Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hello, Booz Allen Hamilton?

In my new position at work, I want to try out some software from a company called Booz Allen Hamilton. Using their own webpage, I've submitted two requests for either a trial copy of the software or a price quote. The first request was over a week ago; the second was this Monday, I think.

I've heard nothing. In the same time period, I have received and installed two competing software packages, and I've been contacted by a friendly and eager sales rep from one of the competitors.

Today I got junk mail from Booz Allen Hamilton. This is funny: they can't be bothered to set me up with a trial version of their software, but they've already harvested my address from my online RFQs so they can spam my mailbox.

Booz Allen Hamilton is a big company with big customers, and a gripe from one engineer in a medium-sized company won't make any difference to them. So I'm sure it won't bother them for a moment that I won't be giving their software any further consideration.

But at least I got this off my chest.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hey, that's me!

"The truth is, part of me is every age. I'm a three-year-old, I'm a five-year-old, I'm a thirty-seven-year-old, I'm a fifty-year-old. I've been through all of them, and I know what it's like. I delight in being a child when it's appropriate to be a child. I delight in being a wise old man when it's appropriate to be a wise old man. Think of all I can be! I am every age, up to my own."

That's from Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. It describes me perfectly: not my attitude, not my philosophy on life, but how I am programmed — how my brain is hardwired. I cannot be any other way, for this is who I am.

It is who I have always been, and it is who I always will be.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The IRS: No credibility at all, part 2

Yesterday, in my article The IRS: No Credibility At All, I said:

"The IRS expected the public to believe that the agency did not have a regular data backup plan in place, and that backup tapes of Lerner's hard drive did not exist. I find that impossible to believe."

and, speaking of all IRS email, not just Lerner's email:

"To suggest that the IRS did not have a backup policy for their mailserver is way, way beyond stupid. It's unbelievable. Inconceivable. Asinine."

It turns out that the mailserver backup tapes were safe in a storage building in West Virginia. Last July, a lawyer went to court to get hold of those tapes and look at them. The Department of Justice basically shut down that request. It took until mid-February this year to finally get the tapes. Everything I said in my previous article was true.

You know what's funny? Actually, it would be funny if it weren't so pathetic. The IRS treated everyone else like chumps - as if everyone else were stupid. But the IRS comes out of this looking ... well, looking stupid, idiotic, immoral, and any number of other adjectives you would use for a bunch of twelve-year-old boys who tried to start a fire on the gym floor, then cover it up and think they could get away with it. That is what the IRS, collectively, looks like right now.

Now I'll let somebody else do the talking. This is Patrick Howley, political reporter for The Daily Caller. The original article is at http://dailycaller.com/2015/03/02/exposed-department-of-justice-shut-down-search-for-lois-lerners-emails/. (I try not to copy entire articles like this, but they have a nasty habit of disappearing if I only post the links, and I don't want that to happen. I will remove the article and just write a summary of it if Patrick or the DC ask me to, but it's important enough that I'd rather leave the verbatim copy here.)

Here's the story about how the IRS and the DOJ tried to keep the backup tapes of Lois Lerner's emails from going public.



The Department of Justice blocked an attempt to force the Internal Revenue Service to search for Lois Lerner’s missing emails at off-site storage facilities, according to a lawyer pushing to obtain the emails.

The IRS never looked for Lerner’s backup email tapes at the West Virginia storage facility where they were being housed. Treasury deputy inspector general Timothy Camus told Congress that the IRS never asked IT professionals at the New Martinsville, W.V. storage site for the backup tapes. Camus only found the backup tape for Lerner’s missing 2011 emails about two weeks ago.

But the Obama administration knew that emails were stored at off-site facilities, and even shut down a legal request to send somebody to go look for them.

“We said in court that there are off-site servers where all IRS emails are stored,” lawyer Cleta Mitchell told The Daily Caller.

Mitchell represents the voter-ID group True the Vote in its lawsuit against the IRS over improper targeting. Shortly after it was revealed last summer that the IRS was missing Lerner’s emails, Mitchell petitioned U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton for an independent forensic examiner to be appointed to investigate the missing emails.

Mitchell referred to the IRS’ off-site storage facilities in West Virginia and Pittsburgh in court in July. But DOJ lawyers representing the IRS and the Treasury inspector general argued that Mitchell could not even discuss the existence of the storage facilities in her capacity as a lawyer.

“The Department of Justice lawyers objected to that and said I shouldn’t even be allowed to mention these off-site servers without sworn affidavits,” Mitchell told TheDC. “They meant that I was trying to testify to the judge without bringing in witnesses with sworn affidavits.”

Mitchell’s motion to get an independent forensic examiner was denied. The IRS’ internal investigation never headed to West Virginia, and the Treasury inspector general’s investigation managed to find a pertinent tape in West Virginia a mere two weeks before last Thursday’s House Oversight hearing. One of the IRS employees tasked with finding data on Lerner’s crashed hard drive was legally blind.

