Monday, November 30, 2009

RPD brass loves their pretty, shiny medals

While reading today's Richardson Police Department wins accreditation through state program article I was struck by two thoughts, neither of them pleasant:
  1. Accreditation programs are, in my experience, either money mills or power plays to control a particular market segment. Or both. You can see the annual fees associated with this particular accreditation program here. $1200/yr isn't a lot of money in the grand scheme, but I'd rather see the money go to improving the LEOs' break room or something instead of funding feathers in leadership's cap.
  2. It is much, much easier to purchase a wall plaque that says you run your department well than to actually run your department well.
[edit -- note to DMN: please do not conflate "state program" with "statewide program"]

RPD/google crime map tweak

I noticed recently that the RPD crime map looked subtly different but I couldn't figure out how.

Turns out there is a new purple icon that does not appear in the map key to the right. It appears that:

purple icon = pending residential burglary
yellow icon = inactive "Resdiential" (sic) burglary

Perhaps this change was due to harping (mine, among others) that residential burglaries do not get enough detective time and/or Crime Scene attention like commercial burglaries and higher-$$$ thefts do. The existence of a purple icon might signify additional RPD resources being allocated to residential burglaries. Or it could mean something as cynical as brass telling a web jockey to "post all burg-habs as pending for a week then move them to inactive." I hope for the former rather than the latter.

If there were a contact email on that page I'd let them know about the missing purple icon in the key and the "resdiential" typo. But there's not, so I won't. Not that it would make a huge difference. A few months ago their webmaster was emailed that the "Last 6 months | Last 12 Months | Last 18 months" links on the crime listings page all point to the same URL but it's still busted...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review: Fiesta @ Plano/Buckingham

This is the location where there was a Sack 'n Save before. It'd been empty for a while so I was glad to see someone leasing the space.

The Grand Opening banner was still up and there was a small festival-type setup with a bounce house, etc, in the SE corner of the lot. The PA at the festival was pumping some groovy reggaeton dance tracks.

While I was finding a parking spot the Dear Wife commented that there was a rather serious looking SWAT-style security dudester walking the lot. He had that "tacticool" look I mock most of the time, but he had good situational awareness and handled himself professionally when I spoke with him briefly on our way out later. Thumbs up.

Upon entering the store the first thing I noticed was the polished concrete floors; I love that. Low maintenance, simple, honest, and pretty in a steampunk sorta way. Tortilla station front and center; the tortillas were still warm in the package I picked up. Produce section next in line, and this is (for me) the highlight of a Mexican grocery visit. Grabbed some limes (12/$1) and some kind of pear-shaped squash I can't identify.

The meat section had good-looking meat but I didn't get any today; we weren't going straight home afterwards. I did stop at the cheese shop and bought some queso de Oxaca, which was [mis?]labeled weirdly. When I asked for it by the labeled name (in my cringeworthy Spanish) the counterlady said "Oxaca?" Si, gracias, that's the one. I also picked up some queso de puerco (ie, head cheese) which I've always been fascinated with but never tried. This particular example is highly cartilegenous, so I assume it's mainly snout and ear. Should make a decent sandwich in my brown bag rotation.

Had to look for the bakery area to snag some pan dulce. A so-so display, but I picked up a gingerbread pig cookie. There were two kind of churros; plain and some word I didn't recognize. I picked the latter and since the churros were unexpectedly full of something (dulce de leche?) I will assume the word meant "filled". Wasn't bad but I prefer the plain ones as they are crispier.

The aisle signs were in English only, which seems kinda counterproductive (and maybe rude) if your target consumers are Hispanic. Maybe the bilingual or Spanish ones will go up later. Most of the (young and Latino) checkout staff spoke English among themselves for the most part when no one was in the lane. That brings me to a tip for the timid: if you are trying out a new shop where you don't speak the language, get in the checkout line with the youngest checker. S/he will likely move fluidly between English and the language of the market. Older checkers may be more fun as you gain confidence as they will likely help you with pronunciation and vocabulary if you are trying. The younger kids will just stick to English to get you through the line faster so they can text or play grab-ass.

