Friday, March 31, 2006

Before my first on-site interview for this job, I was walked past "The Wall". "The Wall" is where the various certifications held by employees are displayed to impress potential clients and intimidate potential interviewees. This wall is thirty feet long, with a triple row of neatly framed certifications.
After I was hired, I was told to bring mine in and copies would be made for "The Wall". Once I figured out the reality of the job and environment, I never bothered.
And then there was much trauma. People were fired. Others left. No one was hired because the technical staff left seemed to be handling the crisis. More people left from overwork.
Last week I walked past "The Wall" again, this time with a more critical eye. There were names I didn't recognize, even after several months of employment. There were also names of people who managed an escape while I have been here. In fact, as I was standing there another co-worker wandered by and said, "I see dead people."
To be accurate, over 80% of the certifications on "The Wall" belonged to people no longer sharing a 401k plan with the rest of us. I pointed. I laughed. Perhaps a bit too loudly.
Wednesday an HR person entered the geek-nasium and requested that I bring in my certifications so they can place copies on "The Wall."
"WOO HOO," I thought,"Two weeks severance, here I come!!" Surely being placed on "The Wall" with the dead people is my ticket out!
"Of course!" I replied,"I've been meaning to do that. Thanks for reminding me!"
I skipped. I'm confident enough in my masculinity to admit that. I skipped out of the control center and down the hall for a Mountain Dew.
Then I saw it. Bone-white squares with yellow borders and a few scattered "Certificates of Completion" were all that remained of "The Wall." I scanned the names. They were people still employed here.
I could bring in all the certifications in the world and it might very well not make a difference. I could end up still working here either way.
There isn't enough Mountain Dew in the world to ease that pain.
On the bright side, today is Casual Jeans Friday! There are new hires (sales people and executives) to draw attention away from me and I've managed to engineer a Friday with no clear deliverables, meaning that if nothing catches on fire (knock Intel Centrino) I can continue with my "proofreading the internet" project.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

As soon as I figure out a network protocol that will let me stab people in the face over the internet my stress level should absolutely plummet.
So. Management decided that my ability to multitask is limited. Nevermind that if this is the case someone should tell the sales department to stop triple selling me to clients. The concern has been voiced (though never to me directly) that having an instant messenger installed on my system is the focus of my day.
I can crank through a few dozen tickets, meet with clients by email, phone and in person. I can design and implement complex environments - but if I communicate by text message I'm obviously a complete slacker.
I considered making phone calls whenever I needed to ask my wife something or ask an old co-worker a stupid technical question, but that just runs up my cell bill and annoys everyone.
I decided to just ignore upper management. This policy has gotten me this far. Why start switching stuff up now?
I added Google Talk to my old standard MSN Messenger to provide redundancy. There are very few people on both lists, but this kind of lets me decide who I'm up for chatting with given my current workload/mood.
It was with much joy this morning that I opened an email from our new manager requesting that everyone exchange Messenger IDs to improve communication within the company. Apparently, my 'Workplace Evaluation' comment (reprinted here):

"Never in my work experience have I been in a company with as many internal communication issues - at least not where all the employees share a common language."

. . . was taken as seriously as I intended it.

This change in policy carries with it the added benefit of being able to select disturbing or threatening Messenger pictures and display names. Today is a frowny face with the display name "Violence - If it doesn't work to solve every problem then you aren't using enough".

In order to fully verify the technology I played a brief game of Messenger Chess with one of the overnight guys. It seems to be functioning well, except that the Queens look a little like Bishops from behind. Wow. Even typing that last part has jokes flashing through my head too fast to chronicle.

My plans for today include closing more tickets. I closed about two dozen yesterday. I didn't solve the problems associated really. I don't have that kind of time. I just perfected the "Solution" text box exploit, as I'd like to call it.
No ticket can be closed without a solution in the "Solution" text box. That is coded into the ticketing program.
The ticketing program doesn't care what the solution is, just that there is one. In that way, the program is just like any good manager, but less intrusive.
For a while, I was using "Complete", but this indicates that I actually did something. If you've been reading from the beginning, you know that I've implemented a total (sometimes brutal) honesty policy at work. Even hinting that I cared enough to actually do something about some stupid problem seems dishonest.
Then I used "Out of scope" for a couple of weeks. What does that mean? As far as I can tell, nothing. That makes it pretty ideal. However, including the SHIFT, this is thirteen key strokes. I don't have that kind of time/concern.
Yesterday I discovered " ".
One little " ". Without the quotes, one key stroke. And a key stroke made with my thumb, which has the muscle power to endure a full day of " " followed by an evening of computer gaming, all without cramping. Well, minimal cramping. I think I may have a potassium deficiency.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I saw the most frightening thing yesterday. Well, the most frightening thing for an IT person that doesn't involve zombies.
On my way home I dragged myself to the sixth floor of a building a little south of downtown to talk to some people about a new venture they are starting. Here is their master plan for global domination:

1. Hire extremely competent technical resources who specialize in customer-facing engagements.
2. Get these people to design and manage a transition from locally managed IT systems at client sites to a central data center here in Texas.
3. Once the migration is complete and the bugs worked out, migrate these systems again to a data center in India to be managed there.
4. Repeat with other companies.

None of this is scary or surprising. Lots of companies do this, varying only in the level of competence of their technical staff and the size of the target corporation. And some outsourcing goes to starving Eastern European countries.
The scary part was the video of the training facility where they are cranking out the future help desk personnel. The video quality was not great, but the on-site training seemed to be going on in some kind of warehouse in Vishakhapatnum (a lovely coastal city) with a group of locals being trained by suit-wearing guys that looked like they worked for some kind of Top Secret government agency.
The locals were not being trained in IT stuff, from the footage I saw. They were also not being trained in procedure or escalation methodology.
They were being trained in reading scripted responses. Phonetically.
So they don't speak English at all. The training class is going through an interpreter. But when it is complete, the "support technician" can talk a user through a typical computer issue, having gotten the call through a computer screener (press one for . . . ) and pass themselves off as "Steve" from Atlanta or "Jane" from Boston or "Jim" from Northern California complete with very convincing regional accents.
These people won't be personally taking my job anytime soon, or the job of anyone I know. However, it is the start of a "total replacement" mindset which will end up with the whole industry at risk. What won't be outsourced to the phonetic help desk can be managed by computer. A Visio design wizard application can lay out an Active Directory environment, given sufficient parameters and a fast enough CPU. As soon as the phonetic help desk guy knows what to ask (the same is true of the computer) high-level IT consulting becomes an extravagance for most companies just interested in getting the job done.
My main selling point in interviews has always been that I'm better with people than with computers (as much as I completely hate both of them). You can find technical people who can do the job or simulate them using dialect coaches and scripts, but there will always need to be some kind of personal interaction with the people who have a stake in the technologies at risk.
Establishing trust happens best with on-site work, not ignore-the-tech-behind-the-curtain shell games.
In the end, I told them half a dozen things I could do to make their plan work more smoothly and efficiently, then deliberately priced myself out of the job. I'm sure they will be able to find someone to do it, but it won't be me. It defines the difference between "mercenary" and the other word I'd like to think is less accurate in my case.

