Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Last Post Of 2008, Prolly

The iced tea . . . It is less healthy than the stuff the flask in my laptop bag.
I took this picture of the tea preparation process in the cafeteria at work. That is a pitcher.
The top layer is tea.
The next layer is tea soaking into sugar.
The bottom half of the pitcher is all sugar.
I would assume at some point that this substance is super-heated, possibly using some type of magnet-driven turbo-furnace, so that the sugar will dissolve into the liquid.
When cooled, it is possibly refreshing.
When warmed back up to human body temperature, I suspect that unnatural jagged crystals of sucrose form within the liver, assuring a slow and painful death.
However, "sweet tea" is something which is considered serious business around here, and any references disparaging said sweet tea are met with immediate tar and feathering. At least, according to the policy manual here at work.
I chose to snap the picture (for your benefit, internet) and then quickly make my escape.
Overall, 2008 was a pretty big year here at Pr3++YG33kyTh1ng Worldwide Amalgamated Inc LLC.
In January, I got kicked off a Ben Affleck fan forum.
Later on, Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng attempted to purchase that same fan forum.
I spent some time getting a new job.
Way more time was invested in quitting my old job.
I found out why I was hired for the new job.
There was a training session where I was not given credit. Or fired. So I call that "even".
I was sent to another training session . . . as a trainer.
We built furniture.
I pushed through my idea for our new Team Mascot at work.
We came pretty close to ending the world.
I uncovered a vast, monkey-related conspiracy.
Also, I limited my daughter's educational options.
The way it looks from here, 2009 will be a lot like 2008, but later.
And I'll still be sharing too much with you, internets.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holiday Lights

These red and green lights looked so festive I had to grab a picture with my camera phone.
It is less jolly, perhaps, when the realization hits that this particular lighting array on the front of an Xbox 360 translates to "General Hardware Failure" and results in a trip back to Microsoft for repairs.
I took this picture of the display machine at Target.
This is especially sad, since I was over there looking at the console specifically for the NetFlix functionality.
Apparently, if the Xbox were only made by someone other than Microsoft, it could be awesome.
There are several people who work around me who are Xbox 360 owners.
They found this image especially disturbing, though none say they have seen it on their own consoles.
I'm continuing to adjust to being back at work. There is a big push incoming to get everything done before our audit in . . . January? February?
I'm not sure. I wasn't really paying attention.
Also, if you know the audit is happening in advance, how can you honestly develop a long-term security posture?
It's like cramming for those standardized tests in school. It is required, but a broad base of knowledge can prepare a person for those as well as for life post-public school.
Studying for that specific test is a pretty major waste of school time.
And prepping for specific auditable events in our I.T. infrastructure is a pretty major waste of mine.
I'm extremely proficient in wasting time on my own, thank you.

Monday, December 29, 2008

On Airport Security

Look at the candles from last night!
The glow from Chanukah candles in our dining room was incredible. And since all the menorahs were on the table behind me, I could feel my neck tanning. It must be what sunlight feels like to those people who still go . . . You know . . . Outside.
That particular menorah is about seven inches long and made of solid brass. The elevated candle on the end is a separate piece which just kind of settles in place alongside the other eight candles.
For anyone who hasn't ever tried to carry a segmented solid brass menorah through airport security along with some matches and candles, I'm sorry to report that you've missed out on a key holiday experience.
In taking a vaguely pistol-shaped piece of metal through airport security, one gets to meet new people. In this case, special agents.
It is also a time to re-connect with Judaism through the ritual of explaining it several times under the cheery glow of a spotlight in a darkened room.
Sharing various facts about our faith with the highly suspicious is sure to be a tradition which we will embrace every year.
On the way back, we put the menorah in our checked bags, but it is good that we had the experience of being jerked out of line and frisked by airport security while trying to flee South Carolina.
It is even better that I stashed the menorah in Shana's carry-on bag instead of my own, since I would not have been able to avoid saying things which would place me firmly on the "watch" list forever, if I ever managed to see the outside of my bamboo cage again.
And I was able to use the extra attention Shana was getting at security to make my own way through right behind her. For the first time I can remember, I made it through airport security without removing my pants at the request of someone else.
I'm pretty sure, given the number of agents diverted to decide whether or not to blow up Shana's camera bag, that I could have actually taken my pants off for recreational purposes and no one would have noticed.
We learned a little bit about how the Columbia airport works, too.
We flew Continental. Since that is a Houston company, we figured there would be no problem with them getting us there.
We dutifully stood in line to check our bags and waited to be called to the front.
"Get out your IDs", the lady said before walking off to attend to some important business.
We waited.
As we watched our departure time loom, we wondered where she had gone.
For literally half an hour we stood there, IDs in hand, gradually losing hope that she would return to help us.
Eventually, the guy from the American Airlines area came over and provided what help he could.
Leaving our luggage with him was a substantial leap of faith, but we did it.
We didn't see an employee of Continental again until we got on the plane itself.
But they serve Coke Zero in-flight now, so I guess that makes it all better.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Home

We are home.
It seems a lot colder here than it did in our tour across the south-central region, but since it hit eighty degrees there pretty often during our visit that isn't saying much.
I'll post more after I nap. A lot.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Adventure

This afternoon we are climbing on a plane and taking off for a grand tour of the south central United States.
There are a few questions which will be answered, since I've never managed to be on a plane at the same time as the rest of my family going to the same destination.
First, when traveling with my family will I be singled-out and abused by the Department of Homeland Security?
I certainly hope so, since children should always have a practical lesson in the importance of clean underwear since most of the time I can't make it through an airport terminal without flashing them to everyone. Also the appropriate grammatical forms of all the various swears and the proper uses for the term "fascist" are little lessons which seem to be appreciated by the people in the line with me.
The little coin-operated television terminals have nothing on the nice flat screens in the little room where they put you when you get escorted out of the line.
And "out of line" is kind of my thing.
That and wearing underwear with no fly when going through airport security, since there is only so much I'm willing to share without the benefit of a tip jar.
If they try to confiscate my vanilla facial scrub again this will not end well. It is not explosive, it is exfoliating.
Should my pores suffer because of airport security there will be hell to pay, my friends.
I'm not willing to trade healthy skin for a slight possible increase in security.
I have limits.
And I also have dry areas and areas which get shiny.

I should drink more when traveling.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Dreidel Shark

I love my daughter. Really.
But I would be remiss if I did not warn everyone that playing the dreidel game with her is less festive than it should be.
She's a sweet kid. Since last night kicked off Chanukah, she gave me Pirates of the Caribbean action figures complete with sword-swinging awesome.
Even now they are engaged in a duel to the death while balanced atop my flat-screen monitor.
But . . . And I still hesitate to mention it . . . She cheats at the dreidel game.
Since there isn't really a way to win so much, it isn't even about the rapid acquisition of candy coins.
Somehow, she picked up an innate ruthlessness when it comes to game-playing in general.
I have lost count of the number of times I've seen her nudge the dreidel into the winning position post-spin.
But it isn't just that.
If it does happen to land on the winning side, you can expect a loud "GIMMEL, BABY!" followed by a less-loud but more targeted, "In your FACE, loser!"
In all, it makes the whole game a bit . . . non-fun.
To be fair, it isn't Chanukah which brings this out in her.
In Monopoly, she employs a strategy which includes buying up all the cheap properties and loading them down with little plastic rent houses and questionable hotels with the goal of ripping off all the Boardwalk/Parkplace set who have the misfortune of needing to crash there.
It is a solid plan, which only fails her when her when she moves too quickly too early in the game.
Anyway, we did not dreidel with her at all last night.
Instead, we spent the evening lighting candles at a retirement community.
There were two residents in attendance. One from New York who wanted to talk about how wonderful New York is and one with a fear of New York who wanted to talk to us about the school district we live in.
We tried to steer the topic back to the candles as often as possible, but Shana and I are both soft-spoken and Gwynyth was busy hustling a little boy from her Hebrew class out of all of his presents via her little wooden spinning top of holiday joy and in-your-face.
He was kind of asking for it, though, since in lighting the candles he almost immolated that lady in the Rascal 600T with back-up alarm.
So, if you happen to see my daughter during the next week, and she is casually flipping a wooden top over and under the fingers of one hand, hide your chocolate and slowly back away.
And if she asks you to play Monopoly -- Run.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Who We Are Online

