Saturday, May 31, 2008

Happy WTF?

I went to happy hour on Friday night because I so desperately crave human after-work contact if I'd been invited to help someone rake I'd have accepted.
As a bonus, I like my coworkers and happy hour sounded . . . happy.
Not content with $5 "buckets" of domestic longnecks, I immediately opted for the old Guinness Stout standby. I've got most of a six pack left in my hotel room refrigerator, but there is a lot to be said for $2 drafts. Starting with "Yay!"
My phone rang after beer #2 and I answered the call from my good friend Mr. Bergh, who gave me two bits of advice which I will share with you:

1. The new Conan massively multiplayer online game is a non-stop gore-fest of awesome. This is not the first time I'd heard that, but Mr. Bergh is comfortable enough with his geekiness to embrace the lore behind the bloodshed and 'Mature' rating -- while appreciating the bloodshed and 'Mature' rating.

2. Blue Moon is the perfect dessert beer to follow the meal that is Guinness Stout.

I went back to the bar and noticed that Blue Moon (which I had never heard of) was on tap, so I ordered one.
I was shocked and almost offended when an orange slice was squeezed in and placed on the side of the glass.
I staggered back to where my friends were sitting and all I could say was, "That guy. He put fruit in my beer."
"Is that a Blue Moon?"
"There is fruit in my beer," I attempted to clarify, "Fruit. Like an orange part. In my beer."
"That's a Blue Moon. They do that here."
"Hey, Garrick, is that fruit in your beer?"
I was even more offended to find the flavor refreshing and delightful.
The biggest shock? Google-searching for it when I got back to the hotel and discovering that it is a domestic beer.
What have I become?
And why, even knowing that, do I intend to pick up a six pack tomorrow?
And maybe an orange.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sometimes I Miss Them

Meetings. So much "planning" is involved on the "Plan" team that I rarely see the "Build" or "Run" teams at all.
You know who I also never see? I mean ever? Users.
They don't even know who I am and (as a function of my security role) most of them don't know that I exist.
But I've come to realize that my interaction with users is a vital part of my day-to-day anxiety level and, without it, this blog is kind of boring.
I can't interact with the users here. I'm too busy stripping them of all system access rights and trampling their dreams. So I'm going to get some of my own.
If you don't have me in Instant Messenger somewhere (geek_AT_prettygeekything.com in Gmail and my name with a dot in the middle in Yahoo) now is the time to add me.
I'll be logging in to answer any and all technical or geek-related questions on Thursday afternoons between 1 and 3pm EST (because Eastern Time is how I roll).
I won't post any names in the blog. To the readers, everyone will be as faceless as regular users have always been to me.
But don't stress if you don't have a question. I've posted my services for free on a couple of new-user computer forums as well, so I should get plenty of offers from Nigerian bankers if nothing else.
I've been invited out this evening to "Happy Hour" at some bar kind of near enough to my hotel to minimize the threat to other motorists. Actually, if "Happy Hour" just applies to Miller Light, as I suspect, I'll probably just visit the Starbucks across the street anyway. "Happy" is caffeinated, in my opinion.
The important thing is this: I have something to do besides sit alone in a crowded theatre on a weekend watching movies with my only consideration being how to bring my opinion about it back to Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng.
Perhaps I should drink more, and I would if drinking all by myself in a dingy, darkened hotel room wasn't one of the warning signs my high school guidance counselor highlighted in the pamphlet she gave me that time I ditched algebra to climb up into the lighting grid over the auditorium and drop pennies onto the empty stage to see how high they would bounce. For the record, the answer is "very".

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Listing

On a Thursday completely packed with meetings what could I possibly blog about?
Since moving from a single-floor building into the location known as "The Tower", I've had a lot of opportunities to ride the elevator from the ground floor towards my cubicle on the seventh.
Here is a list of things I've heard in the elevator over the past four days:


1. Some other nerd: "The best thing about my wife leaving me is not having to watch those stupid reality TV shows anymore."

2. Manager-type: "I've got a special project I need you to do for me every other Friday."
Worker: "Fine, but I'm going to need you to pay me in unicorns."
Manager-type: "Of course, but about the project . . ."

3. Some lady from I.T. Finance: "Ever since I stopped working from home and started coming back into the office everyone has all these questions for me. I think I'll just send out a blanket memo telling them to leave me alone."

4. Older gentleman who I suspect works in the data center, explaining the bandages going up the left side of his body: "I hit a slick spot going about 65, but I managed to get myself between the road and the bike. Paint doesn't heal."

5. I.T. worker: "If you use it a whole bunch of times it will become intuitive."

6. Young data center guy: "I can't believe I have pants on."
Other young data center guy: "Yeah. This corporate dress code sucks."

7. Project Lead: "Does anyone know when Jeff is going to run the rest of those tests?"
Worker: "Jeff, maybe?"
Project Lead: "No, I already asked him."

8. Worker: "That's a nice pen."
Other worker: "Keep it."
Worker: "You sure?"
Other worker: "I've got a zillion of them in my car. I'll just pick up more from the supply closet."

9. Admin: "They just put me on this project because I work well with paper."

10. Different Project Lead: "This timeline is way off. Everything is skewed by three weeks."
Project Coordinator: "It took us four hours to get the skewing in the same direction, so that's progress."

