Saturday, April 29, 2006

Haiku = Old and busted
Fib = The new hotness

I'm always one for stepping up the geeky. Let it never be said that I was content with the same tired old Haiku format from late 19th century Japan.
I'm going to convert the poetry style of choice to the Fibonacci format. According to the Fibonacci sequence, the last two numbers are combined to form the following number.
Starting with one and zero:


So, the new poetry "w00+", in syllables by line is:


For a twenty syllable masterwork.

5, 7, 5 is t3h L4M3!

to describe
how nerdy it is
to write poetry based in math!

There is surely room for more job hating in three extra syllables as well.

so much
I hate them
Why do they call me?
I should F disk the whole damn place.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Ahem . . . .

Casual Jeans Friday! Casual Jeans Friday!

Actually, that hardly applies anymore for a couple of reasons.
First, I wear jeans everyday now since I decided I didn't want to look like the only guy who cares.
Second, I'm not even going to work today, so it could almost be "No Jeans Friday".
Today is my daughter's Birthday, which means that seven years ago today I was on the phone with my help desk trying to talk them through a WAN outage. "Just remain calm, guys. Have some ice chips, they seem to be a hit here."
So plans for today include hanging out with Gwynyth and having lunch somewhere before she no longer qualifies for the kids meal. Later on there is a serious party involving ice cream and about a gazillion cookies Shana made.
For anyone here just to read about work stuff, I never got a response to the email I sent earlier this week. Nothing at all.
We did have a follow up meeting to the "Morale Crisis" meeting of January.
Basically, the Employee Satisfaction surveys came back in horrible shape. Out of a target 3.5 the techs scored a 2.2. They have done a lot of stuff to raise morale since then. For the sales people. They had a 3.6 to begin with.
At the follow up meeting they gave us copies of the same chart and asked how we felt currently. "Has it improved?"
Well, the chart wasn't shaped correctly to chart improvement, but I shared a pen with another tech and we laughed a lot at the format vs. the question. In the end, he wrote in random squares "Kittens", "Rainbows" and, under overall satisfaction, "I like chocolate." It made about as much sense as anything else.
I wrote outside the chart a series of negative numbers and, under overall satisfaction, drew a picture of a skull with a spike through it. Hey, they were anonymous, right?
Anyway, later in the day the guy that collected the forms said that he and management had a good laugh over my "chocolate" joke but that they were deeply concerned about the tech who shared my pen.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hey! Look, everybody! Its a blog about blogging!

Ok, I hope not. But yesterday at lunch several co-workers came out of the blog closet. Due to the day-to-day content of this page, I was unable to share mine. I'll get over my skipped chance at self-promotion by reporting right here and right now that I have a blog. I've lost the URL, but I suspect you could Google it. Pretty Geeky something-something. You could Google anything, just don't do it from a work computer.
I spent most of last night in a spooky old data center downtown doing "smart hands" work. Of course, I still had to be in at my regular time this morning. I must say my hands are considerably less smart on 4 hours sleep. And my head feels squishy.
Yesterday afternoon Microsoft called and (since no one wants to talk to Microsoft) I was placed back on the Microsoft team for long enough to take the call.
It seems software licensing irregularities have prompted "concern" in Redmond about the status of our account. I quickly announced that I had nothing to do with that and tossed my manager to the Microsoft wolves, by name.
While I was on the phone, a co-worker reminded me of our Operations Status meeting and I hung up and followed him upstairs to attend.
We went around the table and announced (by the meeting purpose) anything being done that could impact anyone else or the company. When it was my turn I told everyone that I have no impact.
Then, at the end of the table someone suggested I be sent to Crystal Reports training. I've only logged into Crystal Reports once in my life. I don't want to be trained in it. Crystal Reports is so . . . middle manager.
But this suggestion shocked me profoundly enough that I declined the opportunity then and there with a confused, "Um. No thanks. Why the hell would I want that?"
Having been surprised, I flashed back to the phone conversation with Microsoft of five minutes before. I had completely blocked it out!
"Oh yeah, I've got something that may impact some people," and I told them about the impending Microsoft audit. Crystal Reports completely forgotten, I watched the flurry of activity as plans were created. Worst case (though no one I know handles licenses) we have 50 employees and ten Microsoft Office licenses. I suggested we simply fire forty people and format their computers. I started listing specific people. My name was on top of the list.
My manager volunteered his own name to my initiative.
In the end, it was decided we would meet with the worlds largest software company on Monday and work it out. This severely impacts my plan of taking all of next week off, as is my right having been here six months.
Plans for today include finding out exactly how much time I can take off next week and then doing that paperwork. Of course, having just received a field promotion to Software Audit Scape Goat, I may be too busy to do much of anything. Except write haiku:

My workplace is doomed
Microsoft is onto us
There's nowhere to hide.

Pay for your programs
Warez is for hacker newbies
Bill Gates will find you.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

From: Garrick {Me@*******.com}

To: ********* {MyManager@*******.com}
Date: Apr 26, 2006 10:28 AM
Subject: The long answer
Reply | Reply to all | Forward | Print | Add sender to Contacts list | Delete this message | Report phishing | Show original | Message text garbled?

Ok. First of all, I like it here.

I enjoy the people who share this 20ft by 20ft room quite a lot.

(Sales person's name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) is a total bastard and I completely can’t stand him.

(Upper management person's name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) totally lied to me coming in to this and every day I find myself more and more angry about it for some reason I can’t quantify.

What I can quantify is that I’m way over paid for what I do. As much as some customers like me, the fact that (Guy at company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) thinks I’m a moron is something that seems to carry weight around here, even though I continued to work on their broken crap for months even after he and (Sales person's name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) reached a consensus about my uselessness.

Personally, that whole situation has genuinely impacted my self-esteem. At the risk of sounding like a bitch, I doubt my own abilities and am developing a seriously paranoid streak.

OpenView is fine, but if I were (Employer's name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) there is no way I’d pay my salary for me to be trained on it. I do not currently see a future for myself here, but I’m trying to not take it personally.

I will continue to do whatever is required to keep things running and, if possible, improve them.

That said, I filled out a request for PTO this morning but hadn’t had a chance to give it to you with the (Company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) issue and all. Also I’m looking into fixes for (Company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) printing, though that doesn’t look so good. There is only so much you can do with Metaframe 1.8.



This morning (and thanks to the policy that allows sales people two drinks an hour for lunch probably the afternoon, too) most of the non-technical staff is out of the building enjoying free food while some manager-type talks to them about disaster recovery. Nothing too technical, just enough information to let them scare people into using our services.
I've decided to use this time to vent about the interview process, and one interview in particular that was so bad I turned down a job.
First, the kinds of places I'm interviewing I'm always over-dressed. Not that I could show up for an actual interview in jeans, but when I'm the only guy in the room in a tie I always feel like I'm playing dress up.
Secondly, the technical interview is never comfortable. Most troubleshooting questions come down to religious issues in the end, and what works for one person may not work for everyone else. In the case of this interview I (played by jacket and tie guy) was seated across the table from a group of six guys (played by jeans wearing bitter people) who took turns asking me things.
These were questions pretty much directly off the certification exam. Having passed that exam years ago, I was fairly sure my answers were correct. Then the interview broke.
One guy asked me what the local copy of the application database is called. My answer was "MF20.mdc, or something like that." I don't remember the exact file name (still don't) but it is one of two *.mdc files on every server running this product.
"Wrong," the guy said, "and I was looking for local host cache."
"That is the function, or description, or purpose of the file. The file is called MF20.mdc," I was pissed. Bad idea to argue in an interview, but I wasn't going to go down like a punk.
"No it isn't. The file name is RM20.mdc," he wouldn't drop it.
"The 'RM' in that file stands for 'Resource Manager'. It is in the same directory as the file that handles everything 'MetaFrame', which is MF20.mdc.," It was a matter of honor, now. Nothing else I could do.
I watched a fight at this point as four of the six people tore into each other like rabid weasels in a sack. Some agreed with me, some with the other guy. In the end, a Google search proved me right but that isn't the point. Well, not the whole point.
The point is that if a person is going to ask a technical question in an interview, he should freaking know the answer. AND the question should be worth something. A more useful question would be "How do you recreate the local host cache in the event of a failure?" or "If a server starts acting funny and you can't reboot it because people are on it, what would you do?"
The third strike was after the fight when they decided (Lord of the Flies style) that I would answer un-interrupted. They asked me to draw on the whiteboard a network design for remote access. I drew one. They stared.
I drew a second option. They continued to stare.
I drew a kitten.
"That isn't how we do it here."
"Ok. I don't have access to your policies documents. There are half a dozen ways it can be done depending on your standards. Tell me how you would do it."
"It doesn't matter, I guess."
I guess it didn't, because I was offered the job.
And I turned it down to take this job, because the other job looked like constant fire fighting and I had been assured that that would not be the case here. Lying bastards.
And I believed it, because sometimes the most important elements in the technical interview are non-technical. Since my interview there insiders have told me that the team did, in fact, implode shortly after my visit. As a result of my "this place is a trauma-fest" diagnosis they have actually changed the entire interview process to make it less confrontational. Too late for me, but maybe karma will help out in my current job search.
The last Windows admin here actually left to work for the company I declined a couple of months after "the incident". It is a very tiny tech world, and his interview was smooth and awesome.
Plans for today include stealing office supplies and writing profanity on the underside of my desk with a stolen Sharpie. The stolen Sharpie smells the sweetest, my friends.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Crude language warning:

Long ago, before I began this blog, I had a pretty crappy job. I'll wait while you recover from the shock.
Anyway, I was nearing the end of the contract and had spoken with the director and all contractor funding was ending actually before my last day so there was no way it would be extended. I was fine with that. In this line of work, jobs end all the time. Sometimes it is personal, sometimes it isn't.
In the final two weeks, my manager freaked out and started approving the changes I'd recommended six months before. He needed six weeks worth of work done in two weeks. He forced the changes through without the testing I'd requested. Stuff broke. Stuff broke badly.
I was trying to fix stuff and he hovered over me. I hate that.

