Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In Which I Speak Of Things I Know Nothing About

I went downstairs for coffee and scanned the covers of the (surviving) morning papers as I checked out. The US auto industry is in bad shape, I guess.
The economic downturn can take some of the blame, I'm sure, but that whole system has been failing for as long as I can remember. I have avoided domestic cars since I bought my very first new car (a Honda) due to concerns about reliability. Patriotism makes sure that I always look over my options again when the time comes to buy another car, but that's the point where the US auto industry breaks for me.
I haven't seen a car produced by an American company that I'd want to buy in forever.
And some of them are nice! And the warranty (especially now that it is tax payer backed) is certainly fine.
They got a ton of money from the government to put together a plan on restructuring and they failed to come up with one so the CEO of GM was asked to resign. By the White House. In a situation which is increasingly starting to freak me out.
Sure, people aren't buying cars right now, and that sucks. But how much of it is related to the fact that American car companies have failed to offer anything which is a must-have kind of vehicle?
Instead of shuffling a current GM executive into the CEO role, I think they need to put an outsider in charge.
Someone with a vision of some kind.
Someone with a track record of making products people want.
Someone who can take a brand-name and create a term which replaces a whole class of consumer product.
Someone willing to work for one dollar, since funds are a little tight right now.
The White House should totally hand the reigns of GM over to Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs turned a reliable little computer into a veritable icon. Even people who are dedicated Windows users will admit that Apple products have the market cornered on style. They are a status symbol, geeky enough to satisfy the hard-core yet stylish enough to please the fashion-conscious. And that was the idea all along, not some accident of the market.
The iPod is the media device of the people, even though it was far from the first portable media player. The white earbuds are as much fashion statement as sound-delivery mechanism at this point. People refer to MP3 players as iPods, because that is the assumed type. The first was sold at the end of 2001 and by the middle of 2007 Apple had sold 100 million of them, creating a tiered product line hitting several price points and encouraging an upgrade cycle of about one iPod every two to four years, an upgrade cycle the automotive industry would positively "squee!" over.

I'd totally drive an Apple-inspired car.
Apple products have had an emphasis on environmental awareness since forever. And style.
There would be next-to no learning curve, either, since an Apple car would function pretty much the same as a regular old boring car, if simpler.

Behind the scenes of that stick would be enough power to satisfy a driving enthusiast, but actually changing any of the default settings would be optional.
If they put someone with a clue in charge at GM, my next car would be one of theirs.
And if there was an Apple logo on it, I'd buy a matching shirt possibly.
An Apple-branded car has long been the dream of a large portion of the internets. There is no better time for that to happen than now, when crisis demands a new direction.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Where Was I?

Hey! Brain! BRAIN!

I'm not speaking to you.

Seriously, brain. I need some help here.

Oh, now you need some help?

Yeah! Really!

But you didn't need my help before?

When before?

Yes, when before?

Um . . . Lots of times.

Like?

Do I have to say it?

No. You don't have to do anything. And I don't have to help you.

Okay. Um. Like this weekend, when I was fixing that broken stuff at work. I totally needed you to watch the clock so I could stay within the approved outage window.

Which I did, setting my internal clock and forcing your eyes to the system time display every few minutes.

Yes. And thanks.

But you ignored the time.

Well . . .

And you rebooted stuff left and right, sometimes checking to make sure users were still connected so you could identify them when they called and giggle.

I was under a lot of stress, brain.

And I had a task, which I carried out in exchange for a glass of water. A task which was ignored for water which was never delivered.

Diet Pepsi Max has water in it!

This is why I'm not helping you.

But I need your input here!

What is it this time?

You know I haven't had a chance to post in a couple of days. And people are starting to almost expect my automated death post. Give me a post.

Do it yourself.

I just need a topic.

Write about proper hydration and the effect it has on higher reasoning.

Come on!

You haven't made a very strong argument for my support.

But brain . . . Me not good at words using on my alone.

Don't pull that with me. I came up with that routine.

I'll get another cup of coffee . . .

Is that a threat or a promise?

I know you want it, brain. The caffeine. The Splenda. It goes right to whatever cortex enjoys that stuff. I can feel it.

I don't need it.

No. But you want it. I can tell because I can feel the blood moving through you so painfully sluggishly.

The blood is moving fine. It's all . . .

. . . In my head? Who was the largest Transformer?

Fortress Maximus

Are you sure it wasn't Unicron?

Fortress Maximus was two and a half feet tall. As a toy.

Which Doctor wore broccoli on his lapel?

Peter Davison, the fifth Doctor Who.

What's the capitol of North Dakota?

Fargo.

It's Bismarck. I'll go get that coffee now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm Not Expert

"Hey. I gotta show you something but I want you to know that I had nothing to do with it."

"Oh, crap."

"What?"

"Garrick, how long have we worked together?"

"About six months, I guess."

"There are two things I've learned about working with you in that time. The first is that if you go without caffeine for any period of time we are all lucky if the workday ends with lowered productivity and not violence. The second is that nothing good ever follows you saying 'I had nothing to do with this.'"