So how does it compare to El Rancho? Rancho is an experience, an adventure. From the giant wall of pan dulce when you walk in to the tropical-looking food stands inside it scores high on the cultural richter scale. The new Fiesta is a grocery store, neat, clean, and a little boring. It happens to have Mexican food on the shelves but otherwise it could be an Albertsons or something. I find El Rancho more satisfying but it's too far away to become my go-to.

Fiesta Mart
1332 S Plano Rd
Richardson, TX 75081 Map
(972) 994-4300

Thursday, November 26, 2009

OS geekout revisited

A while back I geeked out on several linux distros for the Eee.

I had trouble that day with two of the distros: DSL and Slitaz. I revisited both of them today (two versions of DSL) using the latest recommended release. The pics below are screencaps from the OSes running in a virtual machine on my Ubuntu linux workstation.

Damn Small Linux - Not (DSL-N)
DSL-N is a less minimalist version of DSL. It is not obsessed with keeping to the 50MB limit (see below) so it bloats to a heady 100MB (Windows 7, for comparison purposes, is ~2470MB; DSL-N is 24+ times smaller than Windows 7, and is, you know, free).

DSL-N was a real winner. Loaded like a champ in a virtual machine. I think it was about the same as DSL below, which was the fastest-running OS I've tested in a virtual machine thus far.

Nice, clean desktop, conky info in the upper-right-hand corner, and transparencies in the shell screen. Pretty, and exceptionally fast.

Runs the 2.6.x kernel.

dsl-n-01RC4.iso, ~100MB. Recommended.Link

Damn Small Linux (DSL)
A bit of explanation is in order. DSL was, AFAIK, the first practical micro-Linux distribution. The 50MB limit was to ensure the entire OS fit on one of those bizcard-sized CD-Rs. Remember those? A little smaller than a floppy (remember those?) DSL makes a few sacrifices to keep it in the 50MB range. For example:
  1. DSL currently runs the 2.4 kernel instead of the bigger and more modern 2.6 kernel. Many of the other micro-linuxes choose differently.
  2. Some of the icons are cartooney to save space and cpu time
DSL runs very quickly, as one might expect. The look/feel of the desktop is nowhere as polished as DSL-N. If a non-techie were looking at your screen you might feel like you have to explain DSL's ugly duckling appearance, while they might comment that DSL-N was pretty and impressive. Things like that can matter in the OS advocacy world.

dsl-4.4.10.iso, ~50MB. Recommended, but DSL-N above is probably better for many people.

SliTaz failed to impress.

It stumbled during boot a bit and had to be coaxed along. It's a French distro, so it is understandable that much of the prompts are bilingual. But at a given point you give a language preference and it would be nice if the OS installer respected that.

slitaz-2.0.iso, ~30MB. Not currently recommened.

Tiny Core Linux
I am currently running TCL on my beloved Eee netbook. I like the "frog on a banana leaf" background because it looks like he's stuck on the LCD screen. Doesn't take much to amuse me.

tinycore_2.5.iso, 10MB (247 times smaller than Windows 7!). Not recommend for normal folk, but loads of geeky fun for masochists, hair shirt addicts, and compulsive experimenters.

A word about small linux distros in general

There are a few generalizations we can make about these small distributions:

  1. You can run them as a LiveCD/LiveUSB, which is to say you can test-drive them without affecting your PC in any way. If you ever ran a Knoppix cd you know what I'm talking about.
  2. You can run them in a virtual machine with VMware, Micro$oft Virtual PC, or the freeware QEMU. The nice thing about this is you can keep running your normal OS and not have to reboot off the usb/cd/dvd.
  3. the utilities and shells are a smaller, unified busybox version.
  4. There is generally one user on a micro-linux, and you use sudo to do root-like things
  5. the software is generally limited to a relatively small subset of software specially packaged for the project. Generally a few hundred common apps rather than the thousands usually available for linux.
  6. Very little software comes installed; you installed it using an application browser (you can think of it as an App Store, kinda, only it's all free).
Ok, enough dorkery for one night.