We had one of our typical dinner conversations the other night.
This one in particular was about the Romanov family and their massacre and the extraordinary techniques employed to kill Rasputin.
Of course, discussions of this nature invariably lead to Wikipedia, which also leads to confirmation Google searches, since Wikipedia is obviously lying about so many other things.
Elvis is dead? That's preposterous.
A standard Google search turned up a link to a message board, which Shana followed.
She was horrified to discover that the message board was the one for Stormfront (no link provided on purpose).
"What the hell is Stormfront?" she asked, horrified by the text and images surrounding her crazified reference to the former royal family of Russia.
"Stormfront is the white supremacist message board!" I was a little in shock at this point,"There are others, but Stormfront is inarguably the biggest."
"How was I supposed to know that? How do you know that?"
My response, nay, confession, was immediate. "Because I've been going there to create a fake message board account, stir up trouble, and get banned an average of three times a month since 2002."
At that point I realized, given her response which consisted primarily of blinking at me really fast, that this is not a regular use of the interwebz within the realm of "normal".
Antagonizing racists is not the equivalent of logging into Facebook to tag a friend's wall or browsing Ebay for a good deal on a cardigan with patches on the elbows.
Much later, she asked about the exact nature of the trouble I had created.
It is difficult, given the literally hundreds of times I've done it, to pull out a valid example of the "normal" harrassment.
Sometimes I confront a racist with facts and data until they resort to rhetoric and personal attacks, then I respond in kind - but better.
If I have more time, I get to have more fun.
For example, some weeks I'm able to create a whole profile, including a realistic fake personality and avatar, as well as a signature line graphic linked from my Photobucket account.
Popular signature graphics generally include an angry viking like you'd find on the side of an awesome van with some weird gothic type text on it. It never matters what it says, either.
Every freaking time . . . Seriously . . . Someone will "steal" my signature graphic.
They never do this by downloading it and sticking it in their own photo-hosting location. Always, they hotlink to my Photobucket account.
At this point, I own them. By uploading a new image file with the same file name, I've instantly caused all of their posts to be followed by not an awesome viking. Instead, sometimes it is a picture of a kitten. Sometimes it is a picture of Hitler with a clown nose. Sometimes I can Google image search myself to weird man-on-man viking porn. Or "normal" man-on-man viking porn. I'm even less certain what those standards are, to be honest.
That's not even the most fun thing to do with photo hosting.
Sometimes a poster on Stormfront, like an actual member, can put up a reasoned argument. They make a case in which they talk about not being racists at all, but only heritage enthusiasts and history buffs. And they would probably get away with it, too.
Unless you follow their signature image back to their Flickr photostream.
I've never followed one which didn't lead from awesome non-racist viking to horribly offensive hate-filled images.
The thing I do there is grab the links for those images and post them after every post I can find by the "reasonable" racist. And I identify where they came from and ask for another definition of racism from the original poster/owner.
I'll admit, it possibly isn't your average use of the interwebz.
And it is a lot like poking a bear with a stick through a hole in the plexiglass.
A stupid, angry, racist bear.
My point is this: We all have our online routines. Don't judge me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Education Options

Last night the school district hosted a magnet school open house.
All of the various magnet schools were on-site to discuss their programs and answer questions.
It was an awesome opportunity to plan for Gwynyth's future school possibilities.
It was also at the same time as a Girl Scouts meeting, so I had to attend the open house alone.
On the surface, this would seem to be a bad idea.
I can tell you, having done it, it is a completely horrible, why-the-hell-can't-I-self-edit, bordering-on-restraining-order idea.
See, all the various magnet schools were all set up at this High School with those tri-fold science fair displays.
And the tension was there before I arrived, since the teachers and administrators were, in my opinion, too close to one another with the impending state education budget cuts threatening to close down about 40% of these schools next year.
Also, each school had a theme or purpose, I guess.
Like the Civic Leadership magnet school, which is apparently the elementary school equivalent of Skull and Bones. It should be noted that making that joke out loud around the principal causes him to launch into a diatribe about parliamentary procedure, socially responsible government and, eventually, commies. You should totally try that, but maintain eye contact as you slowly back away towards the arts school display, which is what I did.
They have strings at the arts school.
The lady at that booth said that three times while I was in earshot. Strings!
While I'm impressed, I'd have appreciated a little information about test results. Saying that out loud seemed to trigger a rant about the layoffs at NPR and a targeted attack against me about how my tax dollars aren't used to fund the arts. Hey, if I had a check box on my tax form to specify where my money goes I'd be a lot happier about the whole tax-paying process, to be honest. But that doesn't mean I think the arts should be funded by anything other than private parties and corporations. When I said as much, the rant slowed into an icy glare which seemed to physically push me over to the Environmental Awareness magnet school.
The hippie running that booth immediately offered me a flier with information about the various programs at the school. Almost automatically, I looked around the room and calculated the number of families present against the giant stack of green leaflets.
Asking if the extras would be recycled triggered an attack on my leather shoes, belt and jacket.
If we weren't supposed to wear cows, they wouldn't be made out of leather, in my opinion. They'd be polyester.
There are very few situations where that observation can be uttered aloud. I did not find one last night.
I did get chased over to the Science and Mathematics magnet display.
By the time I arrived, I was a bit flustered.
Seeing the test tubes and burners set up reminded me of my most recent experiment at home.
Since the children in the room seemed to be enjoying some Lego robot wars, I shared the results of my experimentation earlier this week with some guy in a lab coat.
I told him that mixing the contents of several half-empty bottles of wine with some vanilla vodka and coffee liquor in a giant plastic tumbler with ice results in something I named "Midnight Hobo", which resulted in an almost immediate coma followed by a surprisingly mild hangover.
Oddly, they had no openings for my child at the Science and Mathematics school. No openings at all, yet their display was massive.
What a waste of resources.
The technology school was awesome, though.
They have Macs and they make podcasts and blog.
Unfortunately, they also put a little "i" in front of just about every word.
"iTestscores" and "iMinimumstandards" and "iTeacherstudentratio".
I'm intrigued and repulsed.
Gwynyth would probably prefer the school with strings.
Luckily for her, I never gave anyone my name.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Still Here

Posting has become a little irregular, I'll admit.
There are two reasons.
The first is that I've been pretty busy at work. Well, like crazy busy, to be accurate.
The second is that I've decided that I'd rather skip a post than grasp desperately at a topic and milk it for 400 increasingly less interesting words.
I could go over the details of what facets of my job have been keeping me busy, but not without going over Windows server registry settings and the process behind making them sing and dance for my amusement. No one wants to read that. I suppose I could give each individual key a personality and write a dialog between them where they decide to stop intentionally trying to make me insane and instead offer to make me a no-sugar-added cheesecake. Even that has questionable potential in spite of the fact that the Current User hive strikes me as more than a little trampy.
The good news is that I've got a bunch of activities planned outside of work over the next couple of weeks. I find it hard to believe that none of it will contain the potential to be soundly and thoroughly mocked out here on the interwebs.
No one wants another World of Warcraft post, right?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I'm Not Going