Romeo and Juliet
Act 1, Scene 4

0, +h3n, ! 533 Qu33n M@b h@+h b33n w!+h y0u.
$h3 !s +h3 f@!r!35' m!dw!f3, @nd 5h3 c0m35
!n 5h@p3 n0 b!gg3r +h@n @n @g@+3-5+0n3
0n +h3 f0r3-f!ng3r 0f @n @ld3rm@n,
Dr@wn w!+h @ t3@m 0f l!++l3 @t0m!3$
A+hw@r+ m3n'5 n0$e$ @s th3y l!3 @sl33p;
H3r w@g0n-sp0k3s m@d3 0f l0ng sp!d3r5' l3g5,
Th3 c0v3r 0f teh w!ng5 0f gr@$5h0pp3r$,
Teh tr@c3s 0f teh sm@ll3$t sp!d3r's w3b,
T3h coll@r5 0f teh m0Onsh!n3's w@+3ry b3am$,
H3r wh!p 0f cr!ck3t's b0n3, teh l@sh 0f f!lm,
H3r w@g0n3r @ sm@ll gr3y-c0a+3d gn@,
N0t s0 b!g @s @ r0uNd l!t+l3 w0rM
Pr!cK'd fr0m teh l@zy f!ng3r 0f @ m@!d;
H3r ch@r!o+ !s @n 3mp+y h@z3l-nu+
M@d3 bY t3h jo!n3r squ!rr3l 0r 0lD grUb,
T!m3 0ut 0' m!nD teh f@!r!es' c0aChMaK3rs.
@nd !n th!s $t@t3 sh3 g@ll0ps n!ght by n!gh+
Thr0u6h l0v3rs' br@!ns, @nd th3n th3y dr3aM 0f l0\/e;
O'3r c0ur+i3rs' kn33s, th@t dr3@m 0n c0uRt's!3s str@!gh+,
O'3r l@wYer5' f!ng3rs, wh0 s+r@igHt dr3aM oN f33s,
O'3r l@d!es ' l!p$, wh0 str@!ght 0n k!ss3s dr3aM,
Wh!c|-| oF+ teh @|\|gry M@b w!th bl!5t3rs pl@gU3s,
B3c@u53 th3!r br3a+hs w!+h sw33tm3a+s t@in+ed @r3:
Som3t!m3 sh3 g@ll0ps o'3r @ c0uRt!er's n05e,
@Nd th3n dr3am5 h3 0f sm3ll!ng 0u+ @ su!t;
@nd s0m3t!me com3s sh3 w1th @ t!th3-p!g's t@!l
T!cKl!ng @ p@rs0n'$ no$e @5 @' l1es @sl33p,
Th3n dr3aMs, h3 0f @n0th3r b3n3f!c3:
S0m3t!me sh3 dr!ve+h 0'3r @ s0lDi3r's n3cK,
@nd th3n dr3aMs h3 0f cu+t!ng f0r3!gn thr0a+s,
0f br3ach3s, amBu$c@do3s, Sp@n!sh bl@d3s,
0f h3al+hs f!v3-f@th0m d33p; @nd th3n @n0n
DRuM5 !n h!s 3@r, @ wh!ch h3 st@r+s @nd w@k3s,
@nd b3ig t|-|u5 fr!gh+3d 5w3ar$ @ pr@y3r 0r +w0
@nd sl33ps ag@!n. Th!s 1s th@t v3ry M@b
Th@t pl@t5 teh m@nes 0f h0r5e5 !n teh n!gHt,
@nd b@k3s t3h 3lfl0cKs !n f0uL slu++!sh h@iRs,
Wh!ch 0nC3 unTan6led, muCh m!sf0rtune b0d3s:
Th1s !s teh h@g, wh3n m@id5 l!e 0n th31r b@cKs,
Th@t pr3ss3s th3m @nd l3arn5 th3m f1r5t t0 b3aR,
Mak1ng th3m wom3n 0f g0Od c@rr!a6e:
Th1s 1$ 5h3--
R0M30 P3ac3, p3ac3, M3rcu+10, p3ac3!
Th0u t@lk'5t 0f n0+h1ng.

There we go. Proof that I am a romantic at <3.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Today I'm wearing a tie.
Sometimes I like to do that when I have no interview after work just to freak out management.
This morning there was enough stuff on fire that I got to hang out for a bit with the overnight guy while we tried to fix or cover up the mess.
In the end, there was more of the latter. This was followed by a discussion about one of our "Account Managers" and the looming re-organization which places him as a peripheral part of the Operations side. I've decided that having him on the technical side lowers our technical proficiency, as an organization. Of course, I'd earlier decided that having him grouped even loosely into the category labeled "people" is bad for the species.
After a brief discussion this morning, we opted to re-organize him entirely out of the animal kingdom to be safe. My personal vote was to place him in the same group as a kind of drippy drywall fungus which lowers the value of its surroundings and leaves everything it touches with a strange smell that doesn't wash off with conventional soap.
The overnight guy seemed a bit shocked for some reason. "What's so wrong with (asshat's name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement)?"
"You mean besides feline herpes?"
After that I listened to an uncomfortable phone conversation (or half of one, no speakerphone) where the overnight guy was talking to a "friend" and I could tell (though I try to not get involved in the personal lives of my co-workers - Go Team iPod!) that there was a history there. She sees him strictly as a friend. This always starts out with, you're a great guy, but I don't like you in that way. This is roughly the equivalent for the guy of going to a job interview and the company saying, You have a great resume, you have all the qualifications we are looking for, but we're not going to hire you. We will, however, use your resume as the basis for comparison for all other applicants. But, we're going to hire somebody who is far less qualified and is probably an alcoholic.
And if he doesn't work out, we'll hire somebody else, but still not you. In fact, we will never hire you. But we will call you from time to time to complain about the person that we hired.
Of course, I was relieved when that conversation ended, but then he felt the need to explain the situation (no job interview analogy) and it proceeded to become less and less comfortable until I was actually relieved that a client called wanting me to do something.

H41Ku time:

3y3 4m l33t h4x0r
j0! 3y3 4m t4lking t0 j00!
fux0red 5cr1pt k1dd13.

To conclude, my list of accomplishments for the workday today will probably have "Added 'asshat' to my Blogspot spell check dictionary" somewhere near the top.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Volume discounts are awesome sometimes.
You pay less, per egg, for 18 eggs than for a dozen eggs from the same set of chickens. Not to mention that eggs are an excellent source of protein.
There are some things, however, that should not be sold with a volume discount. For instance, me.
I've got a regular workload of about 50 hours a week. I can generally get it done in about 45 hours if I skip lunch, unplug my phone and glare daggers at anyone who approaches my desk. It should be noted I'm extremely happy to do two of these things anyway.
We have a sales force that likes to get the deal, whatever the deal, because they get paid based on revenue. Here is the awesome part:
Even if it costs our company $18,000 a month in support for a contract that pays $5000, the sales person gets paid for $5000.
Towards that end, a deal was made pricing our support by the hour. This rate is not a hard and fast rate, but is offered as a volume discount. They pay $x/per hour for the first 150 hours, then $x-$10/per hour for anything over 150 hours (retroactive) and $x-$20/hour for anything over 300 hours (retroactive). Thus, if they needed someone to do 100 hours worth of crap, it makes financial sense to also have us do 50+ hours of whatever because it is cheap or free for them. More hours is magically less expensive than fewer hours and the starting rate was about a third of the industry standard.
This means that while the sales person has no reason to complain (money is money), anyone on the technical side is screwed (because time is time, and no one is making any more).
As we are fast approaching the end of the month, this customer has two technicians tied up running "emergency back up network cables" under the floor and over the tops of the racks to run up hours and reduce their bill. This means we are lightly staffed in the Control Center at the end of the month and I'm experiencing the joy of answering the phones.
More accurately, the customers are experiencing that joy.
Today is a day for smashing eggs.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The change yesterday went not as well as I might have hoped.
Sure, the data (pr0n included, I'm sure) got moved to the USB drive, as planned.
The partition was expanded using a third party application stolen right off the internet ((company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) wouldn't spring for a valid version) and required a reboot.
I rebooted and nervously paced about.
I logged into a different server and tried to PING the rebooting mail server.
After a while (I guess I didn't nervously pace long enough) it responded. Relieved, I high-fived the other members of Team Exchange.
Side note: There is no way to look cool when you are high-fiving yourself.
I went to log in and verify. Hmmmmm . . . Why doesn't that work?
I went to manage the server remotely so that I could restart the services . . . No good.
Desperately not wanting to put on pants, I called the office.
On weekends, the "24/7 Technical Support Staff" promised on our website is a little less "Technical". Regardless, I asked him to plug in a monitor and tell me what the server is doing. I hung up the phone and paced nervously. I called him back a few minutes later.
The poor guy had to plug the monitor into the front of the server and a keyboard in the front because of the positioning of the rack, meaning that he had to type stuff . . . then run around the rack to see what he typed. In spite of this adversity, he was able to tell me that the server was "virus scanning".
I verified that the mail service was responding and stopped my panic. I asked him to verify the drive sizes and then reboot.
I began to pace nervously again.
This time, the server wouldn't even respond to PING requests. I nervously paced into pants and got on the road, the word of my boss echoing in my mind:
"I don't have doubts in your ability to make this change, but it is very important that there be no issues. (Company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) hates us right now. Not as much as they hate you specifically, but a lot. Call me as soon as the change is complete so that I can call management and then the client. Nothing can go wrong. . . . Nothing can go wrong . . . . Nothing can go wrong."
Not surprisingly, for a Saturday I found the worst traffic I'd ever seen in Houston. Cutting down a side street, I was unsurprised when my boss called.
"I'm heading in right now. I just hit nasty traffic. I can get the server back up pretty quickly, I'm sure," I answered.
"Why?" he asked, "I'm logged in right now. Everything seems fine."
As I pulled into a parking lot, waving off the attempts of teenagers to wash my car for money (no one touches the ride), I went over several things for him to check. Everything was good, so I went back home.
Knowing that everything had to be completely 100% better and complete before 1pm, it was with much dismay that I answered a call from work at 12:56pm.
"Did you just reboot the mail server for (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement)?" the technician asked.
"Um. No. Did you?"
Normally, I'd call the client. In this case, since I'm not allowed to speak to the client, I again called my manager.
I also coached our onsite guy through the keyboard/monitor dance again.
He asked,"Last time it was booting up it said 'invalid disk error - correct or continue'. I hit continue and it blue screened. What should I try this time?"
"Holy crap, man! Correct!"
It booted. There was much rejoicing.
I logged in again and started up Exchange, or tried to. File not found.
File not found.
The whole freaking purpose of the server and file freaking not freaking found?
I opened 'My Computer' on the server and noticed the drives all had apparently been "Corrected" with the wrong letter.
I switched L: for P: and D: for E: and started manually starting mail services.
Everything started working normally, including my breathing. I had forgotten I was still on the phone with my manager.
"What did you do that led up to this?" He asked.
"I made a sandwich, Steve."
He said he would call the client to confirm (it was now almost 2pm) and see me on Monday. "I'll bring the flask," he promised.
Then he called me again.
"Garrick, they want the server rebooted again to make sure the settings stick."
"I don't think that is a good idea, Steve."
He refused to be swayed, so I ended up holding my breath through another reboot, which went flawlessly thanks to the awesomeness of Team Exchange, I'm sure.
So. All told about six hours of my Saturday was spent officially doing nothing.