I am thankful for many things this year. I'm going to share them as a reminder to myself and as an antidote to my earlier post.
  • I am thankful for the companionship of my wife. When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls. Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize. She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life. Proverbs 31:10-12
  • I am thankful that I am employed, however minimally
  • I am thankful to have a house (and, by extension, to be making the mortgage; see employment entry above)
  • I am thankful that my health has been generally good.
  • I am thankful for the VA Hospital for those times when I am sick.
  • I am thankful that my 12-yo old car is holding together
  • I am thankful that I get to work with some very talented, caring, professional teachers in RISD. There are amazing teachers, and the crop of 1st-year teachers I have met are motivated and resourceful.
  • I am thankful that I get to work with some exceptional students. There are kids out there that will reaffirm your hope in the future of humanity.
And some smaller things that might seem trivial but contribute to quality of life:
  • I am thankful that tomatoes are still growing in the garden.
  • I am thankful for the dog that makes me stop and smile
  • I am thankful that my dorky hobbies are sunk costs at this point and don't require any money (again, see above)
  • I am thankful that some of those dorky hobbies are actually useful during periods of economic stress.
  • I am thankful for the public discussion started by people like Nathan, Ed, Destiny, David, et al. I updated the layout today to include more explicit links to those blogs.
It's time to get serious about turkey carving in the other room, so I need to go. I hope everyone has a good day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I am SUCH a scrooge

I was previously unaware of the Richardson Christmas parade, then in the last week I've had two brushes with it. First, I had a request to be in the parade (not me personally, me as part of the Crime Watch effort). Then I received a copy of Richardson Living with an article called "Let's Celebrate, Y'all."

I'm grouchier-than-normal this morning, so I'll take it out on the Christmas parade. [What kind of luser beats of up a Christmas parade?]
  1. I viscerally dislike parades; they are a mob version of a scary clown at the circus. Self-consciously "happy", but hollower, more artificial and disturbing the closer you get to it. I suspect if you like clowns you will like parades, and if you dislike clowns you will dislike parades. I will call this the parade-clown continuum. I auditioned clown-parade continuum but that was unacceptable because it sounded like a parade of clowns which, IIRC, is one of the signs of an impending Apocalypse.
  2. The flash crap on the COR Christmas Parade webpage is incredibly annoying. Luckily Firefox's NoScript extension can selectively hammer that kind of thing into submission.
  3. From the article: "As the community grows, there are still traditional events we can count on..." Interesting choice of words, and an interesting argument in play. Why would community growth imply the loss of traditional events? Ahhh, what if the demographics of the growth segment didn't look (or sound, or eat, or worship) like the traditional community? That would do the trick. If I were an easily-offended member of a minority group in Richardson (and I'm not, as far as you know) I might read this as "well, at least this Christmas parade hasn't yet been replaced with a pinata march or Ramadan celebration." The only thing missing here is the our way of life meme.
  4. Continuing: "...and this grassroots effort is one." Grassroots in what way? The manner of its founding "in 1972 by the Junior Chamber of Commerce" or its current incarnation led by Parks department staff and volunteers, with donations collected by/at Parks, using a COR email address and phones, hosted on the COR website, and with a set of rather Draconian rules (pdfs apparently produced by COR's H. McCrady) hosted there including the permitted number of Santas (one, in case you are wondering)? I know the definition of "grassroots" is rather fluid these days, but seriously folks.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

random thoughts about Veterans Day

Some thoughts about Veterans Day.

I normally don't think that much, consciously at least, about military service. I don't worship the military, I am not a flag waver and I don't have a subscription to Soldier of Fortune. My hair is buzzed off but mainly out of convenience and the effects of helmet-hair when it is longer.

