Tuesday, July 31, 2007

There are certain laws in computing.
I'm not going to pretend that my degree is in computer science.
I'm also not going to deny having skipped the lab day on the one computer class I took in college because it was an unscheduled spur of the moment kind of thing wedged between the abacus and Schickard's calculating clock. The computers were in a "lab" in the sense that the door had a sign indicating such, though none were connected to each other or the outside world.
Side note: I seem to be very, very old.

Part 1. In which the geek describes a basic law of computing

One of these laws I work with every day is this: "In order for people to access a system, they must have (or acquire) the proper permissions to do so."
It seems simple enough. Whoever sets up a computer has to assign people rights to use it. Sometimes a special group called "Everyone" has rights to do whatever they want and sometimes (the times I most enjoy) certain groups of people are only allowed to do certain specific things.
I spend a lot of time making applications available for remote users. These people are granted rights to log on to the machine (even though they never see the actual server) to allow the applications to launch for them. Without rights to log on in some way, they would be out of luck.
All of that makes perfect sense, I hope, because otherwise this next part would be less fun for everyone.

Part 2: In which the basic laws of computing are thrown away and replaced with something entirely non-law-worthy

We have a whole group of servers dedicated to providing remote application access to users. Most of these servers pre-date me, but I know the guy who built them and I know they are built well.
Part of my initial assignment here was to move applications on an old and busted group of servers to this one so that the old and busted servers could be removed and (I guess) sold to a museum.
I got most of the applications moved with no issue. There is one left. We don't have the installation media and I can't find a vendor to tell me if the old database can be moved to the new version of the application. Also, I can't get anyone here to take ownership of the application at all. This situation is what I like to refer to as an application "going feral".
I mentioned it is on an older server. This server is a giant beast of a tan Compaq rack-mounted monstrosity with one power supply, a mostly working array of 4 gig SCSI hard drives and a decided need for someone to hit F1 to allow it to come back to life after a reboot.
I have complete computer access here. Really. Anything and everything I could ever want to do on any system I'm allowed to do. It is my job role and I have that level of access through our permission structure.
I can't access this old Compaq server with the feral application.
When trying to use the Microsoft native remote connectivity method I'm given an "Access is Denied" message. When I try to use a Citrix connection I'm notified that I lack "Permission to Log On Interactively". The third party management application can't find the server on the network and regularly purges it from even the possibility of connecting to it.
Since it is less than 20 feet from me in the server room, I decided early on to just hook up a monitor and keyboard to try to solve the mystery.
The video card is broken, and the keyboard seems to only really respond to "F1".
It is a total black box. I can kind of manage services remotely by bouncing a console off another server on the same subnet, but that doesn't always work.
In fact, no one in my group is able to log on to that machine at all.
And yet, every day people launch that feral app and use it for business purposes.
These people are people with less access than me, so their "Access is Denied" messages should be even more rude than the ones I get.
I was recently asked how the server worked at all if the administrators had no access, since almost by definition the users have less access than we have. I responded that by the laws of computing, and further by all that is good and holy, the server is not and cannot be deploying that application to users. And yet, it is.
I was then asked to provide a plan for decommissioning the server. The plan itself is simple:
First, we drive an aged oaken spike through the CPU. Then the server case should be filled with garlic, or at the very least garlic bread. After this, we burn the server in two separate pyres, one for the chassis and one for the drives.
This plan was received less well than my other, unrelated, plan from yesterday which I will share in case anyone else should find themselves in the midst of a day like I had.
After four hours of meetings about various things, I moved that we table the discussion and reconvene downstairs to continue the discussion over pie. This worked, with the added bonus that I just went back to my cubicle and avoided the rest of the meeting. The only downside? I missed out on pie.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Friday afternoon I ran out of delicious and refreshing Diet Coke Plus in the place where I stash that stuff in my cubicle.
I did my best to not freak out. I checked the system clock on the computer, quickly estimated the time I had left at work against my normal cola consumption to figure out how much Diet Coke I would actually be missing during the remainder of the afternoon. I counted the change in my pocket and decided I could get by just through hitting the Coke machine in the break area.
But they too were out of Diet Coke. Rather than just give in and purchase Diet Dr. Pepper (two buttons on the machine dedicated to that and only one to Diet Coke), I immediately seemed to remember an additional spare 12 pack of Diet Coke Plus in the trunk of the car.
Was it a hallucination brought on by thirst?
Had I already removed and consumed the emergency 12 pack, or had I legitimately forgotten it sealed away in there? Was it maturing like 12 little oak casks of port?
I had no choice but to find out the truth, so I pocketed my quarters and headed for the elevator. As you may have noticed, I do a lot of things by habit. In fact, this blog could end up in a novel years from now titled "Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng : My Life With OCD, n00b".
One of the things I like about getting to work early is that I can park in the same space every day.
It isn't a particularly nice space. There are spaces closer to the elevator. But the space in the middle of a cluster of three spaces between two square columns at the corner of the elevator shaft inaccessible from the garage (ground floor only, those) on level six is my space.
It is quiet, and no one usually parks in the space next to the driver's side because of the angle required to negotiate the corner and the giant square column.
However, as I rounded the corner on my mission to find out if I still had Diet Coke Plus in the trunk, I was confronted with something that had the power to annoy me even on a Friday afternoon.
The Chrysler.
Sometimes someone parks a green Chrysler 300 in the space on my car's passenger side. The 300 has custom plates which let everyone know that it is a Chrysler 300, even though there is a silver badge on the back that serves the same purpose.
Anyway, whenever this car parks next to me, they pretty much ignore the yellow lines. The gentle 45 degree angle employed in parking for those of us who care is abbreviated by the driver of the 300 into a 40 degree one that cuts across the yellow line between our cars and boxes mine in. Whenever I see this car, I know I will have to put my car into forward and reverse no fewer than eight times to get out of my parking space without leaving some of my silver paint on their green car.
I stopped and looked for a few minutes, saddened.
Then I had to walk around the driver's side to get to my trunk because there wasn't room on the passenger's side to even squeeze between the cars.
And I had no Diet Coke Plus in there.
From my new vantage behind the car, I stared daggers at the car boxing mine in. I glanced around to see if anyone would witness my "borrowing" their lugnuts and leaving them in a brown paper bag under the car.
That is when I noticed the security guard on her normal garage patrol.
"Hey!" I waved at her and she walked over, hand inching closer to her Taser in a move that looked as practiced and professional as any I've witnessed in all the times I've been "assisted" by law enforcement.
"Is it just me," I asked, "Or is this just about the worst parking ever?"
"Yeah, that's pretty bad. Looks like they don't want door dings so they park like that." She nodded and pulled a tape measure to check tire distances from yellow lines.
I didn't know they did that. Mine was perfectly symmetrical, by the way. Took me four tries, but I get to work early.
"Well it makes me take forever backing out right into the blind corner here."
"I can write them a ticket." She pulled out a notebook I didn't know they carried and began to note the custom license plate.
"Oh, hey," for some reason I suddenly felt like a tattletale. I knew I should handle this kind of situation on my own, like an adult, with a set of keys held at the proper angle to create a glorious thick spiral of metallic green paint that falls to the floor of the garage with the light tap of justice.
A parking ticket was too far.
"I don't think you have to do that," I noticed that the form was mostly filled out already. I was too late. I had gotten someone in trouble.
"This will just let them know they can't park like this," She put her initials on the bottom of the form and leaned in to stick it to the glass. "It's why I walk down here," she added, adjusting her Taser again, this time in a non-threatening way.
I still felt bad.
"I'm sorry. I really didn't expect that to happen," I gestured at the ticket on the glass, "I feel like a fink."
"Hey, you didn't park like that," she took a tone I'd guess had been practiced on children separated from their parents in a shopping mall, "It was their own fault."
"Okay." I agreed. And my sniffle was completely related to some summer allergies. "I really only wanted to tell someone how very much I hate the driver of this car and how I'd like for them to die somehow and you were the only one down here to tell."
"I know. I noted that in the comments section," she tapped the glass near the ticket.
She hadn't, but I still felt better.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The little guy in the shower inspired me to dig a little deeper into that graphics directory.
I'm more than a little frightened at what I turned up as the possibilities for (I guess) labels on chemical containers.
This whole exercise just serves to validate my career-long assertion that the less I know about what the users do day-to-day the better.
Let's start here:

