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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Once upon a time in Russellville


RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. - A middle school yearbook in Arkansas has created controversy around the country after it named Former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in a list of the "worst" people of all time.

The yearbook included a list titled the "Top 5 worst people of all time." The list begins with Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, but then lists Bush and Cheney.

Students didn't vote on the list, and it was taken from an opinion website. Parents in the community are outraged.

"I'm furious as a parent and as a board member and as a tax payer and as a resident of Russellville," resident Chris Cloud said. "It's wrong."

Parents spotted the list after the yearbooks were printed. The school's solution was to cover the list with tape.

The superintendent said the yearbook's editing process is under review.

Guess whose job security is also under review?

Once upon a time I spent about a month in Russellville. First helping install a new telephone Solid State Electronic Private Automatic Branch Exchange (EPABX) system for the college and later fixing problems. It featured something called DID (Direct In Dial) and DOD (Direct Out Dial) trunk lines that could be accessed by the students dialing “9” for a local call... To dial long distance the student supposedly dialed “0” and was connected to a long distance ATT operator. “1+” was supposedly blocked.

We were told three college employees who had previously been operators were "reassigned" to other tasks. The long march to underemployment had begun.

I say supposedly because it took the students about 15 seconds to figure out how to defeat the system’s "Toll Restriction” and call whoever they wanted free of charge. Of course when the bill came back to the school the accountants went postal and we were summoned back to fix the problems. One of the not so sweet things about it was that we could only work on the system after 10:00PM because it was carrying live administrative traffic as well as the future Masters of the Universe’s desperate calls home for money during the day and earlier night time hours.

Of course the school just looked at the “Called number” on the bill and decided that John Smith, Jr from Forest City was the person who called John Smith Sr in Forest City and billed the criminal.

Never, never, never doubt the ingenuity of an American college student when they are given a chance to show that they can “beat the system!” Or the system's ability to have the last laugh.

But that was the least of our woes. The trunks lines were spread over two different Central Offices by the telephone company. One was an ITT 71/72 stage by stage and the other was a North Electric NX1 cross bar. That meant if you dialed out, the dial tone, that’s the sound you get when you pick up the phone to use it, would be different depending on what equipment was connected.

And since our equipment was electronic it had an “Allotter” that selected trunks at random. That confused the users but they eventually got use to it.

Worse, if you dialed a number that was connected to the NX1 andyour trunk was connected to the 71/72 you had to trunk between exchanges. (You can only have 10,000 numbers in one exchange.) What that meant that the connect time was so long that people would hang up and file a trouble report. Worse, if they stayed within the same exchange the connect time was much shorter. Confusion reigned.

The solution? We installed a Tick Tone generator on the intra office trunks that provided a scratchy “tick” that the caller could hear which told him the call was being made.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn, which is still there. Unusual given that the typical business plan is to not do any maintenance, depreciate the property down to zero and then sell it to someone who will refurbish/upgrade and turn it into a EconLodge or some other chain.

The room bill was $14.00 a night and my boss, a Turkish immigrant who was Director of Engineering, complained bitterly. He smoked Turkish cigarettes that were about 6 inches long and never took them out of his mouth. He would just put them in the center of his lips and talk around them. As the ash got longer and longer it would finally fall off onto his tie and he would just wipe/smear the ashes...

He did the same thing when he interviewed me and we had a “failure to communicate.” I didn’t understand three words he said. Fortunately one of them was “Boolean” and I desperately sketched some AND, NOT and OR gates. All of these are now available by the gad zillions on trillions of chips smaller than the eye of the needle those rich men must go through on their way to heaven.

But that was not the case when Holiday Inn rooms were $14.00 a night in Russellville, AR.

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"Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them." - Karl Popper

“Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.” - William Pitt

"Logic. There is little logic among the cultural elite, maybe because there is little omnipresent fear of job losses or the absence of money, and so arises a rather comfortable margin to indulge in nonsense." - Victor Davis Hanson