On another note, someone complained through email that my grammar is "creative", which I interpret to mean "poor".
Challenge accepted, my friend.
According to The Origins and Development of the English Language, grammar (and most spelling) was not standardized until the mid 1800s, which means I'm just using the classical tradition, my favorite of all the traditions commonly accepted. For those who you aren't up on your history of the English language those traditions are Rural Southern, Jive, Ironical, L33T, Double Speak, Coffee Talk, West Saxon, Mr. T, and Urban Southern. Keeping it "Old School", if you will.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Working from home is AWESOME!
I can drink decent coffee and stay in my sleep clothes! I can wander around and pet the cats! I can listen to streaming audio on the laptop (Go team stolen Sirius Satellite Radio!)!
But wait. . .
It's Saturday! I could have done all that without the working!
Today I'm fixing on the "Enterprise Mail Solution" for (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement), even though I'm really not allowed to. The solution arrived at by (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) involves a few hours of downtime and a portable USB hard drive. What could possibly go wrong?
Let's find out, shall we?
Task one is to turn off the mail services and dismount the mail store. After that, I'm to copy this mail store to the USB drive (purchased earlier this week at Best Buy). Then I change the home volume of this mail store (every user in the company) and restart everything.
I'm going to point out right now that there are a few dozen better ways to do this and (were I allowed to speak to this customer) we would most certainly be doing one of those.
To summarize:
Working from home = w00+!
Working from home on a Saturday = teh L4M3

Friday, March 24, 2006

Happy Casual Jeans Friday!
I've avoided making these posts too technical for a number of reasons. First, I like to maintain an aura of mystery. My family is uncertain about what it is I actually do and I can hope that leaving out the details can make it seem more interesting or important.
Secondly, how boring would THAT be!?!
To avoid both of those things, I'll tell the story from yesterday through the magic of allegory.
Once upon a time in the land of (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement (not the same company - this one is a major financial institution)) there lived an unhappy ogre.
This ogre held a magic piece of paper that gave him authority over all the vaults and roads in the land of (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement (not the same company - this one is a major financial institution)). He was given a lot of gold for this.
One day there was a disturbance along the bridge that let his minions visit and work at the main vault. It seems there was a troll at the foot of the bridge, standing on the 2003 foundation stones.
"You must pay a toll for every worker who crosses my 2003 stones, ogre!" he cackled, certain of his power over the bridge.
For 60 days and nights he made the same demands while the ogre called down, "Leave me alone, troll! I paid for the bridge built on your 2003 stones! It is a very pretty bridge, and we all know that pretty is its own reward!"
On the sixty-first day, none of the workers could pass the troll. His screaming had become unbearable. The ogre had also reached his limit. "I'll show him," he thought, his eyes glazed over with bizarre fanaticism as he used a magical spell to remove all 2003 foundation stones.
As the ogre predicted, the troll stopped screaming. However the beautiful bridge tumbled into the chasm and became quite smashed up and unreachable.
And then the ogre called me to fix it.

The Tempest
Act 5, Scene 1

PROSPERO Y3 3l\/3$ 0f h1ll5, 13r0Ok5, $+@nD1n6 l@k3$ @Nd 6r0\/35,
@nD y3 +h@+ 0n +|-|3 $@nd5 \/\/!+h pr1n+l3$$ f0O+
dO c|-|@$3 +h3 3bb1n6 |\|3p+u|\|3 & dO f7Y h1m
\/\/h3n h3 c0m35 b@ck; yOu d3m!-pupp3+$ +h@+
By m0On$h!n3 dO teh gr33n $Our r!n6l3+5 m@k3,
Wh3r3Of teh 3w3 nO+ b!+3s, @nd y0u whO5e p@$+1m3
!s tO m@k3 m1dn1gh+ mu$hr0Om$, +ha+ r3jo!c3
2 h3@r teh sOl3mn cuRf3w; by wh0$3 @1d,
W3@k m@$t3r$ t|-|Ou6h y3 b3, ! h@v3 b3d1mM'd
T3h n0Ont!d3 $un, c@7L'd fOr+h teh mu+1nOu5 w1nd5,
@nd '+w!x+ t3h gr33n s3@ & +h3 @zuR3d \/@uLt
S3t rO@r!ng w@r: +o teh dr3@d r@++L1ng t|-|und3r
H@v3 ! g1\/3n f1r3 & r1ft3d Jo\/3's $+Ou+ O@k
W1+h h1s O\/\/n bOl+; t3h s+rOng-b@$3d pr0mOnToRy
H@\/3 ! m@d3 sh@k3 & by t3h sPuRs pluCk'd uP
T3h p1n3 & c3d@r: gr@\/3$ @+ /\/\y cOmM@|\|d
H@\/3 w@k3d th31r sl33p3r5, Op3d, & l3t '3m f0r+h
By /\/\y 5O pO+3n+ @r+. BuT th1s rOuGh m@g1c
! h3r3 @bjur3, &, wh3n ! h@\/3 r3qu!r3d
$Om3 h3@v3nLy mu$!c, wh1c|-| 3\/3n nOw ! d0,
2 wOrK m!n3 3nd uPOn th31r s3n$3s +ha+
Th1s @!ry ch@r/\/\ !S fOr, !'L7 br3@K mY s+@Ff,
BuRy !t c3r+a!n f@+hOm$ !n teh 3@r+h,
& d33p3r th@n d!d 3v3r plum/\/\3t sOuNd
!'ll drO\/\/n mY b0Ok.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"How long have you spent working on JUST this one issue for (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement)?"
Instantly (and constantly) suspicious of questions like this from management, especially when the correct answer would be, "I'm not allowed to access those systems since that guy hates me," I opted for an honest answer of "Including weekends and evenings about 20 hours on this one issue."
Moments later, I got a 'Ticket Assigned to You' notice and the ticket itself had a pretty decent and up to date version of the work performed. It also clearly had my real name in the "ticket owner" field.
I guess the meeting yesterday went better than I'd hoped. In order for the whiteboard scam to work, I had to establish trust. Of course, I started with legible answers. Insightful design of the IT solution, all according to best practices.
Then, I started working on my (as yet untitled) science fiction novella.
"Since either server can function as an STA resource with no additional cost, we recommend fusing the interface with a crystalline matrix to provide redundancy and quadruple data storage and throughput."
While the technology does not exist, the consultant was able to sell this fallacy. Damn.
"We advise that the servers be filled with cooling gel to improve performance and increase minty freshness."
The consultant faded off halfway through this and pretended to cough and choke.
I was still writing: "We anticipate that the user experience will be improved by lessening the drain on network resources." I waited for a positive response from (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) before continuing:
"We propose that network utilization will be dramatically reduced by users taking a mini-break during the day after we pre-load the server with streaming video and cache random web pages. Proactively. Multi-user functionality. Outside the box." The consultant actually suggested the existence of the mini-break. As if employees use the internet for non-work purposes on company time.
I filled the stunned silence by drawing a bunny on the whiteboard. Before the conversation had started again, I'd indicated that the bunny's parachute was, in fact, an anvil.
It was a very very cute bunny.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