>Tangent - In my experience, there are two management styles:

1. Slave Master - This guy leans over his galley slaves, watching their every move and flogging them for looking around and plotting an escape.

2. Pirate Captain - Getting the job done is most important. He knows his crew can do what they signed on for and he also knows they can hop off at the next port (or sooner, the scurvy dogs) if they aren't having a good time.

Ahoy, Matey, End Tangent<

Anyway, as I'm honestly trying to fix the broken crap, and this guy is promising me junk. I don't need incentive. I'm doing my job. Then, he starts talking about extending my contract. I know this guy can't do that. I talked to the manager two levels over him, remember? I shook my head and tried to ignore it, but he pressed on. When he started talking about bringing me on as a full-time employee, when I knew there was a hiring freeze, I snapped.
In front of the other galley slaves I turned and called him a f*cker.
Okay, it wasn't that direct.
What I did was request that he not be a f*cker. That somehow makes it pre-emptive . . . Like kindly, well-meaning advice. Not so much with the name calling.
Sure. It infers that he was, in fact, being a f*cker. But it does not come right out and say it. Except that it mostly does. But he was seriously being a f*cker.
Anyway, after the crisis was over we never spoke of the incident again. Except the other galley slaves still sometimes laugh about it. Because he was being a f*cker. A lot.
So anyway that manager called me today and offered me my old job back. Full time. With benefits.
What the f*ck?
Dear Mom,

You'll never believe this! Camp sucks!
The camp counselors are nothing but bullies and they insist on letting us "work out our differences" through unarmed combat in a makeshift arena. Or geek trivia. I've never even SEEN the new Battlestar Galactica! Those questions aren't fair!
Plus, I spend eight hours a day making low-quality plastic wallets that no one will ever use! What a waste of time! There is a difference between activity and progress, mother. Why does no one here know that?
Today, while I was making one of my last wallets, a camper from Camp Awanasellanything came into our tent and started complaining about the quality of our macrame pot holders. We don't even MAKE freaking macrame pot holders! But somehow, this camper from Camp Awanasellanything promised that we would deliver them by tomorrow, for about 11 cents.
How can he do that? I offered to take him upriver on a canoe trip by way of thanks, as long as he waited until I'd finished filling a sock with dimes, in accordance with camp rules.
Anyway, I have to wrap this up so I can get back to tying tiny knots all night.
Can I come home early if I "accidentally" fall and break my own legs?
Next summer I'd like to go to Ninja Camp.

Much Love,

Camper #28453 Camp Whyamihere
You simply would not believe the moronic idiocy I witnessed yesterday. Seriously. I was like "OMG!" and they were like "Shu+ uP, No0b!" and I was like "LOLz!!!oneoneeleven11!!! WTF?" and they were all like "STFU!!!w j00 Pr0bz?!?!" and I was like "whatevz" and they were all like "pwnd sux0rz!!!11!"
But this is neither the time nor the place.
Well it is the place, really. But still not the time.
Today I'm dwelling on the positive. Today is a day for reflection on the awesome instead of the lame.
Today is the birthday of my very best friend in the whole world. And I'm lucky enough that she married me. Go Team Her Low Standards!
Anyone that knows us knows that she is the smart one AND the funny one AND the seriously pretty one.
After knowing her for almost the past decade worth of birthdays, she still manages to regularly steal my breath, ninja-like, any time I'm not expecting it. And sometimes when I am.
No description would be complete without a mention of her tolerance. She puts up with me. Without the benefit of alcohol. My parents couldn't even do that!
She is my moral compass, my favorite movie critic, the greatest artist I know, and the coolest person on the planet.
The question has been asked of me at work,"How can you be so stressed out and semi-murderous at work when you go home to her?" That is a good question. It isn't easy.
The answer is that every day at work I think I've hit the absolute maximum amount I can hate an organization and its cogs and every day some asshat proves me wrong. My capacity to hate knows no bounds.
That isn't the out loud answer. The out loud answer is "Hard work and dedication".
Anyway, Today is a happy day. Today is the birthday of my very favorite person ever.

I love you, Shana. Happy birthday.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Monday, April 24, 2006

Julius Caesar Act 3, Scene 2

- Fr13nd5, R0m@nz, c0u|\|+rym3n, l3nd m3 y0uR 3@rz;
! c0m3 2 13uRy C@3s@r, n0+ 2 pr@1$3 h1m.
Teh 3v1l th@t m3n d0 l1v3z @ft3r th3m;
Teh gO0d 1z ()f+ !nt3rr3d w1+h th31r b()n3s;
$o l3t 1t b3 w1+h C@3s@r. Teh n0bl3 Bru+u5
H@+h t0ld y0u C@3s@r w@s @mb1t1()u$:
!f !t w3r3 s(), !t w@s @ gr!3\/ou5 f@u1t,
& gr!3\/ou5ly h@+h C@3s@r @n5w3r'd !t.
H3r3, und3r l3@v3 ()f Bru+u5 & teh r35+-
4 13ru+u5 1z @n h()n()ur@bl3 m@n;
S0 R th3y @ll, @ll h0n0ur@bl3 m3n--
C()m3 ! 2 sp3@k !n C@3s@r's fun3r@l.
H3 w@s my fr13nd, f@1+hful & ju5t 2 m3:
Bu+ Bru+u5 5ay$ h3 wa$ @mb1t1ou5;
& 13ru+u5 1s @n h()n0ur@bl3 m@n.
H3 h@th br0u6h+ m@ny c@pt1v3s h()m3 2 R()m3
Wh053 r@ns()m5 d!d teh g3n3r@l c()ff3r5 f!ll:
D!d th!s !n C@3s@r s33m amb1t1()us?
Wh3n th@t teh p()()r h@v3 cr13d, C@3s@r h@+h w3pt:
Amb1t1()n sh()uld B m@d3 0f st3rn3r s+uff:
Y3+ Bru+u5 5@y5 h3 w@z amb!t!ou$;
& Bru+u5 1z @n h()n()ur@bl3 m@n.
Y0u @ll d1d s33 th@t ()n t3h Lup3rc@l
! thr1c3 pr3s3nt3d h1m @ k!n6ly cr()wn,
Wh1ch h3 d!d thr1c3 r3fu$3: w@z th1z @mb1+1()n?
Y3t Bru+u5 5ay5 h3 wa$ @mb1+1ou5;
&, 5ur3, h3 !s @n h()n()ur@bl3 m@n.
I sp3@k n()t 2 d1spr()\/3 wh@+ 13ru+u5 $pok3,
13u+ h3r3 ! @m 2 sp3@k wh@+ ! d0 kn0\/\/.
U @ll d!d l()\/e h!m ()nc3, n0t w1+#ou+ c@u5e:
Wh@+ c@u53 w1+hh()ld5 U th3n, 2 m0urn 4 h!m?
() jud6m3nt! th0u ar+ fl3d 2 bru+ish b3@st$,
& m3n h@v3 l0s+ th31r r3@s()n. B3@r w1th m3;
My h3@rt 1z 1n teh coff1n th3r3 w1th C@3s@r,
& 1 mu5t p@u5e t1ll 1t (()m3 b@(k 2 m3.

W#y (@n'+ ! qu!+ U, (3@$@r?!?!
I found this online today. If it were my 1337, I'd claim it.

Lots of people have wondered about exactly how Order 66 happened. Did Palpatine give the order to every clone? Or was it a wideband message to all commanders? Or maybe he emailed his commanders and blind cc'ed everyone else.

Well, yesterday, one of the IT guys at 500 Republica forwarded me the actual transcript of the Order 66 message from Palpatine to his troops. Evidently, they were using some sort of instant messaging called KloneTalk

PALPZ: d00ds
Bly: sup
BkRA1138: Sup foo
*GR33 has entered the conference*
Bly: Greeeeeeeeeee
GR33: whatevz
PALPZ: Shut thr F0rce up guys
Bly: Gree sux0rz
PALPZ: d00ds! 0rd3r66! pwn teh Jedi1I!!i LOLZZ
Bly: omg!!!1111!!elevne order 66 rulz
BkRA1138: LOLz Palpz! pwnd Konh3ad!
GR33: zomg wtf0rce
PALPZ: w j00 problem gree
GR33: wtf I have Yoda! He hax0rz!
Bly: n00b
NEYO: i no kung foo.
Bly: lolz neyo

The Jedi also have their own messaging called Force Instant Message (FIM)...

