If you can’t dazzle them with dexterity . . .

. . . baffle them with bullsh*t. After all these years, I still have the capacity to be amazed that presumably intelligent people are capable of doing something like this:

Accelerate the design and delivery of complex workflow processes leveraging event-based automation and dynamic critical path analysis.

Who writes this kind of stuff? And why haven’t they been beaten to death with their keyboards?

Here’s an English translation: Full-featured job scheduling software.

I think I’m going to go aggregate viral solutions enabling syndicated revolutionary networks to transition turn-key relationships. Or something.

Idiots behind the wheel

Well. Today’s idiot actually made Idiot Letter of the Day for a simple-minded and fallacious argument against the Minnesota Supreme Court’s upholding of the decision barring Minneapolis from using the photo-cop system.

The background, for those of you who aren’t aware, is that a couple of years ago Minneapolis installed red-light cameras at ten intersections in the city and started issuing citations based on license plate numbers of cars photographed running red lights. Of course, the tickets were sent to the registered owner of the car rather than the driver, because a camera is incapable of determining who the driver of the car was. The system was then shut off by a decision from a Hennepin County judge (which was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals and now by the Minnesota Supreme Court) because state law states:

The driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable thereto placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this chapter. [emphasis added]

Today’s idiot wrote

Can someone please explain to me how it can be illegal to issue a ticket based on a PhotoCop picture yet it is perfectly legal to ticket someone whose car is parked illegally? If PhotoCop tickets are unconstitutional because you can’t prove who was driving the car, how can a parking ticket be constitutional? You can’t tell who parked the car.

For starters, the reason the photo-cop system was overturned was because the municipal statute was in conflict with state law which specifies that drivers, not vehicle owners, are responsible for obeying traffic signals. It was not overturned on constitutional grounds. Therefore, the letter writer is an idiot.

Secondly, if the writer is suggesting that photo-cop should be valid because parking tickets are valid (not explicitly stated by the writer, but I suspect that’s the point, rather than arguing that parking tickets should also be invalid) it’s necessary to point out that two wrongs don’t make a right. If we have to accept that parking tickets are issued to the wrong person but are acceptable because there’s no reasonable way to issue them to the person who left the car, it is not the case with red-light runners. We have a time-tested way of dealing with drivers who break the law: they get pulled over. If we don’t want to increase taxes to pay for more cops, then tough. It doesn’t mean that we shift the burden of proof away from the state.

Further, if we actually want to talk about constitutional issues, it doesn’t take a lot of thinking to realize that there’s a difference between a car sitting by itself where it shouldn’t be and a car being driven through a red light with a driver behind the wheel.

In the latter case, the driver is clearly responsible for the action of the car; the owner has nothing to do with it. In the former case however, there’s no problem until the driver is no longer present. If the driver is in the car, it’s not parked. (If there’s a no stopping rule in effect, the driver would be cited, not the car’s owner.) If a car is parked illegally, it logically means there’s no driver. Therefore, there’s no one who can reasonably be held responsible other than the owner and therefore the letter writer is still an idiot.

Read your own words, idiot.

I’m often left at a loss for words after reading the letters to the editor in the local paper. The logic used — or more accurately, not used — leaves me sputtering, helplessly wishing I could reply to the writer to explain why he or she is clueless. Since the paper is non-interactive, I think I’m going to start replying to letter writers in this space. It won’t change anything, but it might make me feel a little better.

With that said, here’s the first featured idiot, from the Monday, April 2, 2007 StarTribune. Referring to Rep. Phyllis Khan, the idiot wrote:

“It’s one of the basic principles that the country was founded on, which is no taxation without representation,” she was quoted as saying. But that principle did not stop her from voting for H.F. 946, which increases all kinds of Minnesotans’ taxes without a voter referendum.

This one is pretty obvious: He’s casting a representative as a hypocrite for referring to “no taxation without representation” because she’s voting for tax increases in the course of performing her representative duties rather than turning the issue over to the voters directly.

I’m resigned to the fact that many people are idiots, but I’m left wondering why the Strib bothers to print dreck like this.

Movin’ on

For those of you who haven’t already heard, I turned in my resignation at Boston Scientific today. My last day will be March 14th.

I’ll be starting at UnitedHealth Group on March 19th as a Web Developer.

Now before anyone gets the idea that this decision is some kind of knee-jerk reaction to the recent layoff unpleasantness, let me just say that it’s not. It’s related to the layoffs of course, in the sense that I wouldn’t have been looking for a job right now, but that’s it. Once I’d actually interviewed for the job and had gotten a feel for it, I’d already decided that I would take it if the offer was acceptable, whether or not I was laid off.

The big plus for me with the new job is the type of programming work involved. At Boston Scientific, the work is mostly with event-driven real-time applications, primarily written in C/C++. What I’ve always liked most is working on database-driven software, and my main strength is in Java. The new job is doing Java webapps, heavily database-driven. So. The choice was pretty clear.

What this means is that for the next couple of weeks, I’ll be spending my spare time knocking the rust off of my J2EE skill set and reading up on Spring and Hibernate. Beyond that, I’ll be making sure everything is cleaned up at Boston Scientific to make sure nothing is lost when I leave, a task that should be pretty easy as I’ve just done that in the week leading up to the layoff date.I’m actually pretty down about leaving Boston, partly because it’s still a good company to work for, but mostly because I have the best manager and co-workers imaginable. I hope I’ll have the chance to work with a group like that again someday.

