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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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why now? UPDATED 2x

I look forward to learning why this weekend was the perfect time for me to get seriously sick: chills and fever, muscle aches and upper bronchial bubbles. (Strange)

I'm grateful that we had planned for the choir at Rockville UMC to take the week off, while my parents provided special music. But I'm very worried that I won't be in good enough shape to help with Tuesday evening's big rehearsal for the U-MD Maryland Chorus Messiah performance, or perhaps not even for the performances next Saturday and Sunday. Because I conducted two-thirds of this work last Easter, I have deep sympathy for the conductor at the prospect of loosing his concert master, and especially at not having an obvious replacement in-hand. Besides, I was having a lot of fun playing this music again, after a decade, and being a concert-master.

This is also the week I'm supposed to show-up on-site for my new project. IBM and the project manager are both very understanding about illness, but I really hate missing a chance to make a good first impression.

**UPDATE 2** added details on medicines and prognosis

I did see a doctor around 3 this afternoon. He says he's seen 15 cases like mine today: it's an ear infection. He took a very brief look in each ear: right ear, infected, left ear, not infected. He prescribed Omnicef, a.k.a. cefdinir, (see also Wikipedia and chemical description and usage notes from the federal government) (600mg every 24 hours) for the infection and recommended Nyquil for the symptoms. He said I should be non-contagious 24 hours after taking the first dose, i.e. just in time for the big Maryland Chorus rehearsal tomorrow night, although I may not have enough strength to survive it.

I suppose the ear infection explanation checks out with the strange bubbling in my throat after each exhalation or cough. I'm assuming this is a middle-ear infection, rather than outer-ear. If the coughs and exhalations drive air and fluids into the Eustachian tube, then the normalization of pressure could create bubbles as the tube clears out. I'm perceiving these bubbles to be at the lower back of my throat, even close to chest level. However, I have been unable to find a diagram showing where the Eustachian tube joins the pharynx.

I found the last paragraph of this article interesting, as it describes the person for whom the Eustachian tube is named.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Again Yet! UPDATED

We were having a lovely Thanksgiving Day today, with a wonderful dinner followed by a visit to the In The Beginning exhibit at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery.

But, just to keep a touch of reality, I answered a pounding on our door around 9:30 in the evening to find a police officer informing me that my CRX has been rear-ended. I don't know how this will work out, but I'll post a picture tomorrow after the sun comes up.

This will give you an idea of what happened:

Friday, November 17, 2006

Some Great News!

Although the i's haven't all been dotted yet, I've had two very encouraging interviews with the team of a project soon-to-be based at the Gaithersburg office, just 2.5 miles from my home. This sounds like the kind of work I love, a place where I can be successful, and a potential for long-term involvement with one team, potentially on the order of a decade. It's also a chance to get involved very early in the life of this team, which is something I have missed on the last several projects. The current plan is for me to start working for them Monday morning.

God is good!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bench Time

Just a little update, in case you hadn't heard.

I've been on the bench for 14 business days, since October 30. I think this is God's doing, and so I'm watching with curiousity to see what He has planned. Certain things happened to make it possible for me to leave the FEMA project. (Not that I wanted to leave: I loved the people and the technology, although the commute was a bear.) But a special combination of circumstances came together in a way that I felt was God's preparing for me to move from FEMA back to my previous project in Columbia, MD.

However, that project has also, like the FEMA project, gone through some financial restructuring, and they are letting a few people go, and certainly no longer welcoming me back on board.

So I have been beating the bushes. My resource deployment managers in IBM's federal sector have been lining up interviews for me with federal projects, and I will be pleasantly surprised if I don't wind up with one of those. One of my goals is to, sooner or later, find my way into other parts of IBM, working on an IBM product like RSA or DB2, or, even better, on an open-source project like Eclipse or Firefox or OpenOffice.org. That would really float my boat, at least in terms of values.

