Saturday, July 28, 2007

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

I never thought it would happen to me. The feeling it gives you is terrible. The shame is almost overwhelming. The thought of it makes my skin crawl.

What am I referring to? Being behind in child support payments.

Well, I'm not really behind. But, according to the Texas Attorney General Office I am; and I have the garnishment order to prove it.

My former spouse and I agreed on our divorce settlement a few years ago, it was during the last week of February. It was from that day until October before the final divorce decree was done and signed by the judge. Because I didn't have the proper court order, my employer would not take the support payments out of my salary and forward them on to the AG office as specified in the decree. Once I had the final paperwork in hand, I gave a copy to the payroll folks and the payments started coming out of my salary as agreed to.

In the meantime, I paid my support payments to my kids' mom directly. Every payday I wrote a check out and delivered it to her personally. No problem there, everyone was happy.

Fast forward to now. My support payments come up on the every-three-year review. They look in the records and see there is no record of payments made during the 8-month period before the final decree was finished. So they got a court order instructing my employer to take an additional $100 per month out of my salary to start paying back the support they think I didn't pay and they reported this matter to the credit bureaus. Without so much as a letter, a phone call, a "hey we're showing this discrepancy, can you explain it?" Wham! The gavel falls and I'm accused of and found guilty of a crime I did not commit in one fell swoop.

I called the AG Office to find out what the problem was. The garnishment order did not explain anything, it just mentioned the amount I am supposedly behind and ordered the amount to be deducted from my salary. Once the person at the office checked my records, I could immediately see it was a misunderstanding. I can understand where they might get the impression I skipped all those payments; but, given the fact that I have paid on time, every time since then you'd think they'd give me the benefit of a phone call or letter asking what happened to those payments. Nope - guilty!

I can have this backlog erased by merely filling out paperwork outlining the payments I made directly to my former spouse and having her sign it to verify I made the payments. Thankfully, we get along pretty well; I'd hate to think what it would be like if she were inclined to do "stupid ex-spouse" tricks like some I know of.

It's not the money I'm worried about. The worrisome part to me is that someone can be accused and found guilty with no due process, no recourse until after the fact. It's really a shame that our rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, are completely ignored in this type case. That is the real crime.

I believe any man (or woman for that matter) who does not pay their share of support for their children should be considered criminals. Their wages should be garnished and given to the custodial parent to make sure the kids don't go without. However - our Nation is founded on laws and one of the highest of those laws decrees that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty and that everyone is entitled to due process under the law.

If I had been given my due process in this matter, everything could have been settled with far less fanfare without labeling me a "deadbeat dad."

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Visiting Detroit

It's always nice to visit mom and hand around the home of my youth. This trip was inspired by my brother's mention he was having all of his kids visiting, two of whom live with their mom in Georgia. I thought it the perfect opportunity to take my boys and see everyone.

The trip up was uneventful - which is the way I prefer it. We drove up to Dallas (that's where William Shatner could get me the best deal); got through the maze of parking, checking baggage and security with no problem. The only bad part was that we were seated in the very last row of a DC-8, which meant no windows and the seats wouldn't recline. Small things, indeed.

The food is always what gets me when I visit. There are some things you can't normally find outside Michigan and my favorites are: Mock Chicken Legs, Fried Bread (the way mom makes it), and Faygo pop (soda for you folks down in Texas). I always eat way too much when I come here, but it's wonderful.

We visited the Henry Ford Museum. There was a special show called "Rock Stars Cars and Guitars." It wasn't a very big display, but it was interesting. There were quite a few special guitars, mostly from the collection of Rick Nielsen (of Cheap Trick fame). There was one of the original Gibson "Flying 'V'" models, guitars played by Nielsen, Ted Nugent, Billy Gibbons, Jimi Hendrix and many more. There were some very nice cars there which I wish I could have driven instead of just looked at. Two cars were featured in Van Halen videos ("Hot for Teacher" was one) and driven by folks from Elvis (a yellow Pantera) to ZZ Top. There was even the "Yellow Submarine" Rolls to pay tribute to the Beatles (though they only had pictures of John Lennon in the room).

I've probably been to The Henry Ford and Greenfield Village at least a dozen times over the years. Every time I go there's the old cars, planes and trains which have always made up the bulk of the collection, but there are always some new surprises. For anyone who is into history at all, I highly recommend a visit to The Henry Ford. It's worth coming to the Detroit area to visit for a day or two on its own.