M@c3: oMGZ, This Mpa Bl0wzz!
*System Message* Player M@c3 has found the long way down.
summer_GIRL28 (Aayla): T3am Kill WTF?
*System Message* Player summer_GIRL32 has just been ventilated
M@c3: I GOT TKD 2 WTF?
C0n3h3d: CAMPERS
*System Message* Player C0n3h3d has just been executed
K00N4J00: lAg..
*System Message* Player K00N4J00 got the explosive solution
K00N4J00: WTF, j00 all waitin on spawn 2?
*System Message* Player gr33 lost his head
M@c3: y0daz n00b h3 hax0rzz, c@llz it lag
LAG=2300ms AVERAGE=180ms LOW=32ms
SH@@KTI: OMGZ j00 cant spawn, that n00b Anakin is at base , TKing, and camping
M@c3: S0m31 s3t uz up da Bomb


@N@KIN: All their base are belong to us
PALPZ: L337. J00 join my clan.
Casual jeans Monday!
I could care less, I suppose, but that would require effort.
This week starts my turn at being on-call for the four-hour response nonsense. So far everyone has been called out at least once. I'm not looking forward to an emergency, middle-of-the-night trip to Dallas, but if anyone needs anything while I'm there please get your lists in early. Comp time, mileage and bonus pay, here I come. Oh wait, I'll have to switch jobs first.
My plans for today include surfing the job boards and experimenting with different fonts on my resume. And left justified, my friends. Left justified shall set me free.
No more will I suffer under the shame of a resume with text in polite Arial just centered and staring at people blankly, my name causing questions about my national origin.
Today begins a new day for my resume. CTRL-A > Align left. Pretty, but still too nice.
The font still screams, "vanilla is a bit much, do you have any un-flavored?"
This is my new, left justified resume we are talking about! It deserves to have all the old crap I have done but no longer want to be involved in scraped off so no one asks. No more questions about my job function. It is the next best thing to no one talking to me.
In the end, I'll probably settle on "book antiqua" for the font (I'm a coward) but I'll vent my font frustration by turning in a report at my current job totally in "wing dings", maybe with a picture of a kitten doing something cute and/or stupid.
Other plans for today include catching up on listening to my subscribed podcasts and getting up a few times to keep blood from pooling in my office chair. I suppose I technically have a meeting to attend this morning as well, but with the database server for (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) rebooting pretty much at random, I should skip that meeting until the issue is resolved. Not that the server is rebooting at random right now. I just think it probably will be starting about 9:55am CST. I have a feeling.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Casual Jeans Sunday! Casual Jeans Sunday!
Yesterday was extremely geeky. I started off the day by burning a couple of podcasts onto CD so that I can listen to them in the car. I took a break from the geeky to visit my family who were working a charity garage sale. Having no charitable urge myself, I traveled north from there to attend a coral frag swap sponsored by my reef club to stock my aquarium.
After that, I headed home to place my new corals (and fish and a clam - w00+!) in the tank and prepare for Saturday game night.
My friends arrived for a session of Werewolf: The Forsaken (still the best game to abbreviate) and I set about trying to fix my character from the damage done the last time we played.
In case you didn't follow the link back to the old post, I'll summarize. If you did follow the link, skip ahead a few lines now.
I worked a long time developing a character concept for a big intimidating werewolf and spent my remaining creation points on being good-looking. Then, when confronted with the need for cash, my character immediately flaked out on everything and became a male underwear model.
Again, Darrell handled my potentially game-breaking side plot with style and even managed to add it into the overall plot so that it made sense. I still had an urge to "goth up" my character. This is the World of Darkness campaign setting, after all. Everything is supposed to be creepy and scary. Not just the usual creepy and scary of any male model, but seriously creepy. Like mimes with spikes. Ewwww!
My character was given a condo by his agency, so I set about making it creepy World of Darkness style. Aside from the rooms with plumbing, there was a living area, a bedroom and a study, all sparsely furnished. Step one in frightening up the place was to put a Nagel in the living room. Since the game is set in 1990, these are still pretty easy to find. And nothing screams "scary male model werewolf" quite like a Nagel.
The end result, while sad, was not goth scary enough. Remember, I'm trying to put more intimidating and scary back into my tragically-impossible-to-take-seriously character. On to the study!
How to make this room scary? Just like the real world, the steps to making any room scary go like this:

1. Remove all furniture
2. Cover the windows with aluminum foil
3. Use garbage bags to coat the walls, floor and ceiling
4. Replace the bulb in the fixture with a black light
5. Wire up an old car stereo, tuned to AM radio and connect about a hundred salvaged automotive speakers in series behind the garbage bags so that there is a weird, non-directional "HUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM" everywhere
6. Refer to this space as the "guest bedroom" and invite anyone and everyone to stay over

Even I was creeped out by that. But somehow it still misses the target type of creepy.
Later on, my character was forced to start a fight to defend his pack's territory. At the end of the day, violence seemed to re-establish the gravity and spookiness. We'll see if it sticks.
This week I'm going to try to NOT apply this lesson at work. In real life, violence probably creates more problems than it solves. Probably.
As we were wrapping up, at about 1:15 this morning, my phone rang. It was work. I turned off my phone and went to bed. I think I'm done with answering those calls.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Casual Jeans Whatever! Casual Jeans Whatever!

Today might actually be interesting in a sick sort of way. Here is the deal . . .

I work in a high-availability data center. The sales staff works very hard to sell people on the idea that we won't lose power and that their data and network services will be safe. The weird thing is, they are right. Power is distributed to two UPS devices bigger than my living room, each covering one half of every server. They can keep the power on in the data center for about half an hour in the event of an outage, but they don't need to.
If it even looks shady, power gets cut over to the generators, which can supply the network and computer stuff with power for at least a week, maybe more - it mostly depends on how much fuel we have on site.
None of this redundant awesome power works in the rest of the building, though, so every flicker sends a sales person (even ones who have been here over five years) dashing into the Control Center to freak out about Service Level Agreements and Guaranteed uptime.
Today it is raining a lot. On a clear day, power is spotty in Houston. There is no way the lights are staying on.
I'm tempted to stack some boxes just inside the door, but only because an actual tripwire might be too blatant.
Plans for the day include listening to it rain and watching the people that sell (but evidently don't understand) high-availability data services run around like we are expecting a meteor hit any second. I'm ready. Watch:

"I think we might have lost power. Did your customer really need that data? I mean seriously."

"As long as my iPod has a charge, I don't care what the servers are using for power."

"I hope we still have enough gas for the generators. The CEO has been siphoning for a couple of weeks."

"Did the lights just flicker? I thought I passed out. I'm pretty drunk right now."

This could keep me busy all day, but an amused busy beats a bored-out-of-my-skull busy almost every time.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I just made an involuntary gagging noise and sprayed coffee all over my screen and keyboard.
I should be more specific. I THINK it is coffee and it was my work issued screen and keyboard.
The lesson for today: Starbucks coffee = Worth the investment at 5:45 am.
What I learned: No amount of Splenda will help if the gas station coffee tastes like fish. And that I'll drink it anyway.
I've been here about half an hour and the learning continues. This weekend the overnight guy plans to fly to Tulsa to see a band he doesn't really care about because he might possibly score.
The lesson here: Geeks will even go to Tulsa for possible sex.
What I learned: I learned I hope he is successful.
The overnight NOCC Technician (different guy) is attending a birthday party this afternoon that his wife is throwing for her dog, complete with dog ice cream. He is most upset to be missing the 420 party his friends are throwing where they will get completely stoned. I asked him about "420" and thought it was a time of day reference. 420 on a calendar is Hitler's birthday, right?
He responded that he didn't think his friends cared.
The lesson here: 420 is a state of mind, not a time of day. And they make ice cream for dogs. Chicken, Beef or Liver flavor.
What I learned: I Googled it and today actually IS Hitler's birthday. Why would I know that?

While I continue to choke down this coffee, I'll type out my plans for today.
It may be Hitler's birthday, but to me it will always be Casual Jeans Thursday.
I'm going to continue to push for back ups on the mail server that dropped off a couple of nights ago. Yesterday disaster was narrowly dodged (in the comments of the post yesterday) but I was unable to convince ANYONE that the data needs to be backed up. Ok. Before I completely snap. Here is the status: We designed and configured and currently support some servers that are used by people. These people pay us for the service, but have no access to improve the quality of the set up. While the quickest way to restore services in the event of disaster would be from a back up, we do not back up the data in any way. Because they don't pay us to back it up.
Me: "But we are completely responsible for everything. It is in our best interest to back up the data."
Salesguy: "They don't pay for back ups. It isn't in the contract."
Me: "No. Seriously. If it breaks, no one suffers more than we do."
Salesguy: "Do you think they'd sign a new contract?"
Me: "I really don't care. But if their crap breaks, crap they don't have the access to do anything with, we have to fix it. Whether they pay for back ups or not."
Salesguy: "Do you think they would pay us for back ups."
Me: "Even if they don't, if their stuff breaks again we have no reliable way to restore services. Services they pay for. Having a fresh back up would have us back online in a matter of hours rather than several days to cobble together an even more impossible to support solution that is missing up to five years worth of data."
Salesguy: "But they don't pay for back ups."
Me: "We should do it for our own protection."
Salesguy: "Do you want to pay for their back ups?"
Me: (Return to desk, lock sales guy's account out, go to lunch)

I've got a few status-type meetings to try to dodge today. I filled up a notebook with improvements needed and processes to create when I first started. Once I figured out that being the only one who cares just makes a person look like an ass I stopped taking notes. I show up for meetings with a stolen mechanical pencil and a sheet of computer paper, which I doodle on and then crumple and use as a weapon. "Action items from last week? What are you talking about? I must have dozed off."
I've also been working on my phone answering skills. Not diction and clarity, but freaking out management.
The Security Guard has taken to calling my extension directly since I'm always anxious to escort visitors in or sign in packages or just get up and wander around. Since I can see the ID, I know it is the guard, but no one else can tell it isn't a customer call.
Instead of the expected "(Company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) Control Center" I try to answer with, "What now?" and "How did you get this number?" and instead of completing the call with "Thank you for calling, have a nice day" I try to complete the call with stuff like "Please try to annoy me 40% less in the future," and "Yea, I don't really care about that but I'll see if someone else does." If the guard wasn't in on the joke it wouldn't be funny. Well, not as funny.
I've also decided to supplement my technical responsibilities by stepping up and becoming the official greeter for the Control Center, since I sit closest to the door. As an undefined responsibility, this could be a silently hurled wad of paper or a loud, late night television style "Let's here it for (sales guy's name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement, and because I try not to think of them as "people" with "names") everybody! (clap! clap! clap!) How about a lie for the audience? C'mon, guys! Let's hear some applause and convince him to lie for us! (clap! clap! clap!)"

