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J. Daniel Ashton

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Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, —Ecclesiastes 9:10a NIV
The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands:
"See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God." —Micah 6:8, CEV
With all your heart you must trust the LORD and not your own judgment.
Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow. —Proverbs 3:5,6 CEV

see also — My Homepage

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Name: Daniel Ashton
Location: Germantown, Maryland, United States

Any links with a dashed underscore probably point to Amazon.com

Monday, August 30, 2004

Interview Update

This afternoon I had an interview for an opening in IBM's Gaithersburg office. This would be for the Business Continuity and Recovery Services group, a part of IBM Global Services. BCRS is a group that provides off-site hardware for businesses to use in case of a disaster in their own data centers. Our local recovery center is described here.

The vast majority of the systems here are IBM, of course. However, all of Global Services is agressive in supporting systems from any vendor as needed by the customer, and BCRS is no exception. At this point they have a small team of Sun technician-administrators, and that's the opening I interviewed for.

The job would have several interesting facets. I seem to work well with the day-to-day interrupts of supporting users, although it sounds like this team is less focused on daily users and more focused on recovery checklists. I've done hardware and OS configuration in the past, especially at McKee Foods. I'm very comfortable with Linux and AIX (which are internally very similar to Solaris), and I did a couple of Solaris installations while working in Atlanta. I would need to study the Sun/Solaris way of doing things, which I would probably enjoy, especially if it resulted in obtaining Sun certifications. And there could be some room to grow into another of the groups, perhaps if I wanted to develop mainframe skills.

There are some drawbacks, of course. It's not clear how any member of this team could work from home. While working in Gaithersburg is my second-favorite option (after work-at-home), we have been hoping for a reason, even just the freedom, to move closer to our friends and our church. Landing an office job in IBM's Gaithersburg office would be a compelling reason to stay in this immediate area.

This job sounds like it would be much less user-oriented, and much more focused on planning. I'm not sure that's a great fit for my skills and interests. There's also the question of my involvement with various musical groups, and of Sabbath work: this team works around the clock during disaster recovery test runs, and (of course) during real emergencies. While the interviewer expressed willingness to be cooperative in these areas, I would feel awkward if a disaster recovery became necessary at a time when I could not help my team. And I value my free time: I'm not eager to sign-up for shift work. I see these as potential sore spots.

Disaster recovery is definitely a critical effort for the businesses involved. Being a part of that would be something to be proud of, a little bit like being a firefighter or ambulance driver. However, I like to imagine my contributions to computing to be a little more mainstream, helping to improve IBM's software, perhaps, like DB2 or MQSeries, or contributing to some major open-source project.

In summary, I think this is wait-and-see. If the team interviews all the other candidates and still finds me the most compelling, I think I could be content to work here for a few months or years. Given my comparative lack of Solaris experience, I'll be surprised to be offered this position. But it could be a good place to be helpful for a little while, and to pick up some new skills.

More on Kitchen Lights

Click on the picture to see the entire album (10 pix). Hover over each picture for a brief description.

Here's the product page at Home Depot. The lights are made by Easy Lite.

Now that we have these, we want to find a ceiling fan that matches. Please let us know if you see one.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

A Home-Improvement Day

Just a quick update: I feel fairly successful. Today I finished replacing the front- and back-door knobs, locks, bolts, et c. This was occasioned by the front-door lock getting stuck and breaking. While we were at Home Depot we picked up some track lighting, and I spent some time this afternoon installing that to replace our kitchen light. It looks great, but I'm too beat now to bother taking and posting a picture. Soon, maybe. ;-)

Tomorrow afternoon I have an interview for a Unix sysadmin position in Gaithersburg. I'm feeling a certain amount of pins-n-needles, partly just curious about what kind of project this will turn out to be. I also plan to find and sign-up for some IBM on-line education, probably relating to DB2.

It's late now, and I've had a sore throat today. I'd better get to bed.

Thanks for all your prayers and good wishes!

Friday, August 27, 2004

Torture is never justified.

