« May 2004 | Main | July 2004 »

June 30, 2004

The Estonians

Well, they've been here now for two weeks. They're all about 20 and are majoring in technical fields. Arnie did work last year in Idaho and is showing Madis and Martti the ropes. For instance Arni introduced them to peanut butter which they now both like.

I was telling a guy at work about the original story of them moving in and he said $600 a month seemed steep for one room. I was looking at it as being three roommates but he was looking at it as just the room and it shouldn't matter so much how many people lived in it. So I figured I would lower the rent to $500. They pay by the week so I told them after the third week (figuring they were rotating the payment) I would start charging less. I still think they're getting a good deal because they're not setting up utilities and they get free phone and internet (their training says they are not supposed to watch TV or use the internet, but they do send e-mails).

They really do work all the time. They get up and leave before I'm even up. They said part of their training is they take cold showers in the morning to wake them up so they aren't in the bathroom for long and there's always plenty of hot water for me. Then they don't come home until 9:30 or 10:00 at night. They make their lunches for the next day, take showers, and eat dinner which usually consists of frozen pizza zapped in the microwave (they say they don't have time to bake the pizza, even in the toaster oven; in fact they don't even keep the pizzas frozen, just refrigerated, I think so they'll cook faster).

Still, one day last week I had a meeting at a consultant's office and it was almost on the way for me to stop by home for lunch afterwards. When I got home one of the guys had the attic fan going (the thermostat is on a timer that sets the house at 85 degrees during the day), Pink Floyd cranked on my stereo, and the internet on. He asked me not to tell the other guys and what do I care? I think they're usually working, but I've caught him home from time to time since then. But usually just for a minute before he heads back out again.

I went ahead and cleaned out my junk room and borrowed a mattress from Susan so one of the guys could sleep in there, but I don't think they've done it because the mattress is still leaning against the wall with the sheets folded on top.

The first day they moved in (which took about five minutes) they had bought a minivan which I found out cost $800. So they get around using that. On Sundays they don't work but have a meeting with the other salesmen in Georgia down in Fairburn or some place like that. Last weekend they said the van was overheating and they had to drive around with the heat cranked all the way up to try to keep the engine cool. To take the van down to Fairburn they would have to stop every few miles and let the engine cool back down and it would take a long time to get down there. So I let them borrow my car for the day (they had already taken the van to a mechanic to get the fan replaced, but he couldn't get the part until Monday). They said it was nice to have air conditioning and acceleration.

When they come home they make piles of sandwiches for the next day. They'll easily use a whole loaf of bread to make bologna (they called it sausage until I told them it was bologna) and cheese sandwiches. They also make peanut butter and jelly. So they have this stack of sandwiches about six inches high, but their tupperware lunchbox thing is only about two inches high. So they put the stack in there and then compress it down until they can snap the lid on. I asked if it puffs back up when he opens it the next day and he said no.

sandwich.jpg   sandwich2.jpg

They get along with the dogs fine. When they go to bed Katie goes and whines outside their door. She doesn't like being locked out. At night I keep my door closed so she won't scratch on their door. Clio doesn't seem to really care and stays by my side except when they are making sandwiches. Today one of them asked if he could give Clio some peanut butter so he tore off a piece of bread, smeared some peanut butter on it, and gave it to her. Of course she put the whole piece in her mouth right away and it immediately stuck to the roof of her mouth. She didn't seem to mind trying to get it unstuck.

They said their visa is only good for 4 months so one way or another they will have to move out before winter.

Previous Estonian Series Next

June 29, 2004


The New York Times had an article about the demise of Comdex which at one time was the biggest computer show and maybe the biggest of any trade show. Atlanta hosted one session of it for a number of years (the other yearly session was in Las Vegas) and it was easy enough getting free registration so I would go and spend part of a day there. Our office only had a handful of PC's at the time and there was always a desire to see what wonderful things computers were going to bring us next (it was rarely that impressive though). It left Atlanta after it had the misfortune of occurring on the same weekend as Freaknik (thus Comdex became Geeknik) and I stopped going. After I stopped going Comdex went downhill.