Besides dodging meetings, I'm hoping to avoid the cold that is blazing its way around the twenty by twenty foot room I share with nine people. I'm taking zinc.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ok, so get this:

Most customers have their own IT environments which they pack up and move into our cozy data center. We have one customer a little different from the rest.
Years ago, while the molten crust was still cooling on our business model and sales staff, someone sold this customer a total management solution. In this package, we gave them email, remote desktop services, data storage and Microsoft directory services, all on hardware we leased (and sub let to the customer) configured and maintained. Like I said, years ago.
Flash forward to present day, and the customer is still using the same stuff. Generally, a leased server is replaced every two years. These were eventually given to us by the leasing company and have not been upgraded (or patched) since they were configured 5+ years ago. This is positively pre-historic in this industry. The outdated software versions are so old I've never used them and the vendor no longer supports them.
When I first started here, I didn't know any of this. The customer (an extremely nice customer, by the way) called and reported a few problems and wanted me to log in and look around and present some recommendations.
I did. And I did it completely blind since none of this is documented.
I emailed the user (in November) and copied the current sales person that I'd recommend new, warranted hardware and a complete update of the infrastructure to supported versions.
The customer said that sounded great and for us to please do it, since technically everything belonged to us and he just gets everything as a service.
Awesome, right? Crap, no.
The sales person (and management three levels up) said we can't upgrade anything. The contract was priced so long ago that we don't make any money off it. In fact, since it is such a constant pain in the ass due to age, we would spend more upgrading it than we make.
"But we are selling them a service, and they are paying us," I argued. That apparently doesn't beat out, "We would lose money even though it is our own stupid fault."
Great. So we own an unsupportable environment with the only agreement being that we will support it.
Last night I was at home when I got a call from work. Email had stopped working for this customer due to a drive space error. I logged in from home and looked around. The mail store drive, in this case the G: drive, was completely filled up with 34+ gigs of mail. I located a folder with the *.old file name and started to delete this obsolete data to free space.
Most of the way through this process, it was halted with a "resource unavailable" error. I checked. I no longer had access to the G: drive. According to standard Microsoft troubleshooting techniques, I rebooted.
When the server came back online, there was no G: drive at all.
I manually re-initialized the drive and told the system that it was "G:" again. When I attempted to access it, it was not formatted. The basic drive structure, the map that tells the operating system how the data is arranged, had fallen off. Windows offered to format it for me, erasing all data. Crap crap crap.
I called work, not too upset. After all, we fully manage these servers, so I'll just have the latest backed up image of the G: drive dropped onto new hardware.
Except that management ordered us to stop backing this stuff up for this client over four years ago. Because it was costing us a few extra dollars a month and putting us that much closer to taking a loss.
To summarize, no mail data, no back up data, no hardware warranty, no software support and management telling me to work quickly because I was needed on stuff where the company could make money.
Right now I'm attempting a data recovery with a hacked and stolen utility just to restore mail service. Restoring emails from the last five years is a project for later today.
And why do we care? Aside from the basic concern for the plight of our fellow man?
The company with no access to data is responsible for price adjustments in the sale of petroleum products. Generally price adjustments that benefit the consumer. In fact, always price adjustments that benefit the consumer. And they use data gathered over the past five years to establish the proper margins.
Happy driving season, everybody.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Casual Jeans Tuesday! Casual Jeans Tuesday!
The dress code of the unconcerned continues!
This morning I read through another long and incomprehensible on-call schedule and escalation procedure that seems to have been generated automatically by some program the sales department is trying out or has stolen off the internet. It reads like tax paperwork.
A sample:

"Weekday evenings between 5pm and 12am modified escalations will be applied until approximately June 15th, at which time standard escalation procedures should be followed. Between the hours of Midnight and 6am standard escalation procedures should be followed. At no time should a technician be engaged at a time that prohibits response within the four-hour Service Level Agreement, with the exception of Federal Holidays and issues occurring during the outage windows on this schedule: Link Goes Nowhere."

Looks to me like the end result is that I get called for pretty much everything, including explaining the schedule.

Yesterday I spent my lunch listening to another employee vent his paranoid theories about the restructuring. I'm naturally paranoid, so I generally assume I'm over-reacting. This guy has been with the company for over five years and has been through more restructuring than just about anyone I know. If he is wearing the tinfoil hat, maybe I'm on to something.
There was a competitive discussion in the Control Center yesterday, and not just the usual heated discussion about lunch choices and the fact that the room is tiny and positively pressurized and that air flows in but never out unless a door is opened.
This discussion was a full-on geek-off.
I saw the set up happening. A few of the front line phone people had been gathering data about the competitors for about the last week in the hopes of seeing a big, nasty, dorky argument.
In Tech culture there is an involuntary impulse to be regarded as the Alpha Geek in any given setting. Normally this hierarchy is established with little conflict through demonstration of one's Geek Fu. There are also many different versions of the Fu. I'm content to have established my Microsoft Fu, but would never challenge the Network Fu of a colleague. It isn't my place, and would just be bad form.
Apparently, the challenge being built up by first level support was a head to head Microsoft Fu challenge. They know how I work, and spent a week sizing up the new guy, then asked a technical question "to the room".
You could see the question rise into the air, frame by frame as it ran up the bamboo and was subjected to the 360 degree camera spin. The question leapt off the end of the stalk, swords flashing and descended to land on the desk between us. "What is the best way to set up a Licensing Server using Windows 2003?"
The question turned to face the new guy. He responded, "Just load it on a Domain Controller. Clients look there first anyway and the processor load is so light no one will ever notice an impact."
A good answer. The question staggered back and fell across my laptop, refusing to die without staring daggers at me. I owed the question. It had fought bravely.
"You can do that. Or you can load it on a virtual server. That way if the box dies your can just re-image it and not have to deal with re-activation through Microsoft."