Use God's method instead. Elisha did!

Chat me, Please!

For me, the most effective way to stay in touch seems to be via instant messaging. Here are my IDs on various systems.If you prefer a different IM service, drop a comment here and let me know how to reach you.

If you're not an IM type of person, you can always say "Hi!" by leaving a comment on something here in my weblog. And Thanks!

on Leaving CADE

Today is, as has been previously mentioned, my last day on the enormous CADE project. What comes next, I do not know. God knows.

Yesterday I had encouraging and interesting conversations with a few associates: among other things, they encouraged me to consider transitioning from computer programmer to systems architect. Another conversation turned to the possibilities of pursuing education and certification, perhaps toward becoming a DBA.

My resumé is online here. Within the computer field I perceive my interests growing in the direction of working on IBM's software products. I think I would like to say "I helped make DB2 index faster" or "I helped make our C++ compiler compile faster." On the other hand, God may be leading me toward more customer-facing projects (I doubt that the IBM products are in desperate need of another architect) or perhaps away from computers altogether.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

on Close Calls

Two recent events have brought to mind the close calls with death we all have every day. Tuesday night two Russian airliners fell from the skies. My friend T. S. Elliott is in Russia, and I was much relieved to see a new posting from him after that tragedy.

This morning here in Maryland a MARC train struck a dump truck near Buckeystown, MD, bringing service to a standstill. (I often ride MARC trains on this line as I commute to and from work.) By the grace of God all of the passengers escaped injury, and the truck driver is reported to have sustained serious but not life-threatening injuries. Based on the television pictures we saw, it appears that this train was (unusually) being pulled by two engines, instead of being pushed, as is common for southbound MARC trains on this line. If the passenger cars had been between the engines and the dumptruck, . . .

A little research on MapQuest suggests that I would not have been on that train: it was still several miles north-west of our home. However, it gave me yet another reason to be grateful for God's hand guiding and protecting me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

on Visiting Russia

Here's a shout out to my friend Troy Elliott, who just began a stint as an ESL teacher in Russia.

on Loosing Sleep

Last and this weeks the world celebrates the Olympic Games, held this year in Athens, Greece. Thanks to the annoyance of NBC's totalitarian coverage, we've been staying up until midnight to watch all the popular excitement. (TiVo seems like a really great idea now!)

Well, apparently last night we were still in danger of getting too much sleep, so around 2:30 we were awakened by a very low and slow-flying helicopter circling our neighborhood. It hovered for several minutes over our back-yard alley, sweeping its searchlight slowly over all the yards. The helicopter was flying so low that it made the shingles flap, and blew trash and recycling that had been set out for the morning's pick up all over place. After a little time it moved off to check other parts of the neighborhood, but it came back for additional search time.

We're not used to this kind of serenade!

This morning we've found nothing on any news channel or website to explain what was going on. If you can find anything, please comment here!

Monday, August 23, 2004

The Boulder Pledge

Under no circumstances will I ever purchase anything offered to me as the result of an unsolicited e-mail message. Nor will I forward chain letters, petitions, mass mailings, or virus warnings to large numbers of others. This is my contribution to the survival of the online community.
Roger Ebert

Take it today!

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Job Search Update

It's been a business-week since I was notified that my time on CADE has come to an end. My last day will be this coming Friday, 8/27.

To clarify: I'm still an IBMer, and I have an indeterminate amount of time to find a new project, with the help of my PDM (personal development manager). However, I recognize that every day I'm not on a project is a loss of income for IBM, so there's a certain amount of pressure to become billable again quickly. (Actually, among my strongest interests would be to help develop and improve IBM products like z/OS or the C compilers or DB2: those would not be customer billable, which explains why those jobs seem perhaps underpaid and difficult to obtain.)

I've found several moderately interesting possibilities, but nothing truly compelling. I've applied for a few, but gotten no response or "sorry, we already filled that position." Today I got another set of newly listed openings, and found among them one with the magic phrase "work at home." And it's one that looks like a very good, almost a great match for my experience, skills and interests. It's based in San Jose, but that magic phrase gives me hope that I might not need to move.