Here's the amazing part. The guy who started Comdex (short for Computer Dealers Exposition) sold the rights to having the show for $860 million to a Japanese company in 1995. They then merged it in with a publishing company they owned, Ziff Davis, spun it off with an IPO and it went bankrupt. Business failures can be every bit as spectacular as bridge failures. In less than 10 years just the idea for the convention went from being worth $860 million to nothing.

I'm attaching the article . . .

Failing to Draw Big Players, Computer Show Is Canceled

SAN FRANCISCO, June 23 - This year's Comdex, the fall computer event that was once the nation's largest trade show, was canceled Wednesday as its owners cited the failure of the industry's largest companies to participate.

Executives at MediaLive International, the company that owns Comdex and other trade shows, said they decided to redefine the event and were hoping that it would re-emerge after a year's hiatus.

Created in 1979 by Sheldon Adelson, a Boston financial consultant, Comdex rapidly gained prominence in the early 1980's with the emergence of the personal computer industry.

The annual show became the place to showcase new computers and software, and a mandatory stopping place for industry luminaries.

Executives would flock to Las Vegas to hear a speech on the future of computing by Bill Gates or to visit a booth where Mitchell D. Kapor introduced the Lotus Development Corporation's Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program.

"I remember walking down an aisle at Comdex with Gates and watching the crowd part like the Red Sea making way for Moses," said Stewart Alsop, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who edited Infoworld, a personal computer industry newspaper, during the 1980's.

Although some analysts suggested that the rise of the commercial Internet in the mid-1980's might lead to the demise of the trade show, it appeared initially to fuel its growth.

Comdex reached a peak in 2000 during the Internet bubble when 211,000 people attended the show. Last year attendance fell to 45,000, and most of the world's largest hardware and software companies either decided to abandon the event or to cut back their presence. The number of exhibitors fell from a peak of 2,337 to 550.

"By the end of the 1990's Comdex had expanded its focus to include consumer electronics stuff and the Internet," said Tim Bajarin, an industry consultant who attended his first Comdex in 1981 and has been a longtime member of the show's industry advisory committee. "In 2002 there was a complete shift in the market and the show lost its way."

One company that has backed away from the event is the EDS Corporation, the giant Texas-based technology integrator. In 2001 EDS made a marketing push at Comdex, including beaming in the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke via teleconference. More recently, the company decided that Comdex had become less relevant and stopped participating, said Jeff Wacker, an EDS technology executive.

MediaLive International has a tentative reservation for the Las Vegas Convention Center the week of Nov. 13, 2005, said Eric Faurot, a company vice president.

"The market was obviously saying it couldn't support the show," he said. "While we could still run a profitable Comdex, it didn't seem to merit the attention without the participation of the major industry players."

He said that he still believed that there was a trade show market for the $915 billion information technology industry. Last week, MediaLive said it was establishing an advisory group of technology companies to help redefine the event, including Advanced Micro Devices, Borland Software, Microsoft, Oracle, Samsung Electronics, Cisco, Dell and Intel.

Comdex was originally known as the Computer Dealers Exposition. The founder, Mr. Adelson, sold Comdex in 1995 to the Japanese investment firm Softbank for more than $860 million. It became part of the company's Ziff-Davis media unit. Ultimately, the Ziff-Davis events business was spun off to shareholders as Key3Media and became a public company. That firm declared bankruptcy in February 2003. In June of last year, Thomas Weisel & Partners, the San Francisco investment firm, acquired its assets and title.

The company was taken private and renamed MediaLive International.

June 25, 2004

Universal Remote

For Father's Day I bought Dad a universal remote control. But it isn't just any universal remote control, it is the All For One URC-8810w. While most universal remote controls can control some number of devices by entering codes from a book, this one takes it one step further by not just providing control over up to 8 devices, but also allowing the remote to "learn" functions from the original remote (by pointing the original remote at this one and recording its infrared signal). There are four learning keys so you can learn up to 4 functions that otherwise are not available by default from each remote. It also allows the use of macros which can perform different functions even on different devices with the touch of a single button. Lastly, you can re-map a button, so you could assign power and volume for the TV to unused keys for Satellite mode. Then you could leave the remote in Satellite mode all the time and not have to switch to TV mode when you want to change volume or turn the TV off. Likewise, for the DVD you might want the volume keys to control the surround sound stereo instead of the TV volume.