Let's go to the scoreboard:
Microsoft best practices: 0 points awarded. Best practices is not the way to win at Geek Fu, anyway.
Functionality: New guy = 1, Me = 0. His way would definitely work. Also it saves time and resources.
Style: New guy = 0, Me = 1. My answer used new technology to save resources and provide quick recovery while also taking a stab at Microsoft. Attacking Microsoft always adds Geek Fu credibility.
Damn. A draw.
This would have to be settled through anecdotal combat. This process is a bit graphic for most. It is the equivalent of a steel-cage deathmatch where the audience takes a folding chair to the teeth.
His turn, "I worked one place where they loaded the TS licensing service on the file and print servers, then forgot about it and rebuilt them. Their whole remote environment was offline for almost two days while they figured it out."
Light chuckles filled the Control Center. Lost corporate revenue through stupidity is good.
I defended myself, "I told the accounting staff at one place I worked that the 'Temporary licenses will expire in 90 days' messages were real and that they needed to spend money but they never moved on it. The clock ticked down and Microsoft turned off their access, then they had to pay extra for a rush order so the CEO could continue to check his email from home."
More laughter. Pretty close though. I had to make accountants look bad.
Instead of turning back around, his chair spun towards me. He came at me again, "One time the CEO at that last company grabbed a new laptop, just loaded by the IT staff and took it on vacation to Aspen. He tried to log in from some cabin in the woods, but his account had never authenticated to the domain so he was locked out. He was so pissed the company flew me to Aspen to give him a new laptop with his account cached so I could walk him through resetting the password. They paid for me to spend the weekend there."
An incompetent CEO AND a free trip to Aspen? That is unfair. I didn't know we were going to fight dirty. But if that is the way this is going to go . . .
"The CEO at one place I worked had a habit of checking data on Saturday nights and locking out his application account. They paid me to shadow his session and unlock his account as he went so it wouldn't annoy him. I spent many Saturday nights playing Dungeons and Dragons and billing the company with my laptop open, unlocking his account and rolling dice in anger."
I threw in Dungeons and Dragons! Game, set, match, right?
He answered, "You play? Me too. What do you think of the new Magic of Incarnum rules?"
I struggled to keep panic off my face, "I haven't tried it. No need to complicate the game with a new magic system."
I guess he sensed fear, because he pressed the advantage,"It isn't too bad. I think it is about like the rules for psionics."
Crap! "We don't even use psionics!" Did I say that out loud? I'm losing my touch! And Geek Fu!
I got desperate,"We've been in and out of the same campaign for a couple of years, every other Saturday night, so we haven't had enough need for new characters to try out psionics. I have the book."
These matches are always to the death. That is the way it works. He answered,"My group has played every Saturday night for seven years."
Audience participation is rarely allowed, but in this case I welcomed the interruption. One of the network guys said, "But Garrick has a wife and kid and you've never even mentioned having a girlfriend."
Relief flooded my face another added,"His wife is really hot, too."
As I said earlier, Geek Fu is always to the death. My finishing move was,"She just gave me the complete Firefly series DVD boxed set, too."
"Awesome," he conceded. His chair spun back around.
When you can snatch the packet from my firewall, grasshopper, then will you be ready.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Casual Jeans Monday! Casual Jeans Monday!
I'll admit my concern level is dropping pretty quickly. The poor little guy would burn up on re-entry if I wasn't so excited by the prospect of a crater-forming massive explosion as it slams directly into the data center.
In a bit of drunken bravado Friday night, my manager bragged to upper management about my good work on OpenView. I'm used to delivering on the drunken promises of the sales staff, but my manager should know better.
Sure, I've solved some problems. But the sheer number of issues is just a bit more than anyone could handle in four days, especially someone with no experience with the product who is still covering the workload of two or three really good Windows admins hopped up on speed and antihistamines. Go Team Decongestant!
I also discovered that while it takes up most of my day, my work on OpenView is considered "added value" by upper management. The value meal that is my job has been supersized for free! Awesome! And just when I thought I was running out of fast food references for this place.
The sales staff has put a hold on our after hours mixer while they cycle through some new sales people. I think the numbers last quarter will have me deleting some accounts pretty soon for the sales veterans in last place.
While we have no floor space left to sell until August (if the City approves our half-baked building plan) they just hired four new sales people. The current sales staff has got to be getting nervous. If they aren't, they are having one too many martinis at lunch. Or breakfast. Or both.
The sad part is the ones that take the time to learn about the technology probably aren't out hitting the bricks enough to make the numbers, while I know one of the new hires has fifteen plus years in sales but has never worked in tech at all - and has been exempted from tech sales boot camp because of his numbers. While I'm all about sales people driving the economy, I know this one will probably sell us into extended hours for next to nothing because no one will have pointed out that we cost money. And since he won't know better (everyone who skips tech sales boot camp makes the same mistake, this guy will just do it on a larger scale) we will still be expected to step up and take one for the team. Taking one for the team is fine, but if it continues I'm going to need more padding in this chair.
Plans for today included catching up on my web comics and reconfiguring the ticketing system to reassign everything to the admin seated to the left of the person who should be working on it (let's broaden our skill sets, people), but I've been "tossed under the bus" on this OpenView thing so I should either crawl back out or perform an emissions test.
I hate them. I hope you guys hate them, too.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Ahhhh, Spring! That magical time of year when a young man's thoughts turn to table top role playing games. At least mine seem to turn to table top role playing games.
For those of you who only visit PrettyGeekyThing to find out what moronic thing my co-workers or clients are trying out, rest assured the focus will return soon. In fact, as a show of good faith:

"I hate them all. Someday they'll pay. Oh yes, one day they will all pay."

I've also decided that the topic today isn't funny enough to stand on its own as an article, so I'll start by listing some words to entice the search engines and sustain some interest. I've stolen these words from the subject lines of emails in my SPAM folder. Here goes:

Nipples, nipples, nipples.
Earn a Degree-0nline
What Women Really Want (This Month)

Ok. Back to the topic.
I've got a history. I've been playing Dungeons and Dragons (old school, pencil and paper) since 1980. This journey has carried me through three and a half editions of the system. I've decided to crack open a frosty Diet Mountain Dew and blog away about the state of the hobby and what it means to me.
I credit the game with my love of reading and performance. Since reading and following instructions and "acting" like I know what I'm doing has kept me working through some pretty rough I.T. times, I owe D&D. I owe D&D big.
As a product, Dungeons and Dragons has been through a lot. A semi-hostile takeover led to a lot of bad blood (and more than a little bad product) and legal issues more than improvements brought about a second edition.
This edition was replaced by a third edition and then version 3.5, both created to sell books and keep jobs as Hasbro purchased the whole game shop and had a need to find Star Wars action figure level profits. As a side-effect, this edition was actually an improvement. I bought the books, I read the books and I wanted to play the game.
Having moved to Houston with no gaming group, this presented a challenge.
To the internet! Solver of all modern problems!
There are whole message boards dedicated to forming groups from complete strangers so I signed up and posted as if playing the game happened at my house all the time.
Within a day, I had email and scheduled a game.
Then I asked my wife if it was okay to bring complete strangers from the internet into our house.
Have I mentioned my wife is awesome?
Anyway, it went stunningly well and I count two of the original players as two of the best friends I've ever had.
Years later, every other Saturday we still get together. There is less gaming than conversation, but that is a natural progression. Gamers are storytellers, and we love to tell each other stories even if all listening parties were there when it happened.
We have gathered an enormous amount of stories together and in other earlier (and inferior) gaming groups and passing these stories along in the oral tradition is important.

"There was that time when you had all that treasure and you left it in the cave in the volcano to keep it safe and then the volcano erupted while you were on the next adventure. That was awesome."

"Just a Nixie, you say?"

"Malchor qualifies for his own prestige class so we have to write the rules for 'Drunken Mage'."

"We had no chance so he broke his own staff and sacrificed himself to save the rest of us. Or maybe just to piss off the DM."

"You should have been there. An elven monk that couldn't pass a 'move silently' check to save his life."

"I don't remember where it ended up, but I think the half-orc could run about 200 meters in 6 seconds. And he did it a lot."

Lately, we have branched out into other systems. I don't own the books for them, so I've tried to emphasize character development over rules optimization. Since someone else is running the game (and managing the rules) I've felt a little more free.

We played 'Vampire: The Requiem' for a while. I wanted a serious vampire, intimidating and powerful. My stealth-oriented character ended up more foppish and sneaky than intimidating. I still enjoyed playing him.
We are now playing 'Werewolf: The Forsaken' (which I love to abbreviate) and I read the rules BEFORE creating a character this time to avoid a repeat of the 'fop' unpleasantness of my Vampire character.
I even came up with a sort-of cool back story that emphasized his tortured youth and went along with the campaign setting. I gave him drive and purpose and a reason to leave the tribe and travel with the other characters. I carefully spent points on character creation to play up the power struggle in Werewolf society (think Discovery Channel pack dominance and Broward County Florida politics) but I had a few points left over so I dumped them into 'Striking Appearance', a trait that makes my character naturally and memorably good looking.
Unfortunately, in the second game as soon as the party needed money, 'Striking Appearance' is all that I found on my character sheet as a source of revenue. The Story Teller (Game/Dungeon Master) handled it like a pro, but my character (created to be awesome) is currently working as an underwear model. Hey, it pays the bills.
I know Dungeons and Dragons. In that system, my characters are plotted out to maximize damage level after level from the very beginning, but they are tied into specific roles and actions that lead to these progressions and the realities of dice rolling often become more the focus than the fantasy of the character.
Since I don't know the rules as well for the White Wolf (Vampire and Werewolf) systems, I've been forced to pretend more. And it is good for me.
Neither character has turned out as I'd intended, but I wouldn't change them.
If I'd been shaken into sobriety in college and told that in a decade I'd be living in the suburbs with a beautiful wife and daughter and working with computers I'd have laughed. I guess I've not known (or have ignored) most of the rules in getting here, but I wouldn't trade off for anything. Even if I sometimes feel like a bit of a male model in my current job.
So. Every other Saturday I trade in the concerns of the office and the stresses of working with idiots to pretend to have someone else's problems for a few hours. And to hang out with my friends to talk about geeky stuff. It keeps me sane.
I hope it does as much good for them.
And when we eventually get back to Dungeons and Dragons I've got an evil feral tauric zombie ninja pirate I'm dying to try out, but who wouldn't?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Casual jeans Friday! Casual jeans Friday!
Yes. I'm at work.
As I understand it, in some cultures today is a holiday. I celebrated by wearing jeans every freaking day all week!
Yesterday was amusing. I hope today it resolves itself.
Our story begins last month with a flashy red light and a panicked call from a customer.
Customer: "I've lost the data drive! I've lost the data drive!"
We have a "server" (one of many, actually) that is nothing but a workstation, perhaps beefed up a bit, but just a workstation. Some of these machines do some pretty amazing things for devices with no hot-swappable parts. Some of these machines do these things without my help. This "server" was one of these unmonitored machines.
I logged in and verified that there was no drive available but the system drive and asked the user if he had a back up.

It was like I punched him in the face.

Customer: "Of course I don't! Isn't that what we have you people for?!?!?"
Me: "We do that on most of your servers, but you opted out on this one. I've never even logged in."

He fumed, but asked what we could do.
Honestly, not much. I could hear the arm banging so I could tell it was broken hardware. I asked if we could send it back to the manufacturer.

Customer: "What about the data?"
Me: "They will assume that if it was important there is another copy somewhere."
Customer: "I'll call back."