So, who knows? I'm willing to move, but not at all eager to. I'm most desperate to be open to the Spirit's leading: in location, in industry, in type of work, in whatever. Thank you for your prayers and support.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Why Mac OS X is Better

Why Mac OS X is Better

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

IP: It's not Property

King Cotton, Meet King Copyright

Monday, August 16, 2004

Some news at last

Just a moment ago I got the call from the development manager on this project. I'm among those who are being "moved" off of this project.

This certainly opens up a lot more uncertainty:
  • Will another CSC job be offered to me?
    • would I take it if it were?
  • Will I find another job within IBM?
    • Will it be in the Maryland/D.C. area?
I would have a strong preference for working from home and staying in this area, with our friends, church family and musical opportunities, but if the perfect job requires that we move, we're willing. I'm even willing to work outside of the computer industry:
  • music?
  • education?
  • hamburger-flipping?
Please pray for me and my family that, among other things, we will clearly see what door God is opening for us. Please pray also for the others here and elsewhere who are or seem to be loosing their jobs this week.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Radio Waves Should Be Free

by Clay Shirkey

and another from The Economist

Friday, August 13, 2004

Sabbath Comes at Last

Waiting is such hard work!

On Monday we saw the very lovely townhouse beside J & D. By Tuesday night we had heard that there was no point in our bidding on it.

All week long I've been living with the news that our project is preparing to roll off some percentage of the staff, and I figure that should include me. I've been looking around the job market (mostly within IBM), but everything I like has already been taken. (Just as with the houses.) Today we heard that we'll hear on Monday.

I've spent some time talking with banks about financing, but our needs will be different if we're not buying. OTOH, if my next perfect job is somewhere else, we might be buying after all. What I've learned so far is that we need to put our equity in this house to work for us so that we can qualify for a decent mortgage, preferrably without the contingency of selling this one. But the banker I was working with failed to return my calls today. More waiting.

So we go with gratitude into the Sabbath hours. It may not be easy to stop thinking about finding a different job, or a bigger house, or better financing. But this is God's time, and He will help us and bless us with His presence.

Shabbos Shalom

Monday, August 09, 2004

Maybe this one?

Oh! We went to see the townhouses on either side of J & D today. The one we saw before had been locked at the dead-bolt, and we couldn't get in. That's OK: it was just the prompting we needed to finally set aside all thoughts of bidding on it.

And then we went to the "sold" home on the other side of J & D. WOW! It's big! and it's beautiful! like the first one we fell in love with. And it's big! And, oh! the hard wood floors, and split-level living room, and wonderful kitchen, and huge downstairs room, and fabulous master suite!

OK, enough raving: here are the pix. Twenty-six of 'em.

[Click on each picture to advance to the next. Hover over each picture to read my commentary.]

Financial Hacks?

I've enjoyed the O'Reilly Hacks series of books, which are typically focused on making better use of Linux, Google, Amazon, et c. The newest in their series departs from the technical focus with a venture into finance.

Virginia Chamber Music Through-out the Year

The Garth Newel Music Center looks pretty awesome!

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Potluck vs The Community of the Involved

I've had it with potlucks. I'm through, at least at Triadelphia. Do you know what wound up on my plate today? Two kinds of baked beans and two kinds of potato salad! That's it! Where were all the excellent Adventist dishes? The vege-meat? The Spaghetti-O's and weiners? GONE! Even the taco salad was gone!

Why? Why did I get none of my wife's brocolli pie? or her pear salad? Why did she eat none of those things? Because we're involved! I was moderately swift in getting downstairs today after the service. I waited politely for the postlude, and chatted briefly with a few friends regarding plans for music this afternoon and in coming weeks. By the time I got downstairs there was already a line around three sides of the room! When Vicki finished her kitchen duties, guess what was left on the table. And, oh yeah, by that time it's very difficult to find a place to sit, not to mention a table with water still available. (And would it be possible to put more than one pitcher of water on each table?)

