Thursday, August 31, 2006

You know what instruction I was the absolute worst at following through every year of school?
"Show your work."
I hate showing my work. Either the math is right or the math is wrong. Truth is truth, regardless of proof.
However, I'm posting about my corporate experiences to validate my opinion that the system has issues.
I'd like to also go on record as saying that I hate it when my teachers were right.
The most common complaints I've heard are all related to the accessibility and availability of email. No modern company can get by for any length of time without that stuff.
Even perceived delays in email are an I.T. bugging cause for alarm.
I've worked with email systems for a while. I can tell you that honest delayed mail is pretty rare. A regular server can handle the traffic from several hundred users without breaking a sweat.
Issues with mail delays are generally related to network problems or someone trying to send a 3 gig file all at once on a server not configured to block that.
I've seen drives fill up and capacity max out, but those are trends. Unless something is really wrong you can see those things coming.
However, the problem arises when Senior Management is expecting an email that hasn't turned up yet. As you can guess, technology has never helped Senior Management's expectations.
A recently dredged up study shows most of the real reasons email is delayed:

  • Most users check their email "constantly"”
  • Users would try to project a responsiveness image. For example, sending a short reply if a complete reply might take longer than usual, intentionally delaying a reply to make themselves seem busy, or planning out timing strategies for email with read receipts.
  • Users would look at shared calendars or other means to estimate how long they should expect a reply
  • If an email was urgent, users often used voicemail as a way to bring attention to their email
  • Emails were written differently, depending on how long of a delay was expected before a reply (especially if their recipients were in a faraway time zone)
  • Users would try to reciprocate email behaviors— responding quickly to people who responded quickly to them, and lowering their responsiveness to people who responded slowly to them in the past
So -- Email is vital, but for really important stuff always expect a phone call or cubicle visit. Politics play a major part in all co-worker interaction. You can expect delays in replies from co-workers who you've put off before.
Or from me. I'd much rather shout over a cube wall.
Also, read receipts annoy me. Expect me to not send them automatically but to go out of my way to read the email and store it, in unread format, for months -- just to see the response when the sender gets a "Your email dated two quarters ago has just been read". I love that.
People have to know that just because their mail clients are configured to query the mail server every five seconds, other people have stuff to do.
To give an example of the worst use for email as a time-saving application, one need only look at RadioShack.
The best form of office communications will always be the break room chat. It even works for forwarded jokes.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Wednesday is new comic book day!
I picked up the latest issue of 52 (week 17) and a Civil War Young Avengers/Runaways cross over.
As you may recall, I grew up in the Marvel universe. Outside of Detective Comics and the idea of Aquaman, I wasn't really about DC comics growing up.
Nonetheless, I was happy to see psychotic intergalactic bounty hunter Lobo finally turn up in the pages of 52. That guy is delightfully class-free.
Other than introducing Lobo, the story doesn't seem to progress much.
I'm a big time Marvel Civil War junkie, and anything involving the Runaways is a sure thing. A fight between the Young Avengers (I'm totally unfamiliar with them, by the way) and the Runaways is going to be worth reading.
Why is it that when two groups of super heroes meet they always fight?
Why can't they discuss their feelings and motivations before attempting to solve every problem with violence?
These are supposed to be the good guys.
Except for the Punisher.
And sometimes Wolverine.
And most certainly Lobo.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sorry about yesterday, everybody. I got complaints.
No one is a box of pencils. Everyone is a beautiful and unique snowflake.
Anyway, I'll try to keep it a little more upbeat.
This may come as a surprise only to people who have never read PrettyGeekyThing before, but I have a lot of experience dealing with messed up I.T. junk.
Today's post will deal with one of the methods a company can use to really foul up their I.T. solution. I've seen this.
The most common way involves an attempt at reducing costs. Revenue does not equal profit. Employees are expensive. Often, when lamenting the high costs of having all these people around, a company will ditch the easiest to blame first. Since all things employee related go through Human Resources, cuts often begin right there. They keep enough senior staff to handle lawsuit-free dismissals and they farm out everything else to recent graduates with low expenses and looming student loans.
These new H.R. people have fresh management and accounting classes burned into their brains. Most have never used a computer for anything but word processing and the occasional game of Half-Life. They take one look at the salaries associated with the I.T. department and decide where the next cost cutting will happen.
Staff cuts are always traumatic, but our diligent new hires are certain about the numbers. What they also determine is that there is a pre-existing rift between I.T. and the people that do the "real" work for the company.
No one really associates with those Lord of the Rings trilogy freaks. They wear t-shirts and jeans. They drink more coffee than every other department combined. They speak in a non-stop stream of three-letter acronyms that are probably made up.
In short, they won't be missed.
So "Young H.R." makes cuts. They leave the lowest paid in place in case something catches fire.
The next stage of this process is when the lowest paid I.T. staff start to complain of overwork.
This can't be possible. No one has ever seen an I.T. person work.
Human Resources Monthly has a review of a new work-tracking software that is easy to use and only costs $10k. Sold!
Those low-paid I.T. weasels complain about not having any spare servers to use to run the new software package. Purchasing says they just bought two new servers around the time the mail server stopped working for an hour and when the network drives vanished for an afternoon. Also, none of those no-talent I.T. hacks has ever worked with this software so they start to whine about training or documentation.
One (or more) of the members of "Young HR" went to college with a Computer Science major who is looking for work. Also, that guy had some awesome MP3s at one point.
College buddy is hired. At a premium, because he is a friend.
The low-paid I.T. survivors are still at the bottom of the pay scale.
Mistakes made by college buddy, who has no real-world experience but has authority to make decisions, cause an increase in work for all of I.T.
The work tracking software runs extremely slowly. Also, the feature that dials through to any employee number through the IP phone system still doesn't work right. Any competent I.T. person would have that running like a dream.
Meetings are held. Secret bitter meetings.
"What do those nerds do anyway?"
"You can't blame college buddy. He just got here. There is only so much he could do."
"Can you believe how bad these I.T. geeks have botched the work tracking software?"
"I know! The IP dial-through forwarding doesn't work half the time."
"It doesn't?"
"It doesn't?"
"It doesn't?"
"It doesn't! Try it! I'm sick of checking the directory every time I want to call someone!"
And so Young HR guy #1 configures his phone to forward to Young HR guy #2. Young HR guy #2 configures his phone to forward to Young HR guy #3. Young HR guy #3, not wanting to look like a slouch, configures his phone to forward to Young HR guy #1. Someone presses [enter].

And the lights go out. Senior Management generally spends this time stuck in an elevator.
After some flickering, lights are restored. Fingers are pointed.
I.T. tries to explain about shared servers and extended resources. Specifically, Work Tracking and Power Management on the same old hardware. They talk about untested patches and totally lose the crowd with "sequential dial-back fail over" and it is done. I.T. is outsourced within a week.
Who hired those losers? We need experienced HR people in here! People who hire based on skill, costs be damned!

And the cycle repeats itself. Generally, the network is so messed up it takes high-priced consultants to fix it. This can happen as quickly as once every two years or so in a decent-sized company.