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I Know I Didn't Say Anything

Once upon a time I had a daily engineering meeting at 8:30 every morning. After that, there were other meetings but none of them could be called "daily", really.
This is no longer the case.
My manager added a 9am daily meeting to address the items on a spreadsheet numbered 1.0.0.0 through 5.49.14.4. Each item has a due date and each item must be updated in terms of progress every single day, verbally at the meeting and electronically by close of business.
And I'm late to this meeting every morning because it follows my 8:30 engineering meeting.
Five or six people from my area attend along with three Project Managers and someone from the administration department who updates an electronic copy of the spreadsheet while we scribble notes on the multiple pages we each have to print out each day now.
Part of me is sad for the trees who gave their lives for this project. It is the same inner Lorax which cringes each time I pass another palette of paper headed for the copy room or making its way out of the building to be shredded off-site at our secure shredding facility.
But the point is this:
Our manager said this new meeting was in response to someone having told him that they didn't know what was going on with the project. Someone carelessly cost me 110 hours in meetings if the project finishes on time. If the project is delayed because of all the meetings, there are even more hours I'll spend in those.
The fact that I don't know who went to a manager with an "I don't know what's going on with the project" is, in short, the only reason they haven't found a project plan scratched into the hood of their car.
People should always ask a coworker first. And before going to a manager they should spend a few days just trying to act like the people around them. Opening the same spreadsheets and updating the same forms. They end up looking busy and possibly the whole thing will click on some level and the question will go away.
This morning I have meetings until 11am, straight through, and another at 3pm and over half the time will be spent in regular scheduled "status" meetings which by their very nature can be replaced by an email.
As a further update: Those patches and the imaginary testing and unreasonable deadline which wasn't our responsibility and then was mine and then went back to the original owner? It is mine again. I made some progress with it, but it stalled out after the last meeting about it.
Over the weekend the people who normally patch the systems broke a bunch of stuff so they gave the task back to me.
There is another lesson there. If you don't want to do something, screw it up a few times so badly that everyone else agrees with you.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Words To Use

The LOLcat image has nothing to do with this post.
This post is about congratulating my friend and fellow blogger Andrew.
In his posts, he documents the creative process and (lately) his new venture into running a theatre company.
While his posts are always a good read, one post in particular has guaranteed his internet fame forever.
This post, to be specific.
You see, a Google search for a specific set of words turns up this post as the very first hit. "Sperm Puppets".
Congratulations, Andrew. Your blog is filled with win.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

How To Know What Is Important

I saw the new Indiana Jones movie on Friday night, ensuring that I'll be able to hold on to my Geek Badge until the new Hulk movie is released. If you haven't seen it yet, I won't spoil it.
I think Hasbro and Lucas Arts have pretty well summed up the plot of Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in their latest Indiana Jones toy line.
This covers what you need to know:

"Monkey Man"! Remember this guy! He totally tried to poison Indy only the highly trained assassin monkey screwed it up! Not a spoiler, since that movie came out in 1981. But it was awesome.


"Cairo Swordsman"! Oh, that was so awesome!
Indy completely pwned that guy! Also in 1981.

4008120c008f_Main400

"Belloq"! One of the most important reasons to hate the French! Also, oddly, dating back to 1981.

 

Marion 

We all know Marion is back in the latest movie. This is her action figure. Accessories include a frying pan, sword and outfit from her appearance in (you guessed it) 1981.

ColonelVogel

Now we are getting somewhere. Nazis. Specifically, Colonel Vogel. There are no Nazis in the latest movie, but Indy and this guy have a history going back to . . . about 1981.

GrailKnight

Look! Not from 1981! This guy is from The Last Crusade! "The Grail Knight"! Remember, this is the current Hasbro toy line.
I'm not saying it isn't awesome, I'm just saying there is a movie in theatres right freaking now.


DrSchneider

So, Dr. Schneider . . . . We meet again. Seems like we haven't seen her since 1989. It's nice to know that her fashion sense has stood up so well against the harsh judgement of history. Riding pants for the win!

 

 HenryJones


Dr. Henry Jones is back! Unfortunately, not in the latest movie. I never thought I'd be nostalgic for the 80's.

But what about Indiana Jones himself? Sure, there are toys for him. It would be silly for there to not be toys.

IJTLC

Here he is from The Last Crusade. Awesome, right? There are more.

IJWCA

Indiana Jones with "Whip Cracking Action"! Sweet! Takes me back to fond memories of . . . Yeah, 1981.

IJWI

Indiana Jones "With Idol". Not only is this from 1981, it is from the earliest scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, that scene was awesome.

 

IJKOTCS

Finally, here is the "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" figure. Holy crap! Someone give that toy a fedora! Oh, how we long for 1981! There is another figure where he holds a crystal skull, but I'm not posting that since it can be considered spoilery.

Surely there is something freaking toy-worthy in this movie! Oh, wait! Here:

MuttWilliams

Mutt Williams. With a snake. To be fair, the 13-year-old girls in the theatre with me seemed to completely love this guy. I like him too, but I think there are different motivations.

MuttWilliams2

Here he is again, with a sword and jacket. Awesome. He gets two figures from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Indiana Jones gets the same figure twice with different accessories.

There is your movie review in toy form, ladies and gentlemen. Take from it what you will.

There is some good news in all this, however.

YoungIndy

Young Indiana Jones is also back, at least in toy form. We've all missed this guy since 1989. Except for the TV series, which I never saw a single time.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Not it!