But this remote is one of the few things you can buy that gives you more than advertised. It turns out that you don't have just the learning keys to use but you can store learned functions in *any* key. The memory of the remote prevents you from learning more than about 30 keys, but still that's enough. For instance, I was disappointed that the remote couldn't control Mom and Dad's Mintek DVD player. There wasn't a code available for it. But that's okay because I just had the remote learn from the Mintek remote for Power, Play, Pause, Forward, Reverse, etc.

The company even offers a plan where if it doesn't operate your device you can send it to them and they will upgrade your remote so that it can control the device. I gave Susan one of these remotes and it wouldn't control her KLH receiver and they gave me an authorization code to have the remote reprogrammed to control it. I didn't end up doing this because there weren't that many functions and it was easier to learn them all into keys.

So that's neat but it gets better. It turns out there is a whole community of people on the internet who have figured out how to hack into the remote using homemade cables that connect to 6 pins inside the battery compartment labelled "JP1" on the exposed circuit board. They have written software that gets all the settings on your remote and backs them up into a file so that you can reload the settings on another remote if yours breaks (or you accidentally mess it up). They've also learned how to do their own upgrades like the manufacturer does. And they amass the files for the these upgrades so other people can do the same upgrades.

I never felt like I needed the cable and all the software though I did use some of their information to learn some keys by using advanced code numbers instead of learning from the original remote by recording the infrared signal. This saves memory and means you can learn a lot more than just 30 keys (again, this isn't documented anywhere). Anyway, after buying 2 of these for myself (some of the buttons on the first one broke after a couple of years and orange juice spills so I had to buy a successor), one for Susan, and one for Dad, plus recommending them for Jenny at work, I decided it was time to get a cable so I could interface too. I ordered it last night, so we'll see how it goes. Hopefully I won't get so into this that I end up buying EEPROM memory chips to augment the remotes memory like one guy who can control 13 devices now.

But here's the best part. Similar remotes that can do learning and control 8 devices cost anywhere from $70 to $300. This one is $18 at Walmart.

See a follow-up entry about programming this remote.

June 22, 2004

New Washing Machine

A long time ago they had a commercial that showed the typical washing machine agitator and some industrial agitator that pumped up and down. It was pathetic how the rotary one would turn and how effective the turbo pumper (or whatever it was called) was. This was before I actually knew how to do laundry so it is surprising to me that probably 25 years later I had a washing machine that still had that silly agitator. And any time I opend the lid to see what was going on, there was the agitator spinning a half turn at a time and making no apparent impact on the clothes around it.

So I was looking forward to a better approach. Front-loaders at least tumble the clothes around so you know they are moving. I've washed things like pillows or comforters and had parts come through still dry with the old washer. No way that would happen with this one. I got the Whirlpool Duet from Lowe's. Consumer Reports gave it very good marks for capacity (so I could wash Clio and Katie's comforters they use for beds) as well as washing ability and noise.

I figured I would go ahead and get a new dryer, but not an expensive one to match the front-loader. The front-loader is supposed to wring out more water so the dryer doesn't need to work as hard, but the dryer I had would run for nearly an hour and get the clothes down to damp. After running another 30 minutes they would be dry.

I bought a Kenmore dryer from the Sears outlet. It was both scratched and dented, but supposedly new and marked down $120 off the list price of $400.