Mitchell’s statement about the off-site servers was clear as day, according to court transcripts obtained by TheDC.

“I’m advised that the IRS maintains servers that are in different states in different locations and that IRS employees are advised that their emails are never lost,” Mitchell said in court, according to the transcripts.

“That’s what I’ve been told as far as my emails here,” the court replied.

“And I have had individuals who worked with, for the IRS from all across the country who have communicated that to me,” Mitchell continued. “And they say — I hear from government employees, retired and active, who say what is being said is not possible. It is not plausible and it is contrary to what we are told as employees of the IRS.”

Mitchell requested “the opportunity to at least have some expert look at whether the perimeters of the investigation are complete and … will fully cover all of the potential ways or places in which this investigation should look or take into consideration.”

But the email tapes sat there in West Virginia, alone and unexamined.

DOJ did not return a request for comment for this report.

As TheDC reported, the IRS fired its email-storage contractor Sonasoft just weeks after Lerner’s email-deleting computer crash.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The IRS: No credibility at all

You know, it's really sad that we in the USA are all subject to the will, the caprices and the passions of the IRS.

In less than a day, the Internal Revenue Service can deprive us of our homes, our bank accounts, our credit ratings, our personal reputations, our livelihoods, and even our freedom (I mean, like locking us in jail), for what some IRS employee perceives as our breaking the law.

This is the tax law. You know, the Internal Revenue Code, or whatever it is called. A law so huge and complicated that even the IRS admits that they don't completely understand it. Heck, even the congressmen who voted for it don't understand it.

Yeah, and if the IRS even thinks you are cheating the government out of their rightful share of your hard-earned money, they can come down on you like a ton of bricks, and there is literally nothing you can do about it.

HOWEVER, if you work for the IRS and you do something that is blatantly illegal, and you do it over and over and over again, nothing happens to you. How does it feel to be both omnipotent and invincible, unaccountable to anyone even though it's obvious that you are the biggest jerk, collectively, in the entire country?

Does anybody who works at the IRS wonder why regular, everyday, ordinary, law-abiding Americans hold the taxman in such deep contempt?

In 2013, it was obvious to anybody who could read a newspaper that the IRS had unfairly targeted and bullied conservative action groups - especially those who chose to include the words "tea party" or "patriot" in the names of their groups. The IRS even issued a public apology for having done so.

The big question at the time was whether this was the work of a few rogue IRS agents, or whether the directive came all the way from the top. "Top" could be defined as the head of the IRS, Lois Lerner, or someone even higher, up to and including President Obama himself.

To answer this question, investigators ordered the IRS to turn over all of Lois Lerner's emails for the critical period of time. The IRS responded that the emails were lost because the hard drive on Lerner's computer had crashed and the contents could not be retrieved - the contents including the emails in question. They used all sorts of tech mumbo-jumbo to claim that the hard drive had been physically damaged and, consequently, physically destroyed. They claimed that this was per department policy, stupidly ignoring the fact that that same department policy had a "records retention clause" dictating that all electronic correspondence should be backed up and saved for several years.

This clause had the force of law - which the IRS flouted. Destroying emails or hard drives containing them could be construed as destroying evidence.

The IRS expected the public to believe that the agency did not have a regular data backup plan in place, and that backup tapes of Lerner's hard drive did not exist. I find that impossible to believe.

The IRS also expected the public not to understand the concept of a mailserver - the electronic post office that handles all the mail in and out of an office or a company. Mailservers are regularly backed up as well, especially in a place like a government office, where a "paper trail" can be crucial to conducting everyday business and to enforcing both contracts and laws. To suggest that the IRS did not have a backup policy for their mailserver is way, way beyond stupid. It's unbelievable. Inconceivable. Asinine.

(SHORT EDIT, THE NEXT DAY: Oh, it gets worse than that. See my next article .)

In testifying before a congressional inquiry into the matter, Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, adding, "I will not answer any questions or testify about the subject matter of this committee’s meeting." I can't think of an appropriate word to express my contempt for someone like that.

So Lerner's excuse was the equivalent of "My dog ate my homework," and the public was expected to believe her, in spite of the glaring evidence to the contrary.

President Obama even contributed to the deception, declaring in February 2014 that there was "not a smidgen of corruption" in the IRS or in their handling of the "tea party" paperwork. He expected us to believe him simply on the strength of his voice.

His earnestness reminded me of what Jean Girardoux once said: "The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made."

(Maybe Obama didn't realize that what he was saying was false. Maybe he thought he was telling the truth because he didn't know the truth yet.)

After Lerner resigned, other IRS officials said that (surprise!) backup tapes DO exist, but that retrieving the thousands of emails from the tapes would be "onerous."