Hey! Remember that set of emergency-holy-crap-o-my-God patches I was supposed to push out?
Never mind.
Turns out that does still belong to the people who tried to fling it at me. Unfortunately, this does not get me out of a meeting this afternoon about it. And I think the person who told me not to bother with it won't be attending so I may be left with the only argument being a giant pout, but that usually works anyway. Pouting may not work for children, but when adults do it there is an associated power that must be learned over time.
This meeting is not the only meeting of my Friday, though. Oh, no. There were four hours of other meetings where plans were made and decisions were postponed and deferred.
My favorite current debate is about what to call the test websites. They are temporary, but certificates will still need to be purchased. I requested "wildcard" certificates which would allow us to deploy anything in the format "whatever.ourdomain.com", but no one knows who authorizes that so we will just be buying them one by one and discarding them after test. The only debate was the naming convention. Every environment must be tested from multiple entry points and each needs its own web address for each server farm -- abbreviated because we don't want the users to have to spell anything.
My suggestion of abbreviating "Medicare Internet Leveraged Farm" to http://milf.ourdomain.com almost made it through committee. I hope to have better luck with "Current Radius Authenticated Production".
I found out after my 11am meeting that the move from my folding table to a cubicle of my very own which had been scheduled for 4pm today had been done sometime while I was in a meeting. None of my stuff made the move, though.
Instead, I seem to have better stuff. Or maybe whoever used to sit here didn't fill out a move sheet either.
Whatever.
I think (though I lost my Employee Handbook in a bet on who could slide the furthest down a banister without putting his feet on the stairs) Corporate Policy states something like, "Finders Keepers."
My new computer is shiny and flat-screened and dual-cored, so I should be able to churn out paperwork (on my own printer) like all those people I hate so much.
And the picture of a dog in this cute little frame with paw prints around it can only serve to cast me in a more human light among my coworkers.
This will help when I eventually betray them all and fling myself up the chain of command using their corpses as spring boards.
That part is also, I assume, in the Employee Handbook.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Responsible" does not mean "At fault"

Sometimes a process defines an organization. Rarely, organization guides a process.
Like any massive national mega-corp, my company has quite a few different I.T. groups all responsible for different facets of the colorful jewel that is "busted computers".
I was hired onto the "Logical Workstations" team. Actually, I'd have seniority over everyone else on that team if I'd started two weeks earlier because it it just that new.
We are responsible for the servers in our new virtual computing environment. These servers don't exist yet, and since they are virtual anyway they may never really exist. But the organization has fumbled along on an older platform which breaks every time it gets patched.
I announced early on that no group but ours would ever patch our servers in our new and beautiful enclave.
Unfortunately, the group which is responsible for patching the old junk listened.
Now we have about three weeks to implement the latest security patches or we lose some pretty big government business. Except that it took two and a half weeks for the other team to fling that particular hot potato to us.
And we don't have access to their automatic patching system.
So we have to manually patch a bunch of servers. No big deal, right?
Wait! There is an audit going on, so the work can't be done until Friday. In fact, I'm not allowed to log on to the servers until Friday night after business hours. They have to be (according to procedure) tested, patched and back in service before the next scan on Monday.
I went to the server owner and asked for access to the dedicated Test environment.
There isn't one. Never has been one.
Just for fun, I repeated this line of questioning:

Me: "I'm going to need access to the DoD Production Test Environment immediately."

Everyone I talked to: "The what now?"

After about forty-five minutes, I started giggling.
I attended a conference call later where we went over the paperwork related to the patches in mind-numbing detail.
When asked if I had any questions or concerns, I replied that I was fine with the paperwork but laid out my concerns in this manner:
"Basically, the server team didn't want to do it so they flung it on us, only they haven't provided any mechanism to test or deploy these patches and they don't respond to my email. What was supposed to take a team of professionals weeks to do I have to do in a couple of hours. There is no way to test any of this with no risk of user impact and the company is out millions of dollars if this screws up. While the server team has been responsible, suddenly it is all on me because they said they didn't want it. I'd like to transfer to the server team. Before Friday."
The response was a stunned silence and assurances that all would be well. Also, "Welcome aboard."
Some days I feel like I'm wearing only one roller skate. While I may feel tall and move quickly, it is only in tiny circles.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I Know People

Anyway, we have a lot of crap going on at work right now. For example, the entire infrastructure is being rebuilt, including the servers I'm responsible for keeping live.
Right now, 10% of Citrix Consulting is on-site here four days a week to manage that migration. I keep saying,"Just because it is broken in this way now is no excuse to migrate bad policy into the environment." I'm quite an ass about that, actually.
Remember this job opportunity? It resulted in this delightful trip to our nation's capitol.
What I did not disclose is that it also resulted in a pretty kick-ass job offer in Charleston, South Carolina. There was big-time government work, security clearance and (after I pressed relentlessly for several days) enough money.
I accepted the job. An hour later, mouse hovering over the 'Send' button on my "Screw you I quit" letter, my phone rang. Or vibrated. Anyway.
The recruiter told me that the head-count requirements changed and they could not, in fact, add me to the team. It was very close to being a horrible situation, but eventually I got my money back for the plane ticket and moved on with my life.
It was that opportunity that got me looking at South Carolina, though. So I ended up here anyway.
Speaking of here, I mentioned that 10% of the Citrix Consulting workforce is on-site here four days a week, right? They brought in a subject matter expert to configure one of the network appliances . . . And it is the same guy who interviewed (and hired and downsized and refunded) me for the position in Charleston. Isn't that weird?
Also, at the time he never mentioned being a subject matter expert in this particular appliance at the time. It might have just not come up, but I suspect that all consultants just bluff their way into being subject matter experts and learn while being on the job.
I like to believe that, anyway, since that is exactly what I do.
Parents: Don't dismiss a theatre degree right away when your child announces that as their goal. It does not always result in homelessness.
Actually, in my particular case it has resulted in the opposite in which I will start the paperwork this evening on owning two homes at the same time.
Nevermind that the expense of this kind of foolishness may also result in homelessness, though not due to my classical theatrical training.
I wouldn't advise buying a home before selling the existing home, but I've discovered that life apart from my family is hardly life at all. I miss my kid. I miss my wife, who is my best friend and confidant.
Sometimes (rarely, given their behaviour) I miss one or more of the cats.
My coworkers' "What did you do over the weekend?" is a sad, sad question to answer these days.

The End of Children's Week Online


There is an actual post coming, but I wanted to wrap up Webinara's orphan saga here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What The Hell Is Wrong With Me?