Monday, August 28, 2006

If you ask any company what its most valuable asset is and you will get the same answer every time: "Our Employees!"
That is nice and appreciated, but in reality it couldn't be further from the truth.
Employees want time off, they take breaks when they are on the clock, they get sick, married, pregnant, demand training and insurance. They die and retire with no thought to training their replacements in the way Senior Management wants things done.
On top of that, they want to get paid.
Employees are the biggest drain on company resources and studies show declining productivity is what management gets in return for giving employees a purpose.
Employees are a blight on the success of a company second only to one other -- the customers.
I know, I know. Without customers a company ceases to exist.
But customers demand things. They want to change their orders at the last minute. They want P.O. forms filled out a certain way and faxed to a certain number at a certain time. They want the product in a different color or flavor or with special packaging.
They introduce variation. Variation is the bane of any system, even when that system is a company.
By comparison, employees are hated less than customers by the company, but hating less is very different than liking.
And so the employee ends up commoditized. All things employee related in a modern company happen through something called "Human Resources". Has anyone else thought about those words in that format?
"Human Resources" is truth in advertising. People are like printer toner cartridges. When they are all used up they get replaced.
It is a sad truth that the first and last contact an employee has with an employer is through "Human Resources". For most of them, it is a lot like ordering a new box of pencils. A box of pencils that will demand a work/life balance assessment and dental and vision insurance.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

As much a refresher for me as any kind of mostly boring glimpse into the world of corporate IT for anyone reading this from (as we in "the business" call it) the "outside", I'm going to talk about what I like to show up with on Day 1 in a new environment.
What does a new IT hire need?
We can assume the network and every device on it is completely broken and non-functional. Anything useful (or interesting) is probably undocumented, hidden, or on a server that no longer works.
Also, in a too-little-too-late attempt to head off malware, adware, trojans, worms, virii and job search sites, the company has most likely created policies forbidding internet access to the tools and supplies geeks need to thrive and do the jobs they have been hired to do.
They may even have created an actual firewall rule that prevents it knowing that employees will ignore those policies anyway.
But this is day one, remember?
Not that there is a problem breaking rules on day one, but if it can be avoided it should be.
It can be a bit overwhelming, certainly. At this point, 10 minutes into the first day and 8 minutes into the first crisis, your average new IT hire will check out his workstation.
What if he doesn't have basic troubleshooting tools installed? What if he doesn't have rights to install them since Desktop Support is on some power trip?
I like to keep a small USB drive with me pre-loaded with useful applications.
My standard collection includes some basic diagnostic tools, some virus scanners and cleaners, and some stuff (image editors, web browsers and assorted tools) from Portable Apps.
It is nice to be able to run Firefox right off my portable drive without having to install anything on the work computer.
This lets me spend more time navigating the new political landscape instead of splashing around the shallow end of the technical one.
Fingers crossed that this knowledge comes in handy soon.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Following the events in the last session, the characters pursued the strange green-eyed warforged south towards Xen'drik.
They soon discovered that not only had their adversary secured his way past the vicious sahuagin guards on the deal Huor had brokered in Sharn, he had promised even more rewards to be delivered by the ship following him.
When the sahuagin representative clawed his way onto the deck to demand payment, the party was stunned to discover that the price had jumped from 1500 gold to 8000 -- in addition to magic weapons.
Of course, negotiations broke down quickly. The sahuagin's poor language skills played no small part. He signaled the attack.
A quick spell from Marcus weakened the creature's resolve and Kane Drywell used his weird psionic gift to dissipate the creature instantly into a cloud of mist.
As the other sahuagins swarmed over the rails, the changeling Huor assumed the form of their fallen leader and called for their immediate retreat. Failing to see through his sudden change, the shark men quickly jumped back into the sea.
At this point, with the sahuagin still warily watching the ship, the crew refused to take them through the dangerous passage through Shargon's Teeth without a sahuagin guide.
As desperation set in, another negotiator swam up to the boat.
It was soon settled. The party would travel to a nearby island to kill something called a "not fish" (language barrier) and return with the heart in a magic bag provided by the sahuagin. The sailors would stay with the ship.
After rowing for a few hours, the party pulled their lifeboat onto a deserted stretch of beach and stared into the dense jungle.
When willing the "not fish" to emerge failed, they tramped off into the brush.
It wasn't long before Huor caught sight of a tripwire leading to a large spiked ball of bamboo hanging overhead. As Hour disabled the trap, he spotted a large, dark-skinned figure with a long spear watching them.
The creature spoke, "Why'd you bust my trap?"
There was an uncomfortable few moments as the party tried to determine that this person, a large amphibious Orca-patterned "darfellen" named Oolibjub, was not something the sahuagin would refer to as a "not fish".
He told them he was hunting a girallon, a large four-armed, white-furred gorilla beast, in the jungle. He was hunting it in part to protect the small fishing village on the other side of the island and in part to keep the evil sahuagin from using the heart of the beast in some foul ritual.
A lengthy discussion followed. It was decided by the dark elf guide Zaxxon that they would help Oolibjub hunt the creature and then, if necessary, kill him and take the heart.
They spent more than a day with the darfellen. It was enough time to determine that he was probably right. While it could cost the crew their lives, the heart could not be delivered to the sahuagin.
Then they found the girallon perched on top of some giant ruins deep in the jungle. The beast threw a rock at them, narrowly missing Oolibjub. While the party took position, Zaxxon placed a globe of magical darkness over the creature forcing it down from it's nest.
The party blasted it with spells, sneak attacks and giant-sized weapons until it collapsed. Then they gathered the heart into the preservative bag while Oolibjub watched reproachfully.
"I don't want to fight all of you . . . " he began.
"Good!" yelled Huor, grabbing the bag and dashing for the beach. Marcus and Zaxxon followed, carefully matching his footsteps to avoid still-active traps.
Oolibjub stared at Kane across the rapidly cooling corpse of the monster.
"I understand your position," he announced.
"We can't let the crew die," Kane clarified.
"I know," the darfellen answered, "but will you make this right?"
"These herbs will allow you to breathe underwater. Observe the ritual and, if it fails, continue your journey in peace. If it works -- and their prince gains the awful power he expects -- kill him."
At once, Kane promised this would be done.
Of course, there was a lot of debate over who would join Kane in the water when the time came.
In the end, everyone swam down to watch the ritual, which took place just after the difficult passage through Shargon's Teeth.
Before it began, Huor challenged the prince (on behalf of Kane) to honorable single combat. Unfortunately for Kane, the ritual worked. It granted extra strength to the prince and a set of extra arms. As the prince swam forward, he threw a trident at the half-giant and drew first blood.
Kane wasn't happy about this. Aided by the spells cast by his companions before the battle, Kane used his giant glaive to hold the creature at bay and eventually defeat him.
The party was allowed to leave unchallenged.
They arrived in the largest inhabited city on the continent, Stormreach, later that day. Immediately, they set about booking passage towards Mal-Banom.
They knew the trip overland would take almost a year. They also knew that they could save about three months by booking travel on a boat part of the way.
Of course, finding passage was not easy.
The affordable boat was most likely engaged in either piracy or slaving.
The nice boat cost over twice what they had to spend.
The route was just unprofitable for everyone.
In the end, Marcus visited the local branch of his church and was advised to visit Gralnak the hobgoblin down the beach. Gralnak had a boat, was a recent convert to the Silver Flame, and was in pretty desperate need of work.
The price was set, Gralnak readied the boat, and they set sail the following morning -- half a week behind the green-eyed warforged.
Soon, the water level dropped too much (heart of the dry season) and, as the boat dragged the bottom, Gralnak jumped out to pull with a rope. Kane joined him in the water.
Part of the bank seemed to shift. Kane stepped in front of Gralnak to protect him and a large, slime-covered lobster creature emerged from the shore, grabbed him and crushed him with massive claws. From underneath, tentacles threatened to paralyze him.
Huor jumped off the bow of the boat and landed on the creature, but he slid off the thick slime coat without leaving any lasting damage on the monster.
Gralnak moved to attack the creature and Zaxxon cast spell after spell, slowly hurting it.
As Marcus healed him, Kane psionically dissolved part of the creature's claw. It wasn't fast enough to prevent the creature from crushing him into unconsciousness and moving on to smash Gralnak.
Marcus spent the next few moments healing Gralnak and Kane enough to keep them alive. Then the creature grabbed him and began to crush.
Kane had recovered enough to join Zaxxon and Huor in attacking the beast and it was defeated before it could eat Marcus.
As the characters rested on the deck of the ship, the players noticed that they had spent an entire gaming session without having to divide up treasure. Yay!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Casual jeans Friday! Casual jeans Friday! Casual jeans Friday!

