The Castleton Group saga continues.

The more I learn about Suzanne Clifton the more irritated I am. Through research on her companies, The Excutive Staffing Group and The Castleton Group, I’ve discovered that she was also named one of Enterprising Women Magazine’s “2007 Enterprising Women of the Year”. Of course we can’t blame the magazine for such a mistake, but we can blame Clifton for feeding everyone many spoonful’s of BS by pretending everything was OK with her company while under investigation by the NC Insurance Commission.

Effectively, without notice, Clifton accepted this award while facing corporate insolvency and went on to insist to her clients everything was just fine right until the end. Have no doubt that her actions and inactions (in the form of disclosure) touched many who work in the Raleigh, NC area and I am beginning to hear from those affected personally. Suzanne skipped town out of embarrassment and may not come back (if we’re lucky).

American women are now paying Indian surrogates.

As a society we should have a problem with this. First we accepted, without argument “elective cesarean section” for rich women who sit in Starbucks browsing the latest gene catalogs to engineer themselves the perfect child by selecting the sperm. Much like they selected the unique interior of the Mercedes SUV they intentionally double parked. Now these same women will claim they “can’t have their own kids” and ship the selected sperm and their eggs off to India where they’ll pay a surrogate mother around $5K US dollars to be pregnant for them.

So, a 42 year old woman who feels she’s “achieved enough success” in her business and social life to finally have kids can ship off some eggs, some select sperm and viola! In about 10 months Fed-Ex delivers a healthy new born. Now all she’ll have to do is hurry and hire the nanny so she can avoid having to do the annoying parenting part until she’s in her 60’s. After all women of this importance can’t afford to let go of too much “me time” can they?

I hope that by the time my kids are in high school there aren’t so many of these unnatural kids running around that they end up getting labeled. I’ve always called them “Vetros” and Amy hates it (I’m told it’s not nice to stereotype). These kids won’t be intellectually superior or have super human strength for all the selective process that goes into them. They won’t be ultra successful because mommy and daddy were rich, aristocratic assholes. They will be normal kids with delusional parents. The same parents who will be in their late 50’s trying to understand why their investment just got busted driving drunk for the second with half a joint in the ash tray and two tickets to the High Times Cannabis Cup in the glove compartment.

Should Suzanne Clifton face criminal charges?

Here’s the run down a local story that epitomizes the sheer greed only the worst of business leaders can possess regardless of age or gender. It’s also an argument against staffing agencies and outsourced HR/payroll firms and a testament to why any company considering itself worthy of being an employer of ten or more people should be able to process it’s own payroll and benefits internally.

Back to Suzanne Clifton. Here’s a woman who lives the high life, or so I hear. She’s the former President and sole share holder of The Castleton Group, a HR and payroll “partnering” firm that would handle these two critical pieces of business for smaller, local companies in Raleigh, Cincinnati and Asheville. It sure sounds to me as though Clifton was likely responsible for the most top decisions made for a company she went to great lengths to identify as hers exclusively. She even boasted about her business background and community service on the Castleton website.

In October of 2006 Clifton must have used her ego, reputation, and possibly money, to get named to the North Carolina Professional Employer Organization Advisory Council by the The North Carolina General Assembly. They appointed her to the council through 2009. She’s probably still a member of the council. Why is this important?

Let’s start at the beginning of Clifton’s and The Castleton Group’s bad decisions. Jay McLamb, Castleton’s former CFO, filed false federal payroll tax forms between 2005 and 2007. They didn’t pay almost $8 million in federal payroll taxes as a result. Let’s pretend for a minute that Suzanne Clifton knew nothing about Jay’s naughty behavior. Regardless, she hired Jay and didn’t have an internal audit trail to disclose fraudulent activity of this magnitude in her own company.

So the problems begin compounding. Because of this “clerical error”, which Castleton insists they reported when the problem was discovered, the NC Department of Insurance did not issue the necessary Professional Employer Organization license to Castleton twice between 2005 and 2007. Was this ever disclosed to ANY of the businesses Clifton, er, I mean Castleton handled benefits and payroll for? My guess is that a notice was not sent to their client base emphasizing they were operating illegally(?) at various intervals.