In about three hours today should get interesting.
My employer has brought in a highly-paid consultant to fix one of the systems for (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement). I could have pretty easily done the work myself. I've been working with the technology for years, longer even than the consultant. I just can't call the client to ask "what did you guys change?" and "after the work is finished, what should the solution look like?" Either question could complete work on my part in about an hour, including a reboot.
So the consultant will be here to participate in a conference call for me. I'm to remain silent and answer his questions by writing on a whiteboard in the conference room while the client thinks the answers are all coming directly from the consultant.
No, seriously.
Once we have the questions answered, I'll complete the work and have the consultant call the client to confirm everything is working.
While I guess it beats faking an accent, the whole thing is terribly Cyrano de Bergerac. Anyone who knows me well, knows my almost pathological hatred of all things French.
Anyone who knows me at all knows I will be unable to resist feeding fake answers through the whiteboard in an attempt to make everyone look insane/irrational/incompetent. What does it matter to me? I'm not officially allowed to be there anyway.
I did the math yesterday and over the past month, including weekends and after hours work, I'm averaging about 30 hours a week supporting this customer alone. That means that in a standard week (don't let me get started about the difference between a standard 40 hour work week and a standard broken IT shop 55 hour work week) I can actually officially account for 10 hours of time. No where in any form or time tracking utility (and there are a lot of them) can I account for the time I've spent. And now I'm hearing rumors that upper management is "concerned" about my impaired productivity. These rumors are semi-validated by the fact that the manager who devised my current "ninja tech" work program is actively working to keep upper management from asking me about it.
My biggest fear is that upper management will be okay with it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I'm feeling poetic. Here is my newly penned haiku:

Please stop calling me.
Go fix your own mouse, you tool.
I'm not your help desk.
Tuesday, March 21 2006

Longest . . . . week . . . . ever.
Since my last half dozen "listen to how crappy my day was" posts failed to trigger the falling balloons and fabulous cash prizes associated with being the one billionth "listen to how crappy my day was" blog entry, I'll try to keep the whining to a minimum.
Who am I kidding?
Listen to how crappy my day was:

In addition to driving downtown to complete a security evaluation and parking at my own cost, I got to spend 8+ hours working on the hugely unmanageable mail archive system of (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement). You will be relieved to know, all of the spam has been archived and backed up at least twice now. I know I'll sleep easier. Unless I get a call from work. Which seems to happen with increasing frequency.
The one process I can say that works smoothly at this company is that of moving my personal cellphone number from Human Resources and the interview process out onto the company intranet for anyone and everyone to use just whenever.
They didn't even need my authorization. Too slick.
Even leaving my phone on 'silent' is only a short-term fix, as the escalation number is my home number, which can't be silenced without missing actual calls we might care about.
Anyway, today I'll be trying to repair the HORRIBLE architectural mistakes made in the systems of (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement). All under cover of darkness.
Yesterday someone again spoke the name of he who should not be named to the client. I've taken on the role of "tech ninja", tossing eggshell powder grenades and fighting for continued functionality. In order to further mask my actions I renamed my laptop from the naming convention based on my username to "PRNSRV01".
Look! I'll waste more time:

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Act 1, Scene 1

3g3u$ fUll 0f \/3><@+10n co/\/\3 1, w1+h c0mPl@!n+
@6a1n$+ mY C|-|1Ld, /\/\y D@u6h+3r |-|3rM1@.
$+@nd F0r+|-|, D3m3tR1u$. /\/\y n013L3 70rD,
Th1$ m@|\| h@+h mY c0n$3n+ +0 m@rRy |-|3r.
$+@nd F0r+|-|, Ly$@|\|D3r: @|\|d /\/\Y 6r@c10u$ dUk3,
+h1$ m@|\| |-|@+h 133\/\/1+Ch'd teh b0$0m 0F /\/\Y c|-|1Ld;
+|-|0u, +|-|0u, Ly$@|\|D3r, +|-|0u |-|@$+ 61\/3n |-|3r r|-|y/\/\3$,
@nD !n+3rCh@n63D l0\/3-+0k3n$ \/\/1+|-| /\/\y c|-|1Ld:
+|-|0u |-|@$t bY /\/\o0|\|L16|-|+ @+ |-|3r \/\/1|\|d0\/\/ $u|\|6,
\/\/1+h F316n|\|1|\|6 \/01c3 \/3r$3$ 0f f316|\|1|\|g l0\/3,
@|\|d $+0L3|\| +h3 1/\/\Pr3$$10n 0f |-|3r f@n+@$y
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Kn@x, +r1fl3$, n0$3g@y$, $\/\/33tm3@+S, m3553ng3r5
0f $+r0n6 pr3\/@1lm3n+ 1n unh@rd3n'd y0u+h:
W1+h cunn!ng h@5t +h0u f1lc|-|'d mY d@u6h+3r'5 h3@r+,
TuRn'D h3r 0b3d13nc3, w|-|1c|-| 15 du3 +0 m3,
T0 s+ubb0rn h@r5hn3$$: @nd, mY gr@c10u5 duk3,
B3 1+ 5o 5h3; w1ll n0+ h3r3 b3f0r3 y0uR gR@c3
C0n$3n+ +0 m@rry w1+h D3m3tR1u$,
! b3g teh @nc13n+ pr1v1L3g3 0f @+h3n5,
@s 5h3 1$ m1n3, ! m@y d15p053 0f h3r:
Wh1ch 5hAll b3 31th3r +0 +h1$ g3ntl3m@n
0r 2 h3r d3@+h, @cc0rd1n6 2 0uR l@\/\/
Imm3d1@+3ly pr0\/1d3d 1n +h@+ c@53.

The rest of the day will be spent trying to avoid being called about desktop issues. If I work hard enough at making the users feel inferior, maybe they will stop calling me.

