Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Sunday morning I spent a little time running through a half-completed Death Star to hunt down the final bad guys in The Force Unleashed.
Apparently, there are two possible endings, a Light Side and Dark Side.
I'm not, at this point, sure where the decision is made between good and evil. In that way, The Force Unleashed is a lot like real life.
It varies from real life in that you can pretty much Force choke your way through every obstacle and Force lightning anything you can't choke.
Duel Mode easily justifies the cost of the game itself. The fact that the storyline and characters are interesting is a fairly delightful bonus.
On the Wii, the mechanic for Force battles (matching the position and movement of the on-screen controllers like Dance Dance Revolution) makes the player concentrate too much on the edges of the screen and not enough on the actual action in the middle.
Successfully pulling off the Force move triggers a computer controlled scene of Jedi awesomeness which is fun to watch.
Between missions the cut scenes are what moves the story from "kill all these people" to "kill these more different people" and on through to "Look! People! Kill them!" in a pretty cool way.
Between these full-on voice-acted character development moments (and the cut scene before the Death Star lasts 12 minutes) and the awesome Force moves, I'm almost left with the feeling that The Force Unleashed is best in Duel Mode as a player and best in the actual single-player campaign as a spectator.
It would have been an epic movie.
I'd trade two and a half of the prequel moves and the last half of Return of the Jedi for a Force Unleashed movie.
Provided Ben Affleck does not play The Apprentice.
I'm not saying that the single-player campaign was without its own joys.
The boss fights are fun and beating down someone who looks even a little like Jar Jar Binks is almost uncomfortably satisfying.
I actually dragged that fight out by letting the guy heal up before beating on him again.
Several times.
Until it got boring, really.
Plus about half an hour.
Man, I totally beat the snot out of that guy.

From CNN This Morning

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Adorable Point

On Sunday, we visited the local zoo.
We'd been before. They proudly brew Starbucks coffee, so we went ahead and picked up a family membership for the year.
This visit was our first chance to use that membership.
I have a set of goals on any visit to the zoo. Any zoo.
And by "set of goals" I mean "single goal". I want to see the meerkats.
This single, simple goal is broken down into stages.

1. Experiencing impatience at the distance from the entrance to the zoo and the meerkat hole.

2. Feeling agitation that there are a bunch of children between me and the meerkats.

3. Shouting "Holy crap! That's adorable! Look! They have little hands! That one thinks he's people!"

4. Stepping back from the meerkat area, sometimes with an escort from Zoo Security.

5. Plotting how I could jam a meerkat into my shirt or Shana's purse and sneak the little guy back home for prolonged hugging and a chance to burrow through some drywall.

This visit was no different. Sure, we were delayed a little looking at some extremely dirty elephants and again at some giant tortoises which did absolutely nothing but sit there in the sun and be freaking huge turtles. Not adorable!
But we made it to the meerkats and watched them frolic.
Good times.
We also saw some other (lesser) animals and got free refills on Diet Coke.
While I was looking over some kangaroo-themed shot glasses in a gift shop, I heard someone say,"Hey, you are Garrick aren't you?"
Before turning around, my initial reaction was the logical reaction anyone would have. I thought "Damn, I've been blacklisted from another freaking zoo."
But then I realized that I knew this person!
We went to college together more years ago than I'm comfortable admitting.
And now she works at the zoo and goes by "JC - Just like Jesus", as she said. "Awesome! I'm Jewish now, also just like Jesus!"
So, since my family and I are recent to Columbia and JC is also recent, we totally have to get together to compare notes on Mexican food. Cucumbers? Seriously?
Also, knowing someone who works at the zoo is possibly the first step to legitimate meerkat ownership.
Or at least meerkat ownership which doesn't involve lights and sirens.
I don't want to get tazed again.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Best In Town

Gwynyth had a special breakfast this morning. She was selected from her class to attend a "Character Breakfast" as a special prize for (I guess) being some kind of character.
Anyway, she wanted to celebrate last night by going out for dinner.
She selected Mexican food as her cuisine of preference, and I suggested we visit a little local dive called "Macarena".
I clearly stated, as part of my suggestion, that Macarena was the best Mexican food in town.
Note: I did not at any time say it was "good". Or even, to be fair, edible.
It is nonetheless "the best Mexican food Columbia, South Carolina has to offer."
The menu choices were, I'll admit, odd.
And the salsa was frozen.
Not "from a mix" frozen, but still frozen in the container and difficult to pour.
And Shana's selection, some kind of enchilada dish, was far from what she expected.

"Cucumbers? Why are there cucumbers all over my enchiladas?"

"Those are Mexican cucumbers."

"Why would they cover flavorless Mexican food in a layer of flavorless vegetables?"

"Nachos kick ass."

"I hate you."

Our meal was followed with a proclamation from Shana that we would never be eating Mexican food again. I've known that for months, though, so I was neither shocked nor offended.
When confronted with a city filled with various states of bad Mexican food, one can either completely give up or settle on a level of Mexican food which does not make one too nauseous.
I choose the latter since, as I have stated on numerous occasions, "nachos rule."
In conclusion, when someone promises "The Best" of anything, it is as likely a condemnation of the state of that thing as it is a recommendation of the promised selection.
At least it is when I refer to something as "The Best".