Edit: I am not certain that Castleton ever operated “illegally”.  They operated without the necessary state licenses from the NC Department of Insurance.  So they operated “unlicensed”.

It appears with $6 million currently due in back taxes from apparent fraud and no operating license, the NC board of Insurance deemed The Castleton Group insolvent on Dec. 4, 2007. Immediately Clifton found a PR firm (one that she could afford) and declared “We’re open for business under appeal”. Still no admission of a problem. By December 18th Clifton declared bankruptcy and listed 5000 debtors, most of which are employees of Castleton’s clients.

Many families had to go into Christmas wondering if they would have insurance coverage for which premiums had already been docked from their paychecks or if they would be receiving another paycheck at all while employers scrambled to internalize or change payroll providers. And who can these employers hold responsible? No one because the Castleton is insolvent and Clifton is probably privileged to numerous layers of incorporation protections for her personal assets. Assets which, according to Wake County property records, include a 2004 Mercedes valued over $42K and at least two houses worth just over one million combined. Smells like Clifton’s clients suffered the ramifications of an old woman’s greed, not just her bad business sense.

Two big questions remain in this story: Does Suzanne Clifton deserve to be on the North Carolina Professional Employer Organization Advisory Council based upon her stellar judgment we have seen displayed to date? Second, should there be further investigation to determine if she should face any criminal charges for negligence if nothing else? I’m forwarding these questions to WRAL reporter Cullen Browder to see if the media can do any damage to the matter.

Lottery watch:

No million for me in the Merry Millions. Or $100K either. It’s down to the $5000 level and “results are pending verification”. My odds remain the same at 1:92 for at least $100.
Soon I’ll be heading out to get Cash 5 and Powerball tickets for this weekend. PB Jackpot = $42M

Lump Sum :
(approx) $22,700,000.00 / $16,344,000.00 (after 28% tax)

Per Year ( 1 initial pymt and equal pymts for 29 additional years (Powerball) ) :
(approx) $1,400,000.00 / $1,008,000.00 (after 28% tax)

I have a 1:92 chance…

…of winning $100 in the NC Lottery Merry Millionaire raffle set to occur in a few moments at 5PM EST. This is because I bought two of the $20 tickets intending on giving one as a Christmas gift but I didn’t. So, based up on the number of tickets sold = 368,000 divided by 2000 (the number of $100 winning tickets that will be drawn) my chances are 1:92.

So thinking of this another way that’s 92:1 chance that I wasted $40. That’s the way I’ll think about it for the next 34 minutes to avoid the disappointment of not beating the odds.

Connor’s Ubuntu Laptop

P10103151.JPGOn Tuesday morning of this week Connor officially learned to use a mouse by himself. He’s the only 4 year old I know with his own Dell D610 running Ubuntu. I have a marker on his desktop with a star icon that takes him straight to Dora the Explorer and Go Diego games. He’s even using the scroll wheel big boy style.

KVM Battle: Raritan vs. Avocent

Recently I started evaluating KVM console switches and power distribution units (PDU’s) for implementation in the new American Kennel Club Data Center which will be under construction within the next three weeks. At the start of this evaluation all of the SA’s in the IT department worked together under the guidance of the Principal Network Engineer to come up with a set of criteria that the chosen solution should meet broken down into mandatory functionality and bonus features. The mandate from the CIO was that the solution allow us to effectively “seal off” the data center for all routine administrative tasks that did not involve physical adds, moves and changes. This includes the ability to remotely power cycle a server without having to enter the rack.

We have a large assortment of server types and console interfaces to support in the environment. These include serial connections to various Sun servers, VGA, PS2 and USB connections to x86 servers, and ALOM network interface connections into those Sun servers that support them. I should preface the details of this evaluation by stating up front that we are implementing state of the art components in this new environment that most veteran administrators would not suspect of the AKC. We’re investing in some of the latest technologies and current trends in hosting environment solutions. This includes a 25TB SAN, 3-phase 208V power provisioned through overhead Starline Busways, zero-U managed power distribution units and overhead cable trays instead of the old school raised floor tiles. The KVM solution we select must be of an enterprise level sufficient to compliment all of these technologies. Here’s the criteria we set for the Raritan and Avocent proof of concept teams. At minimum:

