March 30, 2007

What, Did Someone Hit Us With A 'Truth In Advertising' Lawsuit?

Apparently the mothership has changed our corporate logo color. Go here to catch the old color (quick, before they catch up and change it!) - a sort of orangish-red. Now go here to see the new one. Pantone Matching System 186 (PMS 186), I'm told.

I prefer the more colloquial 'blood red.'

Apropos for a defense contractor, yes? (h/t: co-worker Mike)


Posted by Chris at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

September 26, 2006

Good Thing I Didn't Suggest That The Guy Had A Goat Picture

Today I learned that you can commit a fauxne pas without even being on a speakerphone at all.

If the other end of your call is and you don't know it.

Posted by Chris at 08:54 AM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

December 27, 2005

Unfortunately, Establishing The Borders Of The Day Job Isn't Nearly As Easy

Whenever we visit my in-laws', I work on this big jigsaw puzzle. I usually spend a few hours each time we visit, and as I sat there staring at this half-completed puzzle looking for a pattern to emerge, it occured to me: staring at half-completed puzzles looking for patterns to emerge is exactly what I do at the day job.

Posted by Chris at 01:47 PM | Comments (1)
Category: Random Vacation Thoughts

December 13, 2005

Bathroom Break, Boss?

The Facilities folks were in the lab again yesterday, vacuuming the water out from under the raised floor for the fourth time in a week and a half.

I have got to convince Management to allow us enough schedule slack for biobreaks, so my team doesn't have to piss through the access holes underneath their lab benches anymore.

Posted by Chris at 08:11 AM | Comments (2)
Category: The Day Job

September 28, 2005

The Law Of Unintended Consequences, Office Edition

We just went VoIP here at the Imperialist Capitalist Running Pig-Dog Military-Industrial Complex. One of the features of our new Cisco phones is internal Caller ID.

I predict that by the end of October, nobody in my office will ever answer their phone.

Posted by Chris at 08:25 AM | Comments (1)
Category: The Day Job

August 08, 2005

I Want This Person Should Calculate My Raise?

Last Friday, the division bigwigs did their quarterly webcast to talk about our year-to-date performance (brought to us live from Massachusetts, or Texas, or wherever the division is headquartered, beats me). It was pretty snoozeworthy, as usual, except for one tidbit.

One of the speakers was trying to get more people to arrange their travel through the company Travel department website rather than through local travel agents, because travel agents typically charge $40 per transaction and our Travel department charges only $20, which represents, and I quote,

"A savings of 100%."

The really scary part? I'm pretty sure the person who pinched off that growler was the division's chief Controller.

Posted by Chris at 10:11 PM | Comments (1)
Category: The Day Job

August 04, 2005

A Glimpse Into My World

I wish our requirements were defined half this well.

Posted by Chris at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

April 14, 2005

I Knew I Should Have Taken The Blue Pill

Today's edition of the twice-weekly meeting was really dull; to stay awake I would look out the open door whenever anyone walked by, just to get a break from the monotony. During the 40-minute meeting, I saw the same guy enter the same conference room on five different occasions - but I never saw him leave it! Finally, it occured to me - it was a glitch in the Matrix, and Agents were coming for me right that second!

Did you know that the T-Mobile operator will hang up on you if you call her and yell "I need an exit right the fuck now!"?

Posted by Chris at 12:20 PM | Comments (3)
Category: The Day Job

April 12, 2005

Possessed By Butthead

So I'm in the twice-weekly meeting where we discuss all the recent change requests (a less enlightened organization would call them 'bug reports') and decide what group needs to fix them and when they need to be fixed.

One of the engineers in the meeting described a problem with reloading the firmware on a peripheral device (which occasionally causes the entire system to lock up) thusly:

I tried to flash it, but half the time it just hung.
I spent the rest of the meeting chewing through my tongue in an attempt not to completely lose it.

Posted by Chris at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

December 17, 2004

Have I Mentioned That Proposal Work Sucks?

A couple of years ago, I did a tiny bit of work on this, and I got a whiff of the shit sandwich known as Proposal Work. Last year, I spent a couple of weeks writing technical verbiage for another proposal, and I got a small bite of that shit sandwich.

For the last two months, I've been getting a shit sandwich jammed down my piehole faster than I can swallow it.

But you know what? The next time I get asked to work on a proposal (and it will happen; a corrolary to Carter's Trap all but guarantees it), I'll say "Yes, sir, may I have another?"