Why have I spent ten years playing employment musical chairs in corporate I.T.?
Why is a decent and rewarding long-term opportunity such a difficult thing to find?
Why is it I spent over 10 hours yesterday working on my in-game Fishing skill in World of Warcraft?
Okay, that last one defies all reason, but I have a theory about the first two.
Logic tells me that the one shared variable in all my past failed jobs . . . Is me. Are my expectations too high? Do I have some vision which is unshared by Corporate America? Could I possibly ask more questions at the beginning of a blog post? Could you be more annoyed with me about that?
Like most of the people who graduated in the mid-nineties, I entered the workforce a decade behind one of the most career-driven classes in American history. The 1980's were all about the corporate ladder and by the time I entered the workforce, the top rungs were all filled up with people with ten years of experience on me.
Also, people entering the same jobs as me at the same time have all grown up in a culture of our peers which carries an inherent disdain for corporate crap and brown-nosing. Most of us had parents laid off in the seventies or knew a family impacted by the farm crisis or factories beginning the great outsourcing trend which claims, even now, victims in more and more fields every day. We don't trust Big Business, and now we work here.
When I ask the people around me what they would like to be doing in five years, most talk about opening a small business somewhere, dropping out of Corporate America completely, and getting out of the rat race as soon as possible. No one wants to move into middle management as a stepping stone, because we've all seen what a minefield that is.
The people in the highest positions at any company are either staying on after retirement age or are still twenty years from it. Moving up in a corporation narrows the options anyway. It isn't like twenty server guys can become twenty executives all at the same time. If one of those positions opens up, chances are it isn't in a position directly above a person who can step up.
Sadly, the recent grads whose parents are executives have the best shot at advancement, because the standards have all changed again while the class of the mid-nineties have been pulling all-nighters.
The economy sucked in 1995 and it is tanking again. I started in I.T. just as the Dot-com bubble was bursting and I've been working (thankfully steadily) in the time since, but remember that I hate myself a little more every day for caring.
One more thing, work is last on my priority list. Like a bunch of people I grew up around, my parents worked a lot. My mother worked nights and went to school. It was the right thing for all of us, and I knew it at the time, but now that I'm a parent I don't volunteer to work extra if there is a chance I can get home to see my daughter. This is a choice I've made, and it has impacted my career growth, though I would not have it any other way.
Most companies just don't know what to do with us. As geeks, we have unique things which drive us and corporations which provide these incentives on purpose are extremely rare now.
My favorite jobs have nothing at all to do with the work, but more with the people around me with similar experiences. We can bond over ancient Saturday morning cartoon memories and laugh about the co-workers too old or too young to share the fun. Company is, to me, more important than "The Company", and it always will be.
So my trade off on the fast track to the Executive Lounge and private parking space is that I get to share work space with people whose goals rarely line up with that of our Corporate Overlords. We play pranks and trade links and blog about complete crap, because we know this is how things are.
This doesn't generate work-related misery, it cures it. And having a drive to succeed at all costs programmed out of us all by Sesame Street helps a lot, too.
And drinking.
For the record, I like my current job a lot. "Consultant" advances to "Higher Paid Consultant" on the Org Chart, and that is a career path I can live with.

Friday, May 16, 2008

This is Wrong

I've got a couple of hours left in my workday and I'm dreading the end of it.
I know that once I leave I'm staring into the face of a broad expanse of nothing for over 48 hours. No human contact, nothing to do, and a 10x12 room with a laptop separating me from total insanity.
It cannot totally keep insanity and I apart, even harnessing the power of OS X.
It is wrong to dread the weekend.
We got all the broken stuff fixed yesterday around 4pm and I spent the entire morning on Friday in meetings about the new environment which no one else can break.
Except under the current design (going live in a couple of weeks) they can totally break it.
So I spent meeting time flinging rocks at the glass structure of the foundation of the totally awesome new-and-improved network in the hopes that some of those stones could form a better sub-structure.
If not, at least I tried.
And for someone working hourly, there are financial benefits to design flaws.
I'm all about financial benefits.
This morning Shana mailed a check to the people who currently own the home we want, so we are well on our way to dual mortgage country. We may be totally strapped for cash until the old Pr3++YG33kyTh1ng Worldwide Incorporated Blog Factory and Mac Tweak Lab headquarters sell, but I have a shot at not going completely insane. And that is an upside difficult to price.
Anyway, expect a post about the new house as soon as I sign paperwork on it. It is fully blog-worthy.
Oh, and I promised a post about why my manager hired me. Or at least to tell that story in a different post. So here goes:

I spend a lot of time in meetings these days with three other geeks who have been designated "Farm Owners", since they each have authority over a whole Citrix farm for one business enclave. I show up to the meetings as the security guy for all three farms.
Two of the Farm Owners were hired about the same time I was, so the three of us are learning not how things technically work, but how they really work at this company.
A lot of the process of how decisions are made at this company visibly and audibly frustrates the guy who has been here for years. He reacts emotionally when confronted with "stupid", and that isn't bad in itself. Some level of passion about one's job is admirable.
I was hired, according to my boss, to react logically to "stupid". I'm the balance the team needed. I'm the reasonable one.
I'm the one who sets the standard for mature and measured responses.
I'm deleting a bunch of my older posts here before my manager reads them and re-thinks my role.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