  • The system must support KVM console connections over both IP and serial interfaces. It doesn’t matter if this requires separate switch models to achieve this.
  • There must be a central management appliance or software to administer all KVM switches and nodes connected to all IP and Serial KVM ports.
  • This central management console must be capable of establishing console management sessions to Solaris versions 8-10, Ubuntu, Windows 2003 Server and VM Ware server instances.
  • It must be able to launch an internal (embedded) SSH terminal client such as PuTTy when making connections to Unix servers.
  • The solution must incorporate the ability to communicate with 3-phase 208V PDU’s or CDU’s (Cabinet Power Distribution units). Additionally it must be able to control each PDU to the outlet level with the ability to associate each outlet to a respective server or appliance node.

Optional components that would be of benefit but are not necessarily required include:

  • RSA SecureID authentication support.
  • Auto discovery of any virtual servers associated with primary VM Ware server nodes.
  • ALOM (Sun) and iLo (x86) support for network management interfaces on servers.
  • The ability to interface with 3rd party PDU’s or CDU’s.

So the bar’s set relatively high. All of the contacts from both companies did a very professional job representing their products and did not hesitate at all to provide any necessary eval units to meet the criteria specified above. Raritan provided a Command Center Secure Gateway v1, a KX2-216 16 port IP KVM switch, an SX-8 serial KVM switch and a PCR8-15 PDU. Avocent has initially provided a DSR 2035 IP KVM switch, a Cyclades PM-10 PDU and a 90-day full version of DSView 3, their central “hub” software for managing all Avocent components on the network. We’re awaiting the arrival of an Avocent serial KVM which should be in later next week.

The Raritan Command Center is their central management solution in an appliance form (it’s a 1U server) and is ready to go out of the box without any licensing required during the initial setup. For Avocent’s DSView3 evaluation software we did create a Windows 2003 virtual server instance for the installation and it did required activation and licensing through the Avocent support website. Obviously this software could have been loaded on to a physical test server but we just didn’t have one available so we opted for the quick VM solution. As advised by our Avocent field engineer we would not put the central hub instance of DSView3 into production on a virtual machine (we’d dedicate a pizza box or something).

Despite the Raritan Command Center being a 1U server with no software installation required, from the installation of the Raritan hardware and obtaining access to the first administrative interfaces took about 4 hours. About an hour of this was probably consumed with network issues such as obtaining available IP’s addresses and running cables. Unfortunately the biggest problem with the Raritan solution was discovered prior to the start of the evaluation process. Currently they do not have an available 3-phase 208V PDU that can integrate with their KVM switches for seamless administration and sever node to outlet association in the Command Center console. Furthermore, they cannot provide such integration to 3rd party PDU’s such as Server Technologies or APC. In Raritan’s defense they do have this complete solution available in single phase 208V Raritan brand PDU’s and they are promising 3-phase by June 2008. We will be moving into the new facility some time in late March 2008 so this key requirement could not be met by Raritan in our time frame.

Avocent on the other hand can meet our PDU management requirements in one of two ways. They have their own brand of PDU’s through the acquisition of Cyclades last year providing the 3-phase 208V Cyclades PM-42. The only problem we have with this unit is that it only comes with 42 outlets (three banks of 14 single-phase 208V receptacles). Since we’re running an “A” power and a “B” power strip into each rack for redundancy this would mean 96 outlets per cabinet. It’s impossible to populate racks with that kind of server density. For this reason we’d like to use something like the Server Technologies 3-phase CW-24V2 CDU. It’s got three banks of single phase 208V receptacles and what do you know – Avocent was an OEM reseller of Server Tech PDU’s before buying Cyclades so their switches can interface seamlessly with this model including server node to outlet association. Perfect.

Update: KVM Battle Part II – Raritan vs. Avocent

Here’s a crazy thought…

I might support Ron Paul for President.  Republicans don’t like him because he supports the constitution and not a police state.  He’s not a Democrat, specifically not Hillary Clinton.

It will be interesting to see if his campaign accelerates with media exposure.  The Repubs propaganda machine will try to squash him.  But can they?