I can always dream.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A weekend where I was too busy to post! WOO HOO!
I got called a few times to work on junk, but mostly that was in the middle of the night. I hate them so much. Someday they'll pay. Someday they'll all pay. :)
Saturday we picked up some gardening stuff and Sunday we used it. All Sunday.
As a horticulturist, I'm evidently a very poor Republican. We have these big giant bushes the builder put in. They are kind of shapeless green things that just seem to grow wild in front of the house. While they had to go (replaced with butterfly bushes), they hadn't really done anything to hurt anyone.
So, while they could have been smashed and hacked and burned pretty quickly, I chose to carefully remove them and transplant them to the backyard (over the course of several hours) where they can run wild and free with their woodland brothers and be as big and ugly and useless as they like.
No choice following a full day of yard work but to continue molding myself into a better person with a little more hardship, this time in the form of a buffet.
The "Lucky Star Asian buffet" to be precise. I'm all about any restaurant named after an early Madonna song. Of course, who isn't?
"No MSG" is selling point and I'm pretty sure they deliver on that. The real reason I sometimes insist on a place like this is because of my ongoing personal conflict with the adversary I refer to as "The General".
For years now I have attempted to defeat General Tso and his chicken, but it is no use. I train and I train and I train, but General Tso is always one step ahead of me, making me (as my wife says) Tso Tso Tso very sick. The part that irks me the most is probably his reliance on that same tired old flanking maneuver, or more accurately my own vulnerability to it.
As a bonus, the authentic "Jalepeno Chicken" really evoked a feeling of spending the evening in China. Or possibly a Mexican jail. Either way, it was a wild journey for the taste buds.

Friday, March 17, 2006

So anyway, the rest of the team and I decided to set the new guy on rebuilding a server for (company name deleted to comply with the non-disclosure agreement). Having tried this myself, I got to run down the history of the trauma involved in this piece of hardware:

First, it was built and turned over to the client.
Then, a drive controller failed.
IBM replaced the controller with a newer, cooler controller.
When attempting to rebuild the server after this, Windows no longer has the driver for the new controller. It therefore cannot see the drives.
The fix is to manually install the drivers prior to the Windows installation, right? No problem.
Using the (company name deleted to comply with the non-disclosure agreement) supplied Server 2003 media, I blank the supplied password during the install and complete the build.
Upon reboot, the password as I know it doesn't work. Crap. Locked out of a brand new server.
So I rebuilt it, being extra careful with the password field this time.
Still no luck logging in.
I employed the Emergency Repair Disk option and load to that OS to change the password. A good plan, except that the Emergency Repair Disk can't see the drives because of the new controller.

Good times. And I wasn't allowed to do any of it.
The awesomeness happened when I went to escort him back to the server. My boss told me that the IT director for (company name deleted to comply with the non-disclosure agreement) was ON-SITE today and working in the cage next to the busted server.
He could not see me near his stuff.
Ninja time.
I told my boss I'd just leave my ID badge at my desk. The guy has never seen me, so there should be no problem. I can just knock when I get back up here.
He told me they might not let me back in.
"That is a risk I'm willing to take, Steve."
In the end, I borrowed the access badge of a co-worker and wore it picture down. So now the deception is personal. And I'm wearing jeans.
Casual jeans Friday! Casual jeans Friday!

So, today I'm not doing anything. Absolutely freaking nothing. It is completely awesome. All day today is tied up trying to support the dumbest Exchange archiving strategy I've ever seen or heard of.
Here is the thing:
All incoming or outgoing email is saved in one single 'archive' mailbox on the mail server. All mail. No filtering. No automatic deletion of old junk, ever. This means it is about 70% spam and pornography.
Since this mailbox grows at about a gig a day now since the new acquisitions, it needs to be moved before the drive fills up and the server crashes.
One USB hard drive later, someone has to manually copy these files to their new home.
Since a USB drive is no kind of enterprise mail solution, these messages will be converted (manually, through a mail client) into 1GB personal archive folders and burned to DVD, also courtesy of the USB ports.
Who would come up with such a stupid method? (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) of course.
The Exchange team and I have been having meetings about it. Since I'm the only member of the Exchange team, the fact that these meetings are out loud are a bit disturbing to my real live co-workers.

Me: "So, what do you guys thing we should do about this process? The copy seems to have stalled their mail traffic."
Me (in a southern drawl): "Don't know, don't care."
Me (in a squeaky voice): "I hate them. Reboot it."
Me (in a lower octave): "Fuck 'em."
Me: "I agree, guys. Good work. Take the afternoon off."

With that meeting over with, the four of us set to work on the device none of us are allowed to touch. If it breaks, I can't have done it. If it works, whatever.
Our Citrix team (also just me) has a half hour meeting scheduled at Starbucks this morning. Having it there is the only way to get that one guy to show up. I'll probably end up buying his coffee, too.
I guess it is worth it. He does good work. I just don't quite trust him. He talks to himself.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Stuff is so broken today it defies blogging. The sad fact is, it defies working on it slightly MORE than it defies blogging, so here we go:

Today there is a meeting assessing the technical ability of the staff assigned to (company name deleted to comply with the non-disclosure agreement) to verify that all our bases are covered.
Currently, their solution includes multiple Microsoft active directory environments, Exchange mail service and two Citrix farms.
I am the ONLY person on the Microsoft, Exchange or Citrix teams. Seriously.
And I'm not on the invite list for this meeting, because officially I'm not allowed to work on it.
Finally, a meeting I'm completely looking forward to.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

On Wednesday I got more details about the whole badge throwing incident. Here is how it went down:

On Monday night my boss (we'll call him "Steve") went for drinks after work with a salesperson (whom we will refer to as "Brandon") to discuss issues relating to (name deleted to maintain compliance with the non-disclosure agreement). Yes, my friends, THAT (name deleted to maintain compliance with the non-disclosure agreement).
They came to the agreement that the demands put on our technical team by (name deleted to maintain compliance with the non-disclosure agreement) were reasonable, but impossible to meet in the short term due to staffing issues. "Steve" insisted that his team was awesome but buried and that with the right additions and some direction all would be made well, and "Brandon" agreed.
Then the Tuesday meeting happened.
"Brandon" ranted about the incompetence of "Steve's" whole Windows team! While the team wasn't there to defend itself! Or even throw wadded paper!
Wait a minute . . . The whole Windows team is ME! That BASTARD!
Ok. So "Steve", seeing the ridiculousness of this attempt to place blame on me for stuff I can really officially have nothing to do with, announces his changing career plan by bouncing his badge into the wall off "Brandon's" face. Holy crap!
And again, my respect level ratchets up. It hit the wall pretty hard. I haven't seen "Brandon" since this happened (I avoid the sales staff like they have some kind of disease) but I'll bet he is relying on phone work for a little while. "Don't look at me, children! Avert your gaze!"
Other awesomeness from Wednesday included the announcement of my counterpart on the networking team. He quit. Not loudly or violently, but definitively.
Soon after that, I was pelted by over a hundred wadded balls of paper from the level one support team. It looked like it was snowing.
The natural response would have been to delete their accounts and mailboxes, but I was really asking for it. Someday they will pay. Oh yes. Someday they will ALL pay.
Today I will most likely be forced into another time-waster downtown to guess at the requirements of something vague I've been sold into doing. I've also got half a dozen time-consuming but completely boring activities with deadlines attached to them. It would be better if I had access to the deadlines, but I'm done complaining for today. Yep. I'm all complained out.
Step one: I will assume that the deadline for everything is so far into the future that I haven't been notified yet. Maybe my Outlook calendar doesn't display 5 digit years or something.
Step two: Until someone sorts it out I'll concentrate on my side-projects - verifying throughput on the corporate firewall and (if time permits) proofreading the entire internet. Someone has to do it.
Step three: Translate Henry V into leet speak: Act 4, Scene 3
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@nd 5@y '+h3$3 \/\/0und$ ! h@d 0n Cr1$p!n's d@y.'
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Th@+ f0u6h+ w1+h u$ up0n $@1|\|+ Cr1$p!n'z d@y.


