Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Marshmallow Toasting Has Been Cancelled

Apparently massive fires are the new normal for summers here. This map has the current satellite data for what started as the "Guinda Fire" and then became called "County Fire". (I'm not sure why it got the latter name since it's now in three counties, but I'm sure there's a reason.) When I went to bed last night it was estimated at 45,000 acres. When I got up seven hours later that had gone up to 70,000. It's only 5% contained which is just a step up from "Run For Your Lives!". The clear area in the middle of the orange/red oval is where it already burned over the weekend.

I live over on the east in Woodland. I think there's enough agricultural land that can be flooded that the fire won't get this far, but I'm not basing that on anything CalFire has said so I might be completely wrong. CalFire has their staging camp half a mile away from my house, though, so I suspect they don't think it's likely to burn either.

I have friends who are in evacuation zones and my social media is filled with people needing or offering transport and accommodation for horses and livestock in the affected area.

All I'm saying is that if I end up with a herd of goats in my back yard it's really not my fault...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

If This Had Been An Actual Emergency...

I work in three locations: (1) home,  (2) a big corporate office with lots of people (who were all busy watching the World Cup matches on Monday), and (3) a very small office that is part of a big building that has one of the company's switch hubs. Today I was at the third one. Some days I'm the only person in the office, but today they were having some sort of training so there were a few extra switch techs and managers around. This was my day:

- While the building is near both the beer factory and the jelly bean factory, there aren't a lot of places to grab food and there aren't any vending machines in the building, so one of the managers ordered pizza for the group undergoing training. This started a multi-call tracking effort because the pizza guy couldn't find the (unlabeled) building but wouldn't answer his phone. At one point the pizza restaurant was going to make more and send someone else because they thought something had happened to the first guy, but he did eventually show up.

- We had company-provided ice cream bars to celebrate the fact that our region didn't lose a multi-company comparison. (There was a fair amount of head scratching as everyone tried to figure out how we pulled that one off. But yay, ice cream.)

- The switch techs are an interesting bunch. There are usually only one or two in the building at any time, and they cover shifts over 24 hours. Those requirements tend to select for people who don't mind being alone all day long and don't do much socializing. So... yeah.

- Yes, I realize I just described my ideal working conditions. But these people are even more isolated-cabin-in-the-woods than I am.

- In the afternoon the senior manager came by and said "We're having a fire drill." In most buildings that would be accomplished by someone notifying the fire department they were conducting a drill and then setting off the fire alarm, but apparently there is a possibility if they do that in this building the fire suppression system might go off. So instead we just waited until the training was over and went to the conference room.

- Once in the conference room the pressing question was what cost code to use because half the people were now on overtime. (I'm salaried so that didn't apply to me.)

- In the event of a fire, the switch techs are supposed to clear the building and then everyone meets under the sign at the far end of the parking lot. If there aren't any switch techs present, any other employee is supposed to clear the building. Since I can't access 90% of the building, if I'm the only employee present, any contractors that are too stupid to leave the building when the fire alarm goes off will just have to burn to death.

- If there is a bomb threat we're supposed to call 911 and also corporate security. On a landline. I have no idea how one contacts corporate security, but since I never answer the phone I don't see how I would ever have to deal with a bomb threat.

- If there's an active shooter we're supposed to either stay where we are or run away, unless the shooter is outside waiting to pick us off as we run out the door. By the end of this part of the meeting I was pretty much planning never to come to work again.

- If the building ever does need to be evacuated, nobody is allowed to go back inside until an executive director gives the all-clear. The nearest executive director is in southern California. Nobody could figure out how this was supposed to work. If we ever do evacuate I'm taking all my stuff with me because we won't be getting back in the building any time soon.

- Then one of the... less socialized, let's call him... switch techs told us that he had packed up ready to leave one day when a contractor in the yard needed to use the restroom, so he let him in the building then had to wait 25 minutes for him to come back out again. He concluded by saying he wished there had been a fire alarm that day because he would have been able to just leave.