I don't want to attend a "Holiday" party this evening with my consulting company.
It isn't that I don't like them, really.
There is just a tendency for people to go out of their way to be politically correct which makes me uncomfortable.
If someone wishes me a "Merry Christmas", even though I'm Jewish, I wish them one right back. Their intent was to convey a desire for my happiness related to a time of year, so I can take it as it was intended and return the gesture.
If they say "Happy Chanukkah", I appreciate their effort at knowing a little bit about me and try to reply with the appropriate well-wish.
"Happy Holidays" can go either way. Maybe they are legitimately trying to be inclusive or possibly they are being sarcastic or maybe they haven't cared enough prior to December to notice that I never get bacon at breakfast.
At that point, I'm in a place where I need to think fast on my feet. Do I mirror my response? Do I note the Santa hat and wish them a "Merry Christmas" with an extra dose for the horse they rode in on?
And if you mix a portion of needing to think fast with the alcohol at this type of gathering within the fragile dome of my metabolism, the end result is a disaster, invariably.
I get the concept that most everyone I come into contact with every day is celebrating Christmas. Even the non-Christians have picked that team for December ever since Norman Rockwell and Coca-Cola teamed up to give America an official Christmas mascot practically designed to be a decoration.
You've got a few people who will wish anyone and everyone a "Good Solstice", but I think most of those are posers, to be honest. Recycling is not a religion, in my opinion.
But anyway, I just want to go home, light some candles and watch my kid open a present.
I shouldn't feel obligated to participate in anyone else's holiday ritual.
The lights are pretty. I can see that.
Reindeer are adorable if irritable animals.
But seriously, you guys buy more copies of Streisand's Christmas album every year.
We totally even gave you the concept of a "White Christmas", with a song of the same name by Israel Isadore Beilin.
Celebrate. Please. I'm sincerely wishing you a completely merry Christmas, if that is the flavor of holiday you've picked.
My whole family will be celebrating Christmas hard core like they do every year and I'll totally be there.
I just really don't want to mix liquor with my desire to not offend anyone at a work-related social gathering.
I have trouble enough sober. Just ask the nice people in Human Resources.
They have a file.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Job Sucks

Last night, twenty minutes from the end of The Dark Knight on DVD, I got a call from work.
It seems some steps had been left out of the configuration for the migration for one of our clients from the old and broken system to the new and less-broken system.
Specifically, there was no network route established between their computers and ours.
And their address, since they were coming in on a private connection, was not routeable.
While I tried to force an impossible setting into our network equipment, I listened while the other people on the conference call discussed how hard it would be to get these users to test.
It was this discussion, and not the surprise call interrupting my evening to task me with doing the impossible, which helped me arrive at the revelation that my job sucks. And it isn't specific to my job, either.
I have to tell you, internet, your job sucks, too.
Unless you happen to be one of the seven users who got connected to our new system last night, that is.
These users work Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm. Minus lunch. In Hawaii.
That's 30 hours a week separating them from all their time off in Hawaii.
The economy is so bad that every time I turn on the TV I see our President Elect practically begging for change and there are seven people working a total of 30 hours a week. In Hawaii.
At this point, I have no choice but to re-evaluate the life choices which led me to an always-on-call I.T. job in Columbia, South Carolina instead of to Hawaii where I could work 30 hours a week and sometimes call in sick to go to the beach.
It probably seems wrong of me to use this post to make everyone feel bad about their career choices. It seems that way because it is.
But I'm working way more than 30 hours a week, not in Hawaii, so screw it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Changes

One of the roles of an operating system is to determine what to do with the files.
Based on the file extension, the OS decides on a program to use to launch a chosen file. Well, "decides" is inaccurate. Some person told it in advance what to do with it.
Yesterday I got a call about this file to program association being broken with regard to certain image files.
Users couldn't work.
Holy crap.
End of the world.
When I open a picture on my computer, Photoshop starts and displays the image. On these servers, clicking on an image file failed to call any application.
I looked at the file associations and everything looked good.
I even MS Painted a vaguely obscene doodle and clicked it from the desktop.
The proper application opened beautifully.
We ended up examining the network traffic, since the image files the users were needing to view were out on the network.
There was a standard "get" command, followed by a string of text containing no file name (even though one was selected) and correctly expecting an image file.
But there was no response.
A few hours later, we discovered that the server hosting the application itself had been turned off, decommissioned, and replaced by another server.
This would be the end of the story.
Process broke down, communication was never sent, feelings were hurt, and we worked around the difficulty to re-enable functionality to usher in a new era of end-user productivity.
But determining that the application had jumped servers had been so horribly complicated because the documentation for the change was so difficult to find.
And it was difficult to find because the application which was moved was our corporate seamless search application which makes finding documentation possible across our sprawling network.

Monday, December 08, 2008

I Have No Way To Fix This

One of the things I've noticed in moving from large cities to smaller ones is how the local businesses are arranged.
When I was researching the move to South Carolina, I verified that Amazon.com delivered here and took the job, without a second thought about how I'd grown used to purchasing things in Houston, the 4th largest city in the US.
Houston was big enough that stores could specialize.
There was a place on the Southwest Freeway which only sold furniture. For Dentist's offices. Not the special scary dental stuff, either. Just the waiting room stuff.
And they remained in business because either there are enough Dentists in Houston re-decorating their waiting rooms at any given time or it was a front for some kind of human trafficking/money laundering thing.
Actually, either is pretty likely.
But the point is that the smaller the town, the less dentists need new waiting room furniture and the businesses have to diversify.
This is how the tiny town I went to college in developed a store which offered laundry services, movie rentals, live bait and lingerie. I'm not making that up.
Columbia, South Carolina falls somewhere in the middle area where there are hobby shops which sell gaming supplies but not gaming stores where they throw funny-shaped dice at people who wander in looking for a remote controlled car or a train set.
Also, I'm not sure anyone else has noticed but the economy seems to be in a bit of a downturn. Don't spread that around, though. No sense throwing everyone into a panic.
This has lead to even further weirdness in business offerings.
Saturday I visited the outside of our front door.
I never do that, but in this case I was checking for something which I'd ordered online (a specialty item unavailable at a regular diversified store) and I was hoping it had been left there while we were out.
It was not, but there was a flier tucked between the doorknob and the door frame.
The flier was not the expected maid service/lawn care flier I've grown to expect, but one offering (I'm totally serious) "At Your Home Dentistry".
Apparently, a licensed South Carolina Dentist will just come to your house to do cleaning, whitening, extractions, fillings and crowns.
And they take some dental insurances.
You know, there are some things which frighten me.
This concept encompasses about four of them in one little flier.
I guess the appeal is that one can receive dental care without spending time in a waiting room with outdated furnishings, but the wrongness of it chills me to the very core.
I don't think I'd let someone come to my house to cut my hair because of the potential for mess.
Inviting someone over to dig around in my mouth with sharp things is in a new area just past "never going to happen".
When you invite a dentist to your house, do you offer him a cola or glass of wine?
What if he hates the decor? The guy is obviously ashamed of his ancient waiting area, but what if he hates the window treatment with the monkeys on it? Adorable monkeys wearing vests, even.
If someone is going to be digging around in your mouth, how certain do you need to be that they are actually trained to do so?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Team Building