Posted by Chris at 12:53 PM | Comments (2)
Category: The Day Job

December 06, 2004

No Pressure, Right?

So we're banging away on our proposal, trying to find that happy medium between "so expensive they'll never go for it" and "so cheap we'll lose our shirts trying to do it." As you might expect, a lot of this involves pushing numbers around on spreadsheets and playing 'what if.' And it's not like the formulae involved are real complicated, but there are an awful lot of them, which is why I worry about things like this:

A simple spreadsheet error cost a firm a whopping US$24m.

The mistake led to TransAlta, a big Canadian power generator, buying more US power transmission hedging contracts in May at higher prices than it should have.

In a conference call, chief executive Steve Snyder said the snafu was "literally a cut-and-paste error in an Excel spreadsheet that we did not detect when we did our final sorting and ranking bids prior to submission," Reuters reports.

Maybe TransAlta is an extreme example, but this kind of thing happens all the time. I especially like this one, which had the potential to be an order of magnitude worse than TransAlta:

In about 30 minutes, officers from my own company would meet their counterparts from another multinational company to negotiate a multi-year cooperative marketing agreement. Breaking the news was not going to be easy.

My own boss would be a key player at the table. He was well briefed on the business case from our analysts, showing that we could improve profits by $200 million at a net cost of $20 million. ROI for the other company also looked good.

I didn't look forward to telling him, now, what I had just discovered: our gains are really projected as $25 million--not $200 million. We just lost our negotiating elbow room.

Why didn't we know this sooner?

The business case came from some very competent analysts. They had checked and re-checked input data and assumptions continuously during several weeks of case building. Certainly the Excel-based financial model at the heart of the case projected $200 million in gains and $20 million in costs. What I found at the last minute, was that some very long spreadsheet formulas had parentheses out of place. When I put them where they belonged, our projected gains fell by seven-eighths.

Everyone on our side was relieved, I think, when the negotiations fell through later that day. We had learned the truth about spreadsheet errors, in spades: They don't reveal themselves.

To paraphrase Barnum, there's a spreadsheet screwup born every minute, and two to take advantage of it. First, this relatively harmless case:

By way of example, in November last year we bought ScS Upholstery (a specialist sofa retailer) at 172p after it warned on profits. A spreadsheet error had caused the wrong cost to be input into the system, with the result that their gross margin had slipped without management knowing. We knew that this would quickly be rectified, and sure enough the share price bounced back rapidly.

Although we sold at 224p in March (strong results last week sent the price above 240p), we were very happy to take our profit once the short-term mis-pricing had been eliminated.
Although I have to wonder how the investment firm knew about the spreadsheet error.

And second, this case where ENA ate ISIS' lunch:

Education Networks of America (ENA) operates the Internet network connecting schools across Tennessee. ENA twice won multimillion-dollar state contracts with bids that appeared higher than others. Jacqueline Shrago, who was the Education Department's project manager, said the ISIS 2000 bid appeared cheaper until costs for all three and a half years were computed. Looking more closely, it appeared that ISIS had made an error on a spreadsheet and that the bid actually was higher than ENA's, she said. 'We asked questions in the protest period, and they would not give an answer,' Shrago said. She said ISIS never explained, either, to federal agencies, which fund a large part of the schools computer system. So ENA got the contract.

Posted by Chris at 07:29 AM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

November 16, 2004

Proposal Work Sucks...

... but it's better than the alternative. Anyway, that's why I haven't blogged much lately; moreover, the situation is likely to continue until at least Thanksgiving. At least we get paid overtime. And free ice cream.

Is it normal to have your forty hours for the week in by Wednesday noon?
Posted by Chris at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)
Category: Administrivia

April 23, 2004

The Big Secret Revealed

Well, the gag order has been lifed. It was announced Wednesday that AFATDS was named as one of the U.S. Government's Top Five software projects by Crosstalk magazine:

SALT LAKE CITYóFive Defense Department software projects, ranging from a tactical-data fire support system to a computer-generated training system, were honored today at the Systems and Software Technology Conference.

The winners, chosen at the conference each year by CrossTalk magazine, include the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System; the Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support System; the H1E System Configuration Set; the One Semi-Automated Forces Objective System; and the Patriot Excalibur program.

They were among dozens of nominations received by a panel of judges.