It is still important to celebrate -- even without a formal structure.
Tonight we plan to celebrate by rolling dice in anger Dungeons and Dragons style.

Also, Joe brought brisket (two varieties) and the whole pile of meat is smoking away outside like a Waffle Shop waitress.

Mmmmm . . . Waffles.

Today was another all about the phone day. Also, it is rather warm in Houston. You know what that means. Cell phone ear sweat syndrome. Gross.

Tomorrow we are attending the Ballunar Festival at NASA. The last time we visited NASA we tried the wrong (non-tourist) entrance and were turned away by rifle-wielding MPs. It was awesome.
I'm just hoping this will be a clown-free festival.

I've got geeky blog topics planned for next week. Sadly, there are no other plans for next week.

Seriously. We finished Season 1 of Lost through NetFlix this week. That was the big accomplishment.

My descent into madness continues soon.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


What happened today?


I'm out of Splenda.

I mean, we have Splenda for baking in the big suspiciously light boxes. You just can't put that in coffee. Can you?

I can't. It froths up un-naturally. Seriously. Try it.

Of course, the individual packets made for stirring into beverages cost around a thousand dollars for a box of, like, a hundred or something. Usually, I steal handfuls of those things when I visit Starbucks. For a while, it was seriously my whole reason to wear a jacket to work. Sort of quasi-shoplifting Splenda packets that are technically generally free.

Today was spent mostly talking to recruiters and filling out those online "What is your career goal/dream job?" surveys on all the head-hunter pages. I have yet to speak to one who cares about my goals past my marketable skill set so it is generally wasted time. I have learned that multiple choice what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up tests rarely have enough choices when you hit your thirties.

Someone actually asked me today what style of management I prefer. I asked him if anyone had ever volunteered that they loved to be micro-managed. Does anyone work well with someone hovering? Has it ever helped in a crisis? Saved lives? Made anyone feel respected, trusted or appreciated?

We told the doctor today that I'd lost my job and we would be losing our insurance at the end of the month. He didn't make the sign of the cross and flee the room. I appreciated that.
He said, "What is it you do?"

"I drink a lot," I answered.

Tomorrow is game day. I'm finishing up my monsters, traps, custom poisons, death magics and creepy non-player characters to mislead and torment the players. I doubt I'll have time to figure out treasure or rewards or anything like that. Stupid job search!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Go Team Wednesday!

Sadly, this post started out "Go Team Tuesday!" but I've mostly lost track of the days of the week.
Between yesterday and today six jobs were posted in whatever the hell it is I do and none of them are local. I applied anyway. You know. Like you do . . . .

Maybe the South isn't for us. I cringe whenever Gwynyth says "y'all", even if she is only doing it to make me cringe.
Someone named Gwynyth should never say "y'all". That is why we spelled her name like that. Someone named Gwynyth has to be at the top of the linguistic game. It is kind of like how a boy named "Nancy" would have to learn to fight.
Also, the charm of the South is just wearing off. I've lived in or visited every southern state and no one has ever offered my a mint julep. Not once, my friends. What's up with that?

Where is the hospitality? What are we? Bostonians?

And if people from Boston are Bostonians, what does that make people from this southern community?

The South is all hot and waspy anyway.

To clarify, the South is hot and waspy in a high-temperature nest-building stinging insect way as opposed to my own (soon to be patented) "hot and WASPy" which refers to my prettiness and my refusal to confront unpleasant things directly. Such as wasps. In the heat.

Thank you.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Overall, living in suburban Texas is good. Sure, we have our share of crime. Citizens band together from time to time in Texas to get justice for themselves and their community. In the end, as is always the case, it is all about the bling.
We also have an awesome opportunity to name a city park. I may be mistaken, but I think this is possibly the park where a former co-worker and I saw a crack head strip naked and run around hugging people while we ate nachos in the mall across the street. I remember that incident as one of the first times I really really knew we lived in a big city. I also remember it as the largest grouping of mounted police I've ever seen.
Anyway, I'm hoping for the "Goya Jalapeno Jogging Trail" to become a reality.
I've got nothing better to do than name the park. Also, dinner for two could rock.

1. Beats-Sleeping-at-the-Bus-Station Acres
2. Medical Waste Park
3. Are you done with that chili dog?
4. Hometown Mugs
5. Didn't-This-Used-To-Be-A-Waste-Water-Plant Fields?
6. w00+ Place
7. Better Have My Money Trails
8. Shallow Graves
9. Tag Land
10. Land in the Flood Plain We Couldn't Sell to a Yankee

Monday, August 21, 2006

Is it just me or do the job boards slow down to nothing on Mondays? I have a theory that recruiters sit on the good stuff until the end of the week, then post everything on Friday morning before going to play golf. Of course, it could just be that I'm staring at them entirely too much.
Or not enough.
I finished the book I picked up from the library earlier, Dragons of the Dwarven Depths. You know how people are drawn to comfort foods in times of stress? In addition to high-fiber low carbohydrate hemp-based macaroni and cheese, I'm drawn to comfort books.
This latest book by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman is a blatant attempt to cash in on their former glory. I remember picking up Dragons of Autumn Twilight at Waldenbooks in Montgomery, Alabama in 1984. My Grandfather was always up for taking me to the book store and enabling my geekier leanings.
There were two other books in that series, followed by sequels, prequels, spin-offs, collections of short stories, anthologies, and source books totaling well over a hundred titles.
This book was the first novel-length return to the middle of the original story arc featuring the original main characters. Like I said, it is a definite attempt to cash back in on the old-school Dragonlance golden age.
And on every level it works.
I re-read the original trilogy when they released the annotated version in 1999. However, the characters in this series are so memorable that it is very easy to pick it back up - in this case in the time period between the first and second book. Same story, same people, same issues. Literary comfort food.