My mother knows I don't do anything "Christmasy" until after Thanksgiving because of my protest against commercialism of the holiday. Still, she had to tease me a little. One of the local radio stations (WNIC) was having a "Christmas in July" show playing Christmas music. After shouting that the management of the station should be jailed, and hurriedly switched the radio off. Humph - the effrontery of it all. We did all have a good laugh over it, though.

Lastly, speaking of the Gibson "Flying 'V'" - my 13-year-old son wants a guitar for his birthday. Not just any guitar, but a Fender Stratocaster with a light finish. Not a bad choice. While he was telling me his reason for wanting the "Strat" he mentioned that the Flying "V" wasn't popular until Jimi Hendrix played one. I though that model of guitar was only around since the '70s. We googled it and found that the Flying "V" was first made in the late '50s. And, sure enough, at the exhibit at The Henry Ford there was one of the first Flying "V" guitars which was made in 1958. It's sometimes wild what you learn from your kids.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Northwest Airlines Phone System Lunacy

First: let me preface these comments by telling I really like Northwest Airlines. I've flown with them many times in the past and I've always gotten good service at a pretty good price. But - their automated phone system leaves a lot to be desired. Here's my story.

I purchased tickets for me and my three sons to fly to Michigan. I normally like to do my travel deals on line, and this was no exception. I got a great deal on Priceline (I've been saying William Shatner negotiated a great deal for me). This was over a month ago.

The other day, I went to Northwest's web site to confirm my reservations and select seats. All I had to do was enter my confirmation number and my reservation for all four tickets was right there on the screen. When I went to pick my seats, however, I noted they were all taken except for the "premium" seats which cost something like $15 extra.

Thinking there was a problem and that the flight was horribly overbooked, I used the handy email form and sent a message. According to the web site I was to get an answer within 2 hours because Northwest has live agents on duty 24/7. I thought that was great service.

When I didn't get an answer by the next morning, some 14 hours later, I was slightly concerned. I knew from watching the news Northwest had been experiencing flight delays and cancellations because of a pilot shortage and bad weather. I thought it prudent to call. That's where my frustration started.

I'm used to automated phone systems, but I still don't like them at all. I especially hate the ones which want you to speak your selection. That just really gets me. It's a machine, for cryin' out loud. Some of them will skip you right to a real person if you hit the zero button enough times. Not this one, though.

So I went through the menu from flight information to reservation confirmations. Here's where the real fun started.

I was given a reservation similar to "3LBB9P." Every time I tried to say the letters and numbers, the machine at the other end got it wrong. "Did you say "3LDDB ... 3LPP9B ... 3LBD9Z?" Finally, after 3 or 4 tries the machine tells me it will connect me to a real person. To which, I got another recording telling me about extra-heavy call volume and my call could not be completed. Hang up.

At this point, I'm a little irritated. But, foolish me, I decide to try it again. I go through the whole mess again, even trying to say my reservation code in the international phonetic alphabet, "Three, Lima, Bravo, Bravo, Niner, Papa" to no avail. And again, I got the "extra-heavy call volume" message and the disconnect.

I'm really ticked off by now, but I had enough sense to quit trying for the time being. Thankfully, I got a reply in my email a little bit after the last call which let me know the reason I couldn't choose seats is because I bought them from another vendor and had to wait until check-in to choose seats. That was not a problem to me because I wasn't too concerned so much about picking seats as I was that the flight would be messed up and I might end up wasting my vacation waiting around in airports. In the end, I checked in on line and was able to choose seats.

Northwest IT/Telecom Folks: Either get a different way to enter reservation numbers or change the codes so we don't have to rely on a computer to differentiate between very like-sounding letters. Even live, human people have trouble hearing the difference between "B," "D," or "P" over the phone. I know I'm not the only one to experience this mess, so do something about it.

One thing I could have tried, but didn't, was to say "Agent" over and over. That works for the electric company's phone system. If I have to call Northwest again, I'll try to remember that trick.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

History Repeats Itself: Ford to Use Soy Plastic

Ford To Use Soybean-Based Foam In Mustang Seats

Although it may sound like a new idea in this era of searching for alternatives to fossil fuels, Ford actually experimented with soy-based plastics early in its history. Some of the first plastics used in automobiles were made from soybeans, and Ford led the way.