AFATDS is a joint, automated command and control system used in Operation Iraqi Freedom to determine targets and to pair the targets with various weapons systems, including attack helicopters, cannon artillery, mortars and missiles. AFATDS was developed by Raytheon Co.

Posted by Chris at 08:29 AM | Comments (2)
Category: The Day Job

April 01, 2004

Hazard Pay

Every time I hear that civilian contractors are attacked in Iraq (like yesterday), I worry a little bit, because we've got people over there supporting AFATDS. They're pretty safe, relatively speaking, since they work directly with the troops over there and don't go anywhere off post without a military escort. Still, this excerpt from an email sent by one of our field engineers shows that life is fraught with risks; life in Baghdad doubly so:

Do you know Sergei [names changed to protect whoever needs protecting] the FE that supports 10th Mountain. He was up in Baghdad when all of those rocket attacks were occurring a couple of weeks ago. One night the attacks occurred he was blown out of his cot from the concussion of the blast when the rocket impacted. The side of his tent was shredded. He sent home a piece a shrapnel as a souvenier. Two nights later he was in a building that had all of the windows blown out from a rocket attack. The window openings had been sandbagged so nobody inside the building was injured from the blast. Injuries from the first attack were minimal. Sergei said the unit start calling him "Rocket Man".

Posted by Chris at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

February 24, 2004

Gag Order

Big news going public sometime in April. I wish I could talk about it now. Watch this space.

Posted by Chris at 04:41 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

January 30, 2004

Battle Palace Intrigue

[Full Disclosure: this is my day job.]

Field Artillery has long been known as the King Of Battle. But there are rumblings that the King may be dethroned, at least in the U.S. Army.

From Inside The Pentagon, Army Eyes 'Joint Fire Control Teams' To 'Enable' Lighter Ground Troops (I'm not sure why 'Enable' was in scare quotes):

One capability being eyed for cuts is artillery. Given the changing missions the Army is being called upon to perform in the post-Cold War era, Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker has told a number of Pentagon officials his service could cut 40 artillery battalions across the active and reserve components, sources tell ITP.

But Maj. Gen. William Webster -- the 3rd Infantry Division commander tasked with reorganizing his forces as a vanguard for Army structural transformation -- says he is hanging onto all his artillery battalions, at least for now.
There's a surprise. The Pentagon brass tries to tell the operational guys what they need to do the job they just did.
Webster this month has begun implementing a plan to divide his division into five brigades rather than the current three (ITP, Jan. 22, p1). But the commanding general says eliminating even a single artillery battalion could jeopardize readiness for near-term operations. Rather, Webster has opted to reduce the number of guns within each of his artillery battalions, he tells ITP.

Each of the 3rd IDís three brigades currently have a cannon battalion of 24 guns. Under the new configuration, the division will field just 16 guns in each of four brigades, says Webster, whose headquarters is at Ft. Stewart, GA. His fifth brigade, centered around aviation, will have no artillery.
Not counting the divisional artillery (and I don't think it changes under Webster's plan; they allude to that later), that reduces the total number of tubes in the division from 72 to 64. That doesn't seem so bad. What the article proposes is the idea of 'joint' fire support controllers who are capable of directing air, naval gunfire, mortars, tube artillery, rockets, and missiles (currently, it's a stovepipe situation, with each service controlling their own fire support systems). I think in general it's a pretty good idea; coincidentally, AFATDS is quite capable of tasking all those systems.

The Air Force isn't too keen on the idea, though:

"Iím not sure that weíre solving a problem," responds Air Force Lt. Gen. Dan Leaf, who, as a two-star, served with Webster at the Coalition Force Land Component Command headquarters at Camp Doha, Kuwait, during major combat in Iraq last spring. "In my recollection, we had an abundance of close air support" in Iraq.

In fact, Leaf said in a Jan. 23 phone interview, coalition ground force chief Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan requested shortly after the warís onset that planes shift from the close air support mission to air interdiction. That meant attritting enemy ground forces from the air much deeper, before they came into close contact with friendly land troops.
He's half right, but the reason for the shift was beause the artillery was pounding the dogshit out of the close targets -- they didn't need nearly as much CAS as they originally thought, so they wanted to save air support for long-range interdiction.
The joint community continues to seek ways to minimize close battle, when avoidable, Leaf said. In the right context, effective tools exist to hit enemy forces from a distance, he said.

. . .

Many in the Army believe Air Force officials sometimes exaggerate the ability of longer-range weapons to achieve objectives that, in the end, require close-up solutions.