Odd bit of trivia: This hardbound 435 page book has fewer grams of fiber than a bowl of hemp-based, gluten-free, whole-grain macaroni and cheese, too.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Saturday! My day to relax after a grueling three half-days professionally sitting. And milling. At least milling on one of the half-days.
I started out the morning brushing up on some white papers. After lunch, we went to the Katy Visual and Performing Arts Center for an open house. These kids have no qualms about getting up in front of (literally) over a thousand people to sing Disney songs really loudly. I spent most of the time wrestling Gwynyth (who does not take classes there) away from the stage.
They eventually let her participate in an authentic minstrel show. Here she is getting all made up:

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Smell the history!

While there were no clowns, there was a magician who also made balloon animals and giant balloon sculptures. He was (hopefully) called away in mid-project just before I took this picture at his booth:

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If that was his finished product I'd have to call it the saddest poodle I've ever seen!

The job search is too depressing to blog about so here is a picture of an adorable kitten:

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Today I again polished my 1337 Court TV extra skillz. Probably due to my total outclassing of the "Millers" and the "Standers" yesterday, today I was instructed to sit still and not call attention to myself. Jealousy is just so sad.
I stole chocolates for Gwynyth from the snack table.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hey! Let's see what Google AdWords does with this:

Today I spent another seven hours on the set of Cristina's Court.
I saw four cases. By the second case, I was longing for a fist fight.
In the third case I thought we would have one.
You see, there was a property dispute between two homosexual women centering around who got the family photos and who owns the PT Cruiser.
Also, apparently one of the women (the plaintiff) was not what we in the artistic community would refer to as, you know, "out".
Until Cristina's Court.
Her ex- decided that she took issue with the repeated use of the word "roommate" and also pointed out a ceremony in Vermont.
Today I wisely brought a book and blended in with the regulars a little better. Then I was promoted to "Miller" status. As those of us "in the business" know, these elite Court TV extras mill about before the cases start. I made the unheralded leap from "Stander" to "Miller" in just one day, people.
I haven't forgotten all the other, crappier, less-important extras either. After a particularly stunning performance before the case of the bad ex-boyfriend and the unpaid cell phone bill I took my place back at the inside edge of row two and announced to everyone (not just the awesome) that in my estimation, "we nailed it." Not I . . . No, we nailed it.
We certainly did.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

For someone that watches no TV, it has consumed quite a bit of the past couple of days for me.
NBC offered a preview DVD of two of their new shows coming out this fall free through Netflix to generate word of mouth. Last night we watched them both.
Kidnapped was good. "The Accountant" is the best part. I thought it was dark and eerie and as a parent I found it disturbing.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was completely awesome. I'd almost get cable just for that. I know NBC is a broadcast network, but it is a hassle. The show is funny and compelling and genuine seeming. Of course, Matthew Perry is always funny. Or maybe I just have a new appreciation for drugged up people.
Today, I contributed to society by working as a paid extra on Cristina's Court. At one point, she doled out judicial wisdom in Spanish and it felt unnatural and forced. Then I found out how very wrong my perception was given her history.
Anyway, hanging out with the other extras was interesting. I've spent too long away from theatre people. I've become the stiff.
On the bright side, I sat right next to the lady from the SwivelSweeper commercial (recently translated into Japanese). I didn't have the heart to tell her I've never heard of it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Holy crap I've got a lot of time to try out new weird web stunts. I've started playing with TrailFire because I think it could have a lot of interesting applications. I used it to set up a new players resource guide for Dungeons and Dragons.
I did not include a link to the Character Optimization message board, but only because I am currently acting as Dungeon Master so I have to pretend like I hate that powergaming crap.
There are probably less geeky uses. A person could send information to a co-worker, friend or parent with friendly web annotation.
I could create and link together sixteen blogs to email to a person about why they suck. If I knew crappy people. And had free time. And sixteen blog accounts.
I hope there are safeguards in place to prevent the display of site which could infect a computer with spyware or malware or crapware. Ok. I made that last term up. I didn't see anything promising safety. My guide is computer and family friendly, but since I naturally turn all things to evil I can already imagine sending someone at a corporate email address a new trail to a couple of work-related site, then switching to an online casino page with 3,000,000 pop up ads. Or worse. Or much, much worse. I can hardly wrap my brain around how much worse it can get.
I've also left comments on the pages in my trail. For the record, there are no curse words although there seems to be no curse word filter. That may be the coolest part. It feels like tagging. I'm all about tagging.
I'm all about way too much free time, too.
Saturday Morning Summer 1984 Thundarr

80's TV = w00+!
Look everyone! A fascinating day-in-the-life post by a guy with no job.
Now that I have a solid snapshot, I can share the schedule.
Around 7:30 - Get up, scour the job boards. First, I hit (that's what you do, you know), then Computerjobs, then any of a host of pretender websites which sometimes turn out to have more valid stuff than the first two I check anyway.
~8:15 - Freak out as I realize I haven't had any coffee. For the good of the family, I have a cup.
8:30 - Blog, probably. At the same time, I email and continue to f5 the job pages hoping something awesome with my actual name in the title has shown up.
9:15 - Holy crap! There is no more coffee. Do I want more? Do I need more?
9:17 - Start another pot of coffee.
9:30 - I start getting "You-have-already-applied-to-this-position" warning messages from various job sites. My searches start to become more random.
10:05 - Fully up-to-date on the status of Brad and Angelina's relationship, I develop a creepy small muscle spasm under my left eye.
10:20 - Shana notices the spasm and recommends something for us to do.
11:00 - Lunch process begins.
12:30 - Lunch clean up is complete.
12:40 - Activity time.
3:30 - "I wonder if anything new showed up on the job boards?"
5:00 - Dinner process, followed by a dash through tennis, driving, bedtime story (currently Ramona Quimby: Age 8) and bedtime.
8:15 - More job searches.
9:00 - EverQuest - Miyokko the sixth level BeastN00b battles moon goblins. Freaking moon goblins. Someday they'll pay.
11:30 - Bed and Sustained Silent Reading time.