- Half the people were staring at this guy because why would you tell that story? and the other half were staring because...

- "What was he doing in there?" one of the other switch techs asked.

- "Men don't ask each other that!" another switch tech explained.

- The conversation then moved to describing the (extra large!) burrito that must have necessitated that bathroom break. Many people chimed in.

- I realized after a couple minutes of this discussion that these people were all getting paid overtime for this.

- We eventually concluded the fire drill without leaving the building and I went back to my cubicle.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Revenge of the Universe

We've arrived at what is nearly the longest day of the year, which means Saturday was time for my semi-annual attempt to be social, otherwise known as Elisabeth and Noah's summer solstice party.

(Note -- they actually usually have parties for each solstice and equinox, but being around people more than twice a year seems promiscuously social to me. How they cope without my presence I don't know, yet somehow they get by.)

(Note #2 -- nobody is skyclad during these parties)

Even though our lot sizes are about the same, my house is easily twice the size of theirs, so their backyard is huge. When I got there it was still light (and windy!) outside (because... summer solstice) so Elisabeth was showing me around so I could see the various tomato gardens. Last year we had a weird year and both of us had a bunch of huge healthy tomato plants that produced a sum total of five tomatoes. This year she compensated and planted tomatoes in the same way that other people put in sod. I, on the other hand, did my usual thing of forgetting to put plants in the ground until May, so my tomato plants are all still six inches tall and seem to be considering whether it's worth the effort to grow and produce tomatoes or whether they should just go live in their parents' basements. I suspect by the end of summer Elisabeth and Noah will be secretly piling tomatoes on front porches and running away before they are caught. Usually only zucchini plants get you into that sort of trouble.

Anyhow, while we were out there a large dead maple tree limb crashed to the ground. Another limb had come down weeks before and they knew this one needed to come down and the wind finally took care of it. Other than bending a rose bush it didn't cause any problems and Noah dragged it to the side of the yard.

We went inside to eat -- for the first time it wasn't over 100 F outside, but it was so windy there were worries about the umbrella blowing over. The grilled corn was great, and all the other potluck food was tasty.

The umbrella blew over.

Then another huge maple limb (apparently healthy) crashed down on the same poor rosebush. We collectively decided we would stay out of the yard. Usually there is a candle-lighting portion of the solstice party, but clearly that wasn't going to happen in that wind anyhow.

And then yet another maple limb came down. At this point not even the dog was allowed to go into the yard to pee.

Then another person finally made it to the party with a flat tire, so Noah went out front to help her put on the spare while the rest of us stayed safe from the suicidal/homicidal maple tree.

The spare was also flat.

By the time they got back from the gas station to put air in the tires, it was pretty late, so two groups headed toward the door.

Group one came back in less than a minute and asked if anyone knew how to use jumper cables because their battery was dead.

I was honestly a little surprised when I left that my car hadn't been hit by lightning.

I think that's enough socializing for a while.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Law & Order DUN DUN -- Week 7

Okay, at this point I have to admit that I'm looking forward to this class being over and getting my Thursday evenings back. It's been an odd mixture of really interesting factual information and... I don't know how to put it. Infomercials? Those mandatory school assemblies where they tried to scare everyone straight? And it's not even that the presentation is the bad part -- it's watching the people around the room nodding and "uh-HUH"-ing along.

Tonight was gang night. The first half of the evening was a prosecutor going over the legal definition of what a gang is, what they have to prove in order to get gang enhancements, the history of gangs in California , and the most common colors and symbols.

Basically, to qualify as a gang, you have to have the following:
  • 3+ people
  • common signs or symbols
  • one of the primary activities is committing crimes
  • members have engaged in a pattern of criminal activity
So basically the current GOP should be getting gang enhancements added on to their sentences. (Yes, I went there.)

As far as I can tell, street gangs are big pyramid schemes and it all comes down to money in the end.