I work on a blended team.
The guys hired before me concentrate on security on the desktop.
I and the guy hired a couple of months ago handle the server security.
Apparently, there is no clean way to name our group.
Also, even the guys that have been here seven years have their original titles.
Analyst.
Someone who analyzes.
There are a lot of people in I.T. hired almost in bulk with the "Analyst" title. This is because HR can fling out that word for just about any job role and no one has to explain what it entails by way of responsibility.
The guy hired after me is also an "Analyst".
I'm probably an "Analyst" too, but I skipped over that part of the job description and went straight to the number following the dollar sign at the bottom so I'm not totally sure.
As far as I'm concerned, for enough money a company can call me anything but French. Even I have my limits.
Anyway, we are restructuring our team at the moment to better define our role in the corporation.
As a side effect, we get to shed whatever title we were stamped with during the hiring process.
There are no rules around this, and I've actually been told to figure out my role and choose my own.
I toyed with the idea of "Internet Meme Analyst", but it still keeps that annoying and vague "Analyst" part, even if it slightly focuses the purpose.
"Duke of Citrix Security" was on the short list, since "DCS" looks official enough to hide behind my name in my email signature for potentially months before anyone asks what it stands for.
"Preventer of Information Technology" was actually recommended to me by a co-worker and I like it.
However, the self-printed, red-lettered, gothic-fonted sign under my name on the cubicle wall actually literally now reads:

"Dark Lord of Servers"

It has been a goal for too long to put off any longer. My rise to "Dark Overlord of Servers" is virtually assured, once I figure out who to kill or delete.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Left To Our Own Devices

My frame of reference is skewed, possibly, but my point of view has been mostly the same for more years than I care to mention.
Once upon a time, I didn't work in I.T.
I was in marketing. I did sales. I had a design job. I worked at a radio station. I sold cookies at the mall.
But those jobs were so long ago I honestly can't imagine having worked them.
I.T. is different.
Not really "bad" different, but I get the impression (again, fully based on my perspective) that working around I.T. people is different than working around regular people (or as we call them "the Normals").
From a distance, our I.T. infested cubicle farm looks much like the accounting cubicle farm down at the other end of our shared workspace.
Closer comparison reveals subtle differences.
On the I.T. side, the subjects on the wall calendars are mostly science fiction related. The accounting people tend to go with motivational landscapes and cars.
There are kitten calendars on both sides, but you can almost taste the irony in a kitten calendar in an I.T. worker's cubicle.
I'd like to know what the power consumption is across the floor.
The accounting people have a computer and generally a couple of monitors per cubicle.
On the I.T. side, everyone seems to have between two and three computers and between four and six monitors, as well as a constantly-charging array of MP3 players and communication devices.
Every week someone gets a new phone and hours are spent going over the features and comparing it to the previous week's phone.
And there are toys.
The accounting people have corporate-branded stress balls.
The I.T. area is covered in action figures and model starships.
I can't remember the last time a nerf projectile's proximity to my face even made me flinch, no matter how fast it had been modified to travel.
In-cubicle coffee makers are forbidden due to the fire codes. I'm certain there are none on the accounting side of the floor.
I've seen no fewer than three coffee makers on the I.T. side carefully mounted into a modified bottom desk drawer with a lock on it.
Eventually that may kill us all, but I think our caffeinated edge will carry us out the building faster than those poor accounting bastards.
Is this normal?
Are all offices like this?
Are the accounting people hiding all the coolness somehow?
How do things work in your office?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Insecurities

Some fears are perfectly reasonable.
Yet I'm amazed at the amount of fear-related email I get every day.
About three days a week, I get an email from my manager.
This email is invariably a forward of a chain of emails back and forth between executives and upper management and their personal technology coordinators.
The forward itself is populated with a single word from my manager: "Thoughts?"
The email yesterday revolved around the use of AT&T cellular modems for traveling marketing people who would like to check their company email from their hotel rooms.
It must be noted that the cellular modems and associated data plans had made it through Purchasing and had already been delivered to the users for installation in their personal laptops.
Now, I've learned a few key things about that early morning question from my manager and the format in which it arrives.
First, replying to everyone with my "thoughts" is a bad idea since they generally ramble and often end up with a recommendation that the executives submit to "random" drug testing as a way to eliminate the root cause of 90% of these discussions.
Second, there are two ways to analyze most technical issues which arrive in most inboxes.
In this case, that specific issue being the question of security concerns associated with the use of cellular modems in conjunction with a secured internal computing environment.
You could check the protocol for encryption standards, analyze the technical documentation provided on the AT&T website (which would lead one to believe the technology has actually been replaced by magic), review the standard White Hat message boards for known exploits and then try to obtain data from within the connection from outside using a variety of techniques and hacks.
However, if you'd like to answer in a time frame which allows you to go to lunch, you should employ something I like to refer to as "LPPDF".
The Litigation Potential and Publicity Disaster Factor is a powerful time-saving tool which provides an accurate answer to security concerns with minimal effort.
Employing LPPDF is simple. In this case, I need only to ask myself who AT&T markets their cellular modem data service to. Given the placement of advertising in Business Week, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal, it is a safe bet that the service is marketed to businesses over individual users. Also, the fact that marketing guys knew about it in order to request it through Purchasing means they saw it somewhere marketing people see things indicates that they are the target user base. AT&T would prefer individuals purchase their DSL service.
The next question is "What would happen if some executive had something important stolen while using an AT&T data service?"
There would be a lawsuit. A loud and angry one.
Executives all over the country would panic like a herd of buffalo and begin hurling themselves off cliffs and out of any agreement which involves giving money to AT&T.
Therefore, the service can be assumed to be secure.
Also, LPPDF allows us to compare executives to herd animals, but that's just a bonus.
"Is this rollercoaster safe?"
"I know there isn't a warning sign, but is this pool too shallow for diving?"
"Could this chicken be undercooked?"
All of these questions can be answered without costly labwork or the scientific method if we simply apply LPPDF.
Disclosure:
While blazingly fast, LPPDF would have actually been slower than the response I supplied to this particular question.
In this case, I just said that since it was technically already possible to check corporate email over the internet through use of the web interface provided, the risk of any data loss has already been assumed by whatever group provides that service regardless of the method employed by the user to access the internet.
This response generated enough finger-pointing to allow me to slip away and get a cup of coffee and compose and publish this post.
Through the use of my AT&T cellular data card, no less.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