Holy crap I need a job.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Day time TV, people. Why was I not warned?
We get the six or seven channels surrounding the cable modem signal. This gives us Lifetime, Bravo, MSNBC and some other junk including home shopping.
Ah, home shopping.
So. In order to watch 45 minutes of crap tv, I have to sit through 15 minutes of crap commercials?
If I want Blu-blockers, I'll buy them online.
And if I order the Blu-blockers, the Shed-Ender and the Auto-Cool all at one I can combine shipping. Just like buying 11 vintage action figures at once from the same boring loser in Akron. Not that there is anything wrong with Akron or being a boring loser. Trust me. I know Akron.
So this one time, I had a job. And at this job, there was a morale-building booze fest at Dave & Busters where there were video games and fabulous prizes.
I didn't spend my game card because I intended to bring Gwynyth back at some point. She loves playing the games and winning tickets, then cashing in the tickets in exchange for whatever she likes from the prize hole.
Today being the last full day of summer for her ("Meet the Teacher" is tomorrow) featured the abuse of that game card.
Someday, Gwynyth will ride a tour bus to Vegas and she will be one of those cranky ladies who parks herself in front of the nickel slots for hours and hours and hours, swilling gin and letting the ash on her cigarette get really creepy long.
In a little over an hour, she had obtained enough points for an Air-Zooka and a weird gooey thing with tentacles -- both blue.
Later today, we will all play some tennis. If it weren't for the near total financial panic, I'd consider this life of leisure people aspire to live.
I'm looking forward to "Meet the Teacher". I may change out of my pajama bottoms for that.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Since I'm open to moving anywhere, I'm spending a lot of time online researching every geographic possibility.
While my current situation totally has us burned out on Houston, I fear that we are a bit spoiled when it comes to the amenities that come with living in the fourth largest city on the planet.
I have to examine everything. Starbucks per capita? The possibility of seeing live theatre from time to time?
I have a possibility in Phoenix currently and I've even been comparing the merits of the Phoenix Suns vs. The Houston Rockets. Did you know Phoenix has had a franchise for close to 40 years? Division champs this year, too. Hmmm . . . .
Most Google searches mention Charles Barkley a lot, but he has been off the roster since '96.
How much impact does a team have on the over all feel of a city?
I know when the Astros were doing great last year it gave the whole city a weird tingle. I also saw them choke in the last inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks and saw the air sucked completely out of Minute Maid Park.
I know. It's hot. Like surface of the sun hot. But the fact that it is a "dry" heat makes a definite difference. Right? Right?

The library came through for me again. This gets more and more important as unemployed time stretches on and on and on.
Anyway, I picked up Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid in beautiful soft-covered graphic novel format.
First published in 2003, this series is a clear attempt to not only refresh the origin story but also to bridge the gap between the well-known Justice League version of Superman and the insanely popular WB Smallville version.
The Superman Returns movie earlier this summer showed through the audience demographic that the movie version of Superman hasn't changed with the times enough to speak to younger audiences.
Anybody over thirty is able to associate Superman with a more simple time.
Anyone younger has grown up in a much more frightening post 9-11 world.
Birthright starts with the destruction of Krypton as any self-respecting Superman origin story should. Unlike in the movie, the "S" is not a family crest but is a global symbol of peace and unification. Kal-El is draped in a flag instead of a baby blanket.
A tablet PC looking device (which is a birthday gift intended for Jor-El) chronicles the history of Krypton and is thrust last minute into the escape rocket.
Further, Earth is selected because of the energy given from the young yellow sun and because the gravity is .03% of Krypton's standard gravity.
So --
After that scene, the comic immediately shifts to freelance investigative reporter Clark Kent. Clark is in Africa interviewing a tribal leader who is trying to make life better for his people.
Touched by this leader's extraordinary strength and sacrifice, Clark returns to Kansas to talk to his mom about superhero-ing part-time.
The Kents are also slightly different and I like the changes. Upstanding if plain Kansas farm people is about as far as it ever got before, but in this version their role is slightly more.
In addition to providing Superman with his sense of right and wrong and hard work and decency, they also help him with his search for who he is.
In the same way that the parents of Olympic gymnasts become experts in judging standards and parents of autistic children become experts in child development -- Martha Kent (screen name "Area52") has become an expert on UFO's.
She helps him create his costume from the flag of Krypton.
"But these bright colors? People will see you coming from a mile away. And no mask?" she asks the questions all good geeks ask from time to time.
"No, Mom. No mask. People have to trust me. You can't trust someone you don't see coming and you can't trust someone in a mask."
So, she helps disguise the six-pack abs and advises him to slouch more as Clark.
Jonathan Kent contributes the glasses.
After reaching Metropolis, he has a run in with Lex Luthor. There is a flashback to the year Lex spent in Smallville as a classmate of Clark.
Lois is Lois.
Another update is that there are a LOT of references to the online edition of the Daily Planet.
Further, Clark chats a lot with "Area52". His screen name (and lately mine) is "MildMannered".
The tone is darker, overall. Superman will never be Batman gritty, but he shouldn't be. The dirt and grime of society can be reflected in the story without having to change who Superman is.
In once scene that struck me, Superman catches a criminal who held a little girl at gun point. He takes the criminal's gun and points it at him.
"You held this gun to the head of a nine-year-old girl. That feeling will never leave her." and he fires the gun, point blank, into the criminal's face.
In the next frame, we see that Superman has caught the bullet in his hand. As he drops it he says, "and now it will never leave you, either."
I think the emphasis is drawn a lot from the classic description "disguised as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent . . ." The key seems to be that Superman is who he is. Clark Kent is the disguise. He spends a lot of time coping with his never fitting in, to the point that the Clark Kent persona becomes that background guy at the office. The guy who gets forgotten. The guy who no one can remember attending the Christmas party but who was probably there.
For the record, Birthright is the second attempt at a series reset for Superman. I liked it a lot.
I'll also check out John Byrne's 1986 The Man of Steel.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Jobless weekends are longer than regular weekends.
As I've mentioned before, we have been trying to stave off depression (and boredom) with physical activity. While we still haven't found a tennis raquet for Gwynyth, a quick Google search turned up pink boxing gloves. How precious is that?
Who wouldn't feel better having one's face pounded with cheery pink boxing gloves?
Literally beats the crap out of just about any other form of physical activity in my opinion.
Of course, random internet purchases are kind of on the back burner at the moment as you might imagine.
And physical activity gets the same treatment during the sweaty nasty parts of the day.
I have been reading electronic comics and stuff I picked up at the library. I'm just bored and attention starved enough to write a full review later on.
Saturday I was a bit thrilled to do yardwork for two hours. Yardwork, people.
In short, OMG.