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It seems that this substance, when formed into a bowling ball, will shoot off rays of light and chunks of . . . something.
You know, I'm a little concerned about what those chunks might be. This situation obviously screams for more than a two color warning label since (just from looking at it) I have no idea what type of chunks I'm supposed to be dodging. Could it be cheese? Even having suffered some quite severe nacho burns at various points in my life I'm not too concerned no matter how fast the cheese is flying at me.
Therefore, I'll have to assume that whatever those chunks are, they have to be worse than cheese. However, in an emergency, I hate to think of our users struggling with that whole cheese/worse-than-cheese problem-solving exercise. This sign should have "Not Cheese" in several languages across the bottom in the interest of saving time/lives.

This brings us to a sign so disturbing it required two versions:

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Whatever is in this barrel will turn the landscape into a wintery wonderland with completely random giant fish.
Those fish are almost as big as the trees!
Obviously, this chemical is like steroids for those people who participate in fishing tournaments on TV. Hey, there are fishing tournaments on TV! Have I mentioned we cancelled cable years ago and don't miss it?
Anyway, hopefully this chemical is part of a standard urine screen for professional sport fisherpersons. We can further hope it isn't diluted into invisibility by Coors.
While it looks at first glance like the fish may be dead, I feel I need to point out that there are dots and not Xs for eyes. That little guy is just laying back, waiting for his moment to shine on whatever channel it is that airs those fishing shows. If he is lucky, he'll get an endorsement deal
out of this -- Perhaps Zima would be interested in tapping the Sport Fish Enthusiast Market.

This next one is just kind of sad:

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"Using the Product in this Barrel Will Cause You to Have No Money". Poor little guy! He's used whatever this is and now has no money for the Coke machine.
The text under this label probably suggests that he affix straps to the barrel and use that as a garment.

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Okay. I've used my employee discount to purchase 3 55 gallon drums of anything marked with this label:

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I'll do research to figure out whether we need to brush it on ourselves, completely submerge in it, or drink the stuff in a "tragic espresso machine accident", but whatever this stuff is -- Somehow it causes superheroism. And, it seems, hair loss.
I can't tell if the lucky guy is glowing with some kind of mutant power or if he has already been drafted by a Top Secret part of the government, given his spandex uniform and assigned the codename "Starburst". All I know for sure is that the terrorists should just freaking give up right now.