It was decided that the valuable but sensitive network schematics would need to be salvaged. This requires specific hardware and clean rooms and electrostatic devices and concern, of which I have none. In the end the client company paid an outfit in Delaware $10,000 for a data restore which could have been avoided by tacking on $5 a month in back up fees.
Whew. Disaster averted. For a company with a completely managed network, those diagrams must have been pretty awesome.
So anyway, yesterday the rebuilt and restored drive was delivered. I drew the short straw and went out to install it and add it back to the "server".
This company in Delaware had removed the platters, copied the data bit by bit and replaced an exact copy on a fresh drive.
I installed the hardware, activated the drive as a partition and, at the customer's request, began a manual back up of the data "just in case".
Does everyone maybe see where this went horribly wrong?
I don't know if there were ever "sensitive network schematics" on the drive before the disaster, but everything that survived the restore process was about 120 gigs of MP3s and 100 gigs of pr0n.
Now. It isn't my place to do anything but back up this data once manually, set it to back up regularly from here on out, and get on with my life.
But I was a little offended. First, the guy has a personal server on his corporate network that is hosting pr0n and MP3s.
Second, he loses it and complains to my managers and (though it isn't my fault) everyone comes to bug me about the lost "vital data".
Third, he cons his boss into paying $10k to restore it under false pretenses AND into paying for the data to be regularly backed up.
In the normal course of my job, it would go something like this:

1. Establish the billable work to be done.
2. Do the work.
3. Create a ticket tracking the time so that the customer can be invoiced.

Sometimes I call or email to confirm when I'm finished.

This time I decided to work closely with the IT Director at the client site and with their accounts payable department.
I thoroughly documented the step-by-step process of restoring the data. I included detailed screenshots of the restored data, in full, for reference. You know. In case the data needs to be restored later.

Hopefully everyone will look closely enough to read the file names or at least notice that they are media files.
Every time I think I'm going to run out of stuff to blog about somebody steps up and does something stupid. In thanks, today's entry is dedicated to (name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) at (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement). You, sir, are an asshat.
Anyway. Plans for today include running through the empty halls (sales staff has the day off) and later on organizing office chair races on the data center floor.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Today I'm going to write about what happens when someone stops working here. Well, technically I've stopped working here, but I mean when the "employment relationship" ends.
When someone is blamed for something bad enough to get them fired or finds a better job or just snaps and quits in a flurry of thrown badges and formatted hard drives, our Human Resources department flies into action.
Like the grim angel of unemployment, she (much like the technical side for so long, HR is a team of one) moves a Manila folder from one area to another and sends out four emails.
These emails announce that network access, email and mailing list membership be revoked and that the mailbox for that user be opened up to his or her manager. There are other emails about equipment returns and HR lawsuit-type stuff but I don't care.
At the same time as the four emails, four traceable work orders are created and assigned and a service desk ticket is also generated to track these work orders.
So I got an email yesterday from HR about some old tickets and work orders. The email requested a status update on all of them.
Now, our ticket tracking software is truly an intuitive marvel. Tickets fall into categories and can be tracked by problem type, ticket creator, client name. You can decide that you want to see every open ticket related to Windows and refresh this view every five minutes to keep up with new developments. Or you can narrow the parameters like me, so that only tickets assigned directly to me are ever seen.
I replied politely to the dark angel of unemployment that I would investigate these tickets, since searching by ticket number also allows me to not waste my time looking at work assigned to anyone else.
A few were pretty routine temination notices, a few that I had completed after getting the email. I just never bothered to find the ticket and close it.
Then I got to the last one. One Service Desk ticket and six work orders to kill access, archive the mailbox, change rights to view personal folders and research various on-going projects. Remote access was to be turned off, an image of the laptop archived and every internal mailing list had to be modified, since the departing employee was a domain level administrator with rights to every system and knowledge of every password. Wow. Why did I miss that?
Because the terminated employee was the old Microsoft guy, and all the termination tickets for his own account had been assigned directly to him. After he left.

Plans for today include just manning the fort, mostly. We have several people out on vacation and last night a few people worked late and won't be in until much later today.
Additionally, these people worked late because our monitoring solution broke last night for several hours. As a result, buffered error messages from systems that went unmonitored continue to stream in. Right now there is no telling what is legitimately broken.
Go Team Ineffective!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

In response to the one dollar challenge from Joe, I present this:

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It does not meet the letter of the conditions, but I believe it is in line with the spirit.
I spent most of the day yesterday working on Microsoft stuff, but I managed to make some progress on the OpenView side as well.
I also managed to hit a member of management with a wadded up piece of paper and that was awesome! He was completely looking the other way and I grabbed some IBM paperwork, wadded it loudly and flung it. The ball bounced off his back and went into the waste basket. When he turned around I said, "Excuse me, I seem to have dropped my wadded up piece of paper."
He told me that it went in the wastebasket (it was a truly awesome accident) and I mentioned the NOCC clean up directive.
Later in the day the same member of management came back to speak to one of the network guys and I stared at him until he looked at me. Then I said, "We're getting a lemur!"
He called me a name and that name . . . was a swear word.
I told him I had no idea he was so firmly in the anti-lemur camp.
And then I (as I often do) got to thinking about cuteness and how it can change technology. For a while now, I've been adding images to internal email communications. As long as the answer is technically sound, who can argue with a picture of a bunny in a sweater at the end?

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I've honestly never been asked about it. Seriously. But if I were asked, are bunnies not allowed to wear sweaters? It is a sleeveless turtleneck, which is a bit odd I'll admit. It is still within the rights of that bunny to stay warm on what looks like a blustery autumn day.

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Anyone I have directly questioned about the images (rotating regularly as my desktop background) tells me that these bunnies are cute. By my random sample of opinions, I can say most people (both technical and non-technical) seem to freaking adore cute pictures ripped off the internet.
So I started thinking (having already accomplished WAY more than I set out to when I left the house (over an hour late) yesterday morning) about using the cute pictures in my dealings with the clients. Their power can not be denied.

My next call from an irate client could very well go like this:

Them: "Blah blah salespuke lied to me blah blah broken blah blah lost data!"
Me: "I understand your concern. Hang on a second, I'm emailing something to you now. Let me know when you get it."

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Them: Stunned silence (I hope)
Me: "That little guy is freaking adorable isn't he? Look! He's using his little hands to eat that piece of corn! He thinks he's people! People eating giant corn!"

And once we have agreed on that (and what total heartless bastard wouldn't) then we can restart the conversation having established common ground. That one amazingly cute hamster could completely change the relationship.
Or they could decide I'm unbalanced, which would make them more reasonable as well.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

So yesterday I showed up for my regular job at the regular time. I chose to ignore the whole text message transfer from Friday night. Then the OpenView guy showed up around 10am and asked why I was still doing Windows stuff. With a hearty, "Whatever," I packed up my stuff, shuffled across the hall, and began trying to fix some broken stuff with no idea of what the end result should be. Documentation? Here?
Just before lunch my manager wandered in, surprised to see me. Having been too drunk to recall authorizing my departure from the Microsoft team, he had assumed my packing and walking out was just my cute little way of quitting without killing anyone.
There were some discussions right then about what my proper role in the organization should be. As a side note, every time someone calls this place an "organization" I giggle.
The OpenView guy said there was too much to do on the OpenView side for one person so conscripting me is the best plan, while my manager requested that he stop whining and leave me to do what I'm supposed to be doing. At this point, I laughed long and loud, having not once done what I was hired to do EVER since coming to work here. We tabled the discussion for lunch.
The OpenView guy and I followed our manager to some odd gay cowboy bar for lunch. I guess all the normal gay cowboy bars are too crowded.
There was more discussion, some of it heated, and I had iced tea and some sweet potato fries which were both low carb and delicious. Raul, our waiter, kept complaining that my manager was "Bitchy."
Finally (for the moment) it was decided that I'm a Microsoft guy four hours a day and an OpenView guy four hours a day. Except that the company can't justify someone in a part time capacity in either role. Instead, I'll need to keep up the same level of productivity on the Windows side - while working four hours a day on OpenView. That sounds fair.

I got a call yesterday from someone who reads PrettyGeekyThing and was surprised that actual staffing decisions are made while completely trashed and announced via text message late at night. I want to clarify - yes they very much are, but sometimes they are rescinded over sweet potato fries at a gay cowboy bar in the middle of the day.

I've been notified that some "Media-types" will be touring the place sometime tomorrow, so I've gotten the request to get all the dead or dying hardware and atmospheric paperwork stashed away somewhere. I've spent five months piling it all up so that there is no room on my desk for anyone to drop additional work, and now I have to tidy. I've got it better than some of the desks in here, though. There are huge and broken monitors on a few desks and ancient (we think) macaroni and cheese was discovered in tupperware in the back of a file cabinet yesterday. I voted to just put it back there. Moving it now is just likely to upset it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

After six months, I've finally gotten a job description.
Ok, I'm going to re-set the scene for anyone picking this up with this post.
In late October I completed my third interview with the Chief Operations Officer by asking the series of questions I've learned to ask:

"Will I be the only resource for anything?"
Answer: "We have a full staff."
"Will I be doing actual project work or is there a lot of fire fighting?"
Answer: "You'll be doing project work. The environment is well documented and stable."
"Is there an on-call schedule?"
Answer: "Not really. We haven't needed a schedule."

Fast forward six months, and I'm the ONLY guy supporting 150+ enterprise clients as the Microsoft, Terminal Services, Exchange and Information Security roles through daily triage fire-fighting from 6am until 6am as the only person ever called. "No On-Call schedule?" I get it! Heheh! You got me! Good one!
And then the dark days of my disgruntlement began. I offered up friends to join the team. No one was hired.
On the plus side, I haven't lost friends.
Deadlines were missed. Communications dropped. Work continued to pile up until I began to doubt my own competance. Still, no one was hired to join the team.
I made a comment about the lack of certifications on the "Wall of Certifications" that belonged to people still employed there. After a slight struggle, my own certifications joined the wall as the ONLY Microsoft, Citrix and Security certifications in the building. I'd been planning to leave before dragging mine in from home, but I was too slow.
And then hiring started.
My manager has hired two members of the Microsoft team from his old job to help out. They start today.
And I'm off the team. Just like that. Which means that 100% of the original staff is completely shut out. The guys are bitter. I don't blame me.
So Friday night around midnight I get a text message on my phone. I pay for these.

