– — .-. … . -.-. — -.. .

Now, I am sure some of you recognition those seemingly random dots and dashes. And to most of you, they don’t make a bit of sense. But for those trained in ‘CW’ [constant wave] or Morse Code, then you know that it reads ‘Morse Code.’ In an attempt to extend my amateur radio privileges, I need to learn this “new language” and be able to pass a test of 5 WPM [words per minute].

There are many different ways in which to learn code, including countless computer programs, books and CDs that will teach you how to study and make sense out of “dits and dahs.” That is what they actually call the characters, not dots and dashes.

I have actually tried to learn morse code one previous time when I was a newly licensed ham back in back in 1995 as KC5NWR in Arlington, Texas. I bought a set of eight cassette tapes from Radio Shack and started listening, but got quickly frustrated and stashed the tapes until I found them late last year while going through boxes of my stuff. Wouldn’t you know it, I start listening to them on the way to work in my truck and the damn tape breaks. So I upgraded. Since Radio Shack no longer sold the tapes, I hit up Ham Radio Outlet in Oakland and picked up a set of CDs.

In the meantime I have also downloaded about 5 different programs that allow you the luxury of setting up specific parameters in order to copy the code as the characters/words are sent. Now, this is no different than learning a new language. Can you learn to speak 40 words in a foreign language? Morse Code is no different. One method teaches using the dichotomic search where you follow a table, like the one below:

To be honest, I have not studied using this method, but like all it takes is a bit of effort in order to learn code. In the past few days, I have learned the entire alphabet and all the numbers, 0-9. There are also some prosigns that need to be learned. A prosign is a procedural signal that holds a special meaning. One example is AR [.-.-.] that means stop or end of message.

I have already successfully passed the necessary tests [called Elements] in order to have HF [high frequency] privileges, but it is the knowledge of Morse Code that allows to operate on those frequencies. So until I pass the test, I am very limited as to where I can operate, none of which is too terribly exciting, mostly local contacts using a repeater. I have until November to learn, understand and pass the 5 WPM test or else I will need to retest the written portions because they will expire after 12 months.

I am not worried…too much. I feel I am ahead of the game here, I can be driving along and spot a sign and spell it out in Morse Code. Talk about being a geek! But hearing a letter, such as ‘_..’ and being able to recognize it as ‘D’ is something else and does take some practice, even at 5 WPM for someone just learning or relearning the code.

Change is Good?

As mentioned last week after my BART interview, I was asked to provide my dependability calender for the previous year. Wouldn’t you know it, the ONLY time in the past 11 years I played hookie from work and it comes back to bite me in the ass. No big deal, as I see it. I still consider myself very dependable. But that is not what this is about.

In my search for my calendar, I ran across my 2005 Performance Review on a new Intranet based system the company uses to move away from the traditional paper reviews. I quickly scanned the review and noticed a discrepancy that quickly frustrated me. Recall this is my 2005 Performance Review, not 2006. This is from the past year, which as far as I can tell has been over for…oh 7, damn near 8 months. But what I found pissed me off!

It seems someone…no wait, I won’t be that vague, it seems the department manager has it in for me. Because it is my assumption [and yes I know what assume means] that she has maliciously gone into my 2005 review and changed the ‘Communication’ selection to reflect negatively against me. We are judged on a 0-5 scale, with ‘3’ being considered ‘Successful.’ I read that section closely and most of was the same as presented to me back in February:

Steve, you translate organizational direction and goals in a simple and meaningful way. You share information as appropriate in an open manner.

Steve, you convey technical information in a clean and concise manner and answer questions both clearly and concisely.

That was how it originally read, with Communication receiving a ‘3’ or ‘Successful.’ Unfortunately, there had been some alteration along with a score change to ‘2’ or ‘Needs Improvement.’ to what was originally written that included,

One caution, sometimes your concise sytle of communication can be perceived as both abrupt and terse, so please try to keep that in mind when answering phones. Stephen, you do not consistently sustain or support an environment where people feel able to express themselves honestly, You communicate effectively to some employees, but not all. You are generally respectful but can be abrupt with others when their viewpoints differ. Steve, you convey technical information in a clear and concise manner, but once again, at times you come across rather abrupt.