Henry Ford did have his quirks and idiosyncrasies and was downright foolish in his beliefs at times. Say what you will about him, but he and his sons were pioneers in many areas.

I highly recommend "Ford, the Men and the Machine" by Robert Lacey. It is a well-written and well-researched book about the Ford family and the Ford Motor Company from it's beginnings to the modern era (well, at least to the late-80s when the book was published).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Another Microsoft Conundrum Solved

Here's the scenario:

1. Windows MMIII Server running IIS, multi-homed with 2 NICs, some web sites running on IP Addresses on one NIC, others running on IP Addresses on the other. This was originally set up so that password-protected web sites could be authenticated through a WebSense LDAP call. This server hosts our Intranet web sites.

2. No longer using WebSense and the Networking group wants to replace and get rid of old routers and switches.

3. The server will now run all web sites through one NIC.

Here's what I did:

1. Deleted the IP Address of the NIC which was routed through WebSense. After doing that, I deactivated the NIC.

2. Entered the IP Addresses from the now-deactivated NIC onto the other.

3. Changed the subnet mask and the default router on the one working NIC. Turned off Routing and Remote Access because the static routes that service handled were no longer needed.

4. Restarted the Server.

At this point, I expected everything to route where it was supposed to and we could call it a night after 15 minutes work. Ah, but that was not to be. Computers in the same subnet as the server could access the web sites correctly. But, those which were in other subnets (across the router) could not get the web sites.

I went through and double-checked the IP Addresses, subnet mask, and default gateway on the server. All was correct. I also ran route print to make sure there wasn't anything hanging on from the old routing. There wasn't. I also restarted the server numerous times. (Microsoft Troubleshooting Lesson 1: Always reboot first before doing anything else.)

The networking guys checked, rechecked and checked again all the routing info in the routers and switches which the server's traffic would have to cross.

The interesting twist on this, by the way, was that the server's non HTTP traffic going across the router worked just fine. It could get its dynamic content from the 2 database servers which are each in a different subnet, and it could make the AD LDAP calls for authentication.

Total mystery.

We spend the better part of 2 1/2 hours checking, rechecking, adjusting and changing settings trying to get this server to give it's web pages to everyone needing access to them. No luck.

Finally, one of the networking guys, who was very frustrated, suggest we remove all the IP Addresses off the working NIC and reenter them.

I did that and everything started working. I didn't even have to restart the server again.

So, if anyone out there needs to "un-multi-home" a Windows server, don't just enter the old IP Addresses on the other NIC, remove all the IP Addresses and start over.

One more piece of advice: Remember which was the first IP address you entered on the working NIC and don't take that one off. In our scenario, that was the only IP address which seemed able to communicate across routers. There is something about the first NIC and the first IP Address entered on that NIC that's magical. I'm thinking about my other experience with that IP/NIC problem.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Scandal? What Scandal?

I am tired of the endless barrage of criticism and congressional inquiries into the firing of federal prosecutors. It's been months since it happened, and Congress and the media are still wasting time, energy and a lot of hot air over this.

Presidential appointees serve at the behest and pleasure of the president. Those folks were appointed by Bill Clinton when he was president. George Bush is president now and he gets to pick and choose who works for him and who doesn't. It doesn't matter why he fired them, he did. He doesn't have to have a good reason - or any reason. They served at the pleasure of the president and he decided some other folks would work out better.

When Bill Clinton fired federal prosecutors when he was in office, there was no hoopla, no talk of scandal, no congressional inquiries. He fired more people that Bush did and there was hardly a mention of it. Why all the fanfare now?

With all the important things Congress could be working on right now, why are they wasting time on these "small potatoes?" With the real crises our nation faces these days, the firing of a dozen folks hardly rates even a scant mention. They're all smart people and good attorneys. They will land on their feet. The experience they garnered working in their office will help them land some great jobs in the private sector. And, their employment as federal prosecutors was not a contract job. They could be fired at any time, and they knew that going into the job.

Wait a minute, what am I thinking? If the congress is busy making a big fuss over this, maybe they'll be too busy to raise my taxes. Maybe they'll be too busy to pass some stupid law which will end up costing me more of my hard-earned money ...

Hey, what is all this? These people should have never been fired. Congress needs to bear their full attention on this crisis and get Bush! Yeah! I want to see 24/7 congressional inquiries into this matter right now!