"We have to realize that fighting, though, canít always be solved with a JDAM," said one officer, referring to the Air Force and Navyís Joint Direct Attack Munition. "There are things that guys have to roll up their sleeves and [do, like] crawl in a hole and see if itís Saddam. Or you have to go into basements or go into buildings. You canít always stand off and say, 'Kill íem.' And we saw that during Iraq."

"It is clearly preferable to engage an enemy at a distance when you have a choice," Leaf responded. "Long-range precision weapons are an important part of that capability. When the close fight is necessary, precision becomes especially valuable to the land commander. It would be wrong to overstate or understate that contribution."
Fair enough; one of the longstanding criticisms of artillery is that it is inherently non-precision, especially in a close fight. However, that's being addressed with new GPS-guided rocket and cannon rounds. Another effect will be a smaller number of rounds required to achive desired effects, which will result in a shorter logistical train.
Another lingering Army concern has been to avoid the appearance of relying on another service, like the Air Force, for combat effectiveness, some observers say.

In December 2001, Army Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck -- then the two-star commander of the 10th Mountain Division -- left behind his air support operations squadron when he deployed forces to Afghanistan, according to ground and air sources. When 10th Mountain forces ran into a tougher-than-anticipated al Qaeda enemy in Operation Anaconda three months later, Air Force officials -- left out of Hagenbeckís planning -- pieced together single-man ETAC teams and, with the Navy and Marine Corps, assigned aircraft at the 11th hour to rescue and support ground troops in trouble (ITP, Oct. 3, 2002, p1; and Nov. 21, 2002, p1).

Later, when Hagenbeck complained about lagging Air Force support in a military journal, air officials privately were outraged. But Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper sought to bridge the growing fissures, and initiated an effort with then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki to review the Anaconda experience.
. . .
The Army left its heavy artillery at home when it deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, but brought it to last yearís major combat operations to topple Saddam Husseinís regime in Iraq. Some ground force leaders say artillery proved useful in Iraq, but others say it was unnecessary against such a weak foe.
Sooooo... had Hagenbeck brought his artillery to Afghanistan, would there have been a need for an 11th hour rescue? I don't think so. Also, who exactly is saying that we didn't need artillery in Iraq since they were such a 'weak foe?' We already SAW what happened when we didn't bring artillery to a fight against a 'weak foe' (*cough*ANACONDA*cough*)! And that's ignoring the possibility of fighting a stronger foe in the future! Iran, North Korea, Syria? Yeesh -- bring every tube you got, then call UD and order more!
Once in place, howitzers have a slow rate of fire compared to other weapon systems on the modern battlefield, some critics say. Many military experts believe tanks and aircraft are more responsive and decisive than artillery against a challenging adversary.
No, no, and no:
  • Rate of fire: the M109A6 can fire four rounds per minute for three minutes (then one round per minute thereafter, based on barrel temperature). With 24 (or even 16) tubes per battalion, that's a lot of steel on target. Compare that to a strike aircraft -- once it dumps its basic load, it's back to base for more. How many 155mm rounds can you get on target in that time? Tanks? Yeah, they can get off two or three good shots per minute as long as their ammo holds out, but tanks have other problems...
  • Responsiveness: ...a tank can only hit what it can see. A cannon can hit a target 20 miles away, shift fire, and hit another target 20 miles from the first, all in a matter of minutes. An airplane can do that, but it has other problems...
  • Effectiveness against a challenging adversary: We have become spoiled in battle - our aircraft have not faced a significant threat since Vietnam. We have 0wnZ0r3d the skies everywhere we've fought, losing only some helicopters and a handful of fixed-wing aircraft to enemy fire (and none at all to enemy aircraft!). How much less effective would a strike aircraft be if the crew actually had to be worried about enemy fire? How many fewer F-14s, F-15s, and F/A-18s would be available for strike missions if the enemy could put serious pressure on their bases or carriers?
I wish I could quote the After Action Reports I've seen, but trust me when I tell you that the Field Artillery was a Stone Cold Bad-ass Mutha True Playa in Iraq. With a little bit of streamlining, it will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Posted by Chris at 03:15 PM | Comments (6)
Category: The Day Job

January 21, 2004

A Y2.1K Problem

Precision Blogging has an interesting entry today about commenting your code. I tried to add a comment of my own, but his comments server was down. My comment would have been, more or less, this:

Real programmers don't comment. If it was hard to write, it should be hard to understand.