OK, maybe this was an unusual occurance. Nope. This is what happens week after week. Delicious and beautiful dishes go to the people who are not serving lunch, to the people who are not arranging music for coming weeks, to the people whose only purpose at that moment is to get downstairs and get some grub.

Did you notice who else came up on the short end of things this week? Pastor & Mrs. Rice had to pull up a new table. The Colons wound up sitting on a pew. Geri Mueller went through the last of the line with us. The Greenes and Cottrells were only a few seconds ahead of us.

OK, let's try to be a little less juvenile about this. Let's momentarily surpress the inner child that comes away kicking and screaming inside because all the excellent food is gone. After all, that's selfish, right? What about the other value of a fellowship meal, namely fellowship?

Well, tell me how many chairs are set around each of those fancy new round tables we have. How many? Six, by my last count. That means that I can fellowship with my wife, my son, my daughter and two other people. We could have done better by inviting two couples to eat in our home! In fact, that seems like a great idea in comparison.

People, I'm saying that there's something wrong here. Those who are involved in church planning, playing and leading should not be paying the price in taking the last bits on the table or the last chairs around the periphery of the room. Something is unfair!

For that matter, if the dish you brought got scraped clean, did you really bring enough? After all, someone will be last in line, and if there's nothing left by that time, are we really doing potluck right?

So for the moment, I'm really bummed about potluck. I don't want to mess with it any more. Fortunately, I'm likely to change my mind before next week! ;-)

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Probably Not This Time Either

We went to see the second townhouse today: this one is right beside J & D. We had heard that it went on the market August 1, and we found a sign out front on that day. However, no one was permitted inside until today, probably thanks to some serious maintenance in progress.

Today we got inside and had a good look around. The upgrades are obvious in the kitchen, and it looks like all or nearly all the carpet is new. The kitchen was really impressive: very nice appliances, very nice cupboards. The place had certainly been staged: all the furniture was beautiful.

Unfortunately, there are several drawbacks to this place. All of the townhouses on that street face the south, and their front-sides get all the light. This makes the back deck a nicer place to sit, I suppose, but it also makes the downstairs room very dark.

In addition, this place is noticeably smaller than J & D's (right next door) and the contrast is almost oppressive. The internalized garage leaves too little space for the basement room. In stark contrast to the first one we saw, there was no additional space downstairs for computer stuff, and all of the classroom would have to be relegated to this smaller, darker space. Not inspiring.

Although the master bedroom is ample, the kids rooms may be even tinier than in the first townhouse. Since they share the north face of the house, they will get little light and will probably seem even smaller.

Finally, the lack of concern and craftsmanship was evident in many details. The kitchen and living room had obviously been made over rather thoroughly, but the reconstruction in other rooms was somewhat shoddy. Baseboards had been left in an unpleasant state, and the corners of the walls had been caulked instead of puttied and sanded. The staging was a little too obvious, too. It was difficult to believe that anyone was still living there, and the furniture looked like rental pieces fresh off some show-room floor. Gorgeous pieces! yes, but not believable.

In general, this place failed to sieze our hearts in the same way. I think we could be content to live there, but I'm not sure it's attractive enough, or a big enough improvement over where we are now, to make it worth the hassle of moving.

The biggest attraction is being near friends. So I think we may put a bid on it, but for somewhat less than the asking price. I'm not sure that it's worth the pain of signing all those papers again, so we'll ask first whether many other offers are being received. If we could get it for less than they're asking, it would be a worthwhile investment, and Vicki could relish the kitchen every day.

In addition, I think it would be a great home for a couple with no kids, or a family with one child. The drawbacks for us were envisioning the upstairs rooms as our kids' bedrooms, and trying to picture the downstairs den as our classroom.

One other thing: the last few days have demonstrated our inability to visually compare spaces. I can't imagine how this townhouse can have 33% more floorspace than the previous one. It just doesn't compute.

Not This Time

I just heard that our bid for the first townhouse was overlooked in favor of an offer with no selling contingency. We had been warned that this was likely.