Anyway, this calls for a night out in the next couple of weeks. I’ll let you know when there’s a time and a place.

Misallocation of resources

Recently, I was at the library flipping through a copy of a book titled Bitter Java (which is about the language, not the drink), and glanced at the copyright date to get an idea of how out-of-date the book was, the library being full of useful programming books like Java 2 For Dummies and Programming Macros for Excel 5.

The book was copyright 2002, which means that it may be of some use, because it’s a book of lessons learned, rather than a development guide to the state-of-the-art, but what really caught my eye was this:

Recognizing the importance of preserving what has been written, it is Manning’s policy to have the books they publish printed on acid-free paper, and we exert our best efforts to that end.

Of all the things to print on acid-free paper. A programming book.

Realistically, programming books should be printed on the same wood chip-infested stock used for comic books; comics probably have a longer shelf life on average.

As a matter of fact, I’d appreciate programming books that disintegrated into compost on their own within five years of purchase. My programming library is full of crud pertaining to Visual Basic 6 and CL for the AS/400. Unfortunately, they’re books, which means that they can’t just be thrown away, and they’re also obsolete, which means that they can’t be given away. The last thing I need is for publishers to try to ensure the things are still around for my kids to dispose of.

Five weeks gone by . . .

I expect that within twelve hours of posting this, I’ll finally know whether or not I’m still employed by Boston Scientific. Either way, it’ll be a relief to have it over with.

I said in my last post that I hadn’t volunteered to be laid off, and that I was fine with that decision. However, I realized I was lying to myself. I mostly rationalized the decision to not volunteer because it absolved me of the risk should I have a hard time finding a new position. However, once I realized how many people had volunteered and how many people had managed to find positions in unaffected departments within the company, I realized that I really did want to be let go. Damn. So, for the last three weeks I’ve been living with the knowledge of my mistake of not volunteering and what it could potentially cost.

At this point, I’ve decided that I will be leaving the company soon, whether it’s by my choice or theirs. With the number of my coworkers who will be gone and the completely different scope that my department will have in the future, I realize that this is the perfect time to move on. The cost of leaving on my own is a very substantial severance package. The choice to volunteer is obvious in hindsight, but of course that doesn’t do any good now.

So, hopefully tomorrow I’ll be posting about my newly found lack of employment.

Wish me luck.

Layoff update

There’s not much to tell, but in case you’re curious (and I know at least some of you are) here’s an update:

The basic story is that I won’t know anything about whether or not I’m staying with Boston until February 15th, when I’ll either sit in my cube fidgeting all day, or sit in my cube fidgeting until they take my badge, tell me to pack up and escort me out. So.

People were allowed to volunteer to be let go, but I decided against doing so. While it would be disappointing to miss out on the substantial severance payout, I wouldn’t mind staying with the company. Of course, I’m still fairly certain that my name will be on the list of those leaving, and since volunteering would reduce my severance somewhat, my decision was largely made for me.

So, there’s not much news. I have one phone screening coming up this week, but other than that I’ve not yet started looking for a new position. I expect that I’ll be starting to do so next week. It’s a process I hate, but I’m in a much better position overall than I was last time I actually needed to find a job, so I expect it to go fairly well.

Details aside, my only real feelings about the looming specter of layoffs is that I want it to be over. As I’ve decided to forgo volunteering, there’s no other action I can take, but that fact doesn’t stop me (or anyone else) from listening for any bit of news or speculation, and then churning it around to add my own speculation to the mix. I’m trying to avoid it, but it’s a pretty constant hallway conversation. Even though I’m not particularly worried about what will happen, I find the constant presence of the topic to be pretty stressful and a real waste of mental energy.

Regardless of what happens, I expect that you’ll find me much happier on February 16th than I am today.


Over the last couple of days, I decided to refocus my attention on things that I actually liked.

Revolutionary idea, no?

I realized that I was spending too much time reading on topics that merely got me worked up, things that I felt negatively about, rather than things I was actually interested in. I’m specifically talking about politics, but I’d also been reading about economics as well, albeit from a political slant. I thought of reading about politics and economics as somehow noble, a sign that I took my obligations as a citizen seriously, but while those topics may sound more high-minded than watching pro wrestling or the Jerry Springer show, my involvement was the moral equivalent. I just sat on the sidelines, yelling and waving my fists in the air, feeling self-righteous whenever the bad guys won or were brought out to meet the audience. Unless I was planning on making politics or economics my vocation, or at least an avocation, there was really no point.

So, Reason H&R: Zap! George Will: Blam! Molly Ivins: Kablooie! Marginal Revolution: Axed! And all the rest of you, good riddance!

And hello to ScienceDaily! Welcome, Space.com! Pull up a seat, Ars Technica! Sit and put your feet up, J2EE Patterns! And all the rest of you geeky, techie feeds, stop in and say Hello! Sorry I’ve been away for so long!

Oh, and a big thank you to MrMeph for the long geeky conversations of late, which reminded me that I really like that stuff.