For the purposes of this screed I will say army and soldier because that is my experience. Feel free to substitute other branches of service and words like "sailor, marine, airman" where appropriate.

What society "owes" veterans
  1. Foremost -- not to use the military's force without declaring war and without a plan to get in and to get out.
  2. Adequate post-combat decompression time for soldiers so they can re-adapt to the rest of society that is not at war.
  3. Take care of active-duty soldier with adequate training, services, and materiel.
  4. Take care of veterans by living up to the agreement made at the time of their enlistment: educational benefits, loans, medical, etc. We as a country don't have to agree to this kind of contract, but once we have agreed to it and enlisted the soldiers they are entitled.
  5. If you catch me after a few beers I might start talking about mandatory national service. This gets my Libertarian friends started whispering words like "ostracism" and "excommunication".

What veterans "owe" society
  1. appropriate use of benefits mentioned above. We need to steward these resources wisely.
  2. humility
  3. an honest-as-possible accounting of what military life is like, if asked. There are things that are not appropriate to share based on the audience, national security, discretion etc.

The most striking thing about our national assessment of the military is that the most "hoo-aah", rabidly pro-military folks are folks that never served. There is a mystique about the military that can be quickly cured by actually joining the military. I hear they are still recruiting if you're interested.

Note that I am not saying everyone should enlist[0]; I'm saying that if you don't enlist just see the military for what it is and not as some glorified (or denigrated) construct.

Cold Warriors
I have an idea kicking around about the difference between Old Army types, current army coldiers, and Cold Warriors. I won't get that done tonight but I think it's a topic worthy of discussion.

when I am in the classroom I sometimes find myself thinking "these kids need boot camp". Boot camp is a crash course in self-reliance, teamwork, and self-discipline. It teaches you what is possible, what you can do. Boot camp is mental. Sometimes the kids ask me if I was ever in the military. When I answer some young fellow[1] immediately asks one of two questions:

1. "did you ever kill anybody?"
2. "how many different ways do you know to kill somebody?"

These questions indicate the students fundamentally misunderstand the role of the military. There is more to that thought but I will let it sit.

Infrequently I get this additional question, generally from girls:

3. "what was your job in the Army?". I generally give an oblique answer because there are words one doesn't use in a public school, and because the kids have no living memory of the Cold War and have no way to relate to it. So far none of them have recognized the name Gorbachev although most recognize Reagan.

There are two men I knew that were soldiers through-and-through; naturally gifted at everything the military threw at them: weapons, gear, training, trucks, local girls, whatever. These two fellows were similar in their "supersoldier" abilities but quite different in presentation.

The white collar supersoldier was Mike H. Mike was a poster boy for the (then) New Army.[2] Whip-smart, his service was full-blooded but veiled in a veneer of wicked irony. It looked like he was playing but underneath it was universal competence. IIRC, last I heard from him he had gone to OCS and got a commission. I envy the men that serve under him now, assuming he has not retired.

The blue collar supersoldier was a fellow we called Jake; I think his last name was Jacobsen. A bit harder-edged, Jake was a rough-and-tumble Old Army guy. He had unbelievable skills piloting deuces and five-tons. Once we were in a cramped motorpool and our 5ton drivers couldn't get a stake-and-pallet (S&P) trailer backed into the far-too-narrow slot. We were trying to get off duty but couldn't until the trailer was parked. Forward and back, forward and back. Jake came up, said "WTF are you guys doing?" He jumped in the cab, floored it forward at a 45 deg angle, slid to a stop, floored it in reverse, yanked the trailer brake until the trailer slid into the correct angle, then slammed it into place. We were astounded.

Once he broke his hand out drinking the night before; I believe it was a wall punching exercise of some kind. He hid the pain but finally came to me in the motorpool. The problem was this: he needed medical attention but couldn't get it without a fig leaf. At that time (and maybe now) any injury while drunk result in an immediate referral to CDAAC, the Center for Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling[3] on base. A CDAAC referral wasn't deadly but it was a pain and might interfere with one's drinking schedule. And it stayed in your personnel file and so might or might not interfere with promotion if you were a "lifer".