For the second time this week, the remediation team has pushed out a surprise change to the servers my team owns. In this case, the users have been restricted from accessing the system drive.
As you may expect, this makes all of these computers completely useless and inaccessible to the people who normally visit them every freaking day.
To compound the issue, the remediation team moved the servers out of the restricted Organizational Unit without correcting the error first, which simply leaves all six hundred of them in a locked-down state with no easy way to roll back.
We have been tasked with logging into each server with a service account and manually fixing the permissions. Like I said earlier, this is the second time this week an unannounced change has made my team and our product look like total crap.
In our "Disaster Mitigation" meeting, I announced that I saw no long-term solution which did not involve physical violence, my mental image closely matching the "board with a nail in it" image for this post.
The response from my coworkers was one of agreement coupled with,"You are going to fit in well here."
Maybe they are right, but I got a survey in my Inbox this morning from Human Resources asking about how I was adjusting to the company. They asked if I felt I was a good fit for my role, my team and my manager and all that was pretty straightforward. But they also asked how I was adjusting to Columbia and I honestly answered negatively since I miss my family and my friends and I miss not living in a horrible hotel.
We have decided to make an offer on a house here and juggle two mortgages until one of my readers steps up and purchases the house in Houston. From you guys, I'm accepting all offers. The rest of the stupid world can pay our asking price or sleep in the street.
Any offers made by the end of the day based on this post can be in the form of old-world barter. We have a veterinarian ready to inspect livestock trade offers and a panel of taste-testers ready to accept amphorae of oil or casks of wine.
Of course, bladed weapons for defending our new compound would be readily accepted, as would the formula for Greek Fire, since it would give us a distinct advantage on move-in.
Beads and shells would also be considered, provided they are gaudy (in the case of beads) since the natives dig that or "endangered" or at the very least "threatened" (in the case of shells) and in sufficient quantities to set up our new home in the style to which we have become accustomed.
I'm sure there is a ready-made contract for this type of exchange somewhere on the internet, but I have to go and fix some broken computer crap now so I don't have time to find it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I'm as much about change as the next guy, really. I mean, apart from my crippling fear of it, change and I are on pretty good terms. Okay. I hate change.
And in I.T., change for the sake of change is never a good idea.
On Monday we had a full-blown outage due to the application of some policy settings. The changes were never communicated and 100 man-hours were wasted in just getting the systems back on speaking terms.
The changes made were part of audit remediation and needed to be made, but the part that broke everything would have been discovered with about six seconds worth of testing.
I overheard someone talking about how his group got blamed for causing the outage through pushing 12 months worth of policy updates in one evening.
He downplayed the outage by saying that the testing process for everything that got deployed would have used 1,000 man-hours.
But a planned allocation of testing resources is easier to manage than a full-blown production outage, in my opinion.
I heard that seven minutes of downtime costs the company one million dollars.
So, wait. Seven minutes of downtime costs the company one million dollars.
If we multiply that by the seven hour outage on Monday, cross reference the lost functionality against the work-arounds and index the cut-over time to resume back-up work procedures . . . Seven hours of downtime costs . . . A lot, probably.
Also, most of us skipped lunch and stressed out about it to the point of random cubicle bouncing. Not to mention the profanity and threats of violence relating to just the thought of trying to figure out what our fellow geeks had done to our computers without telling us.
I don't care if other geeks break my stuff. Seriously. Someday I'll return the favor.
But the courtesy of an email saying,"I'm doing this . . . Watch out," seems almost simple enough to be taken for granted.
In other news, Shana sent me a listing for a house yesterday and asked me to look at it.
I emailed the address on the Craig's List ad and waited.
Shana called me and told me that there was a phone number hidden in the listing for people that read the whole thing, so I called that and completely surprised the guy.
I asked to see the house and he replied, "Really? I just posted that ten minutes ago! The house isn't ready to show!"
I told him that Shana has a script that indexes the real estate listings on the Columbia, South Carolina Craig's List and rates results based on key-words, then her Mac sends a text message to her phone in the event of a 70%+ match. It sounded much better than,"My wife hits 'Refresh' a lot."
"The internet," I explained, "You are doing it right."
Right now I'm trying to arrange some kind of ignore-the-lack-of-money-behind-the-curtain loan or something while our house is still on the market.
Does anybody need a house in Houston? I don't.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Once our transition to 100% LCD monitors is complete, this type of project will go the way of drink holders made from old CD ROM drives. Or wallets made from floppy disks. Or snares made from token ring cable.
I initially rejected the architecture role here, but it is good to see my skills will be remaining sharp.
And until the raised floor of the data center is filled up with cable, there are always pit traps with spikes at the bottom of them.
In case there was any doubt, being without my family highlights for me just how little I have going for me.
What do I do? Outside work . . . Nothing.
Online, our Guild Leader asked me for suggestions on how we could stop the mass flight from our guild. People are leaving at an alarming rate, and even putting a group together for simple stuff is getting to be problematic. Even I am getting recruited to join other guilds, and aside from my cries of "Not the face!" I've got little to distinguish myself from a zillion other players online at any given time.
I suggested a meeting. I spend 20+ hours a week in the damn things at work and when asked how we should spend time in game that's all I could come up with.
So we have a meeting tonight. We will hash out our differences and either resolve the issues or go our separate ways.
Other than that, when I get off work I struggle to come up with some activity to amuse myself at least a bit. Two realtors have stopped returning my calls after I followed them around just looking at houses whether I was interested in them or not.
I used to think of myself as a fairly independent person, but that idea has been completely destroyed each time I catch myself muttering to myself in the hotel room. Or worse, singing the microwave instructions to South Beach Kung Pao Chicken.
I'm going insane. Less than a month, and I'm watching my sanity slip away just to amuse myself.
I've taken to giggling at inappropriate times. More than normal, anyway.
My best friends back home have all decided that the best way to contact me is to log into World of Warcraft . . . Because what the hell else do I have to do?
I am still looking for a house, but Shana has convinced me to drop my "Turret Requirement" from 6 down to 4. I'll see what I can do, but I'll need to be careful that the neighborhood watch can assist in defending us against the local Robber Barons. And who knew flaming tar was bad for the environment? If it was good enough for Sir Henry Morgan, it is good enough for us, in my opinion. Of course, that same opinion has landed me on the "Do Not Answer" list for an additional realtor, so your mileage may vary.
I've got a late meeting this afternoon. Sadly, I'm looking forward to the extended hang-out time with my coworkers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Over the past week, we've been interviewing someone to be my back up. My manager asked me to join in on the process to make sure I like the person selected and to ask the technical questions.
This has been an interesting process for me, because almost all of my interviewing experience has been on the other end of the conference call.
I'll share the technical questions I asked in case anyone finds themselves is the unenviable position of being interviewed by me.