Edit: Today (as everyone knows) is the 8th Annual SysAdmins Day. While I've long since given up on the traditional gift (cash), I'd hoped for a cake in the break room shaped like a USB drive which I could politely decline on the grounds that it is "too carby". Or perhaps a big cookie.
So far, no cake or cookie.
Further, no acknowledgement of any kind from Management.
Worst. SysAdmins Day. Ever.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chances are, if a person accesses the internet through a corporate network, their traffic is monitored in some way.
The very lowest tech way is for some kind of hall monitor person to stroll through and glance at screens. They may not officially know pr0n, but they would know it if they see it. Maybe this seems arbitrary to some companies so they just block the whole internet and leave users the ability to access things on the internal network only.
While that thought promises to keep me awake late into the night worrying over all the little data packets which will never live up to their full potential, the other extreme just plain freaks me out.
We had a meeting yesterday with the vendor for the solution we use for web content filtering and talked about their newest product line.
Currently, the system works as a proxy. Requests sent to the internet are routed to that server first, checked against a policy list, and then either approved or denied according to a complex list of designations.
Gaming site? That's out.
News? Okay, but we are timing you.
MySpace? Don't be silly.
Technical support for products we own? Sure. And have a good time.
Pr0n? You know better, and your request has been forwarded to HR for consideration.
Latest article about Lindsay Lohan? Categorized under "contraband substances"
That's fine. I hate censorship, but this has got to be done in today's litigious environment.
The new version does much more than this, though.
For instance, management can "fingerprint" various critical and proprietary documents. After that any time these documents try to leave the company through the internet this software blocks it.
Also, it can block them from specific destinations like competitors and the press, but allow documents like press releases right through -- But only if someone in the marketing department sends it.
Further, when a user is on our network we have no issue controlling their access to the interwebs, but up until now when they went home or to any public access point they were totally on their own, able to visit lottery sites, shop for Russian brides, or download gigs and gigs of pornography, and then carry whatever they picked up back to our unsuspecting network.
The new system actually insinuates itself between the internet and a user at their remote location, enforcing the same policies no matter where they choose to connect on their work-issued laptop.
But wait! What if a user wants to use a secure connection to commit "data leakage" (which sounds more disgusting and yet less expensive than it is)? This software can open up encrypted sessions and look inside. It can see where you bank, how much you own, and where you shop.
It can read your emails.
It can block applications that are installed from even running on your machine no matter where you are.
It knows your passwords to everything, even if you've long forgotten them.
It watches you shower.
It tracks the break room microwave and provides detailed reports to management about the poor nutritional choices you make.
I don't want this functionality. Not only is it a violation of implied privacy, I personally don't want to know that much about the users.
The technology is out there, though.
If you aren't at least a little bit frightened, the technology can even determine what hormone imbalance causes your misguided bravery.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I had something pretty awesome planned for today in the interest of earning my "WAH" logo, but the interweb was uncooperative.
So instead, I just have a question.
When digging through some application graphics directories yesterday, I turned up this little guy:

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What do you think it means?
I'm leaning towards "Showers are Good", but the "+" kind of confuses me.
Showers plus what?
If the green color is meant to indicate the traditional "go", then the plus sign is redundant. Unless the plus sign indicates some understood shower addition like, say, shower + exfoliate or shower + take a nap.
The possibilities are truly endless. The thing I hate about endless possibilities is that they do tend to drag on and on and keep me from ever actually getting anything done.
So that is the question of the day I guess. Under what circumstances would you create such a sign? What the hell is the "+" ? Is that really even supposed to be water that guy is showering with? On my most recent glance, I thought it might mean "Lying Down in Front of the Tiller is Good", but again without knowing what to add to that via the mystery "+" I don't see the point in such a sign.
Okay that's three questions. I blame the possibilities.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I don't know if I've been over this, but if there is one thing that strikes fear into my heart that thing is spiders. If there are two things, it is spiders and clowns.
Three things would be spiders, clowns and either clowns covered in spiders or getting a haircut.
Yesterday, I faced exactly one of those fears, though it was the only one on the list that doesn't include either skittering or greasepaint.
I've had the fear of haircuts for as long as I can remember, though I suspect it has its roots in the little barbershop in the small west Texas town where I grew up. Tonsurophobia is (I believe) a natural reaction to early memories of a rural barbershop with a crowd of almost indecipherable drawling retirees, decorative barbed wire hung on wood-burned plaques along the wall, pre-war clippers which ground against themselves with a painful clacking noise and a barber chair with a loose spring in the center that seems to have only been triggered to pop by the weight of a small child.
In college, I cowered behind hair almost down to my waist. Since graduation, however, a condition of continued employment seems to be facing up to my fears.
I stepped out yesterday after a few cups of coffee to steel my nerves and drove to one of those chains. I bravely signed the sheet (at 10am there wasn't much of a line) and took my place in the little chairs to watch something about (I think) auto racing on the TV in the customer area.
When my poorly-pronounced name was called, I confidently strode to the indicated chair, sat down and said the phrase I always say and, in fact, the only words I'm ever able to say for about 15 minutes around the panic.
"I usually go with a #3 on the sides and back, the top should be a little longer, like a natural progression from the short, but if it gets too short I have this horrible cow lick so it needs to be at least 4 inches back there."
The stylist smiled at me.
"Eeees too long, jes?"
My eyes began to water, "Yes. My hair is too long."
I slipped into a fear-powered state of semi-consciousness. To the credit of the stylist, when she took off the weird paper collar (trying to kill me can't breathe in that thing why won't they just let hair fall down my shirt is that so bad?) and forced me to look in the mirror my hair looked okay.
I stumbled towards the register and handed her my bank card.
I've carried this card for (admittedly) too long. I can tell, because it only actually swipes in about three machines. There is a hole worn in the magnetic stripe about the size of a pencil eraser.
I need a new one. I do not want a new one.
She tried a couple of times unsuccessfully and asked if I had another card.
I told her that was my bank card and I'd rather just use it.
She looked at the card, pointed out a hole in the stripe the size of a pencil eraser (who knew?) and began to enter the numbers manually.
"Eeees declined," she announced.
"Can I see that?" I asked.
She pointed at the "DECLINED" message at the bottom.
I pointed at the "Amount" field, which listed the price of the haircut at $461,000 (before tip).
She had entered my card number in the amount field.
"Declined," she again pointed to the line at the bottom.
"Yeah," I tried to explain, "but the amount is listed at $461,000."
She looked at me blankly.
"I don't usually keep that much in checking."
She called over another person and in a few minutes I was on my way, but none of this has managed to make me feel any better about having my haircut.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Friday night we attended a party at Borders for the release of the seventh and final Harry Potter book. I feel it is important that we do as many geeky things as possible as a family.