Yesterday afternoon I saw the coolest thing! My boss SPECTACULARLY quit his job! We should all show such clarity of purpose. Truly, I now consider him my mentor.
He was in the conference room on the left of the People-Aquarium where I spend 40+ hours a week in a meeting with a number of people on the non-technical end of the company.
There was a loud "pop" sound from that direction, followed by urgent knocking on our badge-access-only control center. When the door was opened, he flew in and started quickly and efficiently throwing his belongings into his bag. The loud "pop" from earlier was the sound of
him flinging his access badge forcefully across the meeting room and into the outside wall of the control center. Wow. That is style.
Less than 20 seconds after his entrance, our CEO followed him in,
having been IN the meeting where the badge was thrown.
What followed was cursing and then a request for a personal meeting
and, a few minutes later, my manager returned. He sat down and started working again, but I could tell things were not resolved to his satisfaction.
I watched over the next few hours as people (sales people, some of whom had actually witnessed this whole thing) walked over to his desk and started asking for stuff. I'm sure it was stuff like "Can we get the results of the back ups from last week?" or "What is the escalation process for customer XYZ?" but all I kept hearing was "Hey! Please stab me in the eye!"
What were they thinking?
When I see someone snap at work (and I've seen it several times) I try to stay out of the way for at least 72 hours, which puts me outside the window for 90% of workplace shootings that are triggered by meetings with idiotic sales people. To date, I have never been shot.
I watched over my laptop screen eagerly for the carnage to happen, but my boss is apparently a class act. He physically harmed no one, just spent the rest of the afternoon quietly drinking out of his flask.
I've decided that "Hey! Please stab me in the eye!" should be the
noise the doors make when people badge through them. It kind of
establishes the tone, you know?
In advance of a formal policy, I've made that my own personal badge noise.
Yesterday was a day all about fulfilling the commitments set by
others. I rushed downtown to do a security assessment (for free) to
help close a deal, while the work orders continued to pile up in my
When I got back to the office (company name omitted to comply with
non-disclosure agreement) had broken something. They had broken it
I spent the next four hours working on it before finally getting
someone to understand that I had absolutely no idea what the end
result was supposed to be. To communicate this I finally took this
"This service was configured correctly, or at least functionally, when
it was turned over. It looks like changes were made while I was out of
town. It now looks like they are looking for someone to blame. If I'm
not allowed to work on their stuff, I will not be taking the fall for
I was then pretty much able to leave for the day, which was good. I'm
all about leaving for the day.
This morning I have already been visited by sales persons. I'm
preparing my badge for a good solid throw, but I'm trying to decide
who to "accidentally" hit with it. Style is good, random workplace
violence that can be written off as an accident is awesome.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

And then, this other time, I was back at work . . .
Someone unplugged my laptop over the weekend, so while I restart Outlook and it loads over 100 new messages about stuff I need to do, I'll update.
I spent a lot of time yesterday afternoon trying to come to terms with what happened at the interview yesterday and why. As I mentioned last post, everyone I met during the interview process looked like the IT staff from technology marketing stock photos. My wife has explained this as "the Florida Effect" - an endless drive found in people in sunny, beach-facing locations to look better, or at least look like everyone else.
It isn't that everyone wasn't nice. And it isn't (I hope) that I looked or dressed like their parents.
I once got recruiter feedback after an interview that the hiring committee had given me the nickname "The Citrix Guy from Baywatch." This was less than a year ago. I got that job, but had forgotten that assessment for some reason until this morning.
As the plane circled out of the airport over the beaches and back around a cruise ship slowly pulling through the blue green waters I wondered if "the Florida Effect" isn't some kind of evolutionary response to these surroundings, like some kind of need to blend in to beautiful scenery. As long as you don't actually BECOME scenery, I guess I don't really have a problem with it.
If they are looking for a "seasoned" technology person I guess I qualify. If they are looking for someone who can stay up until 3am doing shots and getting stuff pierced . . . Well I could probably do that too, to a limited extent. I think skin as old as mine may not pierce normally anymore. Note to self: Pick up moisturizer on the way home.
I guess I could content myself with the kindly advisor role, an Obi Wan patiently listening to the whines of Jedis-in-training. As long as I get to occasionally cut someone's arm off in a bar I'm ok with that.
As an added bonus, I was lost for a pretty long time in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday night and never saw one Ewok.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Fort Lauderdale Airport has free wireless internet!
Crappy free wireless internet, but free wireless internet none the less.
I was out of my interview in plenty of time to make it for my flight AND get loaded up on overpriced booze at an airport Chili's, in accordance with the prophesy.
The interview itself was an excellent way for me to learn exactly how old I am. Everyone at this company seems at least two decades younger than me, which leads to to question why they even chose to fly me over. It looks like they just hire people straight out of college mostly.
I've never been referred to as "seasoned" before. Nothing has ever made me feel as old.
Also, my current company has marketing documents made up with pictures of these attractive tanned geeks working hard on some computer issue - this place seems to be where these pictures are taken. I'm more than a little creeped out.
Lunch was a visit to sample some local flavor at a place called the California Pizza Kitchen. How Florida!
I'm going to see if I can find some balm for my hip at the gift shop. You know how these long flights cause me issues.
Also, I missed my stories.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

In the process I also got a lot of it in my shoes, but what are you going to do?
It isn't a problem for someone smart enough to bring extra pair for the interview. It IS a problem for me. However, any software company on the beach should expect squishy footed applicants, right?
On the plane I sat between a narcoleptic old guy and an old guy with a giant newspaper he could only read at arms length, fully expanded. On the plus side, free peanuts.
My rental car is little and yellow. And different.
And now it has 40% more sand in the floorboard, even after my attempts to "walk it off" over dinner.
Dinner was an adventure in itself. I tried to find a local dive. I think I succeeded with the "Briny Irish Pub." Whoa. Pre-interview I was only brave enough to order a salad, but I'll be pushing for a return trip over lunch tomorrow so I can try the fish and chips.
Right now I'm enjoying the wireless internet in the hotel bar, updating this and checking my email.
Every new browser window reminds me of my location: here
I can see water from my room. I think technically it is a ditch, but I'm happy about it.
After I figure out how to get to the interview in the morning (by way of a Starbucks), I'm turning in.
My impressions of Fort Lauderdale so far are probably colored by the time of year but can be summed up in three words:
"Spring break! Wooooo!"

Saturday, March 11, 2006

This is a rather busy weekend.
Today started of with Eric Borneman's salt study.
I can now say, without being dishonest, that I have filtered natural seawater to .6 microns. And it was every bit as awesome as it sounds.
I also spent a couple of hours picking algae off intake strainers and weighing it.
This afternoon my geek posse will be over for a session of old school, pencil-and-paper Dungeons and Dragons. Edition 3.5, thanks for asking.
I've been designated Dungeon Master for the evening, so I spent some time over the past few weeks developing awesome orcs and demons to throw at the other players.
Before I get flooded with email . . . Sorry ladies, this geek mates for life.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

WOO HOO!!! Casual jeans Friday!

How sad that that is a holiday for me!

I try to spice it up a little by going commando, as well. Takes the edge off.

Unfortunately, some sales person scheduled me in a client meeting this morning, so no Friday jeans for me. :(
That actually emotionally invalidates the whole week. Why was I here if not for the privilege of wearing jeans on Friday?

Lately I've been practicing some stress relief techniques at work. Hating everyone all the time builds up in the lymph system. Bad feelings are toxic, people.

Last week I turned in a project status report (Don't get me started on these things! They happen when management has lost track of what everyone is doing. Most of the time the only reason they care is that they want to pile more work on you. No, thanks! I'm fine!) with an illustration of a kitten in a basket of flowers, as seen above.

The really funny part is that for the longest time . . . No one asked why the picture of a kitten was crammed in the middle of a technical document.

When I did finally get the question. "Where does the kitten fit into your project list?" the answer was a knowing, "The kitten's name is 'Patches.'"

The other semi-awesome thing I've been doing is replying to emails from co-workers with "UNSUBSCRIBE" and "REMOVE ME FROM THIS LIST". They act mad, but secretly I think they think it is funny. Not 'kitten picture' funny probably, but still pretty funny. That is the kind of gag that just gets better with repetition.

For months now I've been threatening management and salespeople with blogging their requests. Since I actually started following through on the threats they are much much sweeter.
Oh yeah. And I once sent a meeting request to a co-worker with a location of "South Stairwell" and a meeting time of "Right after I finish filling this sock with dimes."