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On Becoming What We Hate

As one of the "Security Guys" for a major corporation, a lot of my work centers around keeping the bad guys outside our network from getting in and mucking things up.
The sad reality of my function is that keeping hackers out is only a percentage of my total work.
The bulk of my work is to keep users, our own stupid users, from breaking stuff accidentally or intentionally from the inside.
There are thousands of people in this organization with the capacity to really screw things up on our network and we, as part of their employment agreement, have just plugged them into our network on the inside. The hardest part of hacking is done for them.
The potential for an average user to break something which impacts someone else is still slight, though.
The real threat comes from the other administrators around me.
These people have access and the skill to break things on almost any scale, and they are subject to the same human weaknesses we all share -- lack of sleep, simple carelessness, or complete disregard for the suffering of others.
Mistakes happen, and that is largely unavoidable. The true danger comes in Admins just changing stuff for whatever reason, and we see that a lot.
The sad part is a lot of cases an Admin makes unauthorized changes in an attempt to relieve user pain, but good intentions still have to follow procedure.
In "the business" we refer to this as an Admin "going rogue", in part because he or she is acting outside the procedural environment and in part because it sounds totally bad ass.
As part of the transition away from our old and busted environment, the care and feeding of this old environment has fallen on my team, specifically two of us.
And it seems that all of the compliance issues from the past seven years suddenly have to be fixed. In the next month. Before we turn these servers off forever.
Now, since my primary role revolves around the new servers, I have limited time to set up complicated and compliant configurations on the old servers. Also, my rights to do so officially have not extended into the technical past the procedural. That is, I'm responsible for doing it, but my account still doesn't have rights. I've also got four hours per Sunday to do all of it.
Seven years worth.
Every change needed has to go through a review board for approval.
No one even knows who the application owners are anymore.
Just researching that has taken eight months and we still have gaping holes in that knowledge base.
The solution, unfortunately, is that my teammate and I must "go rogue".
We will configure things during the day using a generic account and push updates around the approval structure to just get the freaking things in place.
"Tech Ninja" has never seemed so appropriate -- Or so dark.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Disturbance in the Wii

Last night I was visited again by The Force Unleashed.
For anyone intending to finish the game, graphic novel, or hardcover book without spoilers --- Stop reading immediately.
It is impossible for me to articulate my issues with the game without discussing major plot points.
So The Force Unleashed is played almost entirely from the point of view of Darth Vader's secret apprentice.
First -- Darth Vader's secret apprentice?
There are only ever two Sith, a Master and an Apprentice.
Now, if Emperor Palpatine is the Master and Darth Vader is the Apprentice, and Darth Vader is the Master and the Apprentice is the Apprentice (The Apprentice in the game is just "The Apprentice". I think it is supposed to be like a lost identity thing, but I keep thinking of it like a mobster name. Tony "No Neck" Gambuso, Vinny "The Weasel" Buttafuoco. Carl "The Apprentice" Giovanni. ), then one of these guys is not Sith. Right? Look, I don't make the rules, I just know an embarrassing amount about them, okay?
Now, Emperor Palpatine is the Sithiest Sith ever. No question.
Historically, there were probably worse, but in terms of these guys, Palps is certainly Sith.
Darth Vader? That's harder to answer.
First, he redeems himself at the end of Episode 6 by flinging the Emperor down a big tube thingy and blowing him up to save Luke. Oh, um, spoiler alert if you haven't seen The Return of the Jedi. My bad.
Second, and this is established through other Lucas Arts approved canon sources, Darth Vader didn't have enough original parts to be an actual Sith.
Apparently, Force use requires biological parts in sufficient quantity to channel it.
Having all those droid parts makes Vader merely a Dark Jedi, incapable of mastering the more powerful forms of Force access.
You may ask, if biological mass is the component for Force mastery, what about Yoda?
In answer I can only say "He's freakin' Yoda."
It should also be noted this "too many droid parts" rule was only spelled out by someone who was totally evil herself and possibly lying, so who the hell knows?
So, this leaves The Apprentice to obviously redeem himself somehow and do something less evil.
While I haven't yet seen that sure-to-be-boring part of the game, I have seen something which fills my core with ice and has made me shudder at random times even when not actively playing.
In The Force Unleashed, Darth Vader uses his Apprentice in a plot to take down the Emperor. The plot itself is to distract Palps by creating a Rebel Alliance. The Rebel Alliance.
So, according to this game, Darth Vader is responsible for Bail Organa and Mon Mothma and Garm Bel Iblis all getting together and deciding to take down the Emperor.
Of course, I hastily typed out an email to the complaints department at Lucas Arts, the Attorney General of California and the ACLU discussing why this is so very very disturbing to all that I believe in.
Pitchfork and torch at the ready, I stared down the Lucas Arts empire . . . And kept staring . . . And standing . . . And still staring . . . Until my arms grew tired and I was had no choice but to set the pitchfork on the ground and stamp out the barely flickering, almost-burned-out torch.
And then I picked up a Stormtrooper and threw him into a group of other Stormtroopers and blasted the pile with Force lightning until it stopped twitching.
I deleted the email unsent.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Constitutional Rights

