Friday, April 11, 2008

Old men on the make

Oh boy, New Kids on the Block are back! You remember them - they were once scheduled as an opening act for Tiffany!

Security personnel sleeping at Turkey Point

Maybe I'm lucky that in my nuclear power days I never caught a security guy sleeping on the job. The first time I might just make some noise, but I doubt it. For while I don't necessarily think it's a huge security compromise (if someone has made it to your reactor building already this isn't your only security issue), it's definitely something that'll get the plant busted bigtime by any NRC inspector who happens upon it.

Fines are the easy part. Then the usual braying idiots would trot out their usual claptrap, and the clueless buffoons who pass for media would publicize it far beyond its significance. So as a minimum I would have been tempted to make a beeline for his supervisor.

OTOH this security person is probably positioned to make your life miserable too. He and whoever might have been covering for him could say that they'd caught you doing something and guess who's in trouble now?

Security is outsourced at many facilities. If that's true at Turkey Point, there definitely ought to be blisters all up and down their local management's backside. They ought to know how to keep their staff awake - this isn't exactly a new problem with security firms.

But they might have fewer options than you think. One obvious one is security cams at strategic areas. This isn't trivial for a number of regulatory and other reasons that I don't have time to discuss now (some of which involve security...), whether the system is wired or wireless. I'd expect newer plants to have such things in the design, but backfitting them to today's fleet would be awfully expensive.

I haven't set foot inside a nuke plant for over a decade now, so maybe things have changed. But while I was there, NRC inspectors didn't exactly swarmed over the facilities. There was no need to really - day to day operation isn't exciting and shouldn't be. So inspectors would show up in the plant once in a while, but mostly they did paperwork and went to meetings. So if they caught someone sleeping it's pretty sad.

I don't want to hear any excuses for the security guys sleeping. But let's not get too excited about this either.

It's never too early... choose your child's gang.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Video made simple

About a year and a half ago I went to make a fairly simple video production and failed miserably. It would have helped if I hadn't waited until the last minute, but I didn't expect my software to put up so much of a fight, especially with syncing sound to video.

So lately I've been reading good things about the Flip Video device and thought I might check it out. Then when I happened upon them in stock at a Sam's Club for $140 when I had some money burning a hole in my pocket, I bit.

Wow, it couldn't get much simpler or easier.

It was a bit of a PITA the first time I used a particular computer with it because it needed to load a codec, and the first time I used it at all I had to sit through a firmware upgrade. But since then it's been a real trouper with both XP and Vista.

It's about as self-contained as you can get. You don't need to install any software with DVDs or downloads - everything you need is already loaded on the device. Plug it in to an available USB port, wait for the system to recognize the device and go!

Likewise there are no cables to lose on the run. The USB male connector is built in rigidly - you just extend it from the case, plug it in, let the system recognize it and you're in business. I did have trouble trying to plug it into the USB ports on a couple of different machines because of funny geometry in one case and an EVDO card in another. But for most it will work fine, and for the rest there's A-A USB extension cords (which shouldn't cost more than $10 no matter what Radio Shack or Best Buy say).

So when someone of longish tenure left the company recently, I wound up going around shooting quickie goodbye videos. The picture and sound quality were far better than I expected, and loading the videos onto the PCs was more or less idiot simple. So with nothing but miserable past experience, no talent, a device I'd had for 2 days, and a newish Vista laptop with a DVD burner, I produced some tolerable output from a bunch of people in no more than a couple of hours, and most of that time was probably data transfer time while I multitasked.

It's not perfect, and it certainly doesn't have advanced features. But it's $140, for crying out loud. It's self-contained, small, runs on AA batteries so there's no wall wart (I don't want to know how many of those blasted things I have), and the learning curve is nearly nonexistent (with the caveat that I'm a gadget geek with an engineering background). It's roughly the size of a candy bar, so it can go anywhere. You can take still pictures. The model I bought at Sam's has 2GB of RAM which allegedly will hold an hour's worth of video (haven't really challenged it yet). And I've only had it since Sunday, so I probably don't know a lot of things it can do yet.

Bottom line - I'll be buying more of them.


More than once I've heard companies described as "the best first and third job you'll ever have". The idea was that if you stuck around nothing would happen, but if you left and came back you could jump a couple of grades ahead.

Today just happens to have been the last day for someone who had been with the company for several years. The joke is that they'll be back in a couple years in a much better job. At least two people in my org chart have done that that I know of.

And now today Glenn Reynolds links to this. Hmmm.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Unpresidented authority

Glenn Reynolds notes how some people think the next President ought to seize greater authority to fight global warming, to avoid having to work at Congress's pace.

Well, there's another way to avoid Congressional nonsense, and that's to avoid using the govt in the first place. All they can bring to the party is coercion.

Oh yeah, they can write big checks too. But how did they get that money, anyway? Yep, coercion. No matter what willfully obtuse technical jargon Harry Reid might hide behind.

Lots of private citizens can write big checks too. Unfortunately they seem to be writing them to the Democrats. Obviously, rather than addressing problems yourself, it's far better to spend money on people who a) might not get elected, b) might not be able to deliver, and c) might not really have any intent to deliver in any case. Right? Maybe the answer is to start selling lottery tickets in larger denominations.