We have one more townhouse to look at today (it came on the market this morning) and, if it's equally impressive, we may bid in it, quite possibly with the same results. Who can say?

At least this exercise has given us a fresh perspective on our finances and a renewed interest in discarding some of our excess baggage.

Monday, August 02, 2004

on Calluses

Two weeks after CMW I discover that I have calluses on my left-hand fingertips. I played violin with the hymns in church this Sabbath, and found that I was slipping and sliding across the strings as if I had plastic buttons glued to my fingertips. What seems strange is that I did not notice these last week when I was practicing with my kids. Why two weeks after the fact?

More importantly, what can I do about them now? If I make a point of practicing violin every night, that will just make the calluses more permanent, right? Do I need to play nothing for a couple of weeks? Soak my fingertips in water?

Sunday, August 01, 2004

on Thinking of Buying a House

This afternoon my wife confessed to me. "I've fallen in love," she said.

I knew exactly what she meant. We have been praying about many things, including a larger place to live, with space for a classroom, lots of room for private and chamber-music practice, and space to get my computer books out of our bedroom. Furthermore, our home is about 40 minutes drive from our church, 32 miles from the office where I work, and on the west of town, the I-270 corridor, while all our friends and acquaintances are on the east, near I-95. So when we heard that the two townhouses on either side of J & D are both for sale, we decided it was something important to check out.

We made our way to their neighbourhood in Ellicot City and found that the larger end-unit with fireplace was already sold! We called the number on the other house and left a message for the realtor, and then decided to cruise the area while waiting for a callback. After a few minutes we found another interesting townhouse listed by a different realtor, and decided to call them in hopes of getting to see both houses. An agent named Lauren answered the phone. She agreed to meet us in about half an hour.

While we waited we got a callback from the first agent, who reported that the house beside J & D was not yet on the market, even though their sign was already out front.

After a short wait Lauren arrived with an associate, Helena. She checked and confirmed what the other agency had told us about that house being not yet on the market. She then asked me to sign a dual-agency agreement, and was confused when I refused. Since IANAL I'm not sure I understood the details, but a simple reading seemed to indicate that if I signed, Lauren would then be my buyers agent, and at this point we're so fresh into the process that we're still acting independently.

As we walked up the sidewalk Helena indicated that she knew J & D as "Dooley's people," so she must live in the area. Still, it was neat to meet someone else who knows the big Harlequin Great Dane by name.

Then we went inside, and that's when it happened. The place is a little over 1,500 square feet, so it's only a modest increase from the 1,220 we have now. [Correction: after discussing this with our realtor we concluded that 1,500 does not include the basement, which has now been beautifully finished, bringing the living space to over 2,300 sq ft by our estimate.] But it was gorgeous! The front room is spacious: we'll have more than enough room for piano quintets. The master bedroom has its own bathroom. And the finished basement has a huge room that will be perfect for classes and a smaller room that will do nicely for our computer books and equipment while doubling as a guest bedroom.

Click on this picture to view a stack of photos

Drawbacks: there's no garage, so the boat and the bikes would reside on the back patio, requiring a trek through the grass. There may be less storage space in the kitchen. Indeed, there may be somewhat less storage overall: there's no storage-ready attic space like we have here. It's less obvious where the litter boxes should be. And the master bath doesn't have a tub.

There are two things that seem to be insurmountable:
  1. Moving: This seems like such a huge obstacle that it's very hard to imagine moving for any reason less than a job transfer. The process of packing carrying, driving, carrying, unpacking seems so enormous!
  2. Financing: Can we even qualify for a $290K house mortgage? How much can we get for ours? How can we pay for all the odds-n-ends, like storing half our goods so this house can look saleable?

on New Contact Lenses

Last night I disposed of my disposable lenses, and this morning I put in a new pair. This is by no means the first time, but I still feel the miracle, the wonder of clean lenses. Thank you God for inspiring someone to come up with disposable contacts, and thereby making it possible for me to see clearly.