With the continent of Khorvaire in a war of succession for over a hundred years, each of the five nations was looking for their own way to end it.
Thrane, a country in north central Khorvaire long ruled by the fanatical Church of the Silver Flame, was seeking answers from the forgotten past.
On the continent of Xen'drik, giants once ruled an empire and commanded powerful magics lost to the world now for thousands of years. It was the hope of the Church that four of their agents could retrieve some of this magic to end (and possibly win) the war.
The group covertly left Thrane traveling north to the sea. Marcus the Devout, a young warrior and aspirant to the clergy acted as the representative of the Silver Flame. His sister Tanvesa was an expert on Xen'drik lore and an excellent cartographer. Huor Tinuvil, a changeling "requisitions specialist" was assigned to open locks and disarm traps for the group. Rounding out the group, Serba the warforged (living machine) paladin acted as bodyguard for the more delicate members.
Booking passage with military vessels, merchants and privateers, the party spent the better part of eight months rounding the eastern side of the continent, finally making landfall on the southern tip of Khorvaire. From there, they boarded a supply ship bound for Stormreach on the southern continent of Xen'drik.
Another vessel deposited them on the eastern shore and left a small skiff for them to use to return to Stormreach.
For three months the group traveled into the un-explored interior of Xen'drik following legends known only to Tanvesa. Eventually, they reached the lost giant city of Mal-Banom where they defeated a tribe of gnolls to claim a locked box which was given to Tanvesa to study.
On the way back to the coast, the party stumbled across ruins even older than those in Mal-Banom. Tanvesa and Huor began to study them immediately while the others stood guard.
Ignoring a shouted warning from Huor, Tanvesa triggered a spear trap sized for the giants who inhabited the site before it was abandoned -- killing her instantly.
It was then that the party heard skittering from the underbrush behind them.
Serba scooped up the body of the fallen Tanvesa and Huor grabbed the box from Mal-Banom. With Marcus the Devout guarding their flank, the party began a sprint to cover the last bit of jungle between themselves and the skiff.
They caught glimpses of their pursuers enough for Marcus to identify them as skiurids -- evil rodents from the shadow realm. They are nasty by themselves, but this sounded like a group of fifty or more. As the group barreled down the path, it became evident that the skiurids were gaining on them.
After Marcus called upon his innate powers of illumination, a wave of dark energy from the skiurids passed over the group, hurting Marcus and weakening him.
"Leave her! She is slowing you down!" Huor shouted at Serba, flinging Tanvesa's body down a small embankment.
"Yes, that is just a shell. My sister has been accepted into the warmth of the Flame. Leave her," Marcus agreed as he drew his sword and prepared to face the evil creatures.
"I know that," Serba growled,"But that shell carried the map!" He dove into the underbrush after the corpse.
Serba took a nasty bite from a skiurid in retrieving Tanvesa, but Marcus succeeded in knocking the rest of the evil rodents off his companion.
The group began to slow as they noticed the rodents and other larger shapes had begun to take up positions in front of them.
Suddenly, a dark humanoid shape appeared in the path. A dark-skinned elf wearing armor made from the discarded shells of the giant scorpions that inhabit Xen'drik waved them down a different path.
As Serba could detect no evil about this stranger (and none of the group were anxious to be swarmed and eaten by evil squirrels) they began to follow a narrow path, little more than a game trail, seemingly away from where the boat was hidden.
Marcus noticed the strange lizard creatures first. One on each side, they were running in parallel with the trail. While each was the size of a ten-year-old human child, the similarity ended there. They were un-naturally fast, covered in scales and carried wicked looking curved blades that seemed to have been made to rest in the crooks of their odd reptilian arms.
In no hurry to add to their list of mortal enemies, Marcus held his bow at the ready but did not fire . . . Until the beasts rushed out of the undergrowth and attacked Huor.
Marcus managed to pierce one with an arrow and a thrown sword by Serba drove the other one back to allow his companions to make it across an ancient bridge over a deep ravine.
As Serba himself started across at last, a tall figure with green glowing eyes stepped out of the jungle behind him.
"Return the path," said the figure who, upon closer inspection, appeared to be some kind of corrupted warforged.
"Return the what?" Serba stalled, trying to buy his companions time enough to start down the goat path on the far cliff face that led down to the river.
The green-eyed 'forged laughed as twin rust monsters emerged from the underbrush on the far side of the chasm, drawn to the scent of the metal in Serba's armored form.
"Flame take you!" Serba roared, throwing himself into the air and landing hard against the ancient wooden bridge.
With a loud crack, the bridge toppled into the gap. Serba managed to jump to freedom, but he dropped Tanvesa into the swirling mists below.
As the green-eyed warforged slipped into the jungle on the southern side of the canyon, Serba sprinted down the path on the northern side after his companions. He felt the acidic breath of the rust monsters as they ran after him like cat-sized metal-eating roaches.
At the bottom of the cliff, the group had a moment to rest and down the few healing potions they had left.
The dark elf introduced himself as Zaxxon Kol'Chak, late of the Sting of Ral-Abesh tribe of Drow. He had seen the plight of the companions and knew that they were being pursued by an evil warforged named Purge who had been trying to drive Zaxxon's people off their ancestral lands for the past few seasons. He also knew that while the artifact they carried was of interest to Purge, it was also stolen from Mal-Banom. Aiding them would violate taboo and earn him eternal banishment, but letting the artifact fall into the hands of Purge would mean extinction for his people. His decision to travel with these strangers was permanent.
Perhaps finally giving in to the grief of losing his sister, Marcus agreed to send Serba back up the river for Tanvesa's remains.
They offered to wait for one day at the boat for Serba to return. After that, they would get the box back to Thrane.
While Serba trudged back up river, the other three headed for the skiff.
The beach nearest was guarded by four of the strange lizard creatures, who drew weapons and attacked. Zaxxon threw a fire enchantment at the one in the lead and, with the aid of a dagger thrown by Huor, the companions were no longer out numbered.
Marcus cleaved through another two and, as Huor fell unconscious from blood loss, the fourth thought better of attacking this group and sprinted for the jungle. Marcus struck it down as it passed.
After reviving Huor and setting him to the task of opening the box, Marcus and Zaxxon examined the fallen lizard creatures.
The box contained a well-preserved book written in the ancient language of the giants. According to Zaxxon's translation, the book detailed the magical properties of an amulet called "The Mortal Path."
While Huor and Zaxxon discussed the amulet, Marcus stared hard at the mouth of the river -- willing Serba to return, with or without the remains of his sister.
Even with an extra day and a half, Serba never walked back out of that jungle.
The survivors began the journey back to Thrane, which took most of a year. They continued to do work for the church until the war ended. A short time later, the three were summoned back to the Cathedral of the Silver Flame for an audience. They were introduced to their new half-giant guide, Kane Drywell, and ordered back to Mal-Banom to contain an evil that had been active since they had last visited.
Able to travel openly this time, the group took the lightening rail to the large southern city of Sharn, where a ship had been chartered for them by the church.
On their way to secure passage through the difficult crossing from the savage sahuagin shark people, the group was attacked by two men wearing the evil emblem of the Emerald Claw. Huor noticed a familiar green-eyed warforged watching from a near by balcony as Kane revealed his psychic gift by growing to over thirty feet in height and carving the assailants up with a giant pole axe.
After the battle and the subsequent interview by the Sharn City Watch, there was no sign of Purge.
In a seedy dock-side tavern, Huor negotiated a deal for the ship chartered by the church to be escorted through the dangerous shipping lane to Stormreach known as Shargon's Teeth. However, when the party went to check in with the ship, they discover it had already sailed. The harbor master informed them it sailed about an hour after a strange looking green-eyed warforged showed up with a group of Emerald Claw soldiers.
Quickly arranging for alternate transport, the party set sail a day behind Purge.
They have no deal arranged with the sahuagin for their own transport and hope that whatever gold they throw overboard at the appointed time will be enough.