Message From (Name of OpenView Guy at my Job Deleted to Comply with Non-Disclosure Agreement): So R U not taking teh job N florida?

I respond: No. They wanted a master on a padawan's salary. Also, real estate prices suck.

A few minutes later -

Message From (Name of OpenView Guy at my Job Deleted to Comply with Non-Disclosure Agreement): Do0d we need U 2 do openview. U interested?

Obviously, (Name of OpenView Guy at my Job Deleted to Comply with Non-Disclosure Agreement) is out drinking with our boss. They have hit upon a plan. A bad plan. An alcohol influenced plan. But a plan.

I respond: Sure. I gotta do something. I'm shut out on the Microsoft side.

Message From (Name of OpenView Guy at my Job Deleted to Comply with Non-Disclosure Agreement): Cool. U may want to take 10 to 7 shift. U can start working w me on mon.

I respond: w00+

So my new role is on the OpenView side, working on our broken monitoring solution. It runs on Linux. Still, my certifications are the only currently valid Microsoft certifications in the building. I'll also be working until 7pm every day.
I know nothing about OpenView, and even if I did working on the same thing everyday will bore me so quickly I'll be breaking stuff for fun by the end of the week.

that this week sometime the sales people are attempting to schedule an after-work mixer with the technical staff so that we can better get to know one another. That should be interesting enough to amuse all of us for a few days.

So lets look at the math:

Me + Crappy job role where I'm way overpriced and underqualified + Probable new "late" shift schedule + Room full of sales people + alcohol, paid for by the company = Blog material for days.

Sober, I'm not the most gentle when I tell people how much I hate them. In this case they are offering me booze and asking why they sense hostility. I only hope I remember enough to report back.

I worked on a downed database on Saturday from about noon until after seven. I'm not really allowed to talk about it.
On Sunday I turned off my cell phone and turned it back on long enough to notice that work had left a few messages. I did not call them back before turning my phone off again.
Of course, I found out this morning that I missed an important non-work call through not being able to use my own cell phone. Nice.

Today I plan to hit the job boards as much as possible while coasting through my new role. I'll update this page when I know more.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Casual Jeans Friday! Casual Jeans Friday! Casual Jeans Friday!
AND a Friday where I get to be out of the office for a few hours in the morning!
I'm going downtown in a couple of hours for "Smart Hands" training with a new client. It seems (though there has been no official communication about it) that my team and I (you know the guys . . . We write this blog . . . Shower together . . . Collectively don't qualify for the HOV lane) have been sold as "Smart Hands On-Call 24/7".
The "On-Call 24/7" part is no different than any I.T. job. "Smart Hands" just means current trade or labor regulation prevents the hiring of a trained monkey. Or untrained one I guess.
"Smart Hands" belong to the guy on the phone listening to junk like "Just power down the server. Push the button on the front," and "What are the lights doing now? Still red?"
Essentially, "Smart Hands" belong to a technician acting as an interpretive web cam, with interactive possibilities.

Smart Hands Guy (on phone with someone too far to be at the site of the broken crap): "The lights are red. There is some smoke coming out of the back, with slight sparking. Do you want me to turn off the power?"


Smart Hands Guy (on phone with someone too far to be at the site of the broken crap): "There is a lot more blue smoke coming out now that I've replaced the drive for you. But the smoke smells like cinnamon now. Oh, Crap! My Pop-tart!"

Anyway, having been pimped (I mean contracted) to serve in this brainless capacity, I get a tour of the facilities today. And maybe coffee. Go, coffee!

On another note, our sales people are so awesome they make up for overselling our technical staff with excellent spin that seems to actually work on some people.
Another customer wants data center space in Dallas. We have no presence in Dallas.
The customer was so taken with our sales and marketing crew that they pre-paid for space in Dallas for a year with the understanding that we would get it.
Not ones to miss an opportunity to sell someone - I mean someTHING - our sales force designed a scheme where we lease data center space from an existing data center. We get all of the remaining open space but only pay monthly for what we use. Also, we take over management for the facility there and they pay us for that.
Pretty awesome deal, in my opinion. What's that? The original problem still exists?
So no one working for us actually LIVES in Dallas. And now we not only have the original customer to worry about but a whole data center facility AND the existing clients on site.
So what do we do? Pop Quiz everyone - You've read enough of these to guess.
We are on the honor system. By looking ahead to the answer you cheat no one but yourself.

A. Come clean to the customer. Explain the situation and offer to hire someone to be on-site or to give back all that sweet, sweet cash.
B. Share the contract with the company that owns the data center. They have people there. People who may lose their jobs when we take over management. We take a major cut of the profits, they get job security.
C. Just hire a guy there, maybe one of the old employees there currently. Sure there are added payroll costs, but the customer paid a freaking year in advance.
D. Move some existing staff north. You pay some relocation expenses but you end up with a known quantity on-site. Also, Dallas seems hotter in the summer than Houston so you can really jack with someone less popular.

The answer:
7. The quiz itself counts as a document. Since I'm writing it at work, and no document written here can ever contain anything valid (I think that may be a policy) the answer has to be something else. And here it is:

#7. We re-write the existing support agreements for everyone involved to include a 4 hour Service Level Agreement. The current staff can be in Dallas from anywhere in the Houston area in about 4 hours, right? So anytime anyone needs lights looked at "Smart Hands" style, one phone call and 4 hours later the magic happens.

Feel free to leave your scores in the comments section.

Plans for today include doing just enough to justify my continued employment. I still have no official job description, so I'm choosing "Dark Lord of Crisis Juggling" as my title for the day. I've adjusted my email signature to match. Everyone is impressed with juggling.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Eventually it happens at every job. I try to postpone it for as long as possible without actually lying but eventually someone asks the magic question that forever colors the social relationship.
For a few months I've been able to dodge:

Co-worker: "Can you believe what happened on American Idol last night?"
Me: "No."

Co-worker: "Hey! Did you catch 'Lost' last night?"
Me: "No."

Co-worker: "What did you think of the game?"
Me: "I think the 3.5 edition rules really cleaned up a lot of the gray areas in the initial release of the third edition, while at the same time only abusive players would have caused a problem with shapechange, so nerfing that was a bit harsh. That kind of stuff should be taken care of in game. And, of course, the 'keen' weapon enhancement should stack with the Improved Critical feat."
Co-worker: "I meant basketball . . . "
Me: "They still play that?"

So finally it happened. I missed the coolest thing on TV one too many times and got asked a direct question:

Co-worker: "You never see anything. Why is that?"
Me: Pointing over co-worker's shoulder "Is smoke supposed to be coming out of that?"
Me: Runs away.

Of course, eventually it comes out - and when it does it asks more questions than it answers.
I don't have cable TV.
I don't live way out in the woods. We'd be lost without high-speed internet (which actually comes to us via cable TV infrastructure) we just don't have the TV part.
I don't hate America.
I'm not a snob. Well, not about that. I still won't use domestic soap.

After that is out in the open the relationship changes. Everyone acts skittish around me like I'm going to try to recruit them into some strange cult. I'm not. Well, not about that. ;)
The "Hey did you see . . ." questions fade off after a while but they are eventually replaced.
Usually after my stunning "We don't get cable" confession no one will directly ask but sometimes they don't understand right away.

Co-worker: "Did you see 'My Name is Earl'?"
Me (post-confession): "We don't get cable."
Co-worker: "It isn't on cable. It is on regular TV."
Me: "I don't get that either."
Co-worker: "You don't have a TV?"
Me: "I've got a TV. I may have two."
Co-worker: "You can get this with an antenna."
Me: "Meh."

I've got problems with TV. Don't get me wrong here. I hate to speak ill of the TV. That machine practically raised me. We've just grown apart.
It isn't that I'm hyper-religious or ultra-conservative.
First, there is nothing on worth watching. This bar is pretty high, though. I get limited time with my family between homework and bedtime so anything that cuts into that really needs to be rock-slamming-into-the-Earth kind of important. For big news, we have the internet.
Second, the cable packages are broken up to cost more. If we want Discovery and the History Channel and Bravo we have to pay for 11 Home Shopping networks and 25 Spanish language channels. The Nashville Network is a hate crime. If we could pay for and get just four or five channels we might come back.
I say "might" because of reason number three. Television, having (as I said) practically raised me, has a certain power over me I'm no longer comfortable with, having seen the effect passed on genetically to my daughter.
Given the slightest opportunity I can stare at the flickering box of joy for hours. I've got an addictive personality. I no longer smoke, but I know TV can totally immobilize me. Side note: I should really drink more.
We have Netflix and get a few DVD's a week. Anything we want to see more than once we buy. We don't buy a lot.
The advantage of using the TV just for DVD's is that I can literally "STOP" anytime. Viewing actually has to stop when the disk finishes, but at anytime I can hit a button and attend to real life. Or a reasonable facsimile.
This does have downsides. As I earlier expressed I have no idea what is going on on 'Lost'. I've never seen a single episode. The next American Idol winner will be a total shock to me. I may even unwittingly steal their singles off the internet before I know what they are.
I totally missed some good TV. I never saw a single episode of Firefly before the boxed set was released. I've heard Battlestar Gallactica is good this time around but I haven't seen it.
Sometimes I miss a good Forensics Files late at night.
On the whole, there hasn't been much to miss. I can generally find people to record the odd TV event I can't survive without. Actually, that has happened one time.
And please don't think I'm trying to convert anyone. I need everyone else to get cable.
This is because, post-confession, I eventually take on a new role in the social structure. I become the person people share the story with. They know I didn't see it, so TV gets passed on in the tradition of tribal historians. It may be crap, but it becomes shared crap. And maybe that is the key to interactive television.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Skipped my Tuesday Haiku of geeky bitterness:

My job description
does not include fixing your crap.
Just stop calling me.