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You can see several important things in this picture. First, for the sake of clarification, both cups of coffee are mine. The bookstore offered pumpkin juice, butter beer, troll bogey slush, pomegranate polyjuice potion and a number of other things in addition to flavored and unflavored coffee. I realized I'm not much of an "either/or" kind of guy, so I had a cup of every kind of coffee except for decaf. Both at once.
The second thing (and the point of this post) is that Gwynyth is wearing her Gryffindor robe and brandishing a wand, yet she still manages to confidently exude a sense of "cool". I'm working on that, though.
Attending a midnight premiere of something geeky is a vital part of her geeky upbringing. As you can tell from the picture though, even wearing a costume she appears able to have a conversation with another non-online human.
It seems we have a lot of work to do.
I've been giving it a great deal of thought. Were something to happen to me, who would take over? The title would naturally fall to her, but her reign would be short indeed if anyone should sense a weakness in the Geek Fu. It is a merciless game we play who duel in trivia.
At the age of 4, she was correcting "adults" in comic book shops regarding the proper shade of a lightsaber blade based on the character pictured holding it. This was one of my proudest moments as a parent.
A power vacuum at the pinnacle of geekdom would mean, quite simply, war between the lesser princes.
Before she returns to school this fall, I've asked her to memorize the dialogue from The Empire Strikes Back. I know she has an official "Summer Reading List", but time is limited and choices need to be made.
After that, we will be going over the history of the X-Men in excruciating detail. She likes Storm and Kitty Pryde well-enough, but her lack of enthusiasm for the B-List leaves a lot of room to forget their various astrological signs, political leanings and shoe sizes. An error in any of those would be devastating.
At least it would be before she has a chance to solidify her power base.

Friday, July 20, 2007

I read late last night.
I finished the book.
My eyes burn and my head hurts but it was worth it because I know.
I can stand in line tonight at midnight with confidence that no one will spoil the ending for me before I buy the book.
I've also committed to not spoiling the ending for anyone else, though self-control has never been one of my strengths.
Last night the geek_AT_prettygeekything.com email address became the timestamp standard for people to send in their predictions. If you'd like "called it" status for your own "Minerva McGonagall is Lord Voldemort" theories, please feel free to send those. I will neither confirm nor deny whether your prediction is accurate, but I'll reply so that you can show the other geeks around you that you were right -- If you were. Any emails containing predictions which are later disproved will simply disappear, never to be heard from (or spoken of) again.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I read late last night that the guy who posted pictures of every page of the new Harry Potter book online left the EXIF data on the images. The EXIF data gives some information about the camera settings like the flash mode and white balance. It also gives the serial number for the camera.
Unless he paid cash for the camera in some third-world flea market, even a mild effort on the part of Scholastic will lead them back to the person who posted it.
I suspect they could have the person imprisoned in their own corporate copyright Azkaban, and they might.
Were I in charge of justice at Scholastic, I'd just give his name and address to the fine folks at The Leaky Cauldron. Then I'd just stand back and wait for a little Muggle justice.
On the subject of early copies, I'm just over 500 pages into mine. I'm avoiding all internet forums and message boards in my mad dash to not have the ending spoiled.
A lot of places are reporting that the edition posted online is fake, possibly fan-fiction or even (from the fine people in the dashing tinfoil hats) a copy produced by the publisher of a completely false edition intentionally leaked online to deflate possible piracy attempts on the actual text, which is still safely locked away in the deepest vault at Gringott's.
If it is a fake, it is a very convincing fake.
I get a sense of urgency reading it, though a lot of it may be my own haste to begin normal communication with those around me.
Several times last night I announced, "Harry just . . ." and then stopped myself. "But Lupin . . . "
And the plot-which-must-not-be-named.
I plan to bring the book home Saturday morning before 1am, wake Shana with the good news of its arrival and then perch over her with a flashlight until I can speak with her again. She may have other plans for Saturday, but we can't discuss them for fear I may accidentally let slip what happened to . . . that . . . one . . . guy. Not that anything did. Or didn't. Who?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

And so yesterday there was almost a violent event on the 28th floor at work.
One of my friends asked me which album contained the song "Yellow Submarine".
And then, he argued about my answer.
And then, my BlackBerry couldn't display the Wikipedia page, which sparked off an avalanche of rage against technology and modern culture and the very idea that The Beatles could fall into something which could be categorized as "trivia". I totally blame the public school system. Where are the Music Appreciation classes? Or even stepping out of an old junker in the school parking lot in a great billow of smoke while "All You Need Is Love" fades out behind you?
And then, he said he didn't know what the name of the album was -- Just that it wasn't what I said.
Also, he reads this blog, so I have to clarify that the song also appears on the album Revolver. In fact, it was on Revolver first.
But if someone asks what album contains the song "Yellow Submarine", I contend that the natural and most complete answer is Yellow Submarine.
In other news, some complete ass has posted "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" online.
Instead of conventionally scanning it, this person took pictures of the book opened to every page. The images are quite blurry and of poor quality.
Given that you can see the pirate's shoe in a few frames and sleeve in a few others (as well as two fingers holding the book open in almost every shot) I'm sure that Scholastic will have someone at his apartment (which has horrible carpet) to show him why what he has done is so very, very wrong.
The Scholastic Copyright Enforcement Squad sends a cold feeling of dread down my spine. These are the men and women who didn't make the cut as librarians because they cracked under the psychological entrance exams. Unstable, violent people who love books.
Put like that, I don't know why I fear them so much. That pretty much describes everyone I know.
I'm going to go on record here: It wasn't me. I would not (take the time to) post copyrighted material on the internet. I have pre-ordered the book at Borders and will pick it up Friday at midnight in all its hard-backed glory. Also, this guy got part of a cola can in one of the shots and it is clearly Caffeine-Free Diet Coke. Obviously, I'm completely uninvolved.