I think the next game is in two weeks.
I have a stinking lot of logins to stuff. Pretty much if it is on the internet and requires a username and password you can bet that I've got an account.
I like the sites that let me log in with my email address because that is easy to remember. On the other hand, at least one of those has signed me up for free unsolicited stock tips.
At any rate, using the smae password for all of them is a horribly bad practice, but leaving a printed list stuck to a monitor or under a keyboard is almost as bad.
Sadly, I've seen this kind of account pile up escalate to past co-workers using a SpectorSoft keystroke logger just to keep it all straight.
While I think that is a bit much, and the shorter path is to drink less during lunch, this type of software can actually be a decent part of an online defense strategy for families.
I'm not one to endorse employee monitoring. Studies have shown that internet access at work increases productivity over all.
Children, however, should be monitored as though they got caught stealing from the Gap.
In the past, this type of tracking software was reactive. Often the logs are accessed after awful stuff has happened. The newer versions monitor for unsafe types of activity and email the parent (or if configured correctly text message the parent's mobile phone) immediately.
Overall, I'm impressed. Of course, as soon as they start offering a GPS tracking chip implant for little girls ours will be in line like we are waiting for another episode of Star Wars.
The newer stuff no longer requires a suspicious bit of hardware, either. It really runs pretty invisibly. I'd bet that even technically proficient and extremely paranoid kids could miss it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Yesterday was all about the museum. There is honestly only so much job hunting a person can do in a day. A few hours online beats a few days of hand delivering resumes.
Anyway, we went to the Museum of Fine Arts (hacks even drawing on envelopes sometimes), the Children's Museum (screaming herds of kids trying to destroy the displays) and the Museum of Medical Science (the one where you walk into the giant mouth and tour through giant reproductions of various organ systems).
The giant brain was cool. Gwynyth and I decided to go for a zombie theme so here is a picture of us devouring the giant brain:

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Mmmm . . . Brains! BRAAAAINS!!!!

We later played a game of "Mind Ball" where the goal is to clear one's mind to move the ball into the opposing goal. Alpha and Theta waves are displayed in real time. I'm player #2:

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Yep. I'm an absolute mental flat-line, people. At least I'm not stressed.
Gwynyth was player #1. It was an heroic effort at relaxation on her part, but you can't beat me at drawing a blank.
I was quickly ushered away after offering to thrash all comers in a non-stop steel-cage razor-wire slack-fest.
Don't hate the player, Museum of Medical Science -- Hate the game.
Plans for today include . . . Well, I was looking forward to posting this.
I also looked for a job already. I'll do that again after lunch.

Oh, tonight is game night. Old-school, pencil and paper Dungeons and Dragons! Rolling dice in anger! I don't have enough dice for this much anger!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

As I'm expecting a giant job offer to arrive by email any second, I've taken to reading all my email a little more closely.
In an effort to drag this blog back towards the geeky (since the "pretty" part is in-freaking-arguable) I'll take a moment to discuss an email I got from Lynda Rodgers late Wednesday afternoon.
Now, this email turned up in my spam folder. The subject -- "Re: Of sing in headquarters" left no doubt that the spam folder was the correct place for it.
Knowing that the safeguards in my operating system and the mail program are set to block anything nasty (worms, trojans, pop-up ads) I opened and read

"How the time wears, I know not; until I am recalled by my she really is a - he seemed to be describing clouds about himself, muffled him in a towel and shut him up there, whenever my aunt was Now I was ragged, wanting to sell Dora matches, six bundles for a if my calculation is correct, amounting to forty-one, ten, eleven Street, fronting Hyde Park, on which he had always had his eye, but them, and finding it empty, and a good fire burning, I took him in lay that book upon the table, and look at it outside; compact in When, under cover of the night, I flew to Miss Mills, whom I saw by He had provided himself, among other things, with a complete suit Is that all? repeated my aunt. Why, yes, thats all, except, on seeing me come in; and having welcomed me as usual, took her and wildness returned upon her, and she fled afore the very breath You are a dissipated fellow, as all the world knows, he said, green then, and the day being sunny, a pair of glass doors leading when I saw you pass again, to ask you to step in and speak to her. that they may believe in him. For this reason, I retained my removed from me. When we had engaged this domicile, I bought some or carry something there, or take something up, or put something I thankee agen, sir, he said, heartily shaking hands. I know beach; and stood in knots, talking compassionately among unaltered mile of the rich country and its pleasant streams, were looking over one another, bore one another down, and rolled in, in once shook the foundations of the sacred confidence and usage, in about the people being hungry and discontented down in the North, his face, he looked, to me, as vigorous and robust, withal as in my sense of responsibility to Dora and her aunts. I will only Peggotty, once more, looking but for her dress as if she had such charge and trouble on you, and who would have made your home a pernicious absurdity, that but for its being squeezed away in a figure without trembling; for this gloomy end to her determined the wandering faces. I never speak to him at such an hour. I know took up his position behind her. The air of wicked grace: of have a bloodhound at his back, than little Mowcher. are a generous boy - I suppose I must say, young man, now - and I"

It looked familiar. But why would a spammer (who also included an unsolicited stock tip) include a block of random text from
David Copperfield?
Because Lynda and her spamming cohorts are doing an internet-wide reset of the spam filters we all rely on. Eventually, enough text slips through that the spam definitions evolve and suddenly a lot more will be getting into our actual in-boxes. I thought I was onto something cool, then saw an article in the Wall Street Journal that proved I was a step behind the real spam police.

While I've sent personal notes to most people who have offered job leads I'd like to thank everyone all at once in public as well. I've got awesome friends. You guys rule.
I'm not getting any better at tennis, unfortunately. My pro-career took a permanent detour when my seven-year-old laughed at me. Several times. Long and loud. With youthful abandon.
I'll continue to practice but I'll need a source of revenue soon.