At Least It Is Honest

Okay, so sometimes things get a little crazy at work. I'm sure it happens everywhere.
We can't be the only company with a Procedure Manual weighing in at over 300 pages (single spaced) where people still have to call in favors to get stuff accomplished between teams, right?
That is just the way I.T. works, in my experience.
Whoever is responsible for the equipment in question has to be coerced into making it do something special for someone else or, sometimes, into making it work at all.
I don't go near network firewalls. I haven't logged in to administer one in years.
That's okay, since there is a group of people I can call if I need a port opened or closed.
According to process, I'd just open a ticket and wait, but . . . . Waiting sucks. I mean a lot.
What if it is an emergency? Like I need it done before everyone leaves for the weekend.
In that case, I have to supply the paperwork in addition to promises or threats, depending on the time of day.
Last week I had to tell someone that if a port didn't get opened so that I could apply some patches to a server, God would kill a kitten.
I further said that it was clearly spelled out as such in Leviticus, probably.
The point is that there is a lot of process around doing things at any job and then there is a lot of process around getting things done, and these processes rarely line up as anything which could be called similar in a sane universe.
This last weekend I worked on Friday, did what I was supposed to do, and got thrown under a bus by someone on another team because (my theory goes) the change I requested got put in late or wrong, so it was pretended that it never happened.
Since my call log and network log clearly refute the guy's claims, it was a really weak bus to be thrown under. Like gauze. Or tissue paper. In bus form.
But this is the way things go, and they go this way everywhere, I have to assume in order to maintain my "sanity".
This is the first job I've ever had where the motto seems to be: "*sigh* It is what it is".
I submit as further evidence an email I got from a recruiter yesterday. They were looking for someone to work here and sent it to me because recruiters don't read resumes.
Anyway, after the "skills needed" crap there was a line for "Behavior Characteristics".
Punctual? No.
Team-Player? Not listed.
Able to type 45 words a minute/lift 45 pounds? Nope.
Vaguely hygienic? Doesn't seem to be an issue.
The only "Behavior Characteristic" desired seems to be (and I'm not kidding, I printed it and hung it in my cubicle) "Comfortable with process ambiguity".
If you see that on a job listing, the translation is "the last guy ran screaming from here, be prepared to be tossed into a sea of confusion while wearing a life vest of paperwork".
If I didn't already work here, I'd probably apply.

Monday, December 01, 2008

My Cubicle

I haven't had the opportunity to sit in my actual cubicle since . . . Well, I haven't actually been here at all, ever.
When I started here in April, I sat at a folding table for a couple of weeks and worked from my laptop.
After that, my whole group was moved to a corner of an upper floor in the building with most of the company.
It was determined that we, as a group, were too close to the "normals", and we were shuffled off again.
This time, we left our cubicles and moved into a training room in the dungeon area where we could share classroom-style desks and go about the collaborative effort of making this whole project thing happen.
While we did that, our stuff got packed up and moved to another location.
This set of cubicles is surrounded on one side my other (lesser) I.T. people and on the other by some type of loud buzzing machinery. Maybe it is an air conditioner.
The machine noises are really only loud from outside the building, though, and the hum of it is actually a bit soothing from inside.
Either way, it didn't matter since I was still in the dungeon of another building doing project work and largely ignoring my primary focus Monday through Friday.
While the project itself is still in full swing, I've been moved again.
After over seven months, I'm actually at my desk for the first time, working on the security junk I was hired to work on.

I have no idea what to do with myself.

I've placed some assorted Batman and Star Wars toys around my computer, as required my OSHA regulations (I assume) and I've put up a rear view mirror on my monitor so I know who has invaded my personal space, even though I probably wouldn't mind.
The sheer novelty of having personal space after this long without it makes up for an awful lot of invasion.
I pulled out my handy I.T. Services Official Company Calendar and turned the pages from August to December, then pinned it to the wall with a bent paperclip.
At some point I think I had a desk phone, but it seems to have wandered off.
Perfect. Disposing of the desk phone is officially off my to-do list.
I pulled out a box of paperwork which had been moved along with my belongings from the old cubicle and threw it all away since it was so terribly out of date.
I loaded my stapler.

Now what?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Habitat for Whatever

Jimmy Carter inarguably has done great work for this country. His string of public service was only broken one documented time, that being the four years he was President.
I was absolutely certain that the Carter administration was almost completely without monumental historical worth until this morning.
There is a "Rural-Urban" legend around South Carolina of a place off the coast called "Monkey Island". The story is that thousands of monkeys live there and are routinely harvested by the hundreds for medical research purposes. For the most part, they just run wild on an undeveloped island, only visiting the shoreline to meet the monkey chow boats which regularly visit to ensure the monkeys are getting adequate nutrition.
It sounds weird, but it turns out to be true.
The place is Morgan Island off the coast of Beaufort County. I couldn't make up that place name if I tried.
Anyway, at the end of the Carter administration, rhesus monkeys were imported and released on the island in a super-secret wildlife relocation project. And certainly hundreds of healthy monkeys are removed from the island at a time and sold to medical research facilities and military institutions. The monkeys (which now number close to 6000) produce about 750 young a year.
The area is marked with signs prohibiting people from landing on the island. It is also shrouded in an Area 51-like veil of secrecy.
But why?
I'm not a fan of animal testing, but it isn't a secret.
We all know it happens and we have to assume the animals come from somewhere.
I'm going to come right out and say it.
Sure, some of the monkeys are removed every year for research.
But the majority stay.
No one lands on the island ever and the monkeys which are collected are collected pretty much right from the monkey chow boats.
The secret is related to the original 1979 reason for the creation of this monkey space.
The Jimmy Carter administration started Operation: Monkey Island, SC for the training of a Top Secret force of Ninja Assassin Monkeys, possibly as a slow-moving strategy to mitigate the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Operation Eagle Claw failed, the Carter Presidency was on the ropes and Carter wanted to risk no more American lives.
Had the ninja training moved at a faster pace, Ronald Reagan may never have been elected President.
This doesn't mean that the project ended with Reagan's inauguration, though.
Reagan was a pragmatist, and he wasn't one to give up easily on things designated "impossible" by most sane people.
Also, there is some evidence that the guy loved monkeys anyway.
I am certain he authorized the continued training of these deadly ninja monkeys, and possibly added glowing blue LED stripes like in TRON or, more likely, robot parts like in Short Circuit.
We can't forget that Reagan had a lot of Hollywood contacts, so it is no stretch to assume he had access to the same resources that filmmakers had.
The fact that we are left with is that only a monkey's inability to swim separates the East Coast from a devastating attack from surly, poo-flinging, semi-robotic monkey ninjas.
Anyone intent on upsetting our national security only needs to drop 6000 pairs of water wings on Morgan Island, South Carolina and wait.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Still Sick

But I spent a lot of time at work this weekend anyway.
In order to make up for my total lack of post on Friday, I'll post some pictures I took while I was working. Who doesn't love pictures?

Here is the sign on the coffee machine where a dollar will let you watch dark liquid get squirted into a cup behind a plastic door. After it stops, you can take the cup and drink the "coffee" if you are brave.

My father teaches Latin, so he would know better than I would, but I'm pretty sure CafeDiem does not mean "Live for the coffee". In fact, as far as I know the Romans never had coffee. That's why there is no Roman Empire anymore. At least according to some spotty research I've done.
This machine is the only place to get coffee at all after work officially closes. It is kind of a geek destination near the cafeteria.

Look! Stairs:

Nothing special about these stairs late on a Saturday afternoon, really. People could totally walk up and down them for hours if they were really really bored.
The stairs are not good for our disabled employees, though, and we here at (company name deleted) are all about workplace diversity.
So, here is a ramp configured at a standard one inch per foot incline:

In the upper left, you can just see the stairs from the last picture.
As ramps go, this one is pretty nice. I used it myself quite a few times while trying to figure out why I've been working Saturdays lately.
The slope is gentle and it invites the user to elevate himself slowly.
Of course, the destination is the point in utility building access fixtures, right?
So I ask, what the hell?:


The wheelchair ramp connects the street to this blank brick wall. On either side is some type of vent.
There is no building access anywhere near the wheelchair access ramp. The access is all about the ramp itself, it seems.
I'm not suggesting that this landing is a poor destination, really, but there are nicer, more shaded areas in other places.

Anyway, it looks like our security work over the weekend broke some stuff no one tested. I'm going to go over to the Application area to express concern which I do not feel.
Go, Team Theatre Degree!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Oh, Noes!

I'm leaving as soon as possible today.
Aggressive deadlines make everyone come in and work while being all contagious and everything.
I hate them so much for that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Who Should I Call About This?