I am, however, 200 blurry pages into book seven myself. I'd rather read the book when I pick it up, but I know that once it is released I'll be unable to visit the internet or speak with another living human until I finish it for fear of having the ending spoiled. My only reasonable choice is to read it now in headache-inducing blurry format.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Yeah, I don't know.
Coffee was late this morning because there were no big cups in the kitchen area (and I looked in the cabinets and everything) and now I'm not sure if I'll ever catch up with the day.
Until the big cups arrived, I'd been staring at a blank Blogger screen. Now I just need the coffee to start working.
Yesterday some seriously unfunny stuff happened. I mean, I like Dilbert well enough. But there is a marked difference between reading what is one of the most realistic portrayals of corporate life and actually being forced to participate in it.
Some decisions seem to be made based on criteria of which I am unaware. I further feel that even if I understood the "logic" behind some of these decisions, I'd know almost on a molecular level that they were still so very, very wrong.
Either way, from this angle it has ceased to be amusing. I'm even (in my admittedly low-on-coffee state) unable to find an angle at which to spin it into something funny.
I don't want to give anyone the impression that I'm depressed. Far from it, actually.
I'm just going to take a little time and come up with something productive to do. Since that isn't going to happen at work, I'll try to make Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng the place where awesome happens.
Hmmm . . . . "Where Awesome Happens". Someone should totally buy that slogan idea from me. For a lot of money. It would be worth it.
Maybe a whole campaign! Or a series of products all stamped in the corner with a stylized "WAH Certified" logo!
Hotels, airlines, car dealers, restaurants and clothing stores could all benefit from a little "WAH" co-branding. We should set up professional tester mystery shopper-types to evaluate potential clients before they can actually use the logo, though.
Not only could the brand be weakened by excessive use, the entire concept of Awesome itself could suffer from bad placement.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Saturday morning I got home at 6:30. Three hours later we were on the road for the big camping adventure.
We managed to find the park sometime after lunch and unloaded our stuff into the shelter (four walls, screen windows and access to a restroom with actual running water and stuff). Then we went across the road to the beach.
On the way, we noticed a hill with overgrown buildings on it. The road in was blocked with all kinds of "Do Not Enter" signs, but we could see bleachers and what looked like an old abandoned water feature with either trained sea mammals or (more likely) some kind of water ski spectacular. Either way, it looked like it hadn't been used since just after World War II. It also looked like the kind of place Scooby Doo and the gang would visit to solve the Mystery of the Super Barefoot Pyramid Ghost Stunt. We didn't see a group of teenagers with a Great Dane or anything paranormal, but it wasn't for lack of looking.
On our afternoon break from the beach, I looked around the shelter area for the WiFi access point. I didn't see one anywhere I would have placed one had I been in charge of bringing internet to the wilderness.
I pulled my laptop out of the car and turned it on. "No Wireless Networks Detected". I was disappointed.
I could probably live without accessing the internet overnight, but not having access to the internet? Just to know it is there in case I need a movie show time or to find out what the weather is doing or who played the mom in Peter Pan (2003)?
I put my laptop back in the car and we went back to the beach. I was in a pretty foul, three-hours-of-sleep kind of mood. Shana suggested I walk over to the main building to discuss the wireless issue with one of the Park Rangers before they shut down for the evening.
I did.
I marched right past the ghost crabs and seagulls and into the office where a uniformed Ranger was discussing how to secure supplies against raccoons with another camp visitor. The other Ranger on duty asked how he could help me.
I thought about asking about sea turtles or hermit crabs, but decided to jump right in and ask about the internet. After all, if I had the internet I could get my own information about sea turtles and hermit crabs, right?
He smiled at me. "The wireless internet is just this building. It may work from the parking lot, but it goes down most of the time, too."
"So," I ventured, "No way it will work back in the shelter area?" I pointed back towards our cabin.
"Oh, no way."
"But the website . . . " I blinked indignantly, "You can't lie on the internet."
He had a badge. I felt like I needed a badge.
He shrugged at me.
I felt the need to press on. "What next? Just update the website to say that the mosquitoes are vegetarian?"
"Actually," he produced a pamphlet almost magically, "half of them are."
I looked distrustfully at the pamphlet, which featured a cartoon on the front of two smiling insects hugging each other.
"The males only eat nectar and serve a vital role in pollination for some of our more rare and delicate marsh plants."
I should have taken one of the pamphlets with me. It would have worked really well for swatting the female mosquitoes.