Seriously, though... back in 1988 I was writing some code for a time/date display where we were only allowed two digits for the year (still in the era before anybody cared about Y2K). We didn't care about the first two digits anyway, until I found out that although 2000 would be a leap year, 2100 would NOT be, which would throw all the day-of-month and day-of-week calculations off. So I added a comment something like this:

/* Under the Rule of 100, the year 2100 is not a leap year. Under the Rule of 400, the year 2000 is. This code is written to work in the latter case and fail in the former. If this aircraft is still flying in the year 2100, I will personally return from the dead to fix the code. */

The Government reviewer was amused; my boss, somewhat less so.

Posted by Chris at 06:57 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

October 17, 2003

How Not To Ship Your Stuff Home From A Combat Zone

Our field engineers have the job of going out to the Army and Marine units who have fielded our system and help them get set up, train the operators, perform troubleshooting, and basically serve as a conduit between the troops and the technical staff here in Fort Wayne. This past week we've had Homecoming, where all the field engineers come to Fort Wayne and compare notes on what they've seen since the last Homecoming. Generally, these briefings talk about what works well, what doesn't, and what the soldiers in the field want. As a technical lead engineer, I'm also invited to the briefings to share in the no-shit hot skinny. Since we deployed several people into Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan in the past year, this Homecoming's hot skinny included several war stories, most of which I can't repeat for one reason or another. Here's one I can.

One of our field engineers (let's call him Fred; also, I've changed some details to protect the more-or-less-innocent) deployed to Kuwait with a unit before Operation Iraqi Freedom started. He was doing his field engineer thing when the unit's commanding officer came into his tent and said "We're going over the berm [crossing into Iraq] in 24 hours. You get to carry one duffel bag worth of stuff; ship everything else home. Your laptop has to go home, too."

Fred commandeered a ToughBox (reusable hard plastic shipping container) and dumped all his extra stuff into it - laptop, clothes, documentation he wouldn't need, etc. He finished packing and asked another field engineer (let's call him Ralph; Ralph was deployed with a different unit that wasn't going over the berm anytime soon) to ship it back home for him. Since they couldn't say where they were or where they were going due to security concerns, Ralph just shipped the box back to Fred's house without telling anybody where or why.

Imagine how Fred's wife felt when she arrived home from work a few days later and saw a ToughBox with Fred's personal effects - and no explanation - on her front porch.

Posted by Chris at 01:05 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

September 05, 2003

Travel Probability 100%

Blogging will be iffy over the next two weeks, as I am now headed for the UK on business until the 20th. Specifically, I'll be working here on this with these folks. It's pretty likely that I'll have to work straight through the weekend; however, if I get free for some of that time, I'll go to London for a night. If by some miracle I get the whole weekend free, I'll probably hop a ferry to Dublin and do my own little pub crawl.

And that's a shame. Not because of the pub crawl; I think everybody who likes a beer now and then (and now and then, and now and then) should try one sometime. The shame is that I won't be taking the Chunnel, even though I think it's one of the coolest pieces of engineering ever and I've always wanted to ride the EuroStar through it. The problem, of course, is that on the other side is France. Given that France is no longer our ally and hasn't been for a long time. I'm not real big on boycotts, but I prefer not to spend my money in countries actively fighting our efforts to protect our interests.

The other possibility is taking the EuroStar to Belgium, but with their screwy war crimes laws, for all I know I'll be brought up on charges because my son accidentally shot a playmate in the hand earlier this week with a plastic BB gun. Thanks, but no thanks.

Too bad the EuroStar doesn't go all the way to Germany. All they did was tell us they opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Posted by Chris at 05:42 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

August 20, 2003

Reporting For Duty At O-Not-Quite-Dark-Hundred

I'm on temporary assignment away from the regular day job helping to write a prototype as part of the proposal for this UK MoD project, which is very similar conceptually to the regular day job. We're working with a British company on the prototype -- they're doing the GUI and we're doing the heavy thinking underneath it -- and we need to coordinate with them on a daily basis. In fact, there's a small chance that I'll be traveling to the UK as part of this effort (this time yesterday, it was a pretty large chance, but the probability changes so frequently that for all I know I'll have plane tickets in my hand by close-of-business today).