My concerns with these tactics all center around the inevitable escalation. What is funny enough today will just not cut it in the future. Other than changing jobs every few months, pretty much my only recourse is to continue stepping it up. Eventually I'll be the guy in the meeting with the softly buzzing Tazer, just waiting for a stupid idea to get voiced.

Until then, I'm content to be the guy who vents slowly and deliberately. And cats in flowers are always cool.

You go, Patches!
I don't want these posts to become rant after rant after rant.

That said, today sucked for a number of reasons.
I've spent an awful lot of time this week working on broken crap belonging to the customer I'm not allowed to do anything with.
Today it was a completely busted server.
The "Account Care Team" Manager walked into my space this morning to ask about Ticket #40442 and what the status of the ticket might be.
I told him (after FINDING ticket #40442) that I hadn't looked at it as it was related to (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) and I'm not allowed to work on their stuff anyway.
This server had been broken and unresponsive for (apparently) 4+ days. Ouch.
I immediately told "Mr. ACTM" that if he was just hearing about it, it must not be that important.
He was less happy about this than one would expect.
"Would you like me to go and look at the server?"


"If it is broken, would you like me to fix it?"


"If I have questions about the configuration or settings on the server, can I call the owner?"


In short, all technical questions have to get funneled through a non-technical interface. I can't even be in the room when the calls are made in the fear that I might make some noise and give away our top secret evil plans.

So, I wander back to where we keep these servers with a hearty, "There is an emergency. I'm NOT going to work on it." Wink wink.
I did NOT work on the server (a brand new IBM) for about 4 hours total. I did NOT fix it in the end. I DO care either way.

Morale is pretty low at work for everyone right now. There are new initiatives and bonus structures and programs rolled out almost weekly for the sales staff. The technical side seems to be shrinking as more and more people leave for more money or less crap.
The amazing thing I've noticed is that shared misery is a morale builder in itself. Bonds are formed quickly. With such a blinding turnover rate you would think the technical staff would be isolated and distant from each other, but I think friendships form quickly before people burn out or get voted off the island. That seems to happen more often than "proactive self-reassignment".

Also, I hit the new guy with a packet of that moisture blocking "do not eat" silica gel junk half a dozen times. Once or twice in the face, maybe. It was awesome.
"Take THAT! Newbie! PWN3D!"

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Today has me back in the role of AgentX on the account I'm not allowed to have anything to do with. Using top secret (technically double super L33+-style secret) access methods, I gathered the requested data and sent it from the dummy email account.
I've fallen into the mindset that I'm just following orders - like the people in the experiment who think they are electrocuting people and continue to do it because the researchers tell them to.
Even though the whole thing is unethical and the correct solution would be for my company to hire another resource to actually do this work. Or, most effectively just be honest and tell these people they can't pick who they work with.
An unfortunate side effect of the current arrangement is that the customer thinks their new resource is much better than I was.
The guy is prompt with emails (only one customer ever emails him) and is too busy to answer the phone ever. Obviously, he is an overachiever. I hate that guy.

In other news, my next job interview is Monday the 13th. I've been learning about the company and the product line and other assorted general technological stuff.
I've made it through two technical interviews but somehow feel underqualified.
This whole I.T. thing started almost a decade ago pretty much as my first professional acting job. As long as I can act technically competent, I'm good. Any questions can be answered with a Google search.
Of course, I've actually had to learn this stuff over the course of a bunch of consulting jobs. Eventually you have to deliver an honest actual technical solution, but the interview is all about stuff I learned getting a theatre degree.
1. Stage presence - Make them forget other people are interviewing. And don't fidget.
2. Confidence - You can fake it to a certain extent, but true confidence comes from being totally honest during the interview process. I've never not gotten a job from an interview where I laughed at a question and said I didn't know.

Interviewer : What do you do if an application that communicates on Port 80 isn't working suddenly?
Me - Choice A : Reverse engineer the application and determine why it is failing.
Me - Choice B : Log into the firewall and note the changes made since the last software update.
Me - Choice C : Conduct a series of test establishing the exact break point for the application as seen by people in different Active Directory Organizational Units and document these.
Me - Honest Answer : Call the firewall team and ask what is going on with Port 80. After all, it isn't like I broke the damn application. I was probably surfing Ebay or completely out of the building getting coffee. Hell, I don't even know or care what the application does. Why would I waste time breaking it?
3. Improv work - There are technical questions, which usually aren't technical. Either I know these or not. Then there are lifestyle questions I have to answer off the cuff. Here are a few, with my responses:

Interviewer : How do you feel about being on call?
Me : I hate it. That said, I've never been not on call. It is part of working in technology.

Interviewer : What are your feelings on being part of a team?
Me : That depends on the team. Are they fun?

Interviewer : What one word would you use to describe yourself?
Me : Unable to follow directions.

There is one other question that I try to get them to ask BEFORE I go in, if they intend to ask it.
That question is the dreaded, "What do you need in terms of pay to survive?"
I haven't gotten that question in a while, but if I get it in an interview the answer is always, "Thanks for your time, can I get my parking validated?"
It isn't that I don't understand their need to maintain profitability. I do.
I just don't want to be asked what my minimum price is. Once that question is answered, you can pretty much count on being offered slightly below that. A company that just wants its employees to survive is not a place I want to work.

4. It is a cliche for a reason - If anyone ever asks about my degree (and sometimes they do, but it is VERY rare) I reply that my degree is in Theatre and that I have found it valuable for a number of reasons. First, my communication skills are better than average. I'm fluent in both English and "Geek." Secondly, years of working with no budget have honed my problem-solving skills. Not only can I think "outside the box", for years I couldn't even afford a box. Finally, there is a well-known work ethic associated with Theatre-types. "The show must go on." This is easily expanded to include I.T. trauma and it usually seems to make the interviewer feel good, like when he or she was in that Christopher Columbus play in second grade.

So, anyway, I'll be unleashing my mad interview skillz Monday somewhere. Whether I get the job or not, it will be a good time.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I've been thinking lately.
Having a truly miserable job seems to put me in the mood to reflect. What chain of events led to this situation? How could it be avoided in the future?
Where did I go wrong? Is it Karma? If so, what the hell did I do in a past life that has resulted in my drinking that completely disgusting industrial coffee every morning? Furthermore, why do I complain when some asshat finished off a carafe without starting another? Seriously, it tastes like it was brewed inside a small animal. Not even the pleasant end of a small animal.
Let's flash back, shall we?

Spring of 1995 - Clarksville, Arkansas

A younger, slightly cooler Garrick reclines on a moldy couch. Between rants about the establishment and selling out and artists who compromise their integrity, he picks at the split ends in his long, golden hair (attractively picks at them) and tries to decide if getting a hot oil treatment makes him somehow a girl, or maybe sold-out, or possibly a sold-out girl.
He plans to graduate, move somewhere awesome and make art. With a smoking hot degree in Theatre, there isn't much else a person CAN do, right? He is committed to this course of action.
After shouting his outrage one more time at the injustice and hypocrisy of "The Academy" and their trumped up, meaningless, exploitive awards, he takes a short nap.

Two months later, blind panic compels him to spurn possible professional set design internship-type jobs . . . To move to Southwest Louisiana to help his parents through whatever trauma was going on at the time. "Theatre can wait a bit," he thinks. "Maybe I can find a small troupe to join down here, right? To pass the time."

There isn't a lot of set design work in Southwest Louisiana. I fact, I'll bet there is less set design work there than you would think, even if you think you may fully realize how little there is.
Picture the average amount of professional theatrical sets designed and constructed in the whole "heel looking" portion of Louisiana in a one year period. Hell, include film sets.
I'll bet the actual number is about an eighth of the number you came up with. Rounded down.

A haircut later, Set Design qualifications translate into Interior Design work.
After talking his first customer into an additional ottoman, he begins to question again whether this somehow makes him sold-out (I'm just doing this until things are better with my folks) or, again, some kind of girl (Interior Design, people). He consoles himself with a hot oil treatment.