1. What do you see as the most critical and current threat to data security?

2. What online resources do you use to stay current on the latest threats and vulnerabilities?

3. If you have a brand-new server, what is the first thing you would do to ensure that it is secure?

4. If you were required to both compress and encrypt data, which would you do first and why?

5. What is the goal of information security in an organization?

6. Are open-source projects generally more or less secure than proprietary ones?

We had one guy get them all right and another get them all wrong. The others fell somewhere in the middle, more towards the "all wrong" end.

Are these questions mean or something? If you were interviewing for a security position would you expect this type of thing or something entirely different?

The fact that someone was able to answer them leads me to believe that the questions might have been alright, though I initially considered them not technical enough.

The other thing this process taught me was that if you are fielding interview questions while jogging you should slow down to a pace that makes it sound less like you are dying and that we should hang up and dial 911.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On Saturday I went to see a Susan Sarandon film. In it, she played a matriarch desperately trying to hold her family together following the death of her oldest child. To see her reach out to to a son with the most desperate middle-child syndrome ever portrayed was truly heart-wrenching.
With her typical dignity, she provides a foundation for healing for her whole family.
She even manages to embrace the girlfriend who encourages her son's dangerous activities with sincerity and genuine love.
Of all the films I've seen this year, this one brought home to me what family really means.
Also, there was auto racing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Behold! Quite possibly the least Kosher restaurant this side of Klaus' Bacon-Wrapped Oyster Porkstravaganza!
It is also the site of our latest Team-Building exercise. Don't worry. They also serve chicken.
While I did not try the pork from any of the steaming piles of pig flesh on the buffet, the chicken was good. Also, the line to pay during lunchtime extends out the front door. You should know in advance that the choices are "in" or "out", since standing in the doorway with the door open will get you yelled at by the staff.
Little Pigs is only open three days a week, no doubt at the request of the American Heart Association.
If some kind of ceramic or plush pig was manufactured anywhere on the planet, at least one of those guys is perched atop the buffet table. It is kind of a novelty pig cafe with yelling.
We did manage to have a decent conversation in spite of the noise from a military ceremony and wedding party going on in the background.


Coworker: Hey, I notice you use a MacBook Pro. I'm thinking about getting one myself but I've been a die-hard Windows fan since Windows for Workgroups.

Me: You can't get a Mac.

Coworker: Why?

Me: You've obviously sold your soul to Microsoft. No Mac would have you.

Coworker: Really?

Me: Oh yeah. A Mac would run from you like a monkey from a jungle fire, my friend.

Coworker: Because I have no soul?

Me: Exactly.

Coworker: What if I gathered a bunch of souls and rolled in them? You know. Masked my scent.

Me: That would never work.

Coworker: What if I use a lot of souls. Innocent ones. Like from puppies or something.

Me: This isn't a Pentium 100 running Windows 95A. It's a Mac. I doubt puppy souls would even fool Linux.


I did some official house viewing last night. It was kind of awesome, but I only found one house which met more than 70% of my "Acceptable" criteria. At least I was hanging out with a real human outside work.

How sad.

Friday, May 09, 2008

My Baby's Got Sauce

condiments[1] Out of just over nine hours on-site yesterday, eight of them were spent in meetings.
That is a reasonably average full day completely made up of a progress meeting, a status meeting, two work sessions and another end-of-day status meeting all strung together with hallway conversation about the project between the people leaving one meeting to go to another room, all together, for another meeting.
I was actually double-booked at 3pm.


By the time I left work, I had a slight buzz from dry erase marker fumes. Not that I mind.


You are the only one who understands me, dry erase marker fumes.


Towards the end I turned to survey the smoking wreckage of the day. What did I get accomplished? I conducted an interview. I listened patiently while a sales guy from Dell tried to bash Apple notebooks and then I treated the room with the blissful silence which follows the question,"How long will we be able to buy them without Windows Vista?"

I spent a total of about ten hours this week talking about one tiny aspect of our migration plan. Unfortunately this tiny aspect is one which has become some kind of political poker chip around here, so in the end the decision was made by non-technical people.
The decision is, in my opinion, self-limiting and short-sighted.
However, short-sighted decisions by people in the executive wing do nothing but provide me with job security, so I can't even muster concern. All I've got is, "It will work. For now," followed by uncontrollable maniacal laughter.


After work, my manager called my cellphone to tell me to come back so that a few of us could go for dinner. It was kind of another meeting, but I didn't want to bill for it since human company after business hours is so rare right now. How sad is that?


Over dinner (and beer) I learned a few things. Sure, I learned a little bit about the political history of the company and I learned a bit about how my manager chooses people for his team, me especially. That is another post completely.


Most importantly, I learned about regional food variations. They don't stop at faux nachos.


We went to a place that features wings (and beer).
Wings are universal, or so I thought.


There is a vinegar-based cayenne pepper hot sauce and butter or margarine coating, with the ratio dictating mild, medium, and hot. Sure, there are Caribbean jerk varieties and barbecue and teriyaki -- But varied flavors are in addition to the standard. The "Buffalo" sauce is what it is.
Except here.


In South Carolina, ordering "Medium" gets you something other than "Buffalo" sauce. Again, the chefs around here turn to the condiment area to churn out a ketchup-based sauce with (possibly) horseradish. Like shrimp cocktail sauce. Combining it with ranch dressing is even less pleasant than you might imagine.
My coworker ordered barbecue as, being two weeks newer than me, he wanted to try some of the world-renowned South Carolina specialty.