On Saturday, we went to the park for a festival.
It wasn't a regular festival, really. It was the South Carolina Pride Festival. The South Carolina Pride Festival is a lot like other festivals in that there are booths selling handmade soap, funnel cakes, and tie dye. The difference seems to be in the amount of rainbow colored items and the fact that RuPaul was the Grand Marshal of the parade.
This was the first parade I'd been to in quite a while with protesters on-site to make a big deal out of everything.
I enjoyed watching the proud people verbally destroy these protesters point-by-point.
You know that weird feeling of joy you get when you see a cat tackle a baby? It was like that.
This one guy (Sodomy Guy, as we came to call him) was quite offended at either the fact that I took his picture with the intent of sharing it on the internets or that I'd dragged my nine-year-old daughter out to see all the sinners.
In my defense, the sinners were quite fabulous.
This guy yelled at me, though. A lot.
And he suggested that Jesus could possibly help me give up my sinful ways before I let my daughter get recruited.
He screamed New Testament verses at me, and I was forced to writhe on the sidewalk in torment before I remembered that that was only supposed to work on witches, not Jews.
Also, it should be noted that the sign of the cross repels vampires and also not Jews.
Thus heartened by my immunity, I told him that his tactics didn't work on me. Or apparently any of the actually proud people at the festival.
He confessed to all of us, from across the street, that Jesus had helped him with his fornication issue.
Now, this just made me feel bad for the guy.
I mean, first of all, I'm pretty sure if Jesus had anything to do with it he wouldn't want this guy yelling in the middle of the street about it.
Second, look at him.
Can you imagine that guy having that type of issue?
What are the chances?
According to the guy's pamphlet (and there was a lot of time to read it, since proud people are not necessarily punctual when it comes to parade starts, apparently) there is no constitutional right to have homosexual sex.
As surprised as I was to learn that, I was more shocked when a quick look at the constitution online after the parade taught me that there is also no provision for heterosexual sex.
This isn't a legislated right somewhere?
Everyone please just stop until we get this all sorted out.
While I'm a little horrified, I was a lot more offended to see this admitted ex-fornicator talking to some elderly people who seemed to be just out for a walk about their sinful ways.
And probably way more graphically than the situation dictated.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It Be September 19th

Ahoy, ye scurvy internetz!
As ye be knowin', today be International Talk Like A Pirate Day!
I be expectin' ye to participate, lest ye be keelhauled accordin' to pirate policy.
Also, ye should be downloadin' movies and music and not payin' royalties, since dealin' with royalty be much more "privateer" than "pirate".
No enterin' serial numberz on software until the 20th either, when ye can go back t' yer normal, landlocked way o' livin.
It suits ye, anyway, ye lubber.
Avast (be a darn fine free anti-virus program fer those of ye still in the Windows brig)!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Primer For The Executive Set

Hi, Executives!
I'm Sammy the Security Shark!
I really appreciate the long walk you made in from your reserved parking spaces right next to the building just to hear from little old me!
Also, thanks in advance for ignoring the fact that I'm a actually porpoise.
My job is to communicate a little bit about our core processes in a way that doesn't make you guys feel all uncomfortable and "firey".
The hard-working men and women in your Information Security Departments (and these are not, generally speaking, the uniformed contract employees you catch lounging around the entrances) are here to provide you with peace of mind as you browse our network and access your vital documents.
Or while your Admin does.
The integrity of your files and records, spreadsheets and marketing documents, and presentations and joke emails is the number one concern of the pastier elements in your I.T. organization.
These are the people who are on the front line defending this company from "evil hackers" and "terrorist groups with bizarre agendas".
Simultaneously, they defend themselves from the rest of your employees, who generally hate them for making them log in places and click a couple of extra times.
While fighting a war on two fronts is generally considered a poor strategy, your I.T. security professionals (once again, these are the guys in cargo pants who take the last of the flavored coffee in the cafeteria) do just that every day.
There are differences between these employees and those you normally see day-to-day.
First, they are likely to wear short sleeves from time to time.
Their shoes are selected for comfort first, corporate dress code second.
They drink more caffeinated beverages in a day than your family drinks in a year.
And they likely have a database somewhere which tracks all that information.
You might be surprised to know that you have something in common with these strange and peaceful creatures. I know I would!
Have you ever seen an episode of Star Trek? It doesn't matter which Star Trek.
They've seen it, too. Trust me, they have.
Do you hate regular password changes? Of course you do, since most of you have made them change your accounts to not require that.
The I.T. Security crowd hates it too! Mostly because they change dozens of passwords a month and theirs are generally a good bit more complex than "123456".
Some of you look surprised, as if I'd correctly guessed it!
Wouldn't that be funny?
Also, more than a few of them have developed drinking problems as a result of working here, though generally more hard liquor and less wine than the typical Executive Level drinking problem.
In fact, that's why they selected me, Sammy the Security Shark, as their mascot, because we "drink like fish"!
Or, in my case, mammals.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yeah, That's What I Meant

Hey, Garrick. I was just looking over this problem log and I noticed your Mitigation Strategy.


To clarify, where you say "Delete the user and replace", did you mean "Delete the user account and recreate"?

Um . . . Sure.

You don't sound like that is what you meant.

Well, I was thinking we just eliminate them and re-hire. I mean, some of these people have been here for years, getting annual pay increases. In this job market we can't help but do better.

. . . (Long, thoughtful pause) . . .

I'm just thinking long term. You know, big picture.

I'm not sure we can really recommend that.

What was your user ID again?

I'll leave it like you wrote it.

I'm glad we had this chat.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Proposed Solution Included "Hugging It Out"

Last week included Microsoft's monthly "Patch Tuesday".
Back in the day, security patches would come out whenever they were ready. Depending on how critical these patches were, many geek weekends were totally destroyed.
It was a dark and barbaric time, when geeks could never predict when they would be working and could never plan in advance to attend their regional comic book conventions.
So now there is a regular "Patch Tuesday", which gives us the ability to plan updates at the slight cost of accepting the Windows stranglehold on the I.T. industry.
And the geeky response is a resounding, "K."
But Sunday evening I authorized the latest set of patches everywhere I have access to do so, having been given new patch deployment toy. I mean tool.
And the patches flew from the tool with great haste, destroying vulnerabilities in our application infrastructure wherever they landed and bringing joy to each and every server. Almost.
On one server (sadly, a Production server) a vital (but formerly vulnerable) file was removed and yet not replaced by the automated patching tool. It sucked quite a bit, but was easy enough to track down and fix.
However, the entire Test environment crashed horrible after patching. There was much sadness.
My immediate response was (I believe) profound: "We have a Test environment?"
Of course, patches were blamed.
The error messages did not start until after patching.
I set about trying to restore functionality.
Troubleshooting is a lot like detective work, minus all the fast cars, A&E camera crews, mysterious dames and regular bathroom breaks.
Since I'd never seen this environment working, my progress was slow.
Restoring to an unknown "known good" is just an exercise in futility, so I decided around noon to reset the objective.
I was no longer attempting to repair. This was suddenly a forensics job.
In I.T., there is a sacred ritual which is normally restricted to management participation only. The opportunity for a layperson to join in the sacred "Placing of the Blame" was not to be missed.
Meticulously (and garbed in my traditional DBA skin coat painted with symbols from network diagrams of ancient and arcane token rings), I began to document settings which were not consistent with the Production environment. I also (gleefully) noted settings which varied within the environment itself from busted server to busted server.
Oh, there were many and their diversity at once shocked and delighted me.
Around 2pm, someone on my team forwarded me an email from the system owner to my
manager requesting that I be called out and stoned for applying untested patches.
To a Test environment.
I noted the last time these servers participated in the scheduled nightly reboots, which was one full cycle of the moon ago.
During that most recent progression of Sister Moon, the administrative account mistakenly used to configure this Test environment has its administrative rights removed and restored twice.
In fact, no one in the account configuration area can even tell me what the current status of that account is.
The fact that the servers all pull licensing information using this account was one I typed into a report while actually giggling.
Currently, there is still a check mark in the "broken" column of the spreadsheet tracking this environment, but I was fully successful in dodging blame and directing it to its rightful location.
I also noted in my report that since a Test environment is exactly the place for untested patches, the sundering of functionality just means everything is "working as intended" from a procedural perspective.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Clean Burning

We went to a friend's house on Saturday to watch the game (and have hot wings and beer, not in that order). Even though I know next to nothing about football, I can make up for it pretty easily with enthusiasm.
One of my gifts is an ability to hate beyond that of normal humans.
Every time I think I'm getting close to running out of hate, I find a new target and re-apply. Since this does not reduce my pre-existing hatred (like for the french), I have to assume that my supply of hate is mathematically without limit. If someone at MIT could harness my hatred, I could easily end our nation's dependence on foreign oil.
There would probably be enough left over (when you consider my hatred of Canadians with their monster beavers and the dutch with their freaky wooden shoes) to power laptops and cellphones to finally bring communication to the most remote corners of the globe. Provided, of course, that those corners do not include Spaniards. God, I can't stand Spaniards.
The Gamecocks (our local beloved college team) played some guys from Georgia.
From just the four periods of the match I watched, I developed a fairly intense hatred for everyone from Georgia.
Why would they not quit outplaying us, like decent people?
It isn't a surprise, given the history.
Sherman was so disgusted by their unsportsmanlike behaviour that he had his troops burn the whole place to the ground while they were passing through.
And Sherman was American!
Once you leave here, you can find hatred for Georgia all over.
Russia hates the state enough to have actually invaded a country just for sharing the name of that cursed place. That particular animosity dates back to a poorly played game of lawn darts between the Soviet Union and the Central Atlanta Beauty College in 1978.
The point is this: Georgia completely sucks and we should all hate them.
Please remember that hatred for Georgia is clean-burning and results in a reduction in ozone depletion and also free kittens.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Unable To Connect

Sometimes things are said in a way which can allow some room for interpretation. For example:
When Blizzard asked me to participate in the closed beta test of the new World of Warcraft expansion, I took it to mean something like "Hey! Come play! We'll copy your character over with all her stuff. It'll be awesome!"
What they really meant was,"Hey! This is a beta test. If everything were working great we'd charge you for this."
Anyway, I downloaded the client. It was almost 2 gigs.
The first patch was over a gig.
The next four patches were about a gig total.
My ISP hates me even more than they already did.
However, this morning I logged in to the beta for the first time just before work.
Since Webinara is still being copied from her home server to the beta one, I just created a new character.
Wrath of the Lich King features the Death Knight, the very first ever "heroic" class in the game.
The Blizzard definition of "heroic" is "starts at level 55 and avoids the slog up from level 1".
My definition of "heroic" is tied to the word "hero" and merely has some vague feelings of good deeds associated with it.
Blizzard's definition works here, mine does not.
In the three quests I did before realizing that I really really really was going to be late for work, I received my commission from the Lich King himself, crafted my plague blade, and slaughtered an unworthy pretender.
During the next three levels, I understand that my new Death Knight is supposed to shrug off the shackles of the Lich King's authority and join with the Horde in the struggle against him.
However, from two meetings with the guy, I know he talks a pretty good talk, really.
I mean "unstoppable evil" isn't . . . good, I guess, but it's also not something to side against.
The word "unstoppable" is in the name.
I asked him if I'd have access to dental coverage if I stayed past my scripted 3 levels.
While he had no answer, I can tell he was thinking about it.
If there is a 401k, I'm going to stick it out through level 80 as a cog in the great evil machine.

At what point does this become too realistic?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Please Press One To Leave A Message

Garrick, your brain is calling.

Take a message. I'm running a battleground.

He's quite insistent.

It's the Daily Bonus Honor Battleground!

I understand. And I'm sorry, but he's becoming quite rude and belligerent.

But I'm chasing down this Night Elf Rogue!

I'm patching him through.

Hey, Brain! How have you been?

When did you hire a secretary?

That's my Tolerance for Putting up with Crap. He's been bored lately so I gave him another job. Also, he's a total pushover and works for free.

Whatever. I'll keep this brief: I'm leaving.

What? You can't leave! We're a team!

You routinely ignore my suggestions. And you don't drink water, ever.

Don't you remember? We talked about how 'water' is like 'brain moisture' only without flavor.

I never agreed with that suggestion.

Okay. It's still no reason to leave.

You got those letters yesterday. I read them.

Yeah, the letters from Visa about the move, right?

Precisely. I remember the wording exactly. Do you?

Prolly. The first one was about how they had submitted our claim to the merchant's bank and might contact me for additional details.

Boring. Get to the second one.

Yeah, the second one said they'd received a response from the bank, had credited the full amount to our account and were pursuing Ultimate Van Lines on their own. They'd contact me for testimony but our case was closed victoriously and with much smack-down.

So you danced around all happy and composed an epic poem about your conquest. It did not rhyme.

Right. Good times.

Did you think to thank me? I assembled your case!

I beg to differ . . .

Piling up papers and scribbling on them with a highlighter is not 'assembling the case'. Also, your smart-assed comments in the margins may have done more harm than good.

You can't argue with results, Brain. Look, I'm chasing this Rogue right now. Can we take this up later?

I wouldn't know anything about your Rogue issue. You stopped even using me in Player vs. Player some time ago.

But I'm winning.

Maybe, but you are playing like a noob.

Thems fightin' words, Brain.

I can prove it. Remember when you decided to sneak past the guards and into the Alliance fortress in Alterac Valley? I know you like to forget moments like that, but please try to recall.

We won.

You left your pet active.

I like my pet.

He followed you into the fortress, but he came to you through all the guards and merchants. They attacked him and he dragged the whole painful mess of them right into the enemy throne room.

Um, yeah.

Why didn't you just dismiss him?

I was killing a Warlock. A lot. In the face.

Also . . . ?

Also I didn't think of dismissing him. But it worked out!

Only because he dragged in so many enemies that no one could see anything and the Alliance randomly ran out of hit points before you did.

I dropped a frost trap.

Accidentally! When your face hit the keyboard! I still can't believe Blizzard sent you a key to the Wrath of the Lich King Beta.

Everything happens for a reason, Brain.

Remember that today as you listen internally to Rick Astley's greatest hit.

You are one mean and vindictive organ, Brain.

Yes. I suppose we were meant to be together.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Miracle Of Life

Hey, where is Phil?

Oh, I heard his wife finally compiled that code she's been working on for nine months.

Awesome! What does that make them? Parents 2.0?

Yeah, it's a good version. I'm stabilized there myself. How about you, Garrick?

We stopped with revision 1.0. I hear there are issues with complexity in the later versions.

Very true. Anything after 3.0 and you are looking at a logistical nightmare.

You know there is a firmware hack which prevents accidental upgrades, right?

Yes! Are you compliant?

My firmware is fully compliant with the revision one software.

Hellz, yeah!

[Insert Firmware Compliance Bump-Fist]

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sometimes I <3 The Phone

Hello, Mr. Pass, this is (redacted) your Aetna representative. Thank you for holding. How may we assist you?

I'm not sure. We keep submitting claims and you guys keep kicking them back denied.
This specific call is in reference to claim number (redacted), though it also applies a couple of times a month since May.

Let me pull up your record. One moment.

[Hold Music, Light Jazz, Piano is a bit . . . Jarring, pre-coffee]

Alright, I have your information. We can't pay on that because the condition is pre-existing.

But it isn't. I was covered through my last job. And the job before that. And a few back, actually.

You need to submit a certification of prior coverage.

I did, to the fax number (redacted) on July 30th. Would you like me to fax the receipt for that?

One moment, let me check your records again.

[Hold Music, Light Jazz, I hold the phone away from my head]

We have no record of that fax.

You should look again.

Can you re-send it?

Why, if it didn't work last time?

I really can't help you in this case unless you submit the proper forms.

Okay. I understand.

Is there anything else I can help you with?

Well, since I called you, I know what you do for a living. You don't know anything about me, though and that seems rude of me.

(uncomfortable laughter)

See, I work for [company name deleted]. I'm in Information Security. One of my jobs is providing guidance on litigation involving the Heath Insurance Privacy and Portability Act of 1996. The other things I do are less pleasant. I'm enjoying this role a lot and look forward to having you as my health care provider for the duration of this assignment.

Hold please.

[Oddly, there was no music.]

Great news! I've found your fax!

Imagine that!

I've re-submitted your claim.

And all claims back to May?

Yes. All claims back to May. You should have a new explanation of coverage and a check within 10 days. Is there anything else I can do to help?

Not at this time. Thank you for your help.

Monday, September 08, 2008

I've Pre-Ordered

This game is the reason the Nintendo Wii was invented. It may be the reason video gaming was invented. I say "may" only because of the miraculous advances in medicine in the 80s when researchers finally discovered a cure for Pac Man Fever.
I've long wanted to wield my very own lightsaber. Mostly in staff meetings, sure, but it is a persistent ache, deep in the geekiest inner core of my being.
There have been games in the past where it was possible to use one, but the controls have always been more about mashing 'A' than slicing the controller through the air.
This has created a certain distance between reality and the lightsaber in game, a distance which has grown less with newer technology to be sure, but a tangible distance separating the lightsaber from a blissful geek.
While I've avoided demos and screenshots of The Force Unleashed, I was inadvertently exposed when Gwynyth dragged us into a Gamestop last week.
The demo itself is a couple of cut scenes and a single level of game play.
I could not help but pick up the controller. It . . . called to me.
I think it must be like when Shana passes a red sign in the mall which states "40% off the already reduced price".
I would assume the feeling is the same, like having one's soul exist as a string from head to foot gently but insistently pulled in a direction on an almost subconscious level. There is no reason to resist the pull. There is no desire to, either.
Darth Vader instructed me to kill a bunch of people using my Force skills. I was totally on board with that.
In fact, even without the pep talk from the Dark Lord of the Sith, I'd probably have been pretty okay with it.
I swung the lightsaber around a little bit and destroyed a couple of droids. Gwynyth was shocked and disappointed with me.
"Dark Side, Sweetie," I explained, patting her on the head while using the Force to pick up a crate and smash it into another droid.
She stopped watching at that point, which kind of makes the rest of this okay.
I reached the end of a hallway and was informed that I could use a Force push to open the door.
This door did not slide gently open. It bent in the middle, crumpled like tissue and fell in. On top of a Stormtrooper.
The next Stormtrooper was a little quicker, managing to fire off a couple of easily deflected blaster bolts before I got the targeting right to pick him up and toss him off a catwalk. He screamed when he fell.
After wiping the wet, hot tears of sheer joy out of my field of vision, I entered a hangar area of some kind.
There were TIE Fighters and large crates and a lot of foolish, foolish people shooting at me.
I picked up a large box of something and flung it at a group of them. Most did not get back up, the survivors I hurled into hangar walls and TIE Fighter hulls.
At one point, I picked up a Stormtrooper and threw him into a large group of other Stormtroopers, then into a wall, then through a Transparisteel window.
Force lightning took care of a few of the stragglers and a few more fell to the red twirling blade of death I had become.
As a gamer, I feel it quite likely that my whole gaming life has been leading up to that moment, right there in some random Gamestop, long after my family had moved on to some other store with a gentle "I've got my phone" whispering against the back of my consciousness as the only sign that I was alone.
Force lightning crackled against a bulkhead as I slammed an engine housing into steel doors in front of me, battering them loudly, the backswings punctuated by the panicked sounds of the Stormtroopers on the other side making plans to defy my advance.
How dare they!?!
Do they not see what they are up against!?!
Do they really believe their pathetic technology can stand against the power of the Dark Side!?!
Part of me knows they do not. They merely make plans because that is all they know. They are unenlightened creatures clinging to the faint hope of their own possible survival.
That part of me is the inner geek, finally swinging a lightsaber around.
The inner geek does not intend to stop.
Later on in the game, I gather there are other locations and enemies. At some point, a rancor like Jabba's must be defeated. And there are other Force users to defeat. But I could be happy if the whole game was set right in that first hangar area if only it didn't completely run out of Stormtroopers so fast.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Oh, No! Saturday Post!

Something must have gone terribly wrong!
I don't drag politics into Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng.
Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng is too pure to get down in the mud with the scumbags and fight it out.
Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng is about the high road. Not specifically taking the high road, mind you, but just keeping tabs on its location in case I need a speedy escape.
However, McCain's Official Blogger just said nasty things about my people (paragraph 4), so I feel obligated to respond.
It is possible "Official Blogger" Michael Goldfarb doesn't check his facts any better than the all of the Unofficial bloggers (small 'b'), but I'd Google before hitting 'Publish' just in case.
He obviously forgot about Ziggurat-Con, which was all about awesome because a bunch of troops deployed in Iraq (about as far from Mom's basement as an American can get) wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons and a bunch of gamers back home sent them gear for that. They even got rulebooks, dice and supplies from Hasbro (who currently owns Dungeons and Dragons).
Thousands of people in the military play games, online, console and pencil and paper. McCain claims our troops as his base, but obviously only the ones who do not roll dice around with their friends.
I'll give him credit, Goldfarb's apology is pretty epic, but the sad fact is that Obama has had a booth at every major gaming, sci-fi and comic book convention since he announced his candidacy. McCain has made no effort to reach out to us at all. His first acknowledgement of gamers came in the form of an attack on his website.
If he'd like us to get out of the basement and vote, he should ask. Hell, we can vote absentee during a roll for initiative. If there is a grapple check to be made, anyone not directly involved can head down the the polls and wait in line while that gets worked out. Holy crap, grapple rules in 3.5 are a freaking nightmare!
Anyway, my anger isn't lonely anger.
Here is Hasbro's response.
I'm still amazed, I suppose, at the ignorance some people have about gaming and gamers.
My Mom lives in Louisiana. If she even had a basement it would totally flood due to the high water table.
For the record, this is not an official Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng endorsement of Obama.
It is a specific "OMGWTFNOOB" directed at McCain.

Friday, September 05, 2008

More Office-Speak

I count any week where I learn a new office catch-phrase to be a total waste of 40+ hours, regardless of what was accomplished during the rest of the week.
Internet, this week has achieved fail.
We have an odd situation in the project.
Our new environment is coming online, but the old environment is still running.
No one on my team has ever been involved with the old stuff, but the team responsible for maintaining it has moved to distance themselves from it.
The old stuff is no longer being watched by anyone, and the patching has dropped off completely.
This responsibility has been batted around for about three months by people two levels of management above me.
By definition it still belongs to the old group.
But it also belongs to me, also by definition.
When this occurs, if a consensus cannot be reached, a MOU is generated.
"MOU" is my sparkling new word.
The Memorandum of Understanding is a kind of one-sided contract lining out responsibilities between two groups of people.
I think it may be pronounced "mauw" as in "mouse", but the "e" may change that. So it could be "moo" as in "mousse", but there is still that extra "e" thing and also "mousse" is french, which isn't even a real language, probably.
French is more of a code for making fun of Americans.
So while I'm not sure if it is "mauw" or "moo", I'm pretty sure it isn't "Mao" as in Chairman.
But anyway.
This resolution-generating document seems to require no strict guidelines for establishing cause or justification or truth, rather the first team to get the MOU through the approval process wins, having achieved Understanding first.
While this quest for understanding seems completely Zen on the surface, there is a lot of turmoil in getting the wording non-confrontational enough so that the document can be exchanged between members of upper management.
Normally, these elusive staff members only communicate by means of fruit basket, so the flinging of words marks something special indeed.
As it turns out, true Understanding is also totally optional, and masking the document with technical terms (or possibly french) can actually accelerate the process.
While I hate learning new buzzwords, I think I can truly embrace a document where speed beats accuracy and winners and losers are clearly established by email time stamp.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Wall . . . It Is . . . Perhaps . . . Not . . . Natural

Please note the One Coat Guarantee.
We've used Kilz brand paint for just about ever.
It isn't that we are particularly brand-loyal. It all comes down, in the end, to just hating to repeat ourselves.
Shana and I like to place paint on a wall, wait for it to dry, then hang stuff on it and push the furniture back into place.
We are not about painting a surface, waiting, then painting the same surface again, then repeating the whole wait/paint process until the job is "over".
We paint and we get on with our lives.
Kilz has been really good about enabling our lifestyle in this way.
In Houston, our bedroom went from white (yawn!) to vibrant, angry red in an afternoon. Gwynyth's room went from the same boring white to lavender in a similar time frame.
Our old family room went from big long white walls to four different earth tones in a single pass.
Going into the de-yellowfication process for the new Global Headquarters, we were confident in the ability of Kilz to reduce the number of steps involved in the same way they always had.
And yet.
Covering a yellow with a darker color seems like it would be pretty easy.
Getting a black Sharpie stain out of a white shirt pocket (no pocket protector jokes, please) is pretty much impossible, while initially covering a section of the white 100% cotton broadcloth with black pigment is almost laughably easy.
The same applies to walls, since white walls and white shirts co-exist in the same segment of reality.
The walls in the Global Headquarters do not exist in this same space.
The first "coat" of Kilz was more of a pizza stain quality than one of uniform one-coat coverage.
Yellow would bleed through red. A lot.
The second coat would also bleed through, if we waited a crazy amount of time for the first coat to dry. If it was at all tacky, the first coat would peel up around the roller, exposing yellow ever-so-slightly pigmented pink, like brain matter, but flattened.
The third coat achieved something like uniformity, but only if we applied enough paint to actually form drips on the wall.
In all, it took about five coats.
A total of four gallons of one-coat coverage, not-cheap paint for one room.
The three trips to the paint store were made tolerable by timing them during the tedious drying cycle.
We debated for the first several hours of the project about what could cause it. The humidity is lower here. The airflow is good. The walls were clean and free of texture.
The roller and brushes and edging tools are all exactly the same as the kind used in Texas.
It was a total mystery.
By the second day, the discussion died away in favor of resigned sighs and occasional grunts of effort as the ladder was dragged around the room again or someone decided that jumping with the roller against the wall was an acceptable way of getting another coat on the high-up parts.
I've decided to go with the traditional response to the unknown. In the case of non-sticking paint, I've come to the tribal decision that the walls are haunted.
Bad spirits dwell there, no doubt.
Our total lack of goat sacrifices has resulted in arduous labor forced upon us by the drywall ancestors.
Sure, you could say that there might be an issue with the overall surface and lack of prep, but there are millions of years of tradition which firmly put the blame for the unknown on hostile spirits.
And possibly yeti.
Though I personally think paint would stick pretty well to a yeti.
If you were going to paint crytozoological creatures.
Which I am not.
I doubt the Loch Ness Monster would take paint at all, what with the glossy black hide.
You could totally coat a chupacabra, probably.
Not that I endorse that.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

This One Time I Was Honest In A Meeting

With a project the size and scope of the one we are currently undergoing, there are bound to be a lot of meetings.
After all, we are migrating a whole lot of servers and consolidating down from five separate farms to seven and from 450 servers to a slim-and-trim 500 or so.
Okay, so the "consolidation" part of the migration isn't going so well. I'll schedule a meeting about it to see if that will change anything.
The point is (and I can't recall the last post where "the point is" came in anywhere under six-hundred words into it) we meet a lot. We do it to make sure that we get everything moved from the old into the new with the exception of the problems, flaws, concerns, poor design choices, compliance issues and fire hazards.
This is our shot at fixing the stuff that annoys the break-fix people.
I was understandably disappointed to be involved in a discussion where it was decided that we would keep and old and insecure idle-time-out setting because we didn't want to inconvenience the users.
Hold up a minute.
"We didn't want to inconvenience the users?!?"
I'm not on the "Convenience Team".
I'm not a member of the "Usability Help Squad".
I have never endorsed an organization known as the "Coddle the Users and Give Them Hugs Department".
I'm in Security.
Sometimes, as a joke, I run it together: "I'm insecurity". And then I follow it up with "Are you sure you meant to wear that sweater with those slacks? Well, okay, if you say so."
This is what I do, damn it.
Anyway, while I was disappointed to be involved in the discussion, please imagine for a moment how upset I might be to find myself on Tuesday morning in my third actual meeting about it.
I said, "In addition to server consolidation, this project was supposed to remedy long-deficient security settings. If we don't do this now, we are wasting our chance to fix something."
I also said, "We have no control over users at home, this setting gives us a low-impact way to limit access to authorized users."
Later on I said, "If someone opens a screen full of sensitive data and then gets up to get another Venti Latte, a stoned and slow Barista could inadvertently provide a window of opportunity for some identity thief to make the haul of a lifetime right there in Starbucks."
Towards the end I was reduced to, "This is not the last migration. There is no 'Migration to End All Migrations.' Someday, maybe soon, something new will come out and we will repeat this process right down to the meeting level. If you think we won't be at this conference table again, or possibly one with a plasma top which displays network topology in a hologram and dispenses espresso, you are kidding yourself."
And then, I closed with, "I hope in the future meeting about this issue someone brings cookies because then at least we'd get something out of it."
The admin added it to the meeting minutes, so I specified that I like chocolate chips.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My Window -- Let Me Show You It

We have a set outage window at my company.
Every Sunday between 5 and 10pm, we can do whatever patches and upgrades and fixes we need to do.
All the users expect this outage, and none of them is surprised to get booted off the servers.
On Sunday, I needed to apply some patches manually to a few servers. Our automated patching tool has been disabled and the guy who normally patched the servers was not available to do them.
I logged into the first server half an hour early, downloaded the patches and placed them in a network folder so that I could run them on all the servers.
I applied the patches at exactly 5pm. It was beautiful. There was no error message and I was able to reset the file preference which the Microsoft patch broke.
I can honesty say that of all the patches I've ever applied, this set was firmly in the top 50 in terms of smoothness.
I logged out of the server and moved on to the next.
Login: Fail
Not like "Your password is wrong" fail, or "You do not have rights to login" fail.
Like "Unable to authenticate" fail.
My login information was not moving past the server login screen.
I used my own account instead of the administration account.
I used the administration account with a purposely bad password.
I used a totally made up account with no password at all.
The error message never changed.
Someone, somewhere, had turned off some authentication functionality as part of the same 5pm to 10pm outage window I was using. This is fine. This is the time we are all supposed to use. It just prevented me from doing my job for 5 hours.
I went to email the people in charge of that part of authentication. Unfortunately, email was down as a part of the same 5pm to 10pm outage window.
I kind of got a little twitchy at this point.
See, process is supposed to help us with junk like this. Process coordinates our I.T. efforts and forge us into a shining sword of productivity and efficiency.
Or, in the case where we all share the same outage window, it uses the same sword to cut us all off at the knees. Productively and efficiently.
In the end, I had to actually drive in to work and apply the stupid patches by hand, using time-honored techniques brought over from the Old Country.
The end result is the same, I suppose.
Security is assured across the enterprise thanks to the tireless dedication of nerds committed to working odd hours.
And bill for it.
As though I had been personally wronged, somehow.