Working for commission is never easy. It is especially difficult when one's employer refuses to actually pay it. Cosmically speaking, this portion of our tale is over pretty quickly.
Interior Design leads to Sales leads to Marketing leads to the graveyard shift at an Adult Contemporary radio station.
This, my friends is where it happens. "I'll get to use my voice training," he thinks. "I'll get to create and improvise and make people laugh." He is so certain that this will be just like theatre that it will be as far removed from selling out as it is possible to be. To clinch the artistic highroad, the job pays minimum wage. He can starve, too. How poetic!

Flash forward to Autumn of 1998 - Lake Charles, Louisiana

A slightly older, increasingly bitter late night DJ ponders if anyone is listening. His set list is dictated by computers driven by people in the recording industry. His breaks are scripted and timed to allow for maximum commercial airplay. Technology allows him to queue up an entire show, six hours, where he can rollerblade around the empty building and not set skated foot inside the actual booth all night.
He hears his own voice over the speakers placed all over the building.
"Stay tuned after the break, my friends. We have great music coming up from Kenny G, Elton John and Celine Dion." This is followed by commercials.

I can talk about it now. It is still painful, yes, but I'm recovering.
It was at this moment that I decided the course I would follow. With these words:
"Stay tuned after the break, my friends. We have great music coming up from Kenny G, Elton John and Celine Dion."
I had sold out my whole belief system. In a smarmy voice, no less. It sounded like I meant it.
For minimum wage.
Since that moment, that awful moment of realizing that I would, in fact, lie - and lie convincingly - for minimum wage, it has all been about renegotiating my price.
If I'm going to be a total whore, I'd like to be fairly compensated for it. Eventually, I'd like the word "whore" replaced in my contracts with the work "mercenary".
Wow. Three posts in two days. I'm SO not getting any real work done.
In order to maintain my "Man-pretty" status I dragged myself to a hair appointment on my way home yesterday. I hate hair cuts. I always have.
My long hair in college was probably more about some long-repressed childhood trauma than any dedicated attempt at revolution.
Anyway, I'm planning to interview for newer and cooler jobs soon and when my hair gets longish I start to look like Carson Kressley.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

I get to work obscenely early and try to have enough coffee to be tolerable before anyone can stop by and ask me for anything. I also like to deter these little visits by leaving a clearly labeled "Tip Jar" in my cubicle.
"Need something done?" Jingle-Jingle-Jingle "Show the jar some love and we'll talk."
This did not prevent an early visit from someone in sales this morning.
I tend to leave my iPod earbuds in all the time while I work. People can never tell that most of the time the iPod is off and that I can hear them just fine. I try to make a game of looking at my screen and appearing busy while they wave and hop and pantomime to get my attention. The record is 45 seconds. Someday, that record will fall. Today is not that day.
He started, "Remember that time you did a network analysis and security evaluation for (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement)?"
I responded with a blank look.
"You know, I asked you to do it for (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) and you said you didn't know how and Mike showed you and it generated that report?"
I could form words:"I have no idea what you are talking about."
Maybe he thought I was kidding. "No seriously, go to the folder and look at the report."
I answered, "I don't doubt the report exists. I just have no memory of having created it. Or of ever getting help from Mike."
At this point he leaned over my keyboard to stare at my screen, probably to verify that I was going to the folder to look at the report. I did not bother to minimize my constantly updating Fort Lauderdale Beach webcam.
A quick mouseover indicated that the report in question was created and last modified three months before I came to work here. Perhaps my memory isn't so bad.
He smiled uncomfortably, "Then who could have made this report?"
"The last guy who had this desk, I guess."
Moving on, "Well, can you do one like it for (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement)? I already told them we could."

Let's gloss over the fact that a deal was made for technical services with no research as to whether or not someone on staff was capable of providing those services.
We can also ignore the fact that one can apparently sell things like "that report" and "security evaluation", nebulous undefined terms unsupported by facts but still expensive to someone.
I'll even (reluctantly) skip over the sad fact that my Jingle-Jingle-Jingle is exactly the same pitch and volume as it was before this conversation started.
What I can't seem to get past this morning is that people in my position seem to fly through this desk so fast that we become a blur to the sales staff. After a while, we all blend into one technically competant person steadily increasing in bitterness. Also, I probably curse more.

"No problem. I can generate a report like that."

I began to think of all the people who have an effect, however brief, on my life. Do I take the time to learn about their interests, their families, their passions? What makes THAT guy different from that other guy? Why do certain co workers pour coffee over the sink as opposed to over the trashcan? Why is creamer added before sugar everyday exactly the same way?
Do I even know all of their NAMES? I've been here for months. There is no excuse for still using their ID badges as cheat sheets.
And that was the moment I made the resolution. I WILL NOT GLOSS OVER PEOPLE.
The sales guy that interrupted my morning is Douglas Brown. To commit his name to memory in a meaningful fashion I typed his username in a field for a secured resource on our internal intranet.
I left the password space blank and hit ENTER ENTER ENTER ENTER - cementing his name in my mind . . . . and hopelessly locking his account.
Maybe he can find the guy that used to administer accounts to get it fixed.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Not counting that test post, here is an accounting of the story that is the reason this journal exists.
Consider it my geek manifesto, my desperate cry for help, my declaration that work does not have to suck.
I'm hoping the whole thing doesn't end up burned onto a CD and labeled "State's Evidence 2".

I'm an I.T. Professional. Having weathered the great I.T. bust and the worst of the outsourcing movement, I feel safe in finally admitting that. I'll never be an astronaut. I'll never be the President. I'll never be a ballerina. Fine.

When I agreed to my latest job, I knew what questions to ask.
"Is there a good team environment?"
"Will I be working on projects or is it mostly fire fighting?"
"What is the state of the documentation?"
I was thrilled with the answers I received. If only they had been true.

Four months later I find myself behind the glass in an "Operations Center", fielding actual escalated phone calls from time to time. Talking to users. I've managed to avoid that for almost a decade.
The team is good. I get along pretty well with the guys. Of course, I'm the only guy on the team, so that helps. We have a history. I can appreciate the work ethic of my fellow "team member". It is almost like I know what I am thinking. I can anticipate my every action and (more often) inaction.
Also, I fight I.T. fires all day. I'm astounded at the way people can break their crap. I'm even more impressed at the way our sales department has promised exactly how fast we will fix absolutely whatever problem turns up. I'm more a "fire prevention" kind of guy. "Fire suppression" wears on me, especially since absolutely nothing is documented, so returning a broken system to the original state is 100% guesswork. I think past employees must have been too busy fighting fires to take notes.
On top of that, like any good sales department, promises are made. When my boss walked over to my desk and reported that a major client had requested I never speak with them again, and that the sales person had agreed to these irrational terms, my response was an enthusiastic, "Awesome! One down!"
It seems, however, that even though I was officially shut out of the account for some imagined slight (and all the broken crap associated with it) my team mates had to step up and take responsibility. The result:
A completely non-believable alter-ego who only responds to requests through a bogus email account. Of course, I still get to "ghost write" all of the actual work. I dread the day a phone call slips through and I have to fake an accent.
All was well. As well as a situation like this could actually be, anyway. Until today.
Today one of our dedicated front-line actual phone answerers came back from vacation. In accordance with company policy, none of this shady business had been documented or communicated. Something broke.
I sent that slacker guy out to fix it.
Our technician communicated to the client that all would be well soon because I had gone to fix it. And he used my name. My real name. Not the name of my disgruntled alter-ego.

What followed could only be described as adult pouting, followed by whining. Of course, the technical issue was resolved. I sent our best guy. But explaining the set up of our elaborate deception to management was uncomfortable at best. At least the sales department dreamed the whole thing up.
And I got to say it. The phrase I've been saving for years, looking for the perfect opportunity to unleash it on management types:
"I wouldn't say it is the stupidest thing I've ever seen . . . . but I once saw a cat eating matches."

Believe it or not, I still have a job. But I'm working on it.
Tomorrow I plan to spend about eight hours behind the glass, looking pretty for the prospective clients coming through on tours. It is my thing.

Good times.