Anyway, in an effort to improve the work-hour overlap between us and them (we're six time zones apart), we've been asked to start coming in at 5:00AM. Brutal, but do-able. Did you know that at 4:30 AM in mid-August in northeast Indiana, there's enough light to see? You still need headlights to drive, but, damn! That just ain't right. The reason is that northeast Indiana is about as far east as you can get and still be in the Central time zone. In the summer, at least, since as I've discussed before, most of Indiana has not yet mastered the art of setting its clocks ahead one hour in the spring and back one in the fall. Being farther east in your time zone = earlier sunrises.

Posted by Chris at 02:44 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

July 20, 2003

Good Press For AFATDS

The day job continues to get positive press for how well the system worked in Iraq; the latest is this article in Federal Computer Week. I'm really heartened by this mention:

"Friendly, or blue, force tracking is one area where the system needs no improvement. By using the system to control and clear fire areas, "there were no reported incidents of artillery friendly fire incidents" during Operation Iraqi Freedom, [commanding general of the Army Field Artillery Training Center] Maples said."

Posted by Chris at 08:04 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

January 16, 2003

We Interrupt This All-Hands Meeting...

We had an all-hands meeting for all the BMS people in Fort Wayne yesterday where our section chief, branch leader, third-level-VP, whatever flew in from Massachusetts, or Texas, or wherever our division is headquartered this week, and briefed us on our 2002 financials and plans for 2003. There was a Q&A afterwards, and I'd just asked a question (no problem doing that, unlike this day) and the Boss was just starting to answer when flower_goddess paged me with the 'call home now' code. So there I was, standing with a wireless mike in my hand in front of about 500 people, while the Boss was going on with his three-minute answer to what should have been a ten-second question. What to do? I couldn't just walk away to call home--that would have been a definite Career-Limiting Move. So I had to sweat it out, waiting for either the Boss to finish his answer (so I could gracefully exit) or flower_goddess to page me with the "drop whatever the $%&# you're doing and call home right $%&#ing NOW!" code (at which point I would have walked, on the basis that work consequences pale in comparison to flower_goddess consequences).

Meanwhile, somebody's cell phone rang. The guy looked at it and left the meeting area (lucky bastard). Ten seconds later, somebody else's cell phone rang, and he left the meeting area. Suddenly, all I could think about was "Oh, shit, what building just got blown up?" Mercifully, about this time, the Boss finished his answer, or at least just stopped talking--I couldn't tell, as I was having difficulty focusing--so I nodded gratefully, handed the mike to one of the communications support guys (hi Jerry!), and left. In retrospect, that probably looked bad enough--"Oh sure, Carter gets his answer and bails". So I found a phone and called flower_goddess, expecting her first words to be "Turn on CNN!" Turns out the bookstore had called and said they couldn't find my textbook used and would new be OK?

Well, at least she didn't use the "call home right $%&#ing NOW!" code...

Posted by Chris at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

October 30, 2002

I Have Grown Timid In My Old Age

When I was growing up, I never had stage fright. Didn't even know what it was, really. I was the Stage Manager in my senior class production of Thornton Wilder's Our Town. If you're not familiar with the play, understand that the Stage Manager is not only a speaking part, it's probably the one with the most lines. Opening and closing monologues to each act, countless asides to the audience, that kind of thing. Perfect for a know-it-all smartass like me. It's also when I started dating flower_goddess, but that's a story for another time.

A couple of months later was our annual Band Follies, and I was everywhere. Wind Ensemble, Stage Band, jazz quintet (Tigerland Dixiecats, for you fellow Allegan High grads), skits, in-between-acts; seven or eight appearances in all and I would have done more if they'd let me. Even eight years later, on Jeopardy!, I never had any problem with what one of the contestant handlers referred to as "how you handle the lights, the cameras, and the pressure." As an aside, you know you've gotten over an unpleasant event in your life when you forget its anniversary. More on that tomorrow. Or maybe next week. But I digress.

So now our company has reorganized again (is it common practice to have your org chart on a whiteboard?), and the new Guy In Charge of our operations, who of course isn't based where we are, is making the Grand Tour to find out exactly what the people who work for him do. There's about 1100 of us here; half work for him and half work for some other high-ranking suit. I think. There's really no way to tell anymore. At any rate, he's speechifying us later this morning, and I was one of the people picked to actually attend his presentation (as opposed to watching it over closed-circuit, like most of the rest of us). I'm expected to ask a question, which of course will be broadcast over said CCTV, and I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to say and I'm scared to death about it. I know better than to ask the questions I really want to ask, Career Limiting Moves such as "What makes you think you'll work out any better than the guy you replaced?" or "Do the accountants whose terminal fsck-up caused our stock price to go from 70 to 18 in four months still work for the company?, but beyond that, I don't really have anything.