Friday, July 13, 2007

I do not, as a rule, "rough it".
However, after our Data Center Maintenance Extravaganza (tonight at midnight until whenever we are done with the rock and roll), the family and I are headed for the beach to camp out.
I'm not sure what your definition of camping is, but for me no definition would be complete if it did not include French-milled soap, double-ply quilted toilet paper, and WiFi access.
Fortunately for all parties involved, at least the WiFi access is provided by the state park.
The other camping supplies are in my laptop bag at all times for use in case of emergency.
But what if I don't have my laptop bag with me? For a moment, we'll ignore the ridiculous nature of that question.
I keep French-milled soap and Charmin "Ultra" in my personal "Zombie Invasion Survival Kit" in the back of my car. Most zombie movies totally gloss over the true horrors of a zombie attack -- The inability to luxuriate in a hot bath to wash off the radioactive viral residue from a hard day of smashing zombies and the even more terrible reality of public restrooms.
The kit also contains the Shaun of the Dead Original Soundtrack, a stainless steel pipe, some high-fiber low-carb energy bars, bottled water and a sack of wooden garden stakes (in case the zombies are in the service of a vampire).
Just so you know, if zombies do attack, our house is the place to be. However, anyone seeking refuge will need to prove their status as "living" and possibly "uninfected" before being granted access. I don't want to be the guy that makes the mistake of inviting a vampire into our home, so this is far from an open invitation.
Proving living status need not be complicated. I'd recommend stopping at one of the many ethnic meat markets in the greater Houston area and picking up some type of brain before stopping by and knocking on our door.
When we come to the door, place the brain somewhere we can see it and comment about how unappetizing it is. That will easily prove you aren't a zombie. Please remember to dispose of the brain afterwards. Nothing "ripens" faster in the fallout-darkened sun than grey matter.
Proving you aren't a vampire is even easier. Rip the side mirror off one of the many abandoned cars and show us your reflection.
Also, if you plan on staying for a while, you should raid a supermarket for Diet Coke. Not only will I be hoarding my own supply, but I believe that Coke Reward Points will become the standard of currency in the new world order.
There was a time when I truly believed this currency would be Taco Bell sauce packets, since they are conveniently broken into various denominations (Mild, Medium, Hot and Fire) already. That annoying Taco Bell dog ruined that theory by prompting the production of several hundred billion of those things, rendering them effectively valueless.
Where was I?
Oh, yeah. So we are going camping this weekend. We may make Jiffy Pop.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I may never sleep again.
I grew up in a region with scorpions and poisonous spiders. To this day, I can't slip on shoes without first lifting them by the toe, turning them sideways heels away from me, and banging them on the floor to shake out potential arachnids.
These creatures are in blatant violation of my "no skittering" policy. And they don't even seem to care.
So, this morning I read an article on Wired which linked me to a story about how a camel spider in the cockpit may have caused a high-speed F-16 crash in Afghanistan last year.
Now, any spider in my car would cause me to veer off the freeway in a panic, so I well understand the pilot's decision.
And then, I mistakenly looked up camel spiders. I share the link because I can't keep this information to myself.
While the stories are exaggerated, these things are well past the "icky" bracket and well into the "must destroy everything within 1,000 feet" category.
"They aren't actually spiders", the article tells me -- as if that matters. They are actually horrible, and apparently they flock to soldiers tents in the Middle East in great herds to enjoy the shade.
There is a video online of one catching and eating a lizard.
I usually try to keep politics out of this blog, since so many others do that better, but I think approval ratings would shoot up for the current administration if the President would just say, "Okay, there may have been no weapons of mass destruction, but look at these freaking bugs! Our bombs kill these icky freak monsters too, you know! And we cannot commit to a date to pull out of Iraq until we have squished them all into goo. Some of them may have already stowed away in our equipment and we can't just haul the spiders back here to the States or the terrorists have already won."
Sure, they can play on a citizen's fears of another terrorist attack. That's just good political spin.
Great political spin is playing on our fear of giant, terrible-looking spiders with huge jagged fangs and a skitter factor off the charts.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Remember that time in the original Die Hard movie when John McClaine is on the roof of the Nakatomi building and just as the FBI helicopter explodes he wraps the firehose around himself and shoots his way into a lower window?
And how about that time in Attack of the Clones when Count Dooku has totally smacked down two Jedi and the Yoda walks in and goes all freaky ninja on him?
Oooo! Ooooo! Or that time in The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2 when that huge dinosaur is running around Los Angeles and then eats that guy that was totally asking for it?
I enjoyed all of those moments. So everything is fine. Nothing at all to worry about over this next part.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opened at midnight last night and I absolutely have to see it as soon as possible seriously I can't believe it has been out for so many hours and I haven't had the chance to view and interpret and criticize the choices of the screenwriter and director and complain about how much better the book was and all about what I can't believe they left out considering how important it probably is to the rest of the series like all of Harry's training in Defense Against the Dark Arts in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" which was glossed over in the movie almost completely and which plays a huge role in this movie!
Okay. It is a "kid's movie". I know and I don't care.
The future of Hogwart's is at stake!
Dolores Umbridge is a horrible woman! She reminds me of an application lead I worked with at an old job and I hate her character with a passion normally reserved for traffic slights.
Also, whatever the screenwriter and director have done, this story almost has to completely belong to Fred and George Weasley who (in my opinion, freely shared) are awesome.
Luna Lovegood also shows up in this book and I look forward to seeing that in film. And hey! Hagrid's half-brother Grawp is in this one! And Gary Oldman is back to fight Helena Bonham Carter! With magic!
Special effects . . . The same set designer from all four other movies . . . Special effects . . . Alan Rickman . . . .
I'm sure you can see I have no choice but to go wearing my Hogwart's hoodie and Muggle cap.
Afterwards, I'll drag the family to begin the camp out for book seven.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Okay. Splash some cold water in your face and drink some coffee. I'm going into actual I.T. talk before I get to the part about how I spent yesterday morning dancing with a user.
For anyone to access a computer on our network, they need permission to resources. These can be shared network resources (like gigs and gigs of PowerPoint presentations) or personal resources (like a company-issued laptop). At the time of log in, the user's network ID is transmitted to a central database which grants or denies these resources, and a check is performed every time they try to access anything.
Even though I administer that system, I refer to that domain-based process as "external security".
It isn't external. Its completely ours. But I call it that to differentiate it from security built into the applications themselves which is "internal security".
Anyone still reading? I suspected at this point people would drift, start scanning down for the kitten picture, desperately seeking something about this post which is interesting or humorous. I can't promise interesting or humorous, but I'm sure I've got enough kitten pictures stashed on my work hard drive to share one I'd been saving for a weekly report. Just stay with me.
Okay. So applications with "internal security" do not leverage domain security and users need to be set up manually with new passwords they must be given and which they will either jot down on a Post-It note stuck to their monitor or forget (whichever is faster) and (this is particularly bad given that I am allergic to speaking with the users) call whoever set them up to reset it to something easier to remember like "password". Insert involuntary shudder.
And then, there was a request to deploy one of these applications through Citrix, because every other group said no already.
So I looked over the documentation, which was actually less than I've written above about it and contacted their support people (in Europe) to find out if the application was supported if deployed through Terminal Services. It isn't.
I recommended that the application go somewhere else, anywhere else, because I know when it breaks I'm the only person to call about it.
My recommendation was dismissed.
Resentfully, I published the application. I sent the person who originally requested the application the SuperUser password and headed for the virtual dance floor.
As the music started, the user asked for the application to be published to three users for testing.
I granted them domain access (which was also required) and pirouetted into "But the users will need to be set up within the application by the application owner".
The music swelled.
The user wrote back and requested that the test users be granted access.
Shuffle-step left, "The SuperUser account can be used to set up however many people are needed to fully take advantage of this application for the continued profitability of the enterprise."
Circling left with some kind of half-turn designed to disorient, the user replied with, "Shall I just have them use the SuperUser account for access?"
There was a loud scratching noise from the record player.
Give all the users SuperUser access to the database associated with an application without vendor support?
When the music resumed, the tempo was a little faster.
"This would be inadvisable," I turned in a slow circle, waving my arms but maintaining my position on the dance floor, "since someone could delete everything and no one would know which user did it. They should be given separate accounts with rights to modify only data that pertains to things that belong to them. This can all be done with the SuperUser account which I provided. When that is done, the password for that account should be changed as well since it is still the default password."
The user went all "River Dance" at this point and asked me to set up users within the application. He asked me directly.
There is no way I want to be the point of contact for this. Or, for that matter, for anything.
Users shouldn't call me. I'm still a little upset that someone keeps fixing my desk phone number in the company directory even after I changed it to a 555 number and locked the field.
With a jump to the left (and then a step to the right), I pulled up a list of reasons I could not be in charge of this application, not the least of which being that I don't even know what it does or why we have it. The user decided to do it himself before I got the the "pelvis thrust" part, which was quite wise (for a user).