Allow me to present a picture of the backyard pool taken this morning as I was leaving for work:


This isn't right. At all.
My garden hose crackled when I stepped on it.
My steering wheel was actually physically painful to touch.
I thought it might be cold up on the mountain here, but this is just stupid cold.
The natives seem fine. They've been calling me "soft" all morning from inside their freshly-constructed ice block houses with two-ply seal skin flap-style doors.
When I suggested "lichens and caribou" as a lunch option, I was completely disregarded. I'm still trying to fit in here, even though my fingers have crystallized and I can no longer feel my feet.
My remaining question is:
Who can we blame for this? This kind of cold s completely unacceptable.
Here is another question:
Do you guys recycle? Do your part to conserve energy? Reduce your carbon footprint?
If so, this is pretty clearly all your fault.
What I need right now is some solid, sustainable global warming.
If it isn't too much trouble, I'd appreciate everyone ditching the car pool and taking the long way to work this week.
Seriously.
I'd do it for you.
Also, we could use a nice, slow-burning tire fire around here. I'll be stocking up on the neighbor's tires this evening and starting the preliminary gasoline soak.
You guys have neighbors. And gas is almost to the point where it seems cheap again.
If you happen across any baby seals while out and about this week, remember you are always one swift clubbing away from me being able to feel my toes again.
I miss them so much.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This Was Not Covered In Orientation

Again, as a public service, I'm going to go over some things it is apparently not okay to say in a corporate environment:

"I've looked at the server that doesn't work, compared it to the one that does, and have tried, unsuccessfully, to recreate the error the tester is seeing. Unless you want me to take off my shirt and rub my nipples on the monitor to try to find an issue using my other senses, I'm done here."

"Please let the user know that they need to call the Help Desk and have their machine reloaded. Also, tell him that our 'target number' for 'less hassles in the future from him' is a flat 40%."

"I know all my current tickets are flagged 'end-user issue'. My stuff works fine. By process of elimination, this is clearly their fault somehow."

"It isn't that I don't care about that user's productivity. I just care so little it appears that I care not at all."

"How did you get this number? Who told you we could help you at this extension? And what was their user ID?"

"All we hear from these people is how stuff doesn't work. Would some constructive criticism be too much to ask? How about : 'I think the logon screen is pretty but I can't seem to click on it anywhere' or 'I like it but I'd find it more useful if all the access weren't stripped out of it'?
It isn't like I call them all 'dumb'; I say they are 'functional' yet 'shockingly somehow still able to remember to breathe given their obvious mental deficiencies'."

"Issue number 618 has been open a long time, but the issue has been resolved for weeks. I've just been using that issue number for everything else since then because I didn't want the system to email me new numbers."

"I'm not going to be able to help you until I get coffee. I'm just going to set the phone down here. I'll be back, prolly."

What's wrong with any of that?
Honest and open communication is key in an office environment, in my opinion.

I've been assigned "Professionalism Training" on December 2nd.

/shudder

Monday, November 17, 2008

Not As Fast As I'd Like

On the week of the launch of Wrath of the Lich King, I put in over sixty hours at work, including almost 15 over the weekend.
This stage of the project involves today's scheduled upload of our raw scan results to the Department of Defense. It was intensely important that everything be fixed before that scan, because government contracts are on the line and if those go away people lose their jobs.
Next weekend, I'll be at work again doing the same thing for our Medicare environment since we have an audit starting the following Monday. Again, contracts and jobs depend on it.
Both of these environments contain impossible-to-support legacy systems which have been largely un-patched for a number of years.
In one case, the patch installer wouldn't run on the servers so we had to extract the updated files from the patch and manually put them in place on the server. We don't even know if that will make the issue go away on a scan, but we know we can have it flagged as a false positive based on file version if it comes down to it.
And the application may still run, though we hardly cared late last night.
So that takes care of last weekend and next weekend.
The following weekend I'll be at work all weekend turning off these servers forever because the project is over.
Yes. I'll be working two complete weekends on servers which will be powered off the final time on the following weekend.
I.T. Security can sometimes suck a lot.
I did have a little time to play, though, and Wrath of the Lich King is completely pretty.
Webinara ran around the snowy landscape of Northrend doing every available quest and exploring every tiny peninsula and fog-shrouded forest.
Of course, the leveling process is slow since I have been playing in short bursts.
The first character on my server to reach the new level cap of 80 did so on Saturday morning.
Webinara is still level 72.
playing is becoming a bit of a frustration because, with the new "Achievement System" every time someone in my guild does something cool I get told all about it automatically. New level? I hear about it. Awesome new dungeon completed? Yeah, I hear that too.
Meanwhile, Webinara is running around a snowy wasteland collecting ram's horns.
However, my play time has not been completely boring.
While gathering the requested horns for the Walrus people (don't ask) Webinara was attacked by a bunch of weird blue dragon things.
Not wanting to upset the fragile frozen ecosystem by killing them, Webinara chose to leave the area. Quickly.
Then, what seemed at first glance to be a gradual slope down to the beach turned out to be, in fact, a cliff.
So Webinara bravely (accidentally) leapt (plunged) to the bottom of the cliff, landing on a penguin.
But wait. This penguin was huge.
In fact, it carried the name "King Ping", and he was more than a little annoyed at Webinara's perceived attack.
While Webinara's pet gorilla went to work on the penguin, the dragon things (having navagated around the mountaintop and down the gentle slope to the beach like cowards instead of following Webinara off the cliff) caught up and continued trying to eat Webinara.
For some reason, the penguin and the dragon things died before Webinara did.
And, apparently, there was an "Achievement" connected to defeating this particular penguin.
This was announced to the guild by the computer as a "Guild First", evoking a round of congratulatory messages.
"Thanks." Webinara responded in the Guild Chat channel, "I've been tracking that penguin for hours."
Then I logged off and went to work.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Gone Wrong

Thursday was Greek Day in the cafeteria.
You may remember that this is something of an event around here.
The issue arose when I decided that I just wasn't "feeling it" this week.
It seems like we just had Greek Day a couple of weeks ago. There is only so much I can take, really.
So I said that I'd be going along, but that I'd probably just have a turkey wrap.
At this point, my co-worker Dave flipped out.

"If you don't want to be a Team Player, you can just eat somewhere else."

"Hey! I'm a Team Player! I'm going!"

"It doesn't count if you don't eat the Greek food on Greek Day!"

"Opa?"

"Don't 'Opa' me, you Greek Day traitor!"

"I just don't want a chicken feta wrap today."

"Fine! But don't expect us to care!"

And, as a result of last-minute guilt while in line, I got the chicken feta whole wheat wrap. You'd think this would count for something, but you'd be wrong.

"Look! I got Greek food! Opa!"

"I told you to get whatever you wanted."

"I'm a Team Player!"

"Whatever."

The hostility continued to simmer like artichoke casserole under a heat lamp for most of the afternoon. It was ignited again, unfortunately.

"The current application issues can be completely explained by a total lack of team synergy on Greek Day."

"What?!"

"She's right. You crapped all over Greek Day."

"I had a chicken feta wrap!"

"How was it?"

"Dry as hell, like always!"

"Good!"

"I had no idea Greek Day was such a freaking issue! I just didn't want a heavy, sauce-laden chicken thing in the middle of the day!"

"No one said you had to participate in team activities, Garrick."

"But I did participate!"

"We know when you don't mean it."

"I'm just trying to heal this apparently chicken-based rift in our relationship. Do I need to march back upstairs and buy some freaking chicken?"

"Just forget I mentioned it."