Time to go shopping.

Little PumpkinWe just realized this morning that Connor only has two or three long sleeve shirts and Logan’s only got about four long sleeve sleepers. Amy put him in his pumpkin costume this morning ecause nothing else was clean. I’m thinking we’ll go to the Mortex factory outlet but I’m not sure that’s the best place for baby stuff. Connor needs a sweat suit too.

I’m having a hard time getting Logan health insurance because of his size. For some reason the underwriter’s can’t comprehend a 27 lb. six month old and classify him as obese. Never mind he’s already 24 inches tall. The boy’s are healthier than I ever was.

Next up - NascarI think I’m going to try to find a riding lawn mower on Craigslist today. I haven’t decided if I’m gonna buy one, just gonna look for now. Aside from new jobs, all the recent birthday parties and laundry there’s not much going on at our house. And I didn’t win the lottery last night either. But don’t worry, that announcement’s coming some day.

Right out of the box Ubuntu is easier than XP on a Windows Workgroup.

Samba on UbuntuThis is no exaggeration. Tonight I loaded Ubuntu Desktop 7.0.4 for the first time. After so many rants abouts its superiority on Digg I finally decided to give Ubuntu a try. I loaded it on my Dell D610. Here’s how it went:

First I downloaded the ISO from to XP desktop. Then I used Alex Feinmans ISO Recorder to bounce it to CD-R. This creates a bootable image of the OS that you can actually run from the CD for a thorough evaluation before deciding to install it. If you chose to go it’s as easy as clicking the “Install” icon on the pseudo desktop.

The install is completely automatic. This is probably true for most newer Dells (built in the last 3-4 years) since it is offered on the newest models straight from the factory. The only option that has to be selected is the time zone and the some simple information about disk architecture (use some of the disk or all of it?). Type in an initial user name and password and you’re off.

For most Unix-like OS versions I’ve installed on laptops in the past at least one hardware component has failed because of the lack of driver support. Without exception this included the Wireless LAN adapter which always required the use of ndis-wrapper to accommodate the Windows driver. Not this time. All I had to do was click on the wireless LAN connection, a drop down list of available wireless LANs was displayed, I clicked the one I wanted to connect to and put in the WEP key. Bang, I was on the LAN. This was the first thing that was easier than XP.

You see, under XP this same laptop continuously tried to connect to my neighbors unsecured wireless network by default. I actually had to let it connect, disconnect it and then agree to the “warning” that Windows would not attempt to connect to this foreign network again. That’s what it took to get it to keep from overriding the connection to my own preferred, secure network.

So, speaking of networks, the next thing I was going to do was install Samba so I could see shares on my local Windows workgroup. But first I went to the very obvious “Places”, “Network” option on the Ubuntu panel menu and whaaaaa? There’s my Windows workgroup displayed right in front of me. Damn are you kidding? Sure enough I can browse the shares and write files directly to them. When XP was on the exact same laptop I often had to put my right thumb in my left ear, hop on my right foot and restart Windows Explorer three times before I could see the shares on the other machines.

Now before Windows Fanbois go screaming that I just don’t know what I’m doing I need to lay two cards on the table: First, I build and administer enterprise Active Directory domains for a living. I have for over 12 years, check the balance of this blog for details. And second, I actually own the URLs and (and I may be pointing them both to after this experience). Anyone with any tenure in Windows networks knows that Microsoft peer-to-peer networking is intermittently unreliable at best, even under the correct configuration conditions.

The fact that an easy, downright simple to install Linux OS now lives in the desktop market ought to scare the crap out of any company that just released the likes of Vista. No, I won’t be playing Halo on this D610 but with a full blown install of Open Office, Gimp, Samba right out of the box I am not lacking a single component to get to work on this system. It even has a Terminal Server Client right in the Application, Internet menu option. So I can manage my AD networks right away from this Ubuntu desktop.

For once I can agree with all the hype presented by a segment of the user base at Digg. Compared to every other free OS available Ubuntu is, in my opinion, the best. This is coming from a long time FreeBSD fan. This OS brings hope that unified file systems may ultimately “win” the desktop marketplace after all.