And that bothers me. I don't know why - relatively speaking, there isn't any more at stake today than there was that night I stood up in the L.E. White Junior High cafetorium and kicked things off by belting out "Tonight's play takes place in Grovers Corners, New Hampshire." If I'd munged up Our Town, it would have been a looooong time before I lived it down. It's like I'm afraid to take risks anymore, which wasn't a problem twenty years ago (although in at least one case, maybe I should have been afraid) or even twelve years ago. More on that tomorrow. Or maybe next week.

Posted by Chris at 09:38 AM | Comments (1)
Category: The Day Job

August 20, 2002

More MLRS Fun

I still can't find the other pictures I alluded to yesterday, but here's an email I got in May of 1998 about the time a couple of launchers on a Fort Sill firing range experienced what is technically referred to as "a small oops"...

> If you haven't heard by now, there was a small oops
> registered at Fort Sill last week (11 - 15 May 98). About
> Wed, a unit managed to misplace a few MLRS rockets[1]. Reports
> say that 3 rockets got away. Two were found near Elgin, OK.
> The third is still missing and presumed to be lost in a lake.
> Best information indicates that the unit was operating on the
> East Range. There were three MLRS units on the range at the
> time and all must have been loaded and firing because the
> innocent units have not been identified and cleared yet. The
> rockets were the Reduced Range Practice Rockets (RRPR pronounced
> ripper). These rockets have a blunt nose causing the max range
> to be approximately 15 Kilometers. It has a smoke charge in the
> nose designed to produce a puff of smoke when it impacts so the
> observer can spot the impact (if the wind isn't blowing, the
> sun is in the right position in the sky, and the observer has been
> a very, very, good boy, the round may be seen by human eyes).
> All of this is contrary to the initial reports. The rockets were
> not loaded with HE[2] or even better, the DPICM[3] submunitions.
> (Yes, the submunitions are HE shape charges but they are not a
> large chunk of explosive packaged together as a single explosive.)
> The incident did not occur on the West range with the rounds
> impacting near Roger's Lane and 82d street[4].
> This event could be caused by several different factors. If MET[5]
> data was incorrect, it could cause the rounds to go some place
> other than the expected impact area. If bad target location was
> input the end location could be wrong. If the launcher did not
> do a good calibration run or input the wrong location, the rounds
> could go in the wrong place. Some one mentioned the launchers
> were using new software. Unfamiliarity with the software could
> have produced the incident. Fin failure is not likely if three
> rounds went astray. Lose a fin and litteraly lose a rocket.
> My unit in Germany is still looking for the rocket that lost a fin.

[1] MLRS: Multiple Launch Rocket System. An artillery system
comprising a launcher and 12 rockets with a range of about 35KM.
[2] HE: High Explosive. One big bomb.
[3] DPICM: Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional munitions. An MLRS
rocket loaded with DPICM contains several hundred softball-
sized bomblets designed to kill personnel in the open and
destroy soft-skinned vehicles. The deployment pattern saturates
an area larger than a football field. Verrrry nasty.
[4] This area is a residential neighborhood. Live rounds impacting
here would have been a bit more than "a small oops."
[5] MET: Meterological data--wind speed, direction, temperature, etc.
Kind of important when you're flinging a big chunk of metal a long
distance through the air.

Posted by Chris at 02:13 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

August 14, 2002

The biggest vehicle has right-of-way

While looking for something else in the sea of papers I call a den, I found some pictures related to an incident I saw at Fort Sill when I was there in 1995. Here's what you need to know if you ever have to drive on post there. I'll have more later, when I find the pictures needed to properly accompany my "Warning - artillery may be fired over road in this area" story.

Posted by Chris at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job

February 07, 2002

Totally Coincidental. Really.

A friend of mine here at work celebrated his 35th anniversary with the company today. Today is also the day a different department here is laying off 40 people, and rumors were flying that my department would have some layoffs even though the two departments have nothing in common. Imagine the look on poor Max's face when his boss came up to him at lunchtime and said "We need to talk. Can we grab a conference room?". . .

. . . and led him into a room where the secretaries had set up a surprise anniversary party.

Posted by Chris at 02:42 PM | Comments (0)
Category: The Day Job