After hearing about the geographic sort-of-borders, with the Norteños mainly north of Bakersfield and the Sureños mainly south of Bakersfield (although we have both in Woodland), the clueless blond girl (CBG) says "I'm from Bakersfield. Which one should I be worried about?" Questions like that make me want to pound my head on the desk. She kept asking over and over until finally someone pointed out that what she should really be worried about is drunk drivers unless she has a habit of hanging out with drug dealers or going to parties in cheap motels.

One thing I learned is that these groups have co-opted sports logos because they have the right color and letters. So despite it looking like we have a large population of die-hard Nebraska Cornhusker fans in Woodland, it turns out that they're all Norteños that like red hats with a big letter "N". Just another reason to distrust anyone wearing sports gear if you ask me.

Another question by CBG: "What kinds of drugs do they sell?" If she's trolling the class, she's really committed to her art.

The second part of the evening was a talk given by an investigator with the DA's office who has a bunch of gang experience. I'm sure he knows what he's talking about, but the talk was geared more toward parents of teenagers who are worried that they might find out their child is secretly a gang member. At various points in the evening I was convinced this was one of those "kids who play D&D are secretly worshiping Satan" talks that were very popular when I was a teen, but updated with different symbols.

Once you bring numerology into the mix you can make up anything you want and say you have proof. For example, the Norteños are associated with the number 14 and N is the 14th letter of the alphabet. Okay, I can go along with that. But the Sureños are associated with the number 13 because... "they're from L.A. and L is the 12th letter of the alphabet and A is the 1st letter and when you add them together you get 13". And maybe that's where that really came from, but I'm not buying that it's so obvious that it deserves a vigorous head-nod and a loud "uh-HUH". It could just as easily be 6+7 or 10 + 3 or some other combination. Or something completely different.

Then we watched a rap video that was produced by a bunch of members of one of the local gangs. The tune was kind of catchy, but mostly what I noticed was the really poor production values. I mean really, all those young people and none of them are any better at filming and mixing than I am? It's a really bad sign when there's nobody with any artistic talent in your group. I think that was the saddest part of my evening.

But the thing I had the most trouble with was the questionable parenting tips being offered -- because, yes, making your 3rd grade son run until he cries and pukes is absolutely the best way to deal with him bullying another kid, why wouldn't it be? *Deep breath*

By the end of the evening I was again glad that I don't have children and thus don't have to worry about attending information nights like those.

Anyhow, next week is the last week. I get a certificate. And pizza. And my Thursday evenings back.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Law & Order DUN DUN -- Week Five

So week four was about the role of the defense attorney. In the syllabus it said "You will witness an actual DUI trial in during [sic] this session."

They started with an actual judge, and actual CHP officer, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and some guy and went through a quick trial -- two counts, (A) one of driving under the influence and (B) one of being over 0.08%. There was a two hour lag between the time the defendant was pulled over for having his high beams on and when the breath test was taken. The A count was guilty, B count not guilty. It all fit together very neatly, with the CHP officer carefully explaining to the judge (but really to us) what the roadside tests are looking for, and the defendant expressing remorse and everybody playing up how expensive a DUI is. At the end the bailiff took the defendant outside in handcuffs and then came back without him and hung out for another 30 minutes until the judge had finished talking to us.

I assumed this was just a half hour of play acting. Everybody else seemed to assume that was the real thing. Normally when I'm that far off the average I assume I'm probably wrong (because hey, I'm not a white man...), but in this case, I've seen how little critical thinking other people in the class have, so I'm still not sure.

Then a different defense attorney came in and talked about some stuff (things like "hey, these are constitutional rights here") and I was once again left wondering what the DA's office was hoping to get back from this class. They have a bunch of people spending a lot of time and effort on this, and I appreciate that, but I wonder why they're doing it. I asked the person next to me what the target audience really was and she looked confused and said "the citizens".