I have now run the first loads through both. The washer is kind of neat. It also doesn't use much water. I was expecting the front window to become like a goldfish bowl with clothes floating around in a tank, but you never even see the water line. It tumbles the clothes a couple of turns, sprinkles on some water, tumbles the clothes the other way, adds some more water, etc. It just keeps turning, pausing, turning the other way. Eventually the clothes all get wet but it takes a little while. It rinses the same way. It has sensor that figure out when it is rinsed enough so you are supposed to use low-suds special detergent for front loaders. It seems to work fine either way. When it starts to spin it spins slowly one direction, then stops and spins the other direction. I don't know if it is trying to figure out if the load is balanced or what, but eventually it starts really going like a jet. After a total of 40 minutes it is done.

The dryer? It's just a dryer. It does actually dry the clothes the first go around and it has a light inside the drum which is nice. Seems to leave a few more wrinkles than the old one, but the first load I ran through was pretty big.

June 19, 2004

Carrying the Torch

A couple of months ago they were accepting nominations for people to carry the torch through Atlanta. A person in the Bridge Design office at work nominated John Tiernan, who supervises all the design groups. She had to write a short paragraph about why he should be picked. John is an avid runner, active in his church, has spent thirty years as an outstanding engineer design bridges for Georgia, and is generally a good guy. Guess what? He was picked.

Yesterday was the big day. The torch had been flying to every city that had ever hosted an Olympics, visiting Los Angeles and St. Louis earlier, and on its way to New York. John was selected to take the torch from in front of Publix on Ponce de Leon up North Highland to around where Surin is located. This was a huge thrill and honor for him and he was ecstatic. Coca Cola sponsored all the runners and allowed them to keep their torches.

A lot of current and former workers from Bridge Design and DOT went out yesterday to see him. There wasn't a big crowd, but it was respectable. People came out beforehand passing out commemorative flags from sponsors Coke and Samsung. Then some Coke trucks came by giving out free C2 which is like Coke light (I got a can; it tasted a lot like regular Coke but some said it was a little weaker). A guy in a wheelchair zipped up the street with the torch anchored to his chair. Then he held it up and John lit his torch from that guy's. And he was off.

It was pretty neat and I was glad to see a regular person from DOT, not one of the more political higher ups, have the honor of carrying the torch. Other people picked included the mayor, Billy Payne, Evander Holyfield, Nadia Comaneche, and others. What a great thing to get to do and all because someone thought to nominate him!

June 13, 2004

Guy from Estonia

This weekend this guy rings the doorbell. He is from Estonia and will be working here this summer selling "educational children's books". He named the company (Southwestern Company, I think) and the way they work is they take college students and send them off to the middle of nowhere to sell these books door-to-door six days a week. They work constantly and have no time for anything else (which is why they always send them away from home: no distractions).

Apparently now they are using Estonians (northern Europe). It sounds like indentured servitude. The guy seemed sharp, nice, and honest. He wasn't selling books, just looking to see if I knew anyone with a room available to rent for the summer. I told him I had a room. He said two other guys would be living in the same room and they could give me $400 a month. I said maybe.

Anyway, later in the day he brings the other two guys around (equally honest looking). I said it would be at least $600 for the three of them (really I didn't want any roommates, let alone 3) which they said was too much. I told them to call me back today and I'd tell them if I was interested. When they called I said I wasn't interested even for $600 but they seemed pretty desperate and said they'd like to stay even if it was just for a week or a month. They said they won't be around much, will be very quiet, and aren't interested in parties or even TV. They just need a place to shower and sleep. I said I usually stay up late watching TV and they will be going to bed early to get up early. He said they are very good sleepers and wouldn't mind the TV.

I felt bad for them so I agreed to let them stay. I figure for 3 months how bad can it be? Susan says I'm crazy to let someone off the street stay in my house but they seemed pretty legitimate.

Now I have to get that room ready and maybe clear out some space in my junk room for the third one. I can't imagine all three actually living in the same room.

Next entry

June 7, 2004


I got back from Mexico very early Sunday morning. I've sorted through a lot of the pictures Susan and I took while we were down there and am starting a web page for the trip. Right now I only have one day, but I hope to add the rest of the days by the end of the week even if I have to call in sick every day this week (I did call in sick today but won't go into details; let's just say I went to Mexico and leave it at that).

Anyway, the link: