Thursday, July 31, 2008

As Promised



Defying my job description

After losing our "War Room" to some erroneously scheduled SharePoint training class on Tuesday (and the idea that our project can lose an entire "War Room" does not speak well of our conflict resolution skills), we were back in our space yesterday to dig through some issue logs.
I overhead someone mention a two minute time out setting on a webserver login with the note that it would be reviewed on Monday by the consultants.
Rather than wait, I logged in myself, navigated to the 'Settings' page, found the area tagged 'Time Out', and changed the number 120 (presumably seconds) to 1200.
There. The whole change, including connecting to the interface and logging in, took about forty seconds.
Then I told the guy who had been talking about the issue.
He was offended that the problem had been in an "open" state for thirteen days. He wasn't upset with me, since no one tells me about the issues because fixing things isn't what I do, but rather at the idea that he had been addressing the issue twice a day in meetings for almost two weeks and the solution was less than a minute spent picking around a linux machine by someone who was just curious and a little bored.
So I fixed something. This is nice, and as a bonus repays the karma debt incurred during troubleshooting another hastily deployed application.
This program logs user settings at logon to a data file, applicationname.DAT.
When one of us uses it, it works just fine, but users that drag over settings from the old servers say it doesn't work.
One of my coworkers noticed that there was more information in the files from the other users, in some cases twice as much.
"This user's DAT file is twice as big as mine."
"My DAT doesn't have the same functionality as his DAT because my DAT is smaller."
"If I had access to a DAT that size, I could probably get better results."
My contribution: Giggling
"You know," I offered, "I think I got an email about an herbal supplement that might help."

The question for today, dear internet, is one which constantly tugs at the back of my mind.
Should I go to law school?
I could get a tiny bit of tuition reimbursement from my employer in exchange for three years of indentured servitude, or I could just take out a loan. Columbia traffic makes evening classes possible, if I can find a suitable schedule.
Most importantly, let's say I gather a degree and pass the exam . . . Would you trust me as your IT Lawyer?
Think it over and let me know. Meanwhile, I'll find some adorable kitten pictures to share later.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Important Things

Look at this little guy with the Millenium Falcon playset from the 70's. Isn't he just the happiest looking person you've ever seen? Especially when you consider that he has been severed at the ribcage and probably, aside from having access to the most awesome toy of the decade, has a shell of an existence barely mitigated by having more Stormtoopers for play purposes than anyone I've ever met.
I know that feeling.
I was that little guy at one point, blissfully happy to be the only kid on my block with access to a cockpit area which held both Chewbacca and Han Solo, a hidden smuggling compartment in the back, and a Dejarik table capable of hosting a match between whatever wookiee and droid would like to play for arms.
There was even a rotating quad-laser emplacement and battle sounds.
I, and the rest of my generation, belived we had it all.
We were dumb.
A few years ago, Hasbro released an updated Falcon playset. It was the same mold, but included LEDs and better sounds. The hyperdrive engine lit up, just like the one I'd rigged on the Millenium Falcon linux webserver case mod I'd done from a battered shell of a YT-1300 I'd picked up on Ebay and given more movie-realistic paint.
This was bad enough, but yesterday I saw the latest build of the Millenium Falcon.
The old mold is gone forever.
The new model is thirty inches of awesome space freighter.
Without actually winning your own in a Sabbacc game with Lando Calrissian, this is as close as any of us will ever get to owning the real thing.
It comes with Han Solo and Chewbacca, marking the first time the ship has ever been sold by the manufacturer with crew figures.
Hasbro seems justifiably proud, too:

"Best known as the fastest ship in the Star Wars galaxy, piloted by Han Solo and Chewbacca, this detailed replica of the rebel spacecraft packs powerful secrets and special modifications – inside and out. Measuring more than two-and-a-half feet long, the Millennium Falcon’s uniquely circular style is ready to “blast off” with light-up headlights and loads of electronic vehicle and weapon sounds, including engine boost, cruise mode, fly-by, firing cannons and much more! Open the light-up cockpit and fit up to four figures inside. The vehicles comes with Han Solo and Chewbacca figures and can hold up to 16 more (each sold separately) inside its secret smuggling compartments, pivoting gunner station or missile-firing mini-fighter vehicle. Remove the outer panels to access the ship’s interior. Then, head for the medical bay to “treat” wounded troops! Activate deployment sounds and landing lights with the auto-opening boarding ramp. Or plan your attack against the Empire with a pivoting gunner station, rotating laser turret and 3-missile launcher, with plenty of realistic blasting sounds and projectiles to keep enemies at bay. A pivoting training probe makes lightsaber and movement sounds for those who wish to practice their Force fighting skills. Trigger more than 20 authentic movie phrases and sounds from the voices of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker™, Obi-Wan Kenobi™, C-3PO™, Chewbacca and R2-D2™! Light up the hyperdrive engine lights and fly your imagination into the next constellation – or the other end of your playroom! Add this impressive vehicle to your collection and recreate your favorite battle scenes, or strategize your own endless action adventures!"

Holy crap! The whole top comes off! On the old one, most of the interior was inaccessible because it was used to conceal the sound equipment. In the seventies, the electronics required to make laser noises was about six inches by four inches and weighed over two pounds. I know, I took one apart with a dremel tool to stick a web server in it.
You couldn't fit 16 figures in it if you stacked them like bricks inside and made some ride on the roof.
I feel the release of this playset has now officially invalidated my entire childhood.
My childhood will remain invalidated until I manage to aquire one of these.
I trust my imaginary friends will understand.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

I Prefer The Term "Mercenary"

Sometimes at work I see stuff I shouldn't.
Sometimes it is my responsibility to report these things.
Sometimes I enjoy it.
More often, I'm just upset about it.
This morning I logged into a server to verify the user testing which has been going on since Friday morning. For the record, no one has tested anything. This is upsetting, sure, but not the most upsetting thing.
These servers were all lovingly hand-crafted by our Infrastructure Deployment Division using old-world craftsmanship and state-of-the-art technology. Each server is an exact replica of every other server involved in The Project.
Each server is given to our high-priced out-sourced hourly consultants who install the application through a customized scripted installation filled with "awesome" before gently placing it into Test, Pilot of Production, as designated in advance on some spreadsheet somewhere.
All of them are wrong. Wait, not just all of them. Freaking all of them.
And our high-priced out-sourced hourly consultants are off-site this week for training and to (I suspect) giggle about all the money they are making off my company. I don't blame them for that. I have plenty of other stuff to blame them for.
So, when I log into each server (brand-freaking-new server) I get an error. This error tells me that a specific component installed is not configured correctly. The issue I have is that the component should not be installed at all.
So I asked about it.
As it turns out, the people who wrote the expensive script which installs the application, the same people off-site this week for training and giggling, the same people whose company bills this company over $200 per hour for each of them in exchange for expert configuration and migration services, are completely unaware that this component is installed by their script.
So far, I have not corrected their view of reality.
Okay. So what if we fix it?
Well, if we fix it then they fly into a "re-verification" process when they return which will set the project back a couple of (expensive) weeks.
If we tell them but don't fix it, the Investigation and Justification cycle starts when they get back, resulting in even longer delays and more expensive project hours, and a possible removal/re-verification process.
If we do nothing, our servers have unnecessary junk on them, are less efficient and secure, and will need to be corrected anyway once the consultants leave the state.
What do I do?
Every molecule of my body is screaming at me to throw a giant, justified, hissy fit which will make everyone look as overpriced as they are, even though the project might be delayed.
But the tiny voice in my head is advising me to let it go and fix it later. And also to buy a handgun and a blender and some plastic tarps, but it always says that.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I <3 The Department of Homeland Security

Happy SysAdmins Day!

Yesterday was a very long post. Today, I'm just sharing an email everyone at work got on the 16th:

Subject: Fort Jackson Explosion May Rock Buildings This Friday

We have been told that this Friday (July 18) at 11 a.m., Fort Jackson and Homeland Security officials plan to detonate a large explosive (500 pounds of it!) at the Fort during the filming of a training video. Since some of our Columbia buildings are near Fort Jackson especially the Percival building employees may hear and feel the explosion.

Please pass this notice on to your employees so they will not be alarmed if or when this occurs.

My first thought was "May rock? Oh, no. It will rock."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Story

Get a cup of coffee and visit the rest room, this is a long one:

So, we moved from Texas to South Carolina, right? Actually, I fled Texas three months before the actual move, but since I know the story I'll pass it along here.
We contacted Ultimate Van Lines because we found no negative reviews for them at the first part of the year. Turns out they had changed their name in late December because they had had their license revoked. In the interest of clarity and SEO, the moving company in question is:

Ultimate Van Lines
DOT# 1712165 MC#628095
License granted Dec 31, 2007


Quality Moving Systems
DALLAS TX 75201-5301
DOT#1387641 MC#528359
Licenses revoked Oct 22, 2007

Okay, so Shana packs and catalogs everything in our house in preparation for the move and she works with the moving consultants at Ultimate Van Lines. After doing the math, they agree that everything in our house in Houston (minus the cats) weighs 11,000 pounds. A bid is delivered to us in the amount of $4407.15 to move 11,176 pounds of stuff from Houston, Texas to Columbia, South Carolina.
This is reasonable and good, and we like it.
The day of the big move arrives . . . And the movers are late. A 9am appointment quickly becomes sometime after lunch and the movers show up in an Enterprise rental van to start loading.
Immediately, the foreman begins to complain about the packing we had done. He says most of our things will not be able to be moved if it isn't re-packed. It just so happens he has $4000 worth of boxes in the truck with him which he begins to use liberally, placing our boxes into his. Four movers run around the house with boxes which they are charging $40 a piece for, dumping things inside, taping them up, and loading them on the truck.
While he had arrived with all these boxes we didn't order, he did not bring a dolly.
Our floor was scratched up with the dragging and one of our ceiling fans was knocked off balance. When Shana pointed it out, the foreman turned off the fan.
Shana called me and told me that in addition to an undisclosed amount of moving supplies we were being charged for, the foreman said our weight calculations were off.
He offered to look the other way on the weight if Shana gave him an $800 cash tip.
She declined, since we were still trying to act like Ultimate Van Lines was some kind of legitimate business.
I asked to speak with him, since I was a time zone to the right of the entire process.
"Yeah, so, you brought $4000 worth of boxes we didn't order and no dolly?" was my initial question.
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Get our stuff off your truck and go away," I had decided that reason wasn't going to work in this case.
"What? I'm doing you a favor here on the weight!"
"Great. Can you put me in touch with your manager?" I thought at this point I could clear up what was obviously some confusion.
"If you talk to management about this," the foreman warned me,"I won't be able to help you. they will charge you for every pound and I can't stop them."
I waited.
While I waited, so did the movers. They didn't unload the truck, but they didn't put anything else on it.
Finally, I got a call from Matthew Brody ( who was "concerned" that I was making "a mistake". He said that we would be charged full price for the "packing service" we never ordered and would pay the non-discounted rate for all four mover's time. He also said that contacting another mover would result in a higher transportation cost, since other movers would charge extra since there was no possibility to make anything off packing with our possessions having been so professionally packed already.
In the end, he promised us a discount if I would let the movers finish the job they had started and I (stupidly) agreed.
The job did not complete on the day of the move. Instead, the movers needed to come back on the following day to finish loading. They moved what they had into some storage building and showed up 5 hours late to get the rest of it.
The foreman told Shana that the first truck should have gotten everything if it was indeed 11,000 pounds. Since two trucks were needed, the weight was probably double that. He told Shana we would be charged for every ounce, with "over-weight" penalties, if we didn't come up with some plan.
He said if we couldn't pay for everything to be delivered, Ultimate Van Lines would hold on to our possessions and charge us storage fees, plus added re-delivery costs.
He offered to fix the rate at 16,000 pounds, adding that his signature would lock them into that flat rate instead of going by the actual weight, which was easily double our original 11,000 pound bid.
And so the agreement changed. And our possessions vanished, along with $5400 on a Discover card -- +3% for using a credit card.
I never got an email returned and phone calls were horrible. When I tried to address the issue of a bid which had gone from $4407 to over $11,000, I was told that the agreement was binding and that I had to pay whatever they wanted or our possessions would be kept in storage, eventually sold, and we would be sued for the $11,000, storage fees, interest and re-delivery.
They also claimed no wrong doing and that sometimes "miscalculations happen during the bid process".
On Saturday the 19th, with none of this resolved, we got a call from "the driver". He wanted to deliver on Monday the 21st. I told him there was a pretty serious issue with our bill and that management owed me a phone call.
He called back later that day, trying again to confirm the delivery for Monday morning. I told him Ultimate Van Lines had not called me and he seemed actually surprised. He told me they said they had called me twice. I clarified and asked him to try again.
On Sunday the 22nd I got my call from "Tina", who said she was the General Manager. I informed her that the charges were illegal and obscene. She yelled at me. She threatened me with never seeing my things again. She resorted to name calling.
At this point, my family had been sleeping on the floor for weeks.
I told her I would put it on my Visa and she said I could not. They require seventy-two hours pre-payment on Visa transactions.
I reminded her that if I'd immediately given the number to her driver, I would have not made that deadline. She argued about how many days fit into seventy-two hours, but my case was pretty strong here.
She finally agreed to accept my Visa, plus a 3% processing charge. And she told me she would instruct the driver to give me a $100 discount to offset our unforeseen expenses.
The driver arrived at 9am on Monday. I left work to meet him.
This truck (and the driver) were from White Glove Moving out of New Jersey. Our delivery had been jobbed out.
He asked for the money, telling me he couldn't unlock the truck until I paid.
I understood this, and none of this issue was the fault of White Glove Moving.
"How much does your truck weigh?" I asked.
"I don't know," he answered.
"You will need to find out before I pay you."
"They weighed it when they loaded it. The manifest says 16,000 pounds."
I explained the situation. He shook his head and said he understood and would call it in.
For three hours we waited with the truck parked in front of our house. Ultimate Van Lines resisted our contractual right to have the truck weighed for three hours. Twice the driver approached the house for payment believing Ultimate Van Lines had called me and worked everything out because they had called him and said they had.
Finally, I followed them to a truck stop and watched the truck get weighed.
We went back to the house and he called in my credit card number. I signed the slip "Fraud". I also mentioned again that the 3% Visa add-on would be an issue.
Even though the driver was talking to "Tina", she failed to inform him of the $100 discount (which I no longer really cared about anyway).
This is the sad part of the story:
Our stuff was busted. A lot. Antiques. Electronics. Most of the boxes "professionally packed" in Houston were half empty (or half full, if you swing that way) so the contents had rubbed against each other for three weeks. Also, my surround sound system (Yamaha, 6-channel, piano black) was nowhere to be seen. As was my guitar. How am I supposed to rock without a guitar?
I would take up my air guitar again, but I forget where I left it.
Then, once all of our stuff was off the truck, I followed it back to the truck stop for a re-weigh.
Our total move was 11,020 pounds, including the giant expensive half-empty boxes. Less than the amount on the original $4400 bid.
At least we got our stuff back, right?
Screw that.
I called Visa and reported fraud. I filled out an online disputed charge. I called them yesterday to tell the story. Visa requested documentation, so this morning Shana faxed them 25 pages of it. The especially awesome sheets were one from the DOT reporting that Ultimate Van Lines had been cited eight times this year for holding people's possessions hostage. Also, a sheet showing the math on raising our amount due from the original bid with a check mark in the "over reported weight" box. Also, printouts of emails I sent and posts online from others about the company showing a history of fraud and extortion.
I filed a complaint with the DOT myself, and the BBB, and the Association of Household Goods Carriers.
I unleashed a pretty nasty swarm of hate email by posting the work and home addresses of the employees of Ultimate Van Lines to various places on the internet, which was petty of me. And a lot of fun.
I added to existing posts on and I started my own threads detailing this story.
Visa called me today buried in the paperwork from Shana.
I told the story to them again while they looked at the proof.
The representative told me that it could take up to sixty days for my refund to be processed, but given the amount of documentation the company was unlikely to contest it.
Then she had a better idea.
She said she would try to work the case herself given the complexity, but also said that she would toss it to the "pre-compliance" group because of the irregular 3% Visa fee.
It is extremely likely that Ultimate Van Lines will no longer have the ability to accept credit cards at all in the very near future.
While the final outcome is still being decided, I will try to contain my justice-fueled giggling.
I will not, however, try hard.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wii Don't Go Outside Anymore

"One more game"
"Okay, one more"
"Bring it"
"One more"
And that is how Gwynyth misses bedtime now. Well, I wouldn't say she misses it, really.
But the action involved in swinging the controller is somehow addictive. Like "Space Invaders" addictive.
I frequently flash back to entire summers spent indoors.
Those were the days.
Since I've long been convinced that the sun is actively trying to kill me, I'm completely okay with this new development in our currently box-filled lifestyle.
There are worse ways to lose time.
Right now, we have this new thing going on at work where we no longer go to our cubicles. Instead, we spend all day in a classroom vaguely converted for use as a "War Room" where issues with the current project are examined down to creepy insane detail. After analysis, blame is assigned accordingly (or in certain cases shared) and then we vote on an appropriate follow-up action. My vote is always to "wait and see", which almost always wins due to the by-the-hour pay scale most of us use. As a bonus, there is no activity involved.
"Wait and see", as a policy, has a lot going for it. I've been classified as "careful" and "methodical" by members of I.T. upper management. Any other industry would just tell me to wake up and fix something.
As a matter of fact, I've been instructed to not fix anything specifically.
I've been tasked with making sure that one team trains another team to scan some servers. Then they mail the raw data to a third team for report generation. This report comes to me for analysis, but the instructions from management to all three teams is to make sure that I don't do any of the "actual work". While this makes me feel a little bad, at the same time I can fully support the concept of not doing actual work, as it is a lifestyle I've been cultivating for years.
It is a relief to finally have a use for that skill set.
It will be a further relief to unpack more stuff this evening, even though there is a tedious "document and inventory busted things" follow-up task to almost every box.
Gwynyth has been helping Shana as much as possible during the day -- Which generally means taking a nap in an out-of-the-way area.
Someday, that kid will have an I.T. career which will make mine look like busting rocks in the sun. You can see it in her half-open eyes as she tells us that we are moving boxes too loudly while she is trying to sleep.
Also, tonight I plan to beat her mercilessly at Wii Boxing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ultimate Van Lines is Ultimate Fraud

Quality Moving Systems
DALLAS TX 75201-5301
DOT#1387641 MC#528359
Licenses revoked Oct 22, 2007

Ultimate Van Lines
DOT# 1712165 MC#628095
License granted Dec 31, 2007

As Quality, they had several complaints filed with the FCMSA for a variety of reasons.

Name: Ultimate Van Lines
Phone: (954) 548-0050
Address: 2929 Wycliff Ave Apt 2122
Dallas, TX 75219-6649
Original Business Start Date: April 2006
Principal: Mrs. Yaara Bachar-Wolpers, President
Customer Contact: Mrs. Yaara Bachar-Wolpers, President
TOB Classification: Movers, Moving Services-Labor & Materials, Moving Supplies
Additional company management personnel include: Mr. Leyor Iulius - CEO

Additional email: YEARA26@HOTMAIL.COM

What is this? This is my project for the day. Ultimate Van Lines is the worst company ever, so I'm letting people know. I'm also posting their contact information on the internet in a lot of places. For fraud and extortion, Ultimate Van Lines seems ahead of the game. For moving, Ultimate Van Lines is like burning all of your possessions, but more expensive.
There is a story here, friends, and I'll tell it. But right now I'm reporting this horrible business to all kinds of government agencies and getting a refund on their fraudulent use of my credit card.

Here are some email addresses if you'd like to play along:

For great justice!


Monday, July 21, 2008

The Wii Is Not A Family-Friendly Console

So, we got one. It was kind of anti-climactic, really, given the scale of the search. Circuit City, Columbia, South Carolina. I bought the last one in stock, but Target had eleven, just in case I missed it.
We picked up a second controller and a couple of extra games, though Wii Sports could be played forever, most likely.
I learned early on that there are hacks to winning at boxing and tennis.
With boxing, flailing is everything. The little avatar will never look as goofy doing it as the full-grown man in front of the TV, and if your opponent isn't watching the avatar you've already won anyway.
With tennis, the flail is important but only in that you must flail repeatedly in the same directions over and over. The little guy with no arms can take almost unlimited swings at the ball, since the laws of physics only apply to people with actual arms, I guess. Don't fall down though. People with arms mock people that fall down.
Rock Band is the destroyer of family unity. In it, each of us gets an instrument and each of us has an important role to play in the whole Rock Band process. It is a triumph in cooperative gaming.
But bad things happen when the bass player has small hands.
You see, Rock Band is about commitment to the band. We want to see the World Tour mode be successful, right? Of course we do.
And the music! Let's keep our focus on the music which brought us together as a band in the first place.
And a band is only as strong as the bass player with the smallest hands. Like, say, hands which are nine years old.
I guess this is kind of like VH1 Behind The Music, because I've had to have the talk with our little bass player. It could be worse. She could be using meth or passing out drunk on the tour bus. It seems unfair to be limited by small hands.
But rock is not fair.
Rock is about getting the job done.
Rock is about pulling together for a brilliant house-packing World Tour Mode and having your fingers in the right place all the time!
Sometimes artistic differences all boil down to hand size.
So I took out an ad in the local Craig's List for a new bass player to replace our daughter.
No big deal. She seemed to eventually cry herself to sleep last night. I guess. I mean, Shana and I were Wii Bowling so I wasn't really paying that much attention.
The point is this: If you feel you have what it takes to be our bass player, we are having auditions at our place this weekend. Please have your head on straight and be ready to rock.
We like to have a good time, sure, but we put the band first around here.
Please bring a list of all the other World Tour Modes you've been a part of, how those turned out, and why you left that band.
This band is a team, and we need to keep our Prima Donna attitudes in check or we won't be able to tolerate each other by the end of the tour. Our last bass player was prone to crying and asking for a drink of water or to "go outside" and I don't think I need to remind anyone how that ended. Right now we are hoping to find her a little USB cigarette lighter to hold up for our encore.
So stop by this weekend. Our bass is practically brand new. I doubt the end buttons were ever pressed at all, damn it.
It'll be awesome.
We'll have snacks.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I'd Like To Disagree

Look! The best movie of all time (according to the users of the Internet Movie Database) is The Dark Knight.
I'm never one to side with popular opinion on this type of thing. I thrive on controversy.
Like gun control. I think guns should be freely available to all citizens, even convicted felons. I think child-proof trigger locks, on the other hand, should be banned.
This way, we eliminate the problem completely within a generation.
See? I don't follow the crowds. I like to make up my own mind about things, including Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Batman villain.
People argue about all kinds of things. High gas prices help the environment because people drive less and we should be happy about paying $4 a gallon on a good day, they say.
I say someone should invent a car which runs on orphans or the homeless, since we would then be actively working towards solving multiple problems at once.
I'm not afraid to voice my opinions, no matter how "anti-social" I may be branded. I do not cater to herd mentality. I make up my own mind about things and then post my quiet little rants here (or in person with a follow-up explanation to HR).
So. The Dark Knight. Without spoilers.

The Dark Knight is not the greatest comic book movie ever released. The Dark Knight transcends comic book movies altogether and joins a group of work consisting of actual films. Gripping character studies and analysis of the Human Condition and examination of the concerns of society and justice and the concepts of Right and Wrong and all kinds of things which normally completely piss me off in a theatre experience exist in The Dark Knight.
But it works.
And Heath Ledger does not merely re-define The Joker, he re-defines clowns. And, as it turns out, I was right all along where those guys were concerned.
He can't be on screen without upstaging Batman, and that is exactly how it should be.
The Joker in The Dark Knight is a combination of all the most horrifying bits of The Joker from the comic books. This is the psychotic, mass-murdering, terrorist Joker who only seems to exist as a counter-point to Batman. Even his origin story (mercifully unexamined, yet discussed a number of times) is unimportant to the audience because it is unimportant the The Joker. The Joker is an in-the-moment kind of bad guy.
So, while I'd like to disagree with the people shelling out millions and millions of dollars to see The Dark Knight, I can't.
What do you do when the masses are correct?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not Because I Care

The Dark Knight is a superhero movie. Therefore, I'm obligated to go so that I can trash talk with the other geeks about how it wasn't at all like the comic or was too ripped off from that other comic story arc or whatever. Fine. I'll do my part so that I can participate in spirited discussion later.
Everyone just needs to admit we already learned all we needed to about Batman from the other movies. Actually, we pretty much learned all we need to learn about life.

1. You don't need super powers to be a hero. You merely have to repress your psychosis and have an inexhaustible supply of cash.

2. Nipples go on people, not clothing. When you start adding nipples to clothing, things start to go horribly wrong.

3. Choose your sidekicks carefully. People talk.

4. Find your ideal number of mortal enemies. In Batman, the Joker killed Bruce Wayne's parents. This compresses the amount of villains into a smaller number than needed. In Batman Forever, the number was expanded to n+1, where n = Jim Carrey. Clearly, this number is too high. In the event one of your mortal enemies is killed you may choose another. Unless you choose Arnold Schwarzenegger and add nipples to your clothes.

5. It isn't over until the fat lady sings, so stay until the end of the opera or someone will kill your parents.

6. Ninja training is a good thing.

7. Always host a final showdown at your secret lair. I'm pretty sure the only bat-villain who has never been in the actual Bat-Cave is Ozzy Osbourne. And if he has been there, there is no way he remembers it.

Early reviews of The Dark Knight are all over the interwebz. I can confidently say that if it lives up to 20% of the hype, it is the greatest movie ever made. From what I've seen, Heath Ledger got The Joker right. He is a freaky scary clown. I hope if he wins that Oscar everyone is talking about it is because he is that good, not because Hollywood wants the good buzz surrounding a posthumous Oscar. My cynicism keeps me warm in the processed air of corporate America. Please excuse.
And Christian Bale is always good in everything. Not many actors can go from Newsies to playing Jesus to John Connor in the next Terminator movie. Heheh . . . Newsies.
Remember that part where Pulitzer and Hearst conspire to raise the price of newspapers in an attempt to screw over the paperboys and Bill Pullman was all upset about it? Yeah, me either.
To sum up: Saturday, at 9am EST, I'm going to see The Dark Knight with my family. It will be awesome. Or at least better than Pocahontas.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Problem with the Publishing Industry

Among the many, many curious psychological issues I have (And I've only scratched the surface here on Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng -- Trust me, if I were just a bit more into self-analysis each post would have the potential to have Dr. Phil phoning his network and frantically trying to get them to loosen up on the profanity moderation while he pushes stacks of cash at me across his desk.) I have some book-related ones.
The mere thought of being "out of book" makes me a little twitchy. There is solid comfort in knowing that if the power goes out, I have, somewhere, book. Being without book mentally throws me into non-stop worst-case disaster scenarios where I try to figure out how to charge my MP3 player in a world without electricity -- because my MP3 player is loaded with audiobooks.
Since most of the country has regular, fairly reliable power, though, I more often just need to replenish the book supply. This is another issue, since what I purchase for myself to read generally doesn't ever make it to the table up front at Barnes and Noble.
I don't read classics. The Great Gatsby cured me of that in two grueling readings.
I haven't been able to intentionally pick up anything which includes an author's unique perspective on The Human Condition since The Great Gatsby reading #2.
I can read technical documentation, but it is generally almost as boring.
I can also read Self-Help books, though I limit them to one per five years to avoid conflict with my moratorium on self-analysis. Actually, the time to select a new one is within the next couple of months. I'm leaning towards this one to help me get over my intense hatred of F. Scott Fitzgerald so I can actually wander around an entire bookstore someday.
However, one per five years leaves a lot of open space in my reading calendar. This open space I choose to fill with . . . filler.
I prefer pulp. I want to read books which don't set out to be good. Books which were written in mass quantities in the first half of the twentieth century and then never looked at again. Laser swords and armored dinosaurs crammed into impossible science with a gritty anti-hero protagonist who dances on the border between two-dimensional and completely un-likable. This is literature by an obvious pay-per-word mercenary author whose whole career may have been based around writing stories to go along with scandalous cover art which was often printed in advance of the actual book.

"I need 5,000 words by the end of the month to go along with the cover art I can't fax you because it is 1933. There is this guy on top of a hill surrounded by other guys trying to kill him."
"What color is the sky and the ground?"
"Red and grey."
"How many arms do the guys have?"
"So they aren't Martians. Got it. I'll have it on your desk in a week, Chief. Tell the dame in the front office I said 'hello'."

Mass-produced and forgotten fiction, the bane of book reviewers. These are stories to be read alone with no discussion with other people about what they thought of the central conflict and thematic elements.
Some of the absolute best ones only appeared in magazines with line drawings which were stark and simple -- not as an artistic choice, but because details were lost when printed onto the cheap paper.
Sometimes someone will publish an anthology of the same twenty or thirty of these, slap a generic over on it, and send it directly to the bargain area at Borders. They will include a forward written by the pulp writers of today. These people write stories with dragons and laser swords for Hasbro (featuring the fantasy worlds of the Dungeons and Dragons game) or Lucas Arts Publishing (which fling the story from the Star Wars movies 3000 years into the past or write seven hundred pages about that guy from the cantina scene they edited out entirely in the "Special Edition" release of the movie). I read those books, too.
But the "Classics", to me, were all written before 1960. The details never mattered. The books existed to fill shelf space and they knew it.
The greatest of these authors, in my opinion, was Robert E. Howard. That guy (who influenced and was influenced by H.P. Lovecraft through direct correspondence) wrote some seriously twisted stuff. A vampire hunting Puritan warrior? Really? With shoe buckles and flintlock pistols? If it didn't kick so much ass, it never would have been adapted into a comic book. Or a movie.
They also made a movie about Howard's life, though I've never seen it because I can't imagine how one would transform the story of a man who lived with his mother until he took his own life could be made into a love story of any kind.
But now . . . Now this form of blatant non-art is coming back.
Paizo Publishing picked up the rights to a bunch of pulp fiction work and they are releasing it at a steady rate of one trade paperback a month. No leather-bound, gilt-edged volumes for this stuff, oh no. And the price per book is pretty reasonable, with a discount for subscribing to it. This Planet Stories service is like the "Crap Fiction of the Month Club" and I fully intend to subscribe as soon as I determine when/if the movers will be bringing me bookshelves.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Larger Issues

I'll admit that my strong areas do not include interacting rationally with other humans. This admission allows me to admit some fault without needing to identify what it is that I do well.
It also explains my behaviour in the Help Desk training class last night.
One of the problems comes from a nebulous definition of the word "rational" and also "reasonable" as well as a clinical evaluation of what constitutes "yelling" and a lack of updating the list of "profanity" to encompass the linguistic updates our society has developed since the late 1950s.
Besides, sometimes people are just asking for it.
If you ask me.
Which, for the record it should be noted, they did not.
Anyway (as I explained to the Help Desk Manager) the larger issue comes down to biology.
While the movie title from the image is misleading in terms of era, the fact is (given fossil records, foot prints, and archaeological finds) modern humans have little if any physical difference than our mastodon-hunting ancestors.
These fur-wearing hunter/gatherers lived in a time when the food chain was a full-contact sport.
Adrenaline was more of a survival mechanism than an advertising buzzword.
Fight or flight was a daily way of life.
If you take that exact biology and cram it into a pair of khakis, you can easily see where Corporate America runs into issues.
We have been genetically programmed to attack each other in order to survive.
When confronted with corporate idiocy, the Human Resources preferred response is a reasoned discussion and some white boarded line drawings. Biology tells us (and I know I'm not just speaking for myself here) to smash the skull of the offending individual with a stone and (if it is nicer) take his cave.
My actual reaction tends to fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes, therefore I should be commended for having mastered my instincts.
But am I?
Oh hell no.
And the very reasonable answer I've just provided does not satisfactorily work as a reply to "What is your problem?" and "What, exactly, is wrong with you?" according to sources that may or may not matter. In fact, I can't get halfway through my "biology is at fault" explanation without some HR person telling me to "sign the form" for my "file" and "get the hell out of my office and get back to work -- Away from people for the love of all that is holy".
The forces at play here are hungry Smilodon-sized.
I'm doing the best I can to survive in an all too brutal world.
I may not be tracking giant elk across the tundra, but I.T. people get "left out on the ice" all the damn time.
We may have moved from simple huts made of foraged wood and uncured animal hide into cubicles, but the tribal alliances still serve to define who we are and who we go with when we get coffee and who we allow to browse the network.
We no longer erect shrines to honor the spirits of our prey, but find a geek anywhere who doesn't have some old piece of vintage hardware stashed somewhere -- Possibly even out on display.
We may not carry crude clubs and spears fashioned from stone and sinew but that is probably just because no one has developed primitive weaponry powered through a USB port. Yet.
Human Resources should consider it a good day when we wear shoes to work.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'll take things which will end badly for 400, Alex

I've been asked to attend another training class this evening.
But wait.
It gets better.
I'm not taking this class, I'm answering questions.
And the class is one the Help Desk is required to attend regarding our new solution and dealing with the users.
I don't deal with the users at all, so I'm not sure how I got short-listed for this assignment.
It isn't that I can't access the users, I just don't because I generally don't like them at all.
From my perspective, users are only there to weaken security. If we didn't have them logging in, I could just leave the server in a box somewhere, unplugged and powered down and totally un-hackable.
So somehow I got picked to talk to our front line people about how to answer questions from users and what to expect those questions to be.
I tried to get out of it, citing at least four separate managers who posted in my performance reviews that my contact with the end users should be "limited" or "restricted" or "absolutely the last resort" or "even if the alternative is leaving them on hold for four hours and then accidentally disconnecting them, the user would be better served than speaking with Garrick".
It didn't work.
And also trying to get a doctor's note stating that I'm allergic to users won't work in this case since I don't have time to get an appointment before the class.
I think I must have come across as helpful or friendly at some point, so I suspect my dosage needs adjustment.

"What does it mean if a user says blah blah blah . . .?" "Who should I escalate the ticket for if the user has a blah blah blah . . . ?"
Side note: "blah blah blah" is all users ever say. Or at least all I hear.
And my answer would be: "If port 135 is open on the firewall you should craft an RPC call instructing the user machine to stab them in the face. If the port is unavailable, have them reboot and try again."

Holy crap. That was me trying.

"What questions should I ask to assist with troubleshooting?"
"Um . . . How did you get this number? What is wrong with you? Are you on something?"

Why can't I get in on a training class that is applicable to what I do?
Well, in fairness what I do would probably need to be defined, I suppose.
The problem with this is that we are defining the "escalation process" and, as I discussed with a coworker this morning, the first thing I think of when someone says "escalation" is "hostility".
Of course, my word association triggers may also be a little in conflict with those of the "normals". But how would I know?
Shana asked me yesterday if there was a voice in my head which told me when comments are appropriate and when they are not. Apparently, most people have that voice.
I might, but the little guy is drowned out by the assertive voice which shrieks "sniper rifle" and "bell tower" over and over and over.
I'm out of place discussing how to "handle the users", since this immediately makes me think of the words "crawl space" and "tomato garden".

In totally unrelated news, I've been looking for an excuse to post this image and the withdrawal of UN personnel from Darfur seems like the opportunity:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Careful Planning

In I.T., intentions rarely count for much of anything.
On Friday (the first Friday since my family joined me in beautiful South Carolina), I was informed that a group of servers would fail an audit if certain changes were not made to them before this morning. Changes which required testing without a test environment and access to the servers themselves which I do not have.
So all weekend I hung out at work, hacking my way into our own machines, applying patches, removing features, changing registry settings and complaining that work on a weekend sucks a lot since there is no one in the cafeteria to make the whole wheat pancakes which fuel most of my days.
Most of the changes broke something or another. While my job description is centered around I.T. security (and browser-based game testing until that part gets noticed and deleted), I'm also called upon to put positive spin on things from time to time.
Telling the auditors in the 4pm meeting that all the servers were "screwed up in new and different ways, each more horrifying than the last" would be bad. I can't send auditors red flags on purpose. I mean, I'm allowed, of course. I'm actually required to tell them, but if I can quietly make things better in the background it makes less work for everyone and all the problems are just as fixed.
The phrase I chose for my report on why it took almost 14 hours to fix about 10 servers is that "each server is a beautiful and unique snowflake of compliance variables".
See? Much better.
And in the end there was only one server which I had to recommend turning off and wheeling down the hill into a gully before covering it with gravel and mulch.
This afternoon I'm going to sign the paperwork on the house. I spent lunch with Shana and Gwynyth hanging out in a bank setting up an account and talking them into breaking the rules about when they can issue a cashier's check against our newly deposited funds.
When the person setting up the account asked for an email address for someone who would be managing the account online I pointed to Shana and spelled out her address, explaining that I hate computers.
Then the guy asked what role I had at work and I had to tell him. "Monitoring Flapjack Quality", which may actually exist as a job title here.
This afternoon I'm also going to return Shana's GPS to her, since I won't need it anymore after finding the attorney's office for the signing.
I've had quite a lot of fun with it.
Being from Houston, my average commute was about an hour and fifteen minutes each way to work.
In Columbia, I've had trouble inputting an address with more than 15 estimated travel minutes displayed from wherever I am. This includes traffic, so I tend to be early everywhere even after three months of trying to get used to it.
"Mandy", the voice of the GPS ("Please make a u-turn", "Please make a u-turn", "Please make a u-turn", "When you get a chance, please get back on the paved road") was pretty lousy company and I'm thrilled to have my family here, even though I'm now seeing the hours at work start to pile up on me.
Shana told me that when she was leaving Houston one of the neighbors finally asked about the "For Sale" sign in the yard and what Shana and Gwynyth were doing.
"It is time for us to move," she told the lady,"We haven't seen Garrick in months."
The awesome part is that the neighbor took that to mean that I had just fled to Mexico to start a new life or something instead of that they missed me and were coming to join me.
I'm not sure if Shana corrected the perception, but I would not have in the hopes of scoring some free "pity brownies" or something.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Multi-Purpose Spoons

I noticed this morning that some things are starting to bother me. There are giant dispensers for plastic flatware in the cafeteria.
The one on the left is labeled "Forks" and when you press the lever, as you might expect, a fork comes out. But the next one is not labeled "Spoons", even though pressing the lever produces a spoon. The sign on that one reads "multi-purpose spoons".
How many purposes are there for a plastic spoon?
You can scoop stuff . . . I suppose stirring is an option but there are dedicated stirring devices provided also.
Forks, though. Forks are multi-purpose.
You can stab and cut food with them. They work as a self-defense tool. The intimidation factor in just brandishing a plastic fork at someone in a meeting should not be downplayed. You can clean out the air intakes on the front of a Dell Optiplex 755 when it gets that weird greasy not-dust in it. The tines can be used in place of thumbtacks in situations where you don't care too much about the cork board. If an item becomes wedged in the area between the desk and cubicle wall, it is much more likely one would find a plastic fork handy to lever that thing out of there rather than some gently rounded spoon.
But "multi-purpose", when it relates to plastic spoons, is almost bearable when compared with some of the crap I hear every day in meetings, cubicles and hallways.
"Let's take this offline" is dumb given that in a meeting most people are not "online" since they are away from their computers and in a meeting.
Discussions of "Pre-planning" anything makes me twitch, since any other way of planning is pretty much impossible.
"Challenges" are no different than "Problems". Both require the same level of activity.
"Thinking outside the box" is not the kind of behavior you'd expect from people who work in cubicles.
Any "High Altitude" view of a problem implies that management doesn't want to know what is really going on.
"Let's touch base later"? No. We are here now. Listen now.
I actually had to Google one today, having heard it a few times.
"We need to have a come to Jesus meeting". Apparently, if it is a one-on-one meeting, you are screwed. A group "come to Jesus meeting" is a blame assignment session. I have no idea where the phrase comes from.
I have noticed that when it is referenced, the "come to Jesus meeting" makes both Christians and non-Christians (and when you combine the two groups you have the total population of the planet) feel uncomfortable and get squirmy.
I suppose I'm happy to have found a phrase which has such universal power to derail people around me, but I still find it profoundly weird.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I Quit

Yesterday's blog post was sad enough that I decided to actually do something -- And doing things is against my personal policy.

I went to the house and scooped needles, as always. When I was finished, I gazed into the net at the tangle of needles and bugs and decided that the pool isn't the boss of me. I'd done a good job. There was a giant wad of dead plant in the net and no longer in the pool. Instead of digging it out of the net, I just dropped the whole thing there on the deck and walked away. Free.

I watched Batman: Gotham Knight, which is the animated feature chronologically set between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

While it is grittier than the animated series, some of the animation is a little weak. Well, maybe I just didn't like the artistic style of the work. Batman has a look, or actually several established looks, and an animated feature is not (in my opinion) the place to try a new one. So that bothered me.

I'd still recommended it simply because at the end of the day, Batman kicks ass. This is not a cartoon for children, though. 

I'm really looking forward to The Dark Knight in a couple of weeks. What I have seen of the movie so far looks incredible and the casting could not have been more appropriate.

But then the power went out due to a storm. There, in the dark, with the house gradually warming around me, I lapsed into sleep for a few hours. In total, the lights were out for about four hours.

When they came back, I woke up suddenly since the lights had been on and I didn't turn them off. The sensation of a flash bulb in the skull is rarely pleasant, and this stuck to the expected format.

I staggered out of the bedroom (can it be called that without a bed?) and out into the backyard to see what else was still dark. 

My eyes wandered to the pool, knowing that the wind had no doubt tumped a ton of needles in there.

It might have, but it also blew the net in there. The net I didn't clean. The empty net on the bottom of the pool under a thick mat of recently liberated needles, slowly spinning in their mocking dance through the recirculation stream. 

Screw that.

We are hiring someone.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Problem With The New HQ

I'll be the first to admit that I have issues. Certain things just bother me. I'm coping with it for the most part.

I think you might be impressed if you realized just how much of my day is spent repressing my paralyzing fear. I know, logically, that my fears are excessive. The problem is that another part of my brain seems to also find the fears themselves logical.

For example, clowns. Sure, they can seem fun at first. But who knows what lurks beneath the greasepaint. A seltzer bottle would not have done much good as defense against this guy:

I think, in certain cases, a fear of clowns is reasonable as it includes the survival instinct fear of being murdered.

Also, spiders. Even typing the word makes me shudder a little. Whenever I see one of the skittering little monsters my fight or flight response is triggered and heavily pre-weighted towards the flight side.

Again, logic tells me that almost all of them are harmless and actually beneficial to the environment. The part of my brain with access to Google reminds of this guy, though:


The Brown Recluse. With a bite that causes a horrible rotting injury and a preference for the environment inside shoes, the argument for not leaving the state upon seeing one is weak at best.

Then there are the parts of my brain which center around perceived sensations.

I do not have a fear of germs, but I wash my hands about a dozen times a day and use that hand sanitizer junk at a rate of about ten ounces a week. 

I can't even walk past one of these signs without stopping to take the opportunity to scrub off a layer of skin:

The sign itself disturbs me, since it looks like the hands are smearing creamed corn all over themselves. That thought (and I have it every time) has me washing my hands again.

This is some bizarre variant of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it can possibly be treated with medication. 

The problem is I have a fear of doctors and western medicine in general, so I have to just work at keeping my condition at a manageable level. 

And that is where the point of this post is going, if you've managed to stick with me this far.

Owning a pool, in any proximity to pine trees, is a nightmare freak-fest for anyone like me.

I can't even drive by the house without stopping to net needles out of the pool. 

Yesterday I spent a total of 45 minutes doing it in six separate sessions. 

1. See needles

2. Retrieve net

3. Scoop needles

4. See more needles

5. Scoop those needles

6. Get needles out of the net

7. Notice spider in the net, near my hand

8. Drop the net into a pile of pine needles

9. Run around the yard in circles shaking my arms over my head and screaming

10. Return to net and stomp and stomp and stomp until nothing inside can remain alive

11. Finish cleaning the net

12. Return net to the hook on the fence by the filter

13. Oh look! There are pine needles in the pool! 

14. Repeat

If there was ever a chance I'd be the slightest bit productive, that time in my life is over.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

And the big, awesome moving adventure begins! The movers showed up Monday morning at around 2pm and immediately began complaining about our packing. They began meticulously unpacking and re-packing everything. Shana is a careful person. She used plenty of padding and state-of-the-art cardboard and plastic moving containers. However, it wasn't good enough, apparently.
Also, while she had spent hours on the phone and internet configuring a manifest for the entire move, it looks like the company underestimated the weight of the items.
I would think that pots and pans weigh the same on all parts of the planet, but apparently at our house in Houston there is more gravity. This in no way explains the BMI of the cats, but it does explain how our move estimate (of around $5000) shot up to double before the truck was even fully loaded.
I freaked. Oh, how I freaked.
The thing is, they told me our stuff was already partially on the truck. They could unload it and just charge us $4000 for packing it, or just take it to Columbia.
Upper management told me another company could probably come and complete the move, but they would charge more for the actual drive since there isn't any profit margin in it. "All the money is made in packing and packing materials".
Realizing I had no choice . . . Whatever.
But the foreman called me twice to tell me that he'd been trying to help me out and now that I'd thrown a big fit he'd have to charge us for everything instead of cutting corners, so I expect an "unloading fee" or extra mileage because "Columbia is father than it looks" or some kind of weird cubic foot overage penalty I'd need math skills to argue.
You have heard these places are all scams. And now you have heard it again.
Also, the move which was supposed to be complete yesterday is still happening, or will resume happening sometime before noon maybe.
And they have no promised delivery date for our stuff. Nice.
It takes two days to make the drive, but they estimate 21 days in transit.
Right now I've added them to the list of companies I hate, right up there with Accenture, Comcast and Shell Oil.
Once my plan for global domination is complete, changes will be made.
Note to self: Finalize the plan! Stop looking at lolcats all day and just finish the thing!
But wait.
Ahhhh. That's better.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Things I've Learned

I've lived my whole life in that big red area. I'm okay with that, since the alternatives include the Frozen North and hippie-infested wilderness. I've had some trouble fitting in for . . . oh . . . thirty-something years, but I'm trying my best to blend.

I learned early on (like elementary school early) that standing out in the red area just isn't done, at least not by people who don't want the "tar" beaten out of them. Believe me, it takes years of cigarette smoking to put the tar back where it goes.

I learned in Arkansas that college guys with long hair should never make eye contact with a local in a truck stop at three in the morning. This may be true outside Arkansas, but that isn't an experiment I'm willing to fund.

I've also learned that beer is supposed to be yellow, the lighter the better. People that drink dark or (gasp!) imported beers are outsiders. Cram that stuff in the back of the refrigerator behind some kind of vegetable and drink it late at night in a darkened room.

NASCAR is for real. I don't mean there is a conspiracy which suggests (like wrasslin') that it may be a performance piece. I mean people watch it. On TV. For hours. And then discuss the results. The money Pabst Blue Ribbon wisely invests in advertising during racing is guaranteed an almost immediate return.

Shop attendants who are overly friendly are not neccesarily "simple". Sometimes they are just actually friendly and it is wrong to assume otherwise. But play it safe if you get caught in an extended conversation due to a busted cash register. I suggest talking about light-colored beer and mumbling about the NFL. Do not mention a specific team. Also keep in mind that the Houston Oilers no longer exist for anyone living outside Tennessee. While in Tennessee, referring to them as the "Oilers" is also considered bad form.

Humming Dueling Banjos while in public is never funny to anyone not doing the actual humming. Therefore, enjoy it.

While visiting The South, only reference previously established yonders while asking directions. Only the locals know the exact conversion to the metric system for the local yonder and you will just waste everyone's time with improvisation. Also expect to get directions based on where things used to be. Even if you are from out of town, all directions you are given will include a reference to a left turn past where the Piggly Wiggly used to be.

"Ya'll" is plural. There are no exceptions. I prefer "you guys", but to be fair it is just to see people cringe.

Don't be offended if a stranger calls you "sir" or "ma'am". If there is a slight possibility that you are half an hour older than they are, this is the proper form of address.

Atlanta is pronounced "LAN-uh". I say this merely to illustrate that you should avoid using place names for anything while you visit The South. The street named "San Felipe" in Houston is pronounced in a way which is offensive to anyone who has ever had a Spanish class.

Even keeping all this in mind, there will be times when all attempts at blending will fail.

"You aren't from around here are you?" may very well be your first indication of this, as it was for me the other day while I signed up for cable.

The guy was nice about it, though. He thought it was almost funny that I am from Texas (Houston, while technically The South, is considered too big. For the record, the only two Southern cities are Atlanta and New Orleans -- But don't try to say the name of either place without practicing.).

I was upset that my finely crafted veil of local-ness had been destroyed almost casually by the guy within the first five minutes. What kind of skills did he possess? How tuned-in to the local culture was he to bust me, an accomplished thespian, with the old "you aren't from around here are you?"

As I'm always refining my craft, I asked. "What gave me away?"

Was it the fact that I found the screen displaying the Home and Garden Network more interesting than ESPN? Was it my backless shoes? My "Sex and Drugs and Dungeons and Dragons" T-Shirt?

"Your driver's license has a Houston address on it," he answered, sliding it back to me across the desk as he completed filling out my account information.

The guy at the cable office is a smart one.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Birthday, America

Since seeing a Will Smith movie on the Fourth of July is the obligation of all United States citizens, I went ahead and stepped up on the 3rd.


I'm afraid this is one of those reviews that starts with "the special effects were really good" then has "there were a few good moments here and there" and has a pseudo-intellectual paragraph about how "the idea behind the story was interesting" and that "I wish they'd done more with it." 

The end of the review probably has something else about the special effects, since ending with anything else would be a downer.

Disclaimer: I like to think that I don't like rules and that my own free spirit guides my every action apart from the actions of every other living human and that rules themselves are merely a social convention meant to conceal our true intentions from one another.

While I like to think that, the truth is that every second of every day follows an obsessively complex series of actions and reactions dictated for me at an almost molecular level.

For instance, at lunch on Tuesday a coworker and I tried to find the worst food possible. It is a game we have, like "digestive chicken" almost.

Anyway, we found a "mexican" place called (I promise) "Macarena". That can't be good, right?

And while we were eating, someone walked in the front door and stumbled over the slightly folded doormat. Another person walked in and did the same thing. When the third person came in and tripped and almost fell, I got up in mid-sentence and straightened the rug myself, adjusting an edge under the candy machine and smoothing every tiny ripple into a perfectly flat OSHA-compliant surface.

I didn't even realize I'd done it until I sat back down and my coworker said, "Obsessive much?"

Anyway, about Hancock :

There are rules for superheroing. And I don't mean "don't kill the bad guys" and "no cursing in front of children", because, let's face it, sometimes both the bad guys and the children are totally asking for each kind of treatment. 

Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider. 

Superman is an alien. He gets his powers from the light of our yellow sun. 

The X-Men are mutants. This means that there is no specific "how they got their powers" story since in each case it is an accident of birth. This is solely because Marvel Comics was out of ideas for origin stories having been caught using "an accident with gamma radiation" too many times for comfort.

Hancock eventually gets around to an origin story. They nicely establish ground rules for his powers along the lines of the classic comic ground rules.

1. Spider-Man - Super strength and speed, spider sense. Weaknesses include being a kid and having no money to support superheroing.

2. Superman - Super everything except when he is around a rare mineral from his home planet. A rare extraterrestrial mineral in abundant supply for evil people.

3. X-Men - Each power is unique and the weaknesses include excessive angst and making every freaking thing into a racial allegory. 

4. Hancock - Powers are clearly defined and weaknesses are firmly established - Then immediately cast aside in favor of special effects. 

I think that is what bothered me most. They set the rules and then broke them. But they were their rules. They said it worked like that. It's one thing for a movie to stray from the comic source material, like having Spider-Man meet Mary Jane before Gwen Stacy. Fine. But if they started Spider-Man 2 with a flashback where all of Mary Jane's stuff from the first movie was replaced with Gwen Stacy it would be wrong and then if we were all supposed to forget it happened and let Peter Parker meet Mary Jane in Spider-Man 4: Electric Boogaloo it would feel odd. And screw up the DVD trilogy special edition like crazy.

So there. That is my spoiler-free review of the new Will Smith movie. Maybe it wouldn't bother regular people as much as those of us who seem to be screaming for a prescription. 

Will Smith is good in everything he does. And the special effects were really pretty good.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Google Maps and Photoshop

Okay! Since the last of the paperwork needing signatures is all on someone else, I went ahead and moved my stuff out of the crappy hotel and onto the floor of the new place. 

On the map above, I've designated the house (bottom center) with a white star. 

As you may have noticed, I'm a sucker for history. 

From the great northward beaver migration where we finally stuck it to those Canadian freaks through giant rodent re-distribution to the crazy time a bunch of rich people were throwing money as fast as they could at anything with computers in it only stopping when they heard, "Wait. What? You want this money back?", the past is fun for me.

Sure, there is a lot to be learned from history, but I tend to more enjoy poking fun at our primitive ancestors for the most part. I mean, like, what are they going to do about it?

This street has history. That's what I liked most about it, probably.

Not just crime scene tape history, either. Important history.

See, the street was built by Dave Thomas, or (more likely, though records are incomplete) people hired by Dave Thomas.

And the house I've marked with the killer robot, the house right across the street from the house where I'm typing this very post, was Wendy's house. There is a plaque and everything.

This house has fast food history, internet. And hardwood floors. 

When I step onto the back porch, I can feel in the air the kind of tingle that would lead a person to invent a Frosty Dairy Dessert or (more likely, though records are incomplete) hire someone to invent a Frosty Dairy Dessert. Or maybe just go get a Frosty Dairy Dessert because I skipped lunch. 

I feel I finally I know what it means to be living life to its most Biggie size. 

Also, in less than a week my family will be here, which will be awesome.

And the house has a cable modem since I picked one up this morning on my way over, so I'll share that with them. It seems the least I can do (though records are incomplete).

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Must . . . keep . . . focus . . . on the kittens.

So anyway, since it looks like I have a closing date on the new house and a move-in date of exactly the same day, there are arrangements to be made.

The neccessities must be lined up. I'll need a source of internets, first of all. 

I couldn't get the internets set up, since someone already has service there. I asked to have separate service set up, but they said there can be only one account per address. When that guy cancels service, I have to swoop in and pick up a modem from the cable company. They would not let me take one home "pending" the other guy leaving, even though I was on my most charming behaviour.

Since the internets have their own set of requirements, I need electricity.

Those people had no issue with my taking over the bill on the day I move in. In fact, they signed us up for gas too in spite of my total lack of knowledge as to how many appliances in the house even use that stuff. I figure if there is natural gas going to the house now, why shake stuff up asking a bunch of questions, right?

I called the cable company again, but they recognized my voice and told me the current owner hadn't shut anything off yet. I hate them already.

Water was interesting. My new address will be 116. I know this for a solid fact. I've signed so much crap with that address on it there is no question it is the place.

However, the water company doesn't have record of it existing as an address.  "Not in the system."

This means they can't get water to it, though they currently get water to it for someone right now.

They offered to set me up at 110 since 116 isn't possible. I explained that while I appreciated the offer, I would not be living at 110, my house is 116. I'm sure 110 is nice enough, and I don't want those people to go thirsty, certainly, but in the end I'm primarily concerned with the people living and surfing the internets from 116.

She flat refused to do anything for 116, since it doesn't exist. She asked if the meter might be at 110, and I wondered aloud if I was supposed to know where they kept their water meters. She said she was uncertain, but that she could switch my name to the bill for 110.

I had her search by the current owner's name and she found service on the street in question. She gloated as she told me that the service was for 110. 

"That's the one, then, but I'm putting a lot of faith in the idea that I will be able to shower at 116 by paying the bill for 110."

She asked if I'd like to check first, and I told her that I had no records she didn't have access to about the state of water distribution in the greater metropolitan Columbia, South Carolina area.

Then she asked where I would like to receive the bill.

"Where does it go now?" I asked.


"I suspect that will work," I replied. 

I have reason to believe the bill will be delivered to the right place even if the water is spraying all over some fictional address down the street.

On Wednesday morning, a coworker said that my apathy bordered on being an actual philosophical school and that I could teach my way of life professionally if I could go for five minutes without saying "meh".

He ranked it with stoicism, skepticism, and epicureanism in terms of whole-life schools of thought.

I told him I could not move forward without a suitable "-ism" of my own. 

He suggested that "plagiar-" would be nice were it not already taken.

Of course, it is only appropriate that I take that for my own and claim to have invented the word itself. 

I find it interesting that the traditional definition fits so much of what goes on here on Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng. Everything posted here is pretty much just stolen right from the online editions of the Ladies Home Journal and Sewing Savvy. 

You'd be amazed how easily "Window Dressing For Spring" can be tweaked into some rant about the Smurfs movie.

I'm going to call those internet people again and try to get service at 110.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

"Our Values"

I missed a post yesterday because it was Monday. I also spent the whole day (and most of last night) cramming for my ethics class this morning. Most of the stuff you can find about ethics on the internet is pretty questionable, really, though I went over the Ten Commandments, some old Miss Manners articles and a few hundred Dear Abby letters from her extensive online archive. I figure politeness is a pretty good substitute for ethics. It seems to work in the real world, anyway.

The training class was kind of a lot like having someone read the corporate compliance manual aloud in front of a group of people required to be there. Then there was a ten minute break.

This isn't a standard do-the-right-thing kind of ethics class, really, since I would think that would cover charitable works, being kind to animals, and returning items to the lost and found regardless of the level of awesomeness of said found item.

This class had a focus on HIPAA stuff and how to handle personal health information.

Until this class, I'd never considered the enormous potential value of private health information on the various global markets. Unfortunately, I said as much.

I also said that if someone had a list of allergies for a politician, selling the words "peanut dust" to terrorists could be quite a lucrative side job, were one so inclined.

We heard case studies of people who who said dumb things in public or gave a policy holder a diagnosis before their doctor had. These people got canned.

Also, there is a guy on the corporate payroll who is paid with the agreement that if a HIPAA violation is found to merit prison time, this guy serves it on behalf of the company. That's all he does. He gets paid to risk prison. And white-collar prison, too, "for a crime he didn't commit"! And he hasn't needed to go yet, either. In part, no doubt, due to awesome "Our Values" training.

I'm not sure what type of career arc leads to "fall guy", but the mercenary in me is intrigued. I've been meaning to learn to golf anyway, and I understand the key to surviving on the "inside" of one of those Federal prisons is to walk up to the meanest looking accountant you see on the first day and take his Jell-O, then make him write it off on your taxes. After that, no one jacks with you.

However, my mantra of "I can't go to prison -- I'm too pretty" would prevent that kind of occupation anyway. All the good scape goat jobs are probably filled. I hate my high school career councilor so much sometimes!

The last part of the class was spent playing "Compliance Jeopardy" with actual buzzers! While the rules stated that it was all for fun, I insisted that we keep score anyway.

I complained a bit loudly when someone stepped in front of our buzzer and blocked the IR signal.

Also, I picked all the questions on the bottom row of the screen valued at $500 because the difficulty seemed no different and it let our team rack up $3000 plus the "Daily Double" until the trainer insisted we let another team answer something. It was total BS, in my opinion and I said as much.

After the last screen cleared, the slide declared that "Everyone wins!" and I kind of freaked a bit and asked that we determine who was the least winning, or "losing-est" since to do otherwise just encouraged a culture of entitlement.

On the bright side, I got credit for the course. I also don't have to go back for at least a year.

Plus our team totally owned at that Jeopardy thing.

In your face, you bunch of whiners on the Orange Team. You better bring your "A" game next year or don't bother bringing anything. That tired slow buzzer crap is all played out.