So I've applied for open IBM positions from RTP to Austin to Denver to Beaverton, OR. I have no desire to leave this area: my dear friends DG and JM are here, and our working relationship in music is extremely valuable to me. On the other hand, my close friend JF is in the Denver area, giving me a reason to move there. Beaverton, OR is or has been IBM's Linux development hub, so I would take any job that would get me into that office with a chance to join that team.

I've also heard today from a couple of recruiters for jobs outside of IBM, one in Cleveland, OH and another in New York. And I should probably submit my résumé to the USAJobs site for government agencies. It would be cool to land a job at NASA, especially at some interesting site like Wallops, with its back pressed up against beautiful Chincoteague Island.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Things I Can Do On The Second Try :-)

You paid attention during 100% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz

Yeah, on my first attempt I scored only 91%: I missed the questions about world religions and the dangling modifier. What's your score?

Thanks to TinyFroglet for the link.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hyacinth Macaws

Earlier this year we visited the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. Their fish exhibits are wonderful, of course, but the absolute best bit, from my perspective, is at the very beginning: a pair of Hyacinth Macaws.

These beautiful, amazing bird are among the largest hookbills, and it was wonderful to see two of them interacting with each other. I only wish I could have gotten close and made friends with them.

Vicki posted pictures and a few words about our visit in her own weblog and in our homeschool weblog.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Replacement Treo

Whilst I'm griping about Verizon Wireless, I need to give them props for the things they do right.

This morning I found that my Treo 700p was dead for conversational purposes. The Palm/PDA side was still functional, but the telephone side would not stay powered on, or would display a "Network Search..." message followed by a small red T. (I suspect that the meaning of that T explains the malfunction.)

Since I have now been on the bench for more than two weeks, the loss of my telephone and the ability to receive calls from prospective project managers was a significant and very pressing issue.

I called Verizon from another phone, and eventually managed to reach their tech-support team. No one I spoke with had any clue about the meaning of the T, but they were friendly and courteous and we determined with reasonable expediency that I needed a replacement phone. They asked for my shipping address, and I explained my immediate need and plead with them to arrange for me to pick up a phone at a nearby store.

These are the two areas where I want to give Verizon Wireless respect and appreciation. 1) They agreed to replace the phone swiftly, at no charge (at least that I've heard about yet), and with overnight shipping and 2) when informed of my urgent need, they went the extra mile (maybe two miles) and negotiated for a new phone at a local store.

It is with frustration and disappointment that I report that the local store, while friendly and courteous, left somewhat to be desired. When I arrived they felt it necessary to repeat the entire trouble-shooting process, and then informed me that I should come back in 20 to 30 minutes, as it would take that long to program and provision the replacement. This turned out to take about an hour.

Long story short: I was without my phone for about five business hours, wound up with two voice messages and no way of knowing how many calls I had missed, and a new Treo 700p. While I am frustrated with the local store workers (although they were nice people), the manager (another nice person) for not expediting the exchange, and the amount of time that process consumed, I'm very grateful that the tech team and the local store were able to step outside of their rules and procedures to get me reconnected in less than 24 hours.

Kudos and thanks.

Comin' an' Goin'

As I've mentioned before, our family cellular service is no longer with Sprint PCS, a.k.a. Sprint with Nextel, because they do not provide coverage in the Washington D.C. Metrorail tunnels. (Seems frustratingly silly now, since I'm on the bench and no longer riding Metro on a daily basis.)

Verizon is a company that I do business with grudgingly. Their reputation is far from clean. Within this geographic area their actions are approaching monopoly abuse. We seem to have extremely few options for local telephone service, and no one else is offering an internet connection at 15Mbps in a reachable, if unreasonable (by Asian standards, for example) price range. We switched to Verizon Wireless (a separate, but increasingly affiliated company) because of the data-service coverage in D.C., giving me (at that time) the ability to stay more or less connected during my two-hour morning and evening commutes.