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Monday, July 09, 2007

I'm not sure how fresh the coffee is this morning. I got in a little earlier than usual (massive trauma must have hit some other way in today) and poured the last of the carafe into my disposable cup on my way to my cubicle.
On reflexion, I'm pretty sure someone turned the burner on under a pot of coffee from Friday.
If the coffee doesn't date from Friday, then I suspect the coffee beans have been mixed in an unpleasant way with black beans, pinto beans or possibly refried beans in order to save someone some cash somewhere along the coffee supply chain.
In short, there is not enough Splenda in the world.
Not that I'm not drinking it.
And on the subject of caffeine for the sake of caffeine . . . Over the weekend I had my first experience with non-Coca-Cola diet carbonated soft drinks since kicking off the Coke Rewards Points project on this very blog around a year ago.
Side note: The current Coke Rewards Point total is 2529. I may be saving up for a "Wii", which is appropriate given how often I have to do just that drinking this much cola.
Anyway, Diet Pepsi Max yelled at me from the shelf in the cola aisle. It called me from the deli area and enticed me with its gleaming silver label and top.
Someone said it had more caffeine than Diet Mountain Dew, and I knew I'd have to try it.
I could not commit to a twelve pack, but I picked up a 2-liter bottle just to see if it really was "Max", as they say.
I researched the actual chemistry. Diet Mountain Dew runs 55mg of caffeine per 12oz. The same amount of Diet Pepsi Max emotionally destroys the old gamer "Mountain Dew Standard" with an awesome 69mg of magic. Anyone find it interesting that Pepsi has been using the phrase "More Happy" for marketing lately? I like to see truth in advertising.
So, Saturday night after Gwynyth went to bed I filled a glass with ice and dragged the two-liter bottle towards my laptop for some beverage performance testing.
I poured a glass.
It tastes a lot like Diet Pepsi -- which is to say "cola-like" for anyone who has destroyed their taste buds with aspartame.
I had work to do online. Webinara needed 13,000 honor points for a new helmet and (at 2-4 points per kill) I knew I'd be in the battleground for a long time.
I'm hesitant to credit Diet Pepsi Max entirely, but there were several matches where Webinara finished in first place for damage by over 30,000 points, with over 100 honorable kills for even the weaker rounds.
After a particularly brutal smack down of some Alliance n00bz, I went to pour another glass and discovered that I had consumed the entire 2 liter bottle. 90 minutes had passed since I poured the initial glass.
On the bright side, close to 400mg of caffeine purchased Webinara's new epic helmet quite nicely.
The downside was that I was still thirsty. And seeing "things" that were not necessarily really "there".
I'd drink it again.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Happy Casual Jeans Friday!
We did go and see Transformers last night. There are basic laws of film making I assume they teach first year film students and one of them seems to be "It doesn't matter how thin you stretch your plot if the plot serves to connect scenes of robots fighting each other". If that isn't one of the rules, it should be.
Robot combat (and robots turning into cars and tanks and planes) is one of the classic elements that could be added to any film to make it better. In that way, robot combat is much like Tom Hanks.
There was one issue which managed to fling me right out of the moment and pin me there through the next scene, not for a moment believing that someone could sneak a CD Player onto Air Force One. I'd have liked to believe that, really.
Anyway, the issue I had was with the scenes involving the Decepticons "hacking" the Department of Defense. It isn't that hacking the DoD is impossible (I've mentioned why they get hacked so often before) it was the fake Decepticon technology used. And the fact that the brave analyst waltzed out of a secure facility with Top Secret information on a Panasonic SD Card. Seriously? Panasonic?
I fear I made a "Pfffaugh" noise one or twice and Shana may have thought I choked on some popcorn.
And then I remembered watching Trapper John, M.D. with my mom (who is a nurse) and hearing her make the same exact noise over liberties taken with medical terminology.
So I buried my face in my Diet Coke and watched two more robots chase each other and smash stuff which, as I've said, never gets old.
Also, I totally won the Up To Bat - Name the Cave Snake Contest, which is beyond awesome. Actually, I borrowed the name Gwynyth gave to our new fish, but it is a good name. A winning name. Perhaps the "winningest" name.
I'll get to be in a future strip now, which is step #312 in my plans for total global domination. I'm thrilled, but I'm nowhere near step #311 and I'll need to determine how my plans will be impacted by doing this all out of order.
I think everything will be fine as long as I have enough cola for the minions, I suppose. Letting the minions get dehydrated is a terrible and easily-avoided error.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Earlier this week I got my very first promotional offer from British Airways since usurping the title of Viscount.
Oddly, there were discounted rates to fly and celebrate the 4th of July in London.
I'm not sure that celebrating the 4th of July in London is as big a deal as St. Patrick's Day in Boston or Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
In fact, I doubt very much as many firearms are discharged into the air in London towards the end of a drunken day cooking out given the low rate of gun ownership there.
I'm also certain that people in London don't do quite as much to help the Chinese economy as we do in the States by buying tons of fireworks in every parking lot plywood stand we can find.
For the record, we didn't blow anything up yesterday anyway.
Instead, we visited with friends and watched strangers across the bayou engage in their own hours-long rocket-fest. And we saw part of a Back to the Future marathon. What's more American than that?
In other news, we found out that Gwynyth will be returning home on Saturday. We miss her a lot and plan to spend the next couple of days staying up late, eating junk food and swearing randomly and loudly to get it all out of our systems for the next year.
Tonight, if all goes according to plan, we will combine this activity with my ongoing research into the coming robot uprising. Noted documentarian Michael Bay has pieced together what looks like a fascinating piece of work on the subject. Also, the theatre we've chosen serves beer, so we should be able to quell our panic at the thought of the fast-approaching subservience of all organic life. Beer is good like that.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