"No! Obviously it is an issue!"

"You don't like the chicken. Don't eat the chicken. And stop yelling."

"I'm fine with the freaking chicken!"

"You sound perfectly reasonable about it, yeah."

"Reasonable? I'll give you reasonable! O-freaking-Pa!"

"Opa, yourself!"

Today is Build-Your-Own Nachos Day.
Someone is going to lose an eye.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Giving Thanks


We had some pretty major application issues yesterday.
There was a script mapping three network drives and then accessing a program stored on one of them.
Initially, it would work.
The second attempt was almost always a failure. The "almost" is important since if a computer or program is broken, it is almost always broken every time.
I tried mapping the drives a different way. It still failed.
I thought maybe the drives weren't mapping completely before the application started and there were files not found. This was also not it.
Finally, I determined that the initial drive mappings were staying resident and then showing up on subsequent attempts in a disconnected state.
Changing the script to un-map the drives before mapping them solved that particular issue.
I bring all this up to tell you that in the middle of it we discussed Thanksgiving.
Our Project Coordinator mentioned that her family has two separate meals on that day and that the one at her husband's family's house is not as good.
When pressed, she said that the menu was different.
I attempted further clarification, "What are they? Communists?"
She responded,"There are regional menu variations. Like the addition of rice and gravy and mashed potatoes."
I felt the topic had shifted dramatically, so I pursued my original line of inquiry,"But I noticed you don't deny that your husband's family may be Communists."
This issue was never, to me, satisfactorily resolved.
On the bright side, EBGames has apparently managed to deliver my Wrath of the Lich King World of Warcraft expansion pack to my house, on release day, before noon.
Of course, it's there and I'm here, so I still have to install it when I get home.
I'll tell you exactly what I told my family:
I'll see you guys in Mid-December, prolly.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I'm A Little Distracted

The new expansion pack for World of Warcraft is released this week.
As part of the giant player immersion (marketing) push, there have been a lot of in-game events added recently.
This pre-release build-up has included a full-on zombie invasion, random attacks by the twisted minions of the Lich King all over the game world and, most recently, an attack on the beloved but poorly-designed capitol city of the Horde, Orgrimmar.
It was pretty awful, since Frost Wyrms and massive undead creatures were completely destroying the lovely architectural elements of the Valley of Honor and killing the poor noobs trying to skill up their fishing in the pond there.
Of course, Webinara felt compelled to rush over and assist in the defense.
She also got to see Thrall, Warchief of the Horde, get completely beaten down fighting an enemy in the arena.
It was over pretty quickly, but the event seems to restart every twenty minutes.
This schedule makes this epic event seems somehow less . . . epic . . . but it gives everyone a better chance of seeing it if they haven't logged in.
And logging in has been a pretty big problem lately. The regular Tuesday morning maintenance stretched past the normal 11am Pacific time until well after midnight.
The servers are down again today to correct some of the things broken yesterday.
With the expansion coming out at midnight, I honestly don't care how long the servers are down today. An update like this one is virtually guaranteed to come with a large amount of bugs, server downtime, game instability and rolling restarts.
Still.
It would have been nice to see some more Frost Wyrms pwning the noobs at the fishing pond.
That never fails to warm the heart.

Monday, November 10, 2008

This Isn't Right


Long ago, there was a time when the "cool" thing to do with a beverage was to make it clear. The idea was that it made even semi-toxic cola seem somehow more pure and therefore more healthy.
This is not a trend which should ever be repeated. Especially with coffee.
This morning my normal conference room desk was usurped by some other team for testing or hanging out or something.
As a result, I'm spending today in my "normal" cubicle. "Normal" is in quotes since, while my name is posted on the outside, I'd spent about ten minutes here total prior to today.
I'm in a totally different building listening to totally different office sounds.
There is a totally different cafeteria downstairs which does not offer whole wheat pancakes. Further, the Splenda is next to the cash register where I did not see it until after I'd dosed my disgustingly weak coffee with something out of a blue packet.
If it weren't for the fact that the tiny amount of caffeine in that semi-transparent (like I can see the bottom of the cup through the hole in the lid, semi-transparent) coffee is probably keeping my liver working, I'd manually purge in the completely unfamiliar restroom.
How do people get anything done in this building?
Any why are the keyboards so freaking loud?
I heard a rumor that there is no one in the conference room in the other building this morning. I moved out all my stuff to keep them from messing it up and it looks like they didn't bother to use the room after all.
If I'd been paying attention when I was told who needed the room, I'd spend a little time this morning deleting accounts. Unfortunately, I wasn't, so I have no one to blame but . . . The Application Support Team.
They haven't specifically done anything and, to be honest, I have very little interaction with them. But in my time in Corporate America I've learned that the first step in troubleshooting any problem is the Assigning Of Blame.
With the AOB out of the way, I can continue on with my day.
Select > Group > Application Support > Delete > Force Update

Friday, November 07, 2008

Where Has It Been?

Almuric.
First published over the course of three months in 1939 in the magazine Weird Tales, this story then vanished for almost 70 years.
As I've mentioned before, I absolutely love the adventure stories from this time period.
Most of them are undeniably bad, like literary placeholders between books that became "the classics". But pulp, named for the low-quality paper it was printed on, is an almost inherently American style of writing.
I just finished Swordsman of Mars by Otis Adelbert Kline, courtesy of Paizo Publishing's Planet Stories line.
Kline was is more famous as Robert E. Howard's literary agent than as a writer on his own, but back in the day there seems to have been quite a rivalry between Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline in the fledgling field of what I lovingly refer to as "crap fiction".
In the twenties and thirties, their stories were wildly popular. This was possibly due to the cheapness of the books in conjunction with the Great Depression and a total lack of a Home and Garden Television Network.
It may also have been due to America's need for an escape from the day-to-day abject poverty and unemployment rate.
Pulp provides that. The stories are straightforward action in fantastic locations. The characters are cookie-cutter archetypes. Burroughs' Tarzan and Howard's Conan were always the leads, but sometimes the names were changed. There is absolutely no learning curve in these books.
The characters reject modern culture and return time and again to a more primitive lifestyle fighting giant monsters for survival. Society is portrayed as corrupt and a weakening agent on the human spirit. The aristocracy is uniformly evil and foppish.
I think that was the key to the success of pulp, and when people began to make money again they lost interest in stories about turning away from it.
Swordsman of Mars was not, by any definition, a good book. Kline telegraphs every twist and every plot point seems completely stolen from Burrough's John Carter series. But sometimes not being a good book and not being a good read are not the same thing.
It was fun.
Almuric, on the other hand, is well-written. And fun.
The protagonist is dropped on an alien planet where he must survive without the benefits of the modern world in both books, but Howard just does it better.
With the current state of the economy I'm hoping to see a resurgence in pulp, possibly even in online serialized format.
Escapist entertainment is a time-honored American tradition.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Post-Election News

Where is it?
Obama is getting a dog when he moves into the White House?
This is only really news if he names it "Maverick". However, if he does, I may actually die from laughter.
More importantly, our Consultants-Only Super Party Spectacular Ass-Off '08 was called off early.
Shana broke her finger during a bad rugby hand-off and needed to see a doctor. She's all splinted and mildly drugged, but the wait at the doctor's office meant I needed to leave early (pre-Ass-Off) to meet Gwynyth at the bus.
I was happy to do it, but today there is the suggestion that I chose to leave early for fear of losing.
This is completely not the case.
We had it pretty well organized, really, and the vote would have been as fair as possible.
Instead of parading in front of a group of voters, we were using Xerox copies of the . . . entries.
That way, votes could be placed with no preference to gender - a vital part of any guy getting voted "Best Butt" in a room full of other guys.
There were comments, which I would assume to be complimentary, such as "Did this one fall off a frog?" and "The back pockets on this one actually appear concave." That's good, right?
Anyway, the final vote was never tallied and the question is now hanging over the room like a dark cloud of ass-uncertainty.
I mean, I'm not uncertain.
No way.
I can't wait for all the Full Time Employees to head off to their next elitist off-site gathering so we can settle this.