I confessed to my friend Jason yesterday about an incident earlier in the day on Monday. Cosmically, it clued me in more than anything else that my time at that job was coming to an end.
Several months ago, I researched completing my master's degree in an attempt to be more marketable. I accidentally gave out my real cel phone number, too.
So. About 9am on Monday I got a call from a strange area code and answered it thinking it might be someone from far away wanting to hire me away from all this.
It wasn't. It was a guy from one of those online universities.
By the time we had established that, I had already made it outside for a private discussion.
"Our records show that you have a career in IT. You can get your Master's in Information Technology in about two years," he started.
"I can't commit to that, or anything at this time."
"Don't you think a Master's degree would be good for your career?" he persisted.
"I don't know what would be good for my career right now."
Slight pause.
"What do you mean?" he asked the question he never should have asked.
I unloaded. To paraphrase:
"Yeah only I'm really really questioning whether helping my career in IT is really something I want. Between you and me, I hate this crap. Whenever someone asks me what my career goals are all I can come up with is 'I'd like to continue living in a house and feeding my family'. If there were anything else I felt at all qualified to do I'd be doing that right now because between off-shoring and automation, the jobs seem to be getting crappier and crappier and the compensation gets worse and worse and there is no shortage of systems that get broken needlessly because of off-shoring and automation. Why would I want to do this better? This sucks, my friend. Being more qualified to do something I hate does not seem like the path to happiness, to me."
My breakdown was followed by another slight pause.
"How about an MBA? Every career benefits from an MBA."
A little embarrassed for having sobbed on a telemarketer, I asked to be placed on a list to be called back in a few months.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Yesterday was kind of fun in a lot of ways.
I filled out my employee satisfaction survey, but it was pretty unsatisfying.
First, there were questions like "Do you feel that management values your opinions?" and "Do you get clear direction from your supervisors?"
There were no questions like "Do you feel that your manager is an asshat?" and "When you snap, how many co-workers do you plan on taking with you? 1-10? 11-20? 21-50? Tri-state killing spree?"
Anyway, the form was back-ended on a database on our network. Needless to say, when the results are tallied at the end of the week, somehow 321% of employees would rate their overall experience as "Extremely Poor".
Also, there is a LOT of cursing in the comments section.
Either way it's over for me.
Ten minutes before I was supposed to leave I got my "even-though-you-had-the-vacation-time-we-are-firing-you-for-attending-your-wife's-uncle's-funeral" paperwork and was escorted from the building.
I don't think I've ever been escorted from the building.
When my contract ended at Reliant (along with all the other contracts of people not living in India) I locked the doors behind myself and turned off the lights.
So this morning I slept in.
Plans for today include a mid-day screening of Charlotte's Web and some tennis. Maybe a trip to the pool.
I should also scrape the job boards to see what flakes off.

Monday, August 07, 2006

We made some stops on the way back.
After listening to me complain the whole way up about never getting to go to a cave, Shana veered off the road and entered a state park. By some strange coincidence, this is the very same state park her family camped at every summer while she was growing up. Needless to say, she knew where the caves were.
After daring each other to hike the mile and a half into the mountains, we jumped out at the same time. Gwynyth was pretty horrified but ended up hiking the whole thing in her pajamas.
Here I am with some mountains and caves in the background:
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You can probably tell I'm stunned.
I saw some caves. The official Devil's Den cave was cool, but the "Devil's Ice Box" cave actually blows cold air through some natural process I don't understand. I thought it was awesome, even having hiked there in backless shoes.
In another unplanned stop yesterday, we stumbled across the Russell Stover chocolate factory and the associated factory outlet.
We have enjoyed the sugar-free stuff they produce for years and this was a great chance to pick up pounds of it for next to nothing.
Of course, some of it is nearly expired probably, and the labels are written in Spanish sometimes.
I don't know what this means . . .
"Este producto puede causar diarreas pasajeras y flatulencia."
. . . But it sounds delicious, doesn't it?
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Ok. I've got about a hundred emails with little red exclamation points next to them. Before I get to those, I need to fill out my "Employee Satisfaction Survey". Anyone who has read along this far will know how that might look when I'm finished. Hey, it is computer based. I'll have some fun with that.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hey everybody,

I'm back in town from the giant Fayetteville/Bentonville/Rogers adventure of '06.
I'm also mostly broken from thousands and thousands of hours in the car. I can only imagine how tired I would be if I had been driving!

I'll be back at work tomorrow. Although my paperwork was completed according to process, I got a text message on Friday asking where I was. I hadn't been at my desk since Tuesday.



Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The road is harsh, people. Seriously, seriously harsh.
We decided to stop for the night in Paris. While quick to surrender, the natives smell strongly of ash tray and stale vomit.
We took a moment to see the sights worth seeing.

Eiffel tower:
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They take safely SRSLY SRSLY:

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The dumpster behind Stubby's:

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Look! Wild life! Actual nature!

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The glory of nature is best experienced first hand.
We were scheduled to stop in Moscow, but it looked completely scary.
We had lunch in beautiful Lufkin, Texas. Aside from finding the ONLY Starbucks on our extremely long trip, we came face to face with the dangers the locals stare down every day.

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We had dinner at a quaint little Scottish cafe. Oddly, the "Quarter Pounder with Cheese" appears on the menu here in Paris as "The Royale with Cheese". I'd never get used to the customs in this strange and wonderful place. I feel fortunate we are leaving first thing Thursday morning.
I survived the meeting yesterday through strategic application of honesty.
What was supposed to have been a lunch meeting turned out to be a crowded-around-my-desk meeting. The people not in the meeting fled to lunch and no one else could leave the NOCC.
Hungry, bitter, and used up, I went over the outline for the meeting.
Hey! It actually looked like I did stuff! And since I was busy all morning fixing broken crap I actually felt like I did stuff.
When we went over my task list I said I was developing a set of scripts to automate everything I'm currently doing. While "developing" is a stretch, I am stealing the scripts off the internet.
The weird convoluted undocumented processes passed on through oral tradition should be scripted. The results should be verified, once per day, by a living person. Preferably not a person living off-shore.
At any rate, I'm attempting for the first time to automate myself out of a job. It goes against my core beliefs as a tech worker, but at this point it is me against the machine so the machine can do the boring part as far as I'm concerned.
What do I do once the scripts are finished? I don't script well. This is taking forever. I'll be ready for retirement long before I can turn these over for use in production. And if, by some miracle, I do get them working, my hard drive will probably get some kind of spike through it accidentally or something. No stress.
Today I'm not at work. We are headed out of town for the rest of the week to attend a funeral.
I'll have my laptop, but updates may be sporadic.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Through the awesomeness that is Coke Reward Points, I upgraded my trial EverQuest account to the full-on whole deal.
You may remember my nostalgic run through the Kobold mines?
Anyway, I'm still fighting with customer service in an attempt to gain access to my old character from back in the day. I left him sitting on the banks of the Lake of Ill Omen. The least I can do is walk him back home.
So I started over with a new account and a new character, still in the Kobold mines, and ran around smashing cave rats, bats and spiders, slowly gaining levels and skills and abilities and gear.
Run up, target the monster, hit "1" for Auto Attack, get a cola, loot the corpse, repeat.
What is the appeal?
I finally figured it out last night. I get no sense of accomplishment at work at all. I have no idea why I still show up. I feel totally superfluous and physically nauseous as soon as I show up in the morning.
Smashing virtual vermin is honest work. I clear the tunnels for my co-workers and protect the weaker players while sharpening my skills, progressing in power and wealth and gaining better equipment.
I get everything I need from a job except the ability to pay my real-life mortgage which is, in turn, the only reason I continue to drive in everyday.
Now that I have this new found awareness, the first order of business is to suppress it during my "Work Week Prioritization" lunch meeting with management.
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"You know, members of the sales team are starting to look like Kobolds to me," makes no sense out of context and just makes me long for a "Rusty Steel Sword" and "Splintered Wooden Shield" to protect the noobs.
Poor noobs. They'll have to protect themselves for a bit.