I feel like I'm the only one in the class looking the gift horse in the mouth, but there you have it.

Anyhow, this week the victim services people came in and talked about what they do and what resources are available. It was all interesting since I know pretty much none of that side of things.

But the best part (for me) was the beginning when the K-9 group came in. We had a quick presentation about the group and how they pick and train the dogs and then we had demos from four dogs in the parking lot of the police station.

The first dog was demonstrating tracking, so one officer took the dog's toy, went into the police station, and hid the toy inside. The handler then got the dog out of the car, put him on a 30' leash, and had him search. The dog picked up the scent fairly quickly and led us to the door.

I think I've mentioned how this group goes through doors before. Ahem. So once the dog and handler went through and the dog picked up the scent and started dragging his handler down the hall at a good clip, the rest of us were trying to get past the five people who stopped one foot inside the door and blocked the entryway. I finally just used my elbows -- walking my fastest I was able to catch up with the dog and officer before we lost them completely. We went down a couple of hallways, then upstairs, and into a conference room and the dog found his toy and was super happy. My dogs only get that happy when there's food involved.

Then we all had to go back through the door again for the other demos. Two drug searches and a explosives residue find later and it was time for everyone to pet the dogs and ask questions. Everyone else was asking stuff like "how do you tell the dog it's time to look for drugs?" and I was asking things like "how do you search for things in a field of foxtails?" (The officer winced when I asked that one. Clearly it has been a problem.)

Next week we get to talk about what county law enforcement is doing to address the problem of the homeless population. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 11, 2018

My Superpower

I used to think that my only superpower was the ability to choose the slowest line. (Pro tip: if you're in a hurry, wait until I choose a checkout line and then go to a different one. You'll be out of the store before the person three people in front of me has a chance to dig out her checkbook that she won't open to start writing in until after all her items have been scanned.)

But today I realized my ability to make any website uglier also qualifies. Case in point:

http://tmbaumgartner.com/

Now if I could just figure out a way to monetize either of these powers...

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Feel The Power!

As mentioned previously, I've been waiting anxiously for my new lawnmower battery as the weeds around my house have been multiplying and unionizing.

After many weeks of uncertainty (because Sears...) I got an email from UPS yesterday saying the package had been delivered to my porch. I hadn't heard anything which was a little weird because a) I was working from home and my office has a window onto the porch, and b) the dogs didn't bark about that although they were certainly not shy about barking at every other thing that morning. So after I told the dogs I was docking their wages, I went out on the porch and found... nothing.

Then I walked next door and found my package by my neighbor's driveway. I'm pretty sure that's a fire-able offense at UPS, but I'm guessing the driver had just delivered so many things to the business next door that it was all autopilot.

Anyhow, I'd ordered the thing from Sears because every time I tried to figure out what part to buy on the internet, I got a bunch of pictures of individual battery cells in various shapes and sizes and I just wanted to be able to lift out the old battery pack and plop the new one in. So naturally when I opened the box I found individual battery cells.

There were no instructions included, not even crappy drawings that make you wonder if doing that sort of thing in Alabama would get you arrested. About twenty screws later, I had this:



After I took the picture I called my brother Jeff for both practical and moral support. "Do I need to be careful about anything so I don't electrocute myself?" He congratulated me for taking a picture before going any further. Then he reminded me that I have a degree in electrical engineering. I didn't bring up the time that I blew up a capacitor during one of my labs.

The old cells had expanded and warped, so getting them out was a bit of a challenge, but the new ones slid back in and I didn't electrocute myself.

I left it charging overnight and this morning I couldn't contain my glee any more. At 8am I was mowing my front lawn, cackling and yelling "FEEL THE POWER!" over the (not very loud) engine as I plowed through the weeds and I looked over and saw my neighbors out front discussing what to do about one of their plants. But apparently they didn't find anything odd (or at least nothing odder) about my behavior and they didn't even look up.

It's the little things.