EDIT: I've gotten a lot of email asking for details about Shana's rugby accident. I can no longer keep up the fictionalization. The real story is that, due to a bizarre convergence of events, while walking Gwynyth to the bus stop yesterday it became necessary for Shana to punch a rabid bear in the face. Since she was holding Gwynyth's lunch box, her fist was insufficiently formed and her finger was broken.
But you should see the bear!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

My Liver Hurts

I learned an important thing about the electoral process yesterday.
In South Carolina, liquor stores are closed on election day. What the hell is that about?
I was pretty irate about it, and expressed my feelings to my co-workers.
I was told that the law about closing liquor stores on election day was to prevent people from voting drunk (a law which did not prevent Strom Thurmond from keeping his Senate seat for like a billion years, by the way).
"That's stupid!" I told the room, "I was completely trashed when I voted absentee. I could hardly even make it to the mailbox and it's just right over by the cafeteria."
"Are you implying that you were drunk at work, Garrick?"
"I'm not implying anything. Your liquor laws are puritanical. Now give me back my coffee mug before someone gets hurt."
Shana made two pitchers last night, one with blue Kool-Aid and vodka and the other with cranberry juice and vodka. Mixed together, these became a delightful Bi-Partisan Punch.
Oddly, the blue parts did not mix well with the red parts, so it ended up kind of splotchy looking.
Then, there was beer.
And vanilla vodka with Diet Coke.
Oh, I participated in the political process like crazy.
Today, I have my traditional post-election headache. And I may die.
This afternoon there is a special off-site meeting for all the I.T. people. It is catered and there are supposed to be special speakers and all kind of awesomeness.
Well, it isn't actually for all of the I.T. people, since all the hourly consultants are specifically not invited.
This exclusion kind of angered me. And when I say "kind of" I mean "really".
So I decided to organize a consultants-only on-site meeting this afternoon.
We will have skits and interpretive dance. There may also be pie.
But everyone there will be able to bill for their time.
In fact, there were a couple of full-time people talking about calling in sick this morning and coming in just for our on-site meeting of awesomeness. This would still not mean they are invited, though.
Finally, the challenge was issued.
Apparently, the project lead who sits in front of me had become tired of hearing me talk about the awesomeness of my butt -- the stories of how you can bounce a quarter off it apparently got to her.
This afternoon, by consultant-only vote, we are settling this matter in an event we've named "Ass-Off '08".
We've already started the pre-game trash talk ritual.
I think we'll be just fine without door prizes and motivational speakers.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Breaking My Own Rules

I know.
Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng is not about politics.
My whole I.T. career can be summed up the same way.
Still, today the people I work with, and the people you work with, and the people you see in the check-out line, and the people who cut you off in traffic or stop a whole line of cars to let you make a stupid left turn will be picking a brand-new shiny Leader of the Free World.
It's about time. Even if the approval ratings for the current guy weren't completely horrible you have to admit the shelf life on even the very best Leader of the Free World is eight years plus a memoir.
Whatever happens in a today, everything changes.
This election, even with all the name-calling and finger-pointing and catch phrases, is going to fundamentally change reality in a new and awesome way.
Politics aside, this election makes me think of my parents.
When they were in school, they were taught that people, American people, would visit space and walk on the moon.
And they believed it, sure, but until late at night on July 20th, 1969, it was a belief based on a theory.
And when I went to school it was historical fact.
My belief was based on video and audio and books about it
My belief was based on my parents having seen it happen.
And when I went to school I was taught that anyone could run for President if they were the right age, born in America, and stayed out of prison.
It didn't matter what color a person was or what gender, anyone could potentially be President of the United States.
I believed it. But until this election, that belief was also based on a theory.
And when my daughter goes to school and they tell her the same thing they told me, she will believe it because she saw it.
She will believe it because a woman from Alaska may be elected as Vice President (even though Ferraro was first to run for VP) and a black man from Hawaii may be the new Leader of the Free World.
And in a couple of weeks after all the legal wrangling and chad slapping is over, history will have been made.
Undeniably, this is awesome.
Of course, this election is also hitting pretty close to home for us, and not just because the economy is completely shot and our troops are not, for the most part, happy troops and congress keeps freaking trying to regulate the flow of information. I'm telling you people, we are one genetically-engineered virus away from a total zombie apocalypse.
But anyway.
This election, I'm looking at the issues from an officially Jewish perspective.
There have been numerous reports of Republican push polls targeting Jewish voters alleging the Democratic candidate's ties to the PLO.
As little as I fear these tactics would ever work on informed voters, I still have some concerns.
Why do Republicans even keep a list of Jewish people?
The important issue, as I see it, is:
Which would-be LFW will best save us all from the inevitable zombie/robot/alien infestation/uprising/invasion?
Since we all know the first thing to fall is our ever-so-fragile Government infrastructure, we will probably be best served by the candidate with real-world, grass roots, community organization experience, and not an especially long career in Washington. I mean, that place gets leveled first in almost any zombie/robot/alien scenario.
On the other hand, no one has produced footage of Obama wielding a chainsaw or a cricket bat, so the final determination is up to you. Remember, with either implement it all comes down in the end to upper body strength.
Now that the whole "Who do I vote for?" issue has been covered, I'm going to go over what you can do at home on Election Night.
The rules are as follows:
50 cards are labeled for the individual states and placed in a hat. Everyone draws until there are no states left in the hat.
If the state goes red, the holder of that state's card drinks something red like red wine, vodka and Red Bull, or Red Stripe Beer.
If the state goes blue, the holder of that state's card drinks something blue like blue Jell-O shots, Blue Moon beer, or Jones Blue Bubble Gum Soda with vanilla vodka.
The "Everyone Drinks" words from commentators for the evening are:

Diebold
Chads
Swing State
Disenfranchised

Monday, November 03, 2008

A Very Geeky Halloween

Look! Our house had a Mac-O-Lantern!
While largely condemned as "geeky" and "elitist", I think my pumpkin turned out quite nicely.
Our quiet little cul-d-sac featured absolutely no trick or treaters. Zero.
We actually had to walk Gwynyth across the golf course and into a more populated neighborhood.
I decided to take advantage of the fact that I haven't had a hair cut since moving to Columbia to fulfill my lifelong dream of trying this costume:


While it may look like just another stunningly attractive I.T. guy in a red shirt, please allow me to remind you of the existence of this guy:


"I had a report due on space, so I looked it up in my Encyclopedia Brittanica."
Note the awesome five and a quarter inch floppy on that machine behind him. In vintage hardware circles, we call that a "tricked-out 5-dot-2-5".
When this commercial was made, computers like that one didn't connect to a global network of interwebz, and school children were forced to look things up in piles of shredded trees known as "books".
These were very, very dark times.
There was no Wikipedia to quickly settle arguments, so simple trivia questions were often settled with grim fights to the death. The only weapons a man had were his wits and crudely sharpened stones lashed to sticks with animal sinew.
Google was only a dream and there was no single web portal to solve all our problems with a mouse click.
Tell me my costume doesn't scare the hell out of you.