Anyhow, I instructed Jake to get in the cab of a 5-ton and lean over towards my open door. I slammed the door loudly, he yelled "you broke my fscking hand!" on cue and I apologized loudly and yelled for a driver to "take this man to the medic!"[4]

And an apology
There was another supersoldier, and I don't remember her name. She was in S-2 (Intelligence) and spoke Russian. She was quite odd; at the time I attributed her oddity to an assumption that she was familiar with the poetry of Sappho. In retrospect, it seems to me that S-2 folks were effectively sequestered and it must have taken a toll on them. I might also invoke something like Asperger's. Regardless, in my youth and ignorance I made many unkind remarks to her and female soldiers like her. The time has come for me to apologize to fellow soldiers who I mistreated because of my perception of their orientation. Mea Culpa; forgive me. I have learned much in the interim, and I am a better man for it.

bloggermouse (nee armymouse)

[0] although I think it's generally good for a human to do, assuming the national leaders haven't gotten us mired in yet another undeclared war.

[1] almost always the most disruptive person in the class

[2] marked by an increasing reliance on technology and and an educated, thinking enlisted cohort.

[3] hence our running chant "I wanna be a CDAAC ranger", which we loved and the sargeants pretended not to hear.

[4] Of course, in this story "I" means "someone else in our platoon", and not me personally, because otherwise that would mean admitting to some kind of youthful indiscretion that I (I mean "he"!) would be loathe to admit in public.

Monday, November 9, 2009

City of Garland radio system rebanded

The COG Motorola Type II trunked radio system rebanded this morning. Happened midmorning, as reported in the DFWscan yahoo group.

The COR rebanding earlier this year didn't affect many scanners that were already receiving it. This is because COR is on an EDACS system and rebanding is less traumatic there. But Motorola systems get rebanded in such a way that many older scanners capable of monitoring Garland yesterday will not be able to monitor it today.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

CarpetRipping, pt 2

Earlier in the year we ripped the carpet out of the front room (living room?). The Dear Wife and I finally had the "simultaneous days off" and "motivation" lines on our biorythyms line up so we did the hallway. The beige at the top is the carpet, the blue is the top of the carpet padding, and the brown-yellow is the underside of the carpet padding. Note the bits of padding that stuck to the floor when the padding was pulled up; those are where the floor is stained below.

This one went a lot faster as there was no furniture to move. You can see the stains where the stuck-on bits had to be scraped off. No mopping or washing done yet; only swept. Luckily there was no physical damage to the wood as was found in the front room.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I don't think he likes HOAs

Another interesting post in a forum. This one is in response to the question: "Do cities like HOA's because it transfers the cost of maintaining common areas from the city to the homeowners?"

The posted answer:

Absolutely, that's why cities are mandating them and have been mandating them for a couple of decades in Texas. The city of Garland has representatives testifying to that effect before the Texas State Legislature the last several sessions. This is a disease that has been spreading for a while. The city/county comes up with some "public benefit" that will be mandated for the property (open area, water retention, etc.) and then mandates a private method for taking care of it. Even in areas where the HOA has become defunct, the cities/counties are suing to force creation/revival of an HOA to assume those public responsibilities.

Not only does it eliminate the cost of maintaining those areas, it also ensures that the so-called common areas are privately owned and therefore subject to taxation. If the city/county owned them those areas would be exempt from the tax roles. Instead the city/county is mandating these areas in subdivisions but they are privately owned. This means they will be on the tax roles and privately maintained at the expense of the homeowners in that subdivision. The HOA owns the common area, not the homeowners.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

the "Rule of Stupids"

Read this on a forum recently:

Now, with all that said, there are things like the The Rule of Stupids, of which there are several variations... Among those variations is this one which states:

1) Don't do stupid things!
2) Avoid stupid people!
3) Don't go to places where stupid things happen!