?" Bob asked.

"Rocks," I said and held up another book.

"Death of Vishnu," said Bertie, "is the story of an autistic boy in India who discovers a dead god on his doorstep. Initially accused of the crime, he sets out to investigate the murder with his whacky sidekick, the Cokewalla. "

"Why does he have to be autistic?" Bob wanted to know.

"Because that gives him special empathy for the god," said Bertie. "Who's more autistic than a god?"

"Besides," I said. "Autism is all the rage." I held up a science fiction book: Larry Niven's Ringworld's Children. I couldn't get Bob's attention. Bertie tapped him on the head.

"What are you doing?" he asked. "Stop fidgeting so much."

"Sorry," said Bob. "I have to go to the bathroom."

"You just went," said Bertie.

"It was for Women and Children only," Bob said. "Nowhere for Men."

"Do you want me to ask for you?" I said.

"Oh, no no. I'll be okay. What's the next book?" I showed it to him. It was Larry Niven's Ringworld's Children. He took a deep breath. "This is the true story of chickens coming home to roost. Thirty years after portraying angst-ridden teens in '80s movies, an actress is forced to confront bad behaviour in her own children. Hijinks ensue."

Bertie and I stared uncomprehendingly.

"You know," said Bob, eventually. "Mollie -- Breakfast Club and all that."

"Dude, that's Ringwald, not Ringworld--" Bertie started, but Bob's shaking legs were vibrating the table so much the water glasses were moving. "Why don't you go to the bathroom, already? You can go over to the Fresh Fields. They probably have a restroom."

"I -- I'm okay," Bob said. "What's the other book?"

"The Stupidest Angel," I said.

"Probably ought to say something about baseball. You got anything?" Bertie said, but Bob was staring at the ceiling. "C'mon dude. Go to the bathroom already."

"I can't; it's for women and children only," he whined.

"Women and children? I never heard of such a thing. You're off your head."

"Is that what the doors say?" I asked, more gently than his brother.

"Not exactly. There's a C and there's a W. What's it really about?"

"What? Oh, the book? An angel accidentally unleashes a mob of ravenous zombies on a Christmas party."

They just stared at me.

"No, really," I said. "Of course, it's not half as funny as it thinks it is."

"Neither are you," said Bertie.

"Water closet!" I shouted, making the brothers jump. "Dude, it's not for women and children only; WC stands for water closet. You can go in."

With a barely audible "phew!" Bob jumped to run off to the restrooms again.

"I should write a book," said Bertie. "I'll call it The Stupidest Brother."


A Comics Report

OK, so it is April Fools' Day (or is it April Fool's Day?), but it's weird that Pearls Before Swine and Get Fuzzy have exactly the same joke.

And it's not even about golf.