It seems management loves to repeat themselves, as if that gets their message across. Regardless of what has transpired since 2006, I find it wrong to reflect that information on a period of time that has expired. I also point my finger at the department manager, because she [the empty skirt] is the only one who calls me by my full name. You know what, my mother never called me by my full name, Stephen unless I was in trouble. Last I knew, this woman is not my mother. She might see me 5 minutes a week. A week! I have usually left prior to her arrival. So these comments are somewhat odd since she is never around when I am working.

I only bring this up because our company is going to “reward” its employees with a pay raise in the coming week. These raises will be based on your performance over the past year [that’s 2005] and a portion of 2006. While the raise, as I was told will be between 4% – 7%, those negative comments alone are sure to cut me out of a few percent of this small pay raise.

This is the same company that took, at will damn near 30% of pay since 2001 and now we must prove to them again, we are worth a 4% to 7% pay increase. *cough* Bullshit! *cough* I guess this is better than a swat in the ass, right? They could be taking more from us since for another quarter they will not be making money. *sigh* I have brought this to the attention of my direct supervisor who presented the review to me earlier in the year. If he is not willing to do anything about it, then I will escalate the issue to Human Resources if need be. I don’t believe this is any way to treat any employee.

Just one more reason why I cannot wait to get the hell out of here. The resignation letter is already typed up, just need to add the date and sign it.

Point Blank Review: Eureka!

I’m not a big television watcher, I used to be, but that was pre-Internet and before I had a wife and family. As a youth I did watch my fair share of TV, it would probably be consider “unhealthy” by physicians these days. I recall faithfully tuning into shows like Dukes of Hazzard, the A-Team, Miami Vice, but those were 20+ years ago. But, with that said, I was also very active, playing organized sports and terrorizing the neighborhood with friends until my mother would yell out of the back door for me. Yeah, she would do that.

While I was not an original viewer of The X-Files, it quickly became on of my favorite shows during the mid-90s. Chris Carter, prior to the last few season, when Gillian Anderson was not around and Mulder was “missing” was not as enthralling with their “replacements,” nonetheless I still watched.

Most of my viewing time has been spent watching sports, The Weather Channel, History and Discovery Channel. But in terms of a television series, I was just not dedicated to watching one on a regular basis. That was until the Sci Fi Channel originally program, Eureka. With the recent upgrade in my cable television package, we also got a DVR, which has now allowed us the luxury of recording shows at our convenience.

I only caught one trailer for the show, but it piqued my interest enough to set my DVR to record, not just one episode, but the entire first season. So far, I have watched the pilot and episode 102 titled, ‘many Happy Returns’ I was hooked. While the premise is somewhat “out there” you must remember this is science fiction, it does not necessarily have to make sense. You watch for the enjoyment factor, at least I do.

The pilot episode began with Jack Carter, the main character transporting a “prisoner” back to Los Angeles when their car is runs off the road avoiding an animal. Jack and his female prisoner walk to the nearest town, which happens to be Eureka, thus beginning the series. We find out the supposed prisoner is his daughter who had ran away and was being returned to her mother.

You quickly become acquainted with the other characters in the town of Eureka, such as DOD liaison, Allison Blake, who provides Jack with a “steady flow of professional and romantic frustrations.” Beverly Barlowe plays the local psychotherapist, and also runs the local bed and breakfast inn. The last female character, with a strong, dominant personality is Jo Lupo, the deputy sheriff and former U.S. Army Ranger. She is rather uptight and could definitely use a good lay!

All the women are rather sexy and attractive, not sure if that was intentional or not. But many sexual innuendos are tossed about, between Jack and Allison and Jack and Beverly, both of whom are attracted to Jack and vice versa. But there is also something mysterious about the woman.

We also meet town jack-of-all-trades, Henry Deacon who in his spare time is the local mechanic, but was a former engineer. Not, not on trains, but developing space shuttles. Again, another character with a shady background, who seems to be hiding something as well.

You can check out some of the weird and wacky Made in Eureka gadgets that are “revolutionary” and could “dramatically change your life.” So if you are looking for a break from the ordinary, take a trip to Eureka, where nothing is as it seems.

One Step Closer?