I don't know what broke.
The system is acting odd.
Why no change control?

Your computer's slow?
I think I see the problem.
Spyware fills your drives.

Today I may actually find out why I'm here.
I mean, I know why I'm here. I've posted about my mercenary motivations and my addiction to living indoors.
What I mean is I may get an official job description today. This is becoming increasingly important as staff keeps rolling in. My manager has been aggressively hiring people away from his last company. Since we will have similar job roles, we will need a better definition so toes remain unstepped on and feelings go unbruised. I'm delicate. And afraid of the actual definition of why I'm here. Could be I'm actually supposed to carry back up tapes from the back of the building to the front. Perhaps I'm supposed to physically rack equipment and work a forklift.
Maybe I'm supposed to answer the phones and talk to users.
That would be bad for a number of reasons.
First, that isn't why I came to work here. None of that stuff fits anywhere on my resume and I'm not making room for it.
Second, since I was hired to do something much more awesome, I'm overpaid for any of that. Overpaid is not a long term place to be in I.T. Although it is fun.
I think this concern is why the job descriptions (promised in February) are taking so long to formulate. I've been placed on technical 'light duty' un-officially since the whole (company name deleted to comply with non-disclosure agreement) thing.
Officially I "Dropped the ball and failed to come through technically."
In reality, sales never communicated to me the promises made and deadlines established - so I had other things to do. That sales guy still hasn't admitted fault and I overheard him blaming me again yesterday. No admission at all that I've been doing the work since then by using an alias. About the best I can hope for is that I'll be able to quit before he has to file assault charges. I'd have fun locking his account but he would just come to me to unlock it.
Today, to relieve stress I'll be repeating a prank from past jobs. It may be un-original at this point, but I still enjoy it.
I've renamed my laptop "LinksysWAP54g" and plugged it into the secure network.
This makes my machine look like an unsecured wireless hub granting access to anyone walking by or driving by on the freeway. There should be a lot of yelling and frantic searching. The hardest part will be keeping a straight face.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What broke yesterday?
Everything that broke yesterday can be traced back to a lack of communication.
Here is a sample chain of events:

1. A bank branch in rural Texas loses connectivity to the internet.
2. A support analyst here calls the site to discuss fixing it.
3. Someone at that branch calls in and reports that the mail server is unresponsive.
4. The analyst she speaks to about the mail server can't find a problem and asks if the internet is working from that location.
5. The problem with connectivity to the internet is identified and a fix is applied.
6. The other person (who will see the mail server in a moment either way) requests that the mail server be powered down and restarted to "fix it".
7. Internet connectivity to the branch is restored.
8. Once the server comes back around, that user can see it (duh) and assumes their quick thinking saved the day - instead of that their jumping the gun caused an enterprise-wide mail outage in the middle of the afternoon.
9. I listen as my concern level makes a loud whistling noise on its way down. After all, the people working on both issues were sitting in the same freaking room.

I have decided to put the "Stab Someone in the Face Over the Internet via RPC" project on hold in favor of developing something that could be the next big internet application. I'll assume that neither of the readers of this blog will steal my idea.
My idea is about a communications method that is kind of like mail, but electronic.
Someone with information or an idea could type something and then "send" it across the internet. The bandwidth would be pretty minimal for "electronicalized mail" as I am calling it.
If such a means of communication existed it would save just this company countless hours in repeated work.
Some exciting things happened relating to the account I've mentioned a few times (not company name deleted to comply with the non-disclosure agreement, but the bank) and the way we charge them for our time. And by "exciting" I mean I'd like to smash someone with a keyboard a lot.
Like anything else, longer contracts cost less per month. Due to some kind of flailing fit before I came to work here, this customer switched to month-to-month and threatened to leave. They pay the same per month as a customer on a 36 month contract. Also, they use us all the time, taking out "fully managed" contracts on the stuff that needs constant babysitting so they never have to pay extra and can break whatever they want.
Contract re-negotiations broke down yesterday morning and the announcement was made that any work we do for them has to be approved by their CIO directly and in writing. So. One of their tech people calls us with a mail emergency. We call the CIO and leave a message. She calls back when she gets out of a meeting. We miss the call supporting someone else, someone who pays. We call back. She says "HOLY CRAP JUST FIX IT!!!!"
We request that in writing and wait to receive it.
That was pretty funny, but only lasted about two hours.
The "Vice President of Sales" announced that (even though we lose thousands of dollars a month in technical hours) we need to "show some love" or lose the account.
"Show some love?" That is NOT in my job description. Why would we struggle to provide service for a customer who knowingly abuses us month after month and pays us less than we spend?
Regardless, not being "Vice President of Kicking People in the Neck" myself, I'm resigned to the proclamation that we are now to jump through every hoop they toss at us for the next month and not bill them AT ALL. At the end of the month, the sales people can write it all up (and pad it) and say, "Look what we saved you last month! Renew your contract!"
So I'm doing tech work on spec. Nice.
Must remember . . . The word is "Mercenary."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Let me begin by saying that I have enormous respect for desktop technicians. I've worked with several who are extremely technically competent and able to deal with a panicked (or just annoying) user efficiently and with class. Of course, I've also worked with some who were completely clue-free, but that does not diminish my respect for the skill set.
This is not work that I can do. It is a completely different skill set than I have. Sometimes I'll be asked to look at something on a desktop computer, but I absolutely suck at working on them.
The configurations are different than a server operating system and users (who stand right there the whole time) lie like politicians in church.
"I didn't even know you could get to the internet from this computer box."
"I rebooted twice already."
"I backed up everything important."
"I didn't change anything."
"I did not have sex with that CD Rom drive. . . Mr. Toshiba."
Fixing computer issues for total liars is not a skill set I'm interested in polishing, either. The word "desktop" on a job description is a deal killer. Even is it is "Mr. Pass will be given a desktop and it will be shiny and nice." That screws me a bit, but rules is rules.
Last week new executives were hired. We had a consultant in to configure the laptops (four of them) for the new people. These laptops were checked out to new people, two on Thursday and two on Friday, never having been touched by me.
The first two work fine, I guess.
One of the new users starts calling the Control Center on Friday morning, having picked up the new laptop about an hour before. I had the call routed to me, thinking the new guy too dumb to type in the password on his account. 1337 $p3@k P@55w0rd$ @r3 teh 13357.
"My laptop won't charge."
This is not a software problem, so he gets blown off - I mean I put him on hold and ask about the hardware warranty on the new equipment. No one knows. Crap. I "un-hold."
"Is it plugged in?"
"Of course it is plugged in it just won't charge. I'm in a meeting and it keeps telling me to save my work. I need a working laptop now."
Whoa. The new guy is an asshat already. Seriously, I'm not responsible for laptops. "I'll get back to you," I say, fully intending that to be a lie.
I went back to closing tickets with a " " and the phone rang again.
Before I picked up I asked if we had another laptop for this guy. Of course we don't.
"Can you bring the broken laptop down here?" I asked.
"Of course not. I told you I'm in a meeting."
"I'll have someone go up and take a look." I hung up the phone and swivelled in my chair to the sound of crickets in the Control Center.
"C'mon guys!" I whined, "I hate users. Can't someone just go up and get the laptop? I'll even try to fix the stupid thing."
No luck. There was a lot going on for a Friday. Another client wanted 28 matching 30 yard fiber optic cables runs placed under the raised floor. While I would have gladly done it (even dragging myself the whole distance using my tongue) someone was already doing it. Crap. Crap. Crap.

I slogged upstairs and towards the conference room, mentally hearing the priest chanting in latin, resigned to my fate.
Upon opening the door I was greeted by the sight of not only the new (and indignantly fuming) asshat, but several (in fact all) of the members of upper management. So this is what they do. They sit around a U-Shaped conference table and bother people who are actually trying to work. Worse yet, they bother ME on a Friday.
The Director of somthing-or-other said something like "I sent the new guy a virus, don't you secure these laptops!" And there was much laughter around the table. I tried to ignore it, and the other comments ("Mine is working just fine!" "What's the matter, don't these new machines charge?") as I grabbed the offending laptop and pulled the power supply off the power strip and made for the exit.
My eyes happened upon an outlet near the door. On a whim, probably mostly in the hopes that I could avoid a return trip I plugged the laptop in and heard "DING!" as the battery started charging.
With that "DING!" all attention was firmly on me. At the same time, this had gone from a technical problem to a logic question.
I walked back into the U and examined the power strip. I put the laptop back down in front of its owner and plugged it back in. No "DING!"
Without a thought to the political ramifications, I picked up the power strip, pointed at the switch and said "Off" (CLICK) "On."
The other laptops, all "working fine", were sharing the same de-activated power strip.
I hate users. They all lie.