This time last year, I discussed the beginnings of office politics in this country.
Today, I will just go over why July is crappy.
First, it is very hot. And in Texas, this July happens to be rainy and muggy. My yard squishes when I walk outside -- and that only serves to add another reason for me to not go outside. As if I needed another reason to avoid the glowing orb of light in the sky which seems to hate me so very very much.
July used to be alright. I grew up in a small town and July meant fireworks at the park and just running around.
Kids today have to dread July, though.
I find it hard to feel bad for most of them, since no matter where they are they seem to have a NintendoDS grafted to their fingers. I need a NintendoDS.
But I know there are some that glance up in a store and notice the school supplies already on display. The stores even have those annoying paper hanging things with apples and pencils on them that spin under the air vents.
When I was little, those signs (more, what those signs indicated) scared the hell out of me every August and forced me to jack up my sleep patterns by sleeping as little as possible in order to cram as much summer as I could into the short time I had remaining.
But. I've been seeing those signs already this year.
I've seen the looks one children noticing them for the first time in the season. While it isn't as panicked as I remember my expression being, it seems to be a rather sad look of resignation generally punctuated by an un-pausing of the handheld.
"Ritalin - I choose you!"
I think July is too early to start putting the pressure back on children who, I'm of the opinion, are a lot like regular people but smaller and less tactful and given to eating foods labelled "Extreme", "Flavor-Blasted" or "With Extra Green Slime".
What about a last-minute scramble for school supplies on the second or third day of school?
Or maybe they could put a bunch of school supplies in a pile and have the kids fight it out, razorwire deathmatch style.
Perhaps that is too much.
The real reason I'd like them to delay the marketing for "Back to School" season is that even today my chest tightens and I get an urge to stay up all night to let Summer know that I appreciate it.
How weird is that?

Monday, July 02, 2007

We had a game Saturday night.
Not online, where our virtual selves engage in potty-mouthed exchanges on the Guild channel, but an actual dice-rolling pencil and paper affair.
It is no secret among those who have played games I've run in the past.
I hate animal companions.
When a new player showed me his character sheet I was surprised to see that he had paid for a horse, since I've grown accustomed to players not even bothering to waste the starting gold.
Out of game, I'm a cat person. In fact, one of the D&D veterans explained to one of the new people on Saturday that the only work-around they had found was to use a cat as an animal companion. While I would be annoyed, I would not actively work towards engineering the death of a feline animal companion.
You see, in games I tend to look at the players at the table and adjust the adversaries accordingly. Other than the real-life calico sprawled out in the center of the table batting at dice and trying to steal corn chips, I tend to forget about animal companions.
When a player sends his pet wolf to flank the goblin army, I try (poorly) to mask my surprise.
I also try (equally poorly) to give the little fellow a fighting chance.
The fact is, animal companions (more the players responsible for them) tend to roll really badly. That sounds like a cop out, but it is the truth.
History repeated itself when the party's fighter rode his well-trained (expensive) warhorse into the very first melee and botched not one but three ride checks in a row.
The horse did not survive.
There was a lengthy discussion of salvaging the armor, but no one else would buy what became known as "The Cursed Barding of the Spectral Charger".
To his credit, the party's druid managed to keep his leopard alive for the whole game.