Friends, in South Carolina barbecue sauce is mustard-based.
Around here, ketchup becomes both salsa and wing sauce and mustard becomes barbecue sauce.
I lie awake at night hoping no one comes up with something to do with tartar sauce. Or Tzatziki. Or Marshmallow Fluff.
When I stated earlier that local salsa is "ketchup-based", I'd assumed I was creating the term for insult value. However, last night both the waiter and my manger referred to the sauce on my coworker's wings as "mustard-based", so apparently the condiment-centric nature of the flavors around here is not only admitted but embraced.
I didn't know things were actually "condiment-based". I assumed (call me sheltered) that sauces were rosemary-infused or sage and citrus-blended or, perhaps, raspberry-chipotle glazed. But apparently in some places basing a sauce on a common lesser sauce is a mark of honor.


On the bright side, they wheel popcorn and cola into the actual theatre to sell it just before the previews roll. I think that may even the culinary score.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Efficiency

Director: We've got important people here today for a big meeting and we need tables. Get some tables.

Manager: We don't have any available tables.

Director: Don't bother me with your petty concerns! I said get some tables!

Manager: The office supply company can have tables here this afternoon.

Director: This is a lunch meeting! Are we supposed to serve them nachos on the floor?

Manager: I can't magically produce tables.

Director: But we need tables.

Manager: But there are no available tables!

Director: Tables! Get them! Immediately!

 

Photo0054

 

Director: Why are all these computers on the floor? Whatever jackass is responsible for this should lose his job.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Making Time

Picture 15

Being the environmentally conscious eco-freak that I am, I was pleased to note that my workplace recycles. There are bins for cans and other bins for bottles. Paper could contain private information, so most of that gets sent away to be super-shredded, but there are bins for non-secret paper, too.


There are even bins for recycling cellphones, which I think is very progressive. With most Americans ditching old phones every time their service contract is up, and the ability of the batteries to (I don't remember exactly so I'll round up here) kill every living organism within 1,000 miles if they leak, making sure these old and used up communication devices don't end up in the wrong landfill is important. It seems some of my coworkers get a little carried away with that, though.


I got an official Corporate Communication email yesterday instructing me to not use the bins to dispose of company-issued cellphones and pagers. Instead, unwanted devices should be returned to the purchasing department.
I guess the ground rule is "Recycle, but only recycle stuff which actually belongs to you."


Who knew?


I've been having a bit of fun training the new hires. I'm too new myself to get in trouble for being candid (since "Tact Awareness Training" isn't offered until after six months of employment) so I can just tell them the way things are from my point of view.


This morning I explained that while there is certainly a procedurally correct way to accomplish things, and that certain methods are arguably more right than other ways, rolling with the punches is the only way to maintain one's sanity. Especially with liquor not being sold at all during 14.285% of the week.


Sure, we can call attention to idiocy. And we should. But none of that alters a deadline. The trick is to make the failure to meet the deadline the fault of another department, then use the time to fix the process while our activities are on hold.


I like using hardware requests sent directly to purchasing or, better yet, issuing a Vendor Security Alert which must be mitigated by the people who sell us stuff and then tested by some other team I only know by email.


Asinine? Yes. But we all have our ways of getting things done. Instead of saving time, I choose to simply create more of it. In a sense, I alter the rules of the physical universe and cause a finite resource to create more of itself. From the ether I draw on the cosmic power of process to cause the quarks, leptons and neutrinos which compose all of the known universe to wake up in the morning with a feeling of dread which is not quelled by their tiny little infinitely miniscule cups of coffee and itty bitty bowls of cornflakes. A feeling which follows them on their ridiculously short commutes to work and leaves them cowering in twitching piles of tiny angst on the floors of cubicles even smaller than the ones they give I.T. people and isn't even kind of broken until well after lunch.


In short, I have looked Time itself in the face and made it my ever-ticking cosmic bitch.


Also, the cafeteria has sweet potato pancakes on Tuesday mornings.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Things Are Just Different. A Lot.

SC-JStromThurmond[1]

So last Saturday I went to the front desk of the hotel where I had reserved three weeks and internet to discover that I was expected to check out that day. I clarified that my three week reservation should, indeed, extend into week two. I paid for the week, plus internet, so when my internet was turned off that Saturday night I resolved to make certain that it didn't happen again.
This week I went down on Friday, extended my stay, and picked up the password for this week's internet.
On Saturday night -- Fail.
I called the front desk but they were closed.
I called the security office and they were new and didn't know how to re-activate the internet I had paid for. They told me to call back on Monday.
To recap: My internet, which I paid for and jumped through all the hoops to get, was disabled accidentally by the front office and I was told to wait for two days to get it back.
On Sunday morning I successfully got them to wake the on-site manager to hook me back up, but she was upset about it.
On Sunday afternoon I picked up a wireless card for my laptop which promised "DSL speeds" from anywhere in the area. Go, 3G network!
Except that the signal drops just like with my cellphone, lost in the rolling, tree-infested hills of South Carolina.
Again -- Fail.


I did pick up an interesting bit of local trivia on Saturday.
While the builder agent was driving me back to the office after showing me a house with an inadequate laundry room, we crossed Lake Carolina between the boat docks and the mid-lake fountain.
Making conversation, I asked if the lake was man-made.
"Yes," the agent replied,"I just found out myself they all are."
"All the lakes in the subdivision? I thought there was just the one?"
"No. All the lakes in South Carolina. Every one of them is man-made. They were dispensing permits for them like Pez through the early nineties."
My mind traveled back to the days of the early settlers who must have had to carry water from Florida and North Carolina by hand, making their way across the barren wasteland of the scorching South Carolina desert. I marveled at their ingenuity in carrying those barrels and flasks across the dunes and emptying them in the Georgia mountains before rushing downhill to catch the flow in an elaborate state-wide system of dams. I thank them for giving artificial (if pretty) refuge to the delicate mosquito, bedrock of the ecological food chain (and nuisance all up and down that same chain).
How ridiculous is that idea?
Then I checked Wikipedia. Holy crap it's true! Even Lake Strom Thurmand!