So investigators tried other ways to retrieve the missing emails. In fact, trying to retrieve the missing emails by scouring thousands of other  users' email accounts for messages sent To or From Lois Lerner netted about 67,000 emails, at a cost to the taxpayer (yes, the TAXpayer. Catch the irony?) of about $14 million. It took over a year. This whole time, the backup tapes were staring them in the face, and any high school nerd with a PC and Python could have written a program to search and retrieve the missing emails from the tapes in much less time and at a much lower cost.

Well, finally somebody did just that - but not a high school kid. Investigators hired an outside company, who took the tapes and TWO WEEKS LATER retrieved ALL of the emails from them, including an additional 32,000 Lois Lerner emails. That is MUCH less "onerous" than the exercise that the IRS put us, the American public, through to find the first 67,000 emails.

There is no question in the public's mind that Lerner, and the IRS departments that bullied the conservative groups, were corrupt. And dishonest. AND thoroughly, completely, despairingly incompetent. The agency's credibility in the public eye is absolutely zero. And while they have spent the past two years  babbling about this to the press and to Congress, they have hoped that the public would buy their story and not see through the flimsy fabric it was written upon.

The game's up, you morons.

You freaking morons.

You all ought to be fired. I wouldn't give you a job as a greeter at WalMart.

I hesitate to be so bold in my pronouncements, all of which are taken from public news reports, because I have also heard that the IRS targets people who speak out against the agency. Nobody believes those "random" audits are completely random. But I'll give it a shot and we'll see what happens.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Spelling Bee: an Imagined Memory

There was an article in the paper this morning about the school district spelling bee. It reminded me of something that never happened. It might have been a dream I had, several years ago.

In my dream (if that's what it was), one of my daughters was in the spelling bee. She was standing on the stage, at the microphone, with her number hanging around her neck, and the black stage curtains behind her.

The moderator said "Calzone." BUT THE MODERATOR PRONOUNCED IT WRONG. She pronounced it American style, with the soft Z and the silent E. Stupid Americans. My daughter glanced at the moderator and then looked at me in the audience, a look of confusion distorting her face.

I shrugged my shoulders and cocked my head at her, with my hands in the classic Italian, "what do you expect me to do?" gesture. What else could I do, right?

She asked, "Definition, please."

The moderator said, "An Italian pastry made with pizza dough and stuffed with meats and cheeses."

My sweet daughter paused for a moment. Then she looked me in the eye and said confidently: "Call-TSO-nay. C-A-L-Z-O-N-E. Call-TSO-nay." SHE CORRECTED THE STINKIN' MODERATOR.

She nailed it. And, come to think of it, so did I. I raised 'em right.

You may now roll your eyes.

Endnote: It could have been any of my daughters. Or my sons. That's how cool they are.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Microsoft is giving away Windows 10 for free

No, that subject line is not wrong. Microsoft, the software giant that we learned to fear and loathe many years ago for their heavyhanded and predatory business tactics, has done some really nice things in the past decade.

For one, they released a free version of their Visual Studio software development tools for hobbyists and cheap small developers.

For another, they released a free virus protection package that is small, quiet, effective, and VERY polite, compared to many of the other packages out there.

Now word comes from Forbes magazine that Windows 10 will be available as a free upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8, for the first year of its release. Author Gordon Kelly digs into Microsoft's astute reasoning behind offering the free release. It makes good sense from a business, technical and financial point of view, if you follow Kelly's reasoning.

I'm going to wait for some early reviews of the released version of the OS before I make the jump. Microsoft's track record with software releases since Windows 3.1 has been spotty. WinXP was great, Vista stunk, Win7 has been pretty good, Win8 was avoidable, Win9 never happened. But if Win10 gets good reviews, if it looks like a worthy successor to both XP and Win7, I'll jump on the bandwagon. It's worth it for me.

And Microsoft is betting that it will be worth it for millions of other users.

UPDATE, FEB 16, 2015: The beta version of Windows 10 is available for really-and-truly free, if you want to try it yourself. Just be aware of the fact that it is still buggy. Don't install it on your only computer, or your main computer, or the computer you use for mission-critical applications. In fact, you might just want to install it on a virtual machine, such as VMWare or VirtualBox. This CBS news article points you to the download site.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Zyzmog's Fifth Law of Motion (proposed)

I've come up with a fifth Law of Motion. I'm still trying to find the right words for it. The formal declaration is something like this:

Zyzmog's Fifth Law of Motion
In any disagreement involving the previous Laws of Motion, the first appeal to authority is the victor.

That might be too stuffy for some people to understand. Here are two attempted rewrites:

Zyzmog's Fifth Law of Motion (reduced)
In a traffic altercation involving vehicular contact, aggressive drivers, texting, drunk driving or road rage, whoever calls the cops first is the winner.

Zyzmog's Fifth Law of Motion (final reduction)
(also known as Barela's Law of Forward Motion)
Whoever calls the cops first, wins.