Unfortunately, even though we have been customers for more than five years, Sprint believes they have us under contract. The contract on Vicki's account was renewed when we got a replacement phone in June '05, when her original Sprint phone died. And the contract on my account was renewed when I changed the calling plan at about the same time.

Ergo, Sprint/Nextel will be picking our pocket to the tune of $300 dollars just before Thanksgiving Day.

I spent the better portion of an hour on the phone with several Sprint "customer service" reps. Heather and Dierdre and all the others whose names I didn't catch were very pleasant to talk with, very helpful in explaining exactly why I'm getting stiffed such a significant figure. But not one of them, nor their supervisors, were even capable of canceling or refunding those charges on our final bill. Or so they repeatedly explained to me.

As if their monthly charges hadn't been high enough all along.

Until today, I had entertained thoughts of going back to Sprint PCS when our Verizon contract expires, if the coverage situation or my need for it has changed (as it has already). Until today I had spoken very highly of Sprint PCS and our appreciation for and satisfaction with their service.

After the conversations today, I can no longer recommend them to my friends and family. People, be warned: just like the other big phone companies, they will take your money before, during and after you are finished doing business with them.

Sprint, I am not likely to be coming back to you.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Great Falls NP

This is one of the best shots I've gotten with my camera phone (Treo 700p). This is a shot of the Potomac River, east branch, from the C&O Canal tow path, not far from the visitor center at the Maryland side of Great Falls National Park.

I first attempted to post this picture using the Picassa/Blogger integration. This technique had worked well a few minutes ago when I posted Riker's picture to the Ashton Cats weblog. However, this weblog is hosted on my own server, and that seems to add one wrinkle too many. I hope to get this ironed out, because I'm starting to like Picasa.

Photo Editing and Organizing

I'm looking through some of the more widely available photo software. For starters, I've totally ignored the HP Image whatever software that comes with the HP printer drivers downloaded from their website. Instead, I've looked at Picasa from Google, at Adobe PhotoAlbum Starter and the brand new SnapFire from Corel. And, of course, I'm always looking over my wife's shoulder at iPhoto.

All of the above provide basic photo improvement options as well as an organizational view. Flickr doesn't offer to improve your photos, or at least I haven't seen that bit yet. But, as I mention below, their organizer is pretty spiffy.

Flickr and my Treo

As you can see, I've added a Flickr badge to the header of this weblog. I've been aware of Flickr, off in the periphery of my computing experience, and I finally decided to look into it seriously when I saw a badge on another weblog.

I've hit a couple of limitations in the free Flickr basic account: 20MB/month, and 3 sets. What these mean is that I could only upload 161 photos this evening, and categorize them into only three sets or collections.

However, I will give Flickr props for having a nice interface, and their organizer is very slick, especially given that it's all written in Dynamic HTML. Well done!

By the way, the photos I uploaded are all ones taken with my Treo 700p. There have been disappointments there, too: I'm not impressed with the colors, and it's very hard to hold still enough to get a clear shot in lower light settings. But, for a camera integrated into a PDA serving as a telephone, good enough, I think.

Click on the badge above and look through the shots. What's your opinion?

By the way, some of the earliest photos, from the day Vicki and I visited Black Hill park, are particularly bleary. I think the lens was dirty, and I've been more careful about keeping it clean since then.

A Fox!

Vicki and I took a walk on the Seneca Creek trail yesterday. As we were returning, a man, his son and their dog entered the park, and the dog flushed a fox, which dashed across the trail not far ahead of us! What a very beautiful creature.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Things I Can Do

Sometimes its good to review the things that one can do. This morning, thanks to Vicki's prompting, I was reminded that I can quickly do ten push-ups without breaking (much of) a sweat.

Well, that's something, anyway.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Thanks to an IBM-internal weblog I saw today, i just took a peek at YouOS. This is one very impressive demonstration, and it worked very smoothly for me. It didn't hurt that they included an old Mac OS 7 emulator. Too cool!