This afternoon we met two more new hires and escorted them to lunch. I spoke mostly with the one from out of town. He had questions for me, I assume, because my two weeks here have granted me "grizzled veteran" status.

Him: So what do I need to know about the first month here?

Me: Let's see . . . There is a liquor store on Two Notch Road that sells adorable little bottles of booze.

Him: Okay, but what are the expectations set for the person in my position.

Me: You can't buy liquor at all on Sunday.

Him: Okay. Is that it?

Me: I think you can join a club or something and buy on Sunday if you run out of the tiny bottles of booze.

Him: Thanks, but I was specifically talking about the job here.

Me: Me too. Welcome to South Carolina.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Discoveries

Photo0049

I had to get a picture of Lizard's Thicket, featuring the lovely Carolina Anole mascot. I've not been inside the place, but not only is this an actual place to eat here, it is a chain of places to eat here. Because one Lizard's Thicket did not meet the demand.

I left the hotel for Free Comic Book Day, and it was pretty awesome. The local comic shop I visited was well stocked and filled with geeks. The message board advertised the local "Jedi Order of South Carolina" for like-minded people interested in learning Jedi skills. I pray my family gets here before my free time hits critical mass.

Photo0050

This map, lit from below, covers are huge table in the welcome center of the subdivision where I've been hunting houses. I felt compelled to scatter bits of plastic across it and invade neighboring communities, annexing Australia and pushing north to secure Kamchatka, as is my traditional strategy in playing Risk. In fact, only my lack of available bits of plastic prevented me from doing just that.

The house hunt is going well on some levels. On other levels, my ideas of what we need keep butting up against the reality of thoughtful questions from Shana like, "Do we really need a turret?" and "What if we get a plain front without arrow slits and mounted cauldrons for burning pitch?" and "Can you find a house with a master bedroom that isn't 35 feet long?"

Photo0051

I found a liquor store, too.

In Columbia, apparently liquor is sold in these little bottles (shown next to a quarter for reference). They were pretty cheap and will fit into a laptop bag or desk drawer much more easily than the bulky flask I've been lugging around for years. They are adorable! When Gwynyth gets here she will be so happy to never have to look at another juice box!

I'm going to see which of these goes best in Coke Zero.

Finally, long after Gwynyth told me that her teacher contradicted me and told her that the Earth's geological layers did not include "Nougat" between Mantle and Core, it looks like I may have been right after all. Up yours, Texas "Education" System!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Holy Enchiladas, Iron Man! Justin Timberlake?

Photo0048 Look at the sign that was posted on the cash register at Taco Bell! It should be noted that the Taco Bell which includes God in its mission statement has (in my expert imported opinion) the most authentic Mexican food in town.

Also, I'm a little queasy.

As a public service, it is my duty to remind everyone that the first Saturday in May is Free Comic Book Day. Please enjoy it. Embrace it. Live it.

Further, I plan to visit the local movie house to see for myself what they have done with Iron Man -- A beloved character who has been a part of my life for about as long as I can remember . . . My memory goes back to junior year in college, for the record.

I met my company's VP of Information Systems Compliance this week. I'd been warned. I'd heard that staying on her "good side" was essential to one's career longevity and that she had a tendency to "rip the throats out" of techs who had offered offense, real or imagined. Essentially, I was told to expect a rabid bear in Donna Karan (which in my forthcoming book "Surviving IT: A Pretty Person's Guide to Life Away from the Sun" is one of the 10 featured management archetypes).

Anyway, she visited the re-purposed training room (which actually shows up on the floor plan labeled "Citrix Batcave") where I've been dwelling all week and no one flinched.

She bounced in, raised a hand for attention, and announced, "Everyone! I have two important announcements!

"First, Justin Timberlake was in downtown Columbia today to visit Jessica Biel.

"Second, the project which you've been working on for months that got canceled on Tuesday? I've un-canceled it so pick up where you left off."

She closed the announcement phase of her visit with, "Ooo! Coffee!" and poured herself a mug and sat down.

Ignoring the second announcement entirely, the conversation from that point on was all about Justin Timberlake.

As a joke, one of the consultants said that my cubicle is wallpapered with posters of the man responsible for bringing "sexy back".

"True story," I acknowledged, "I tell people they are my daughter's but that is a total lie." I don't even have a cubicle.

When I got back from getting a Coke Zero (There is no Diet Coke Plus here, so as a side note my bones are beginning to curl back in on themselves) Justin-talk was still in effect.

I was asked if I believed that Justin Timberlake is this generation's Elvis. I replied that he is not. Elvis is this generation's Elvis. That title is good for life and until someone comes up with some solid evidence to the contrary, Elvis is still very much alive thank you very much.

Even this did not kill the topic. Apparently the VP is a big fan of Mr. Timberlake. At the tech table, the opinion of his musical abilities was split directly along gender lines, which was no surprise to anyone there.

It was a surprise when I chose to take the opposite opinion in order to align myself with the Executive in the room with the remark, "I'm not gay, but I would totally make out with Justin Timberlake."

Delivered with a completely straight face, this line brought me into the "inner circle". Coffee is better in the "inner circle", my friends. Just a hint of vanilla away from awesome, as a matter of fact.

Later in the day I stepped into the hallway in front of the refrigerator and startled the VP, who was getting more half and half for the coffee.

I nearly panicked when she said,"Hey! Don't sneak up on people! What are you, some kind of 'Tech Ninja'?"

While I don't think this blog is on the "must read" list in the Executive Wing, I have no doubt now it turned up in the background check.

I spent all day Friday reviewing the latest security scans against our latest test deployment. I'm not sure a server that would pass all the parts of a full Department of Defense audit on all counts could actually have ever been removed from the box and plugged in, but I think we did okay.

Next week I have over twenty hours of meetings scheduled. And I don't mind.

Record the date: I've deactivated my Monster resume for the first time in ten years.