I just walked inside from fetching the mail with my son. I drop him in his jumper and turn on Leap the Frog and thumb through the mail. There in a white envelope, with black and blue letters a response from BART. I hesitated again to open the letter for fear of failure. Yeah I still feel like the interview did not go as well as I intended it to, but that is something I have to live with now since it is over. I held it up to the light for a moment and then decided to open it.I actually told my wife last night, “if I don’t get the job, I am drowning my sorrows in a bottle of alcohol.” Yeah, I know that would get me nowhere and accomplish nothing, but this job is so important to me, my health and most of all our family. This is security! This is a great company, one I want to spend the rest of my working years with, especially with a person like Paula, whom I have the world to thank for helping me get this far.Okay, back to the letter, so I tear open the end and like Charlie in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, I slowly slide the letter out and fold by fold open it. The top fold did not reveal any information except my name and the date, which was July 24, 2006. So the next fold was the important one. As I slowly unfold it, I see the words, “Congratulations!” That was all I needed, or did I?The letter that followed said that I had been “selected and placed on the elgibility list for the position of Train Controller.” Okay, that’s a good start, right? That list is active for 12 months from the date I stated and that this eligibility list “has been given to the Chief Transportation Officer for further consideration.” Uh, okay? Does that mean there are no active openings or there is yet one more person who needs to approve individuals on this list before being offered a position? *shrugs shoulders* I don’t know? Finally the letter concluded with, “Again, congratulations from the Joint Evaluation Committee.”So gang we are one step closer to a new job and I still have a smile on my face as wide as the Grand Canyon! I did send an email to Paula to see if she could shed any light on this “further consideration.” I do know for a fact there are openings, atleast this is what I was told. I also know there will be further openining later this year. It seems the proverbial cards are finally falling to my advantage. I will keep you abreast of any breaking phone calls offering me the position. I will keep my fingers crossed.

How Hot is Hell?

The past five days have been in excess of 110F [43C] out our way, a proverbial “heat wave.” It’s funny how the news media makes such a big deal out of adverse weather. You see it, the heavy rains and storm or very hot weather. Last I checked, this IS summer and it IS supposed to be hot. Right? I think its beautiful weather, granted I have not done much work outside that past week, given I have not had a day off since this “heat wave” has begun.

The air conditioning has been going, what seems like, non-stop the past week. I have watched it on a regular basis, received countless e-mails from California ISO regarding energy supply/demand issues. I have tried to make sure we have “conserved” when possible turning off our computers [more on that soon], lights, turning the air conditioning up a few degrees. And if you don’t go outside 78F or 80F downstairs with the ceiling fan turning is comfortable. At least I think so, my wife may have another opinion.

But we have not been without our share of problems, some of them directly related to the heat. While the “rolling blackouts” have been hanging over our head, we have not had any of them to date. There have been momentary outages [like 30 secs], the power clicks off and then comes back on. I know I am stating the obvious, but computers don’t like when this occurs. My server have been struck twice now and I continue to have issues trying to get it restarted. Last week, I had the BSOD with “inaccessible boot device” that required a ‘CHKDSK /F’ command booting to the operating system CD.

Hindsight is 20/20 as they say and a UPS would be wise to own, given my current situation, but I don’t believe it would resolve the issue completely, since I was at work last night when the power tripped twice in about a 45 minute period, so said my wife. I have also been looking at an external HDD, that I could use to back up all the “important files” I have. I have not made a decision quite yet, as I will have to try and get my server back up and running tomorrow.

In Cougar news, I have been offered a deal on a 1970 Cougar Eliminator, Grabber Blue/Black with a 351W and 50,000 miles on the original engine. It is a “steal of a deal” but I need to talk to my wife about it. Obviously, we are still in limbo with the position at BART, which IF we get would really be great! But I cannot wait too long because this deal will not last and any Cougar enthusiast interested in owning a car of that type would snatch it up. That is what I am worried about, a Eliminator in my backyard, for a price I had not excepted to be what I was quoted. But the “voice of reason”, my wife is not as convinced as I. More news on Tuesday about the Eliminator.

As mentioned a moment ago, no update from BART. I was able to fax my dependability calendar two nights ago, which was the last piece of paperwork they requested. And damnit, wouldn’t you know it, May/June was the ONLY blemish on my 11 years at United, I missed a total of 4 days. So that does not make it too happy, since it really does not reflect my true dependability. That is 1 sick day in every 1003 days or as I see it no sick days in 10 years. Both very impressive. The last piece that needs to fall into place, a phone call to my manager, they asked for a name and phone number. I am not sure what sort of information they are going after, but hopefully this manager does not screw me with negative comments about me. I guess we wait and see…