"Thanks! It's good to know that you have such a lack of faith in projects which lack my involvement."

"Sure, but I have more faith in your ability to draw in bad luck as though it is attracted to kidney damage."

"True. But look. The vendor had no idea what was wrong with the redundancy policy on this machine. They scheduled a conference call. They have gone over every bit of the configuration and are actually telling me that what we are seeing is impossible."

"Why is there a wall of text on your screen."

"That's the configuration file. It opens in Notepad."

"I can't read it. Turn off word wrap."

"Okay."

"Holy crap, never mind! Turn it back on! Turn it back on!"

"Look at this part. See where the policies are listed?"

"Sure."

"There is this other part, though. See? There is a bunch of stuff listed under 'prolicies'."

"Prolicies?"

"Prolicies."

"Is it even going to look at those?"

"Depends on the 'pocedures' built into the operating system, I guess."

"Is this what is breaking it?"

"Prolly."

"Prolly?"

"The 'prolicies' are prolly breaking it."

"Prolly?"

"Prolly."

"I see now why you started this conversation by telling me you had nothing to do with this."

"You do?"

"Prolly."

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend?

Yeah, not so much.
I ended up in my cubicle for twelve hours on Saturday completing tasks impossible with users accessing the systems and co-workers asking for my help with crap.
Anyone contemplating a career in the fast-paced, high-rolling world of I.T. needs to be prepared to sacrifice a few weekends to productivity.
They should also probably visit with a therapist for a few hours a week until they figure out why they keep putting themselves in situations like this.
Of course, I'm not a doctor.
Someone who is a doctor (David Blumental) was just named the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. He'd like to do away with paper record-keeping altogether and go to an all-digital system on a national scale with the purpose of allowing easier portability and doing away with the millions of remaining fax machines. As medical advances go, I think that ranks up there with the reduction in use of leeches in medical treatment and the adjustment of ill-humors in the brain through drilling.
Just getting a prescription from a doctor to a pharmacy is only slightly better today due to the elimination of thrown mule shoes and busted wagon wheels in transit.
Imagine a world where your medical information can be emailed between doctors or entered into a nation health database to be accessed by whatever specialist you get referred to.
Imagine a pharmacy no longer required to decipher arcane scribbles on scraps of paper in order to provide you with the chemical agents needed to keep you out of the bell tower.
Now, imagine having a couple of years experience securing medical records to government standards.
It's like having a license to print money. Imagine that.
If your imagination made the money look something like this, thanks for reading this blog for the past couple of years:



Anyway, over the weekend progress was made and hours were racked up, so the secondary and primary objectives were met.
Also, a good bit of time was spent in discussing and then acquiring lunch. For the record, it was a burger.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I Am Sometimes A Ninja

Last night I had the rare opportunity to have an actual date with my wife.
Gwynyth had a school function with a bunch of friends and bad food (like she likes), so Shana and I went to dinner.
The place we chose was less kid-friendly than our normal places and it was a nice change, though we missed her.
Between the order and the food's arrival, I visited the restroom.
As I was washing my hands, I noticed that the towel dispenser was one of those automatic, motion-sensing jobs and cursed inwardly.
After drying my hands on my slacks, I returned to our table.
I must have been visibly agitated, since Shana asked me what happened.
I told her what type of towel dispenser it was, thinking that would explain everything. It did not.
"You know those never work," I explained further.
She smiled at me and since it was the smile which means I've said something insane, I had to question.
"You can get towels out of those?"
She could. She apparently always does. Further, I have to assume, given this data point coupled with the fact that I've been seeing these things for years, that her situation is the baseline.
Rather than question the waitstaff as to their own abilities to get paper towels (or for that matter hot air) from restroom motion-sensing hand dryers, I rushed Shana through dinner to drag her around various restrooms to test my own abilities anew.
I cannot, ever, trigger a motion-sensing hand-drying device.
They do not see me.
I went as far in the book store to take the over off and flick the sensor directly behind the splash guard.
Nothing.
But another guy walked in after me and it dispensed eighteen inches of dry paper when he walked past on his way to the urinal.
I've tried moving my wet hands slowly and quickly, up and down, small circles and larger ones.
I'd grown to assume that this motion was the intent of the device, to cause enough air contact to dry the hands that way without need for hot air or towels.
It has always seemed ineffective, but I got used to it and just make a pass with my hands in front of those things before drying my hands on my pants.
Automatic doors see me just fine, as do motion lights.
This phenomenon seems to be just restricted to hand dryers.
Unless I can find a museum guarded entirely by air blowers and towel dispensers, there is no opportunity for profit I can divine from my . . . condition.
But I have to ask now, since the internets are always the best place to have restroom-related questions answered, is there anyone else who is invisible to these devices?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Parts of Speech

We got a directive from someone high up enough that I've never actually seen him.
This directive sets one of our technical definitions as policy.
The problem I have is that the definition is wrong.
I've been instructed to communicate using the new definition, but since I know it to be false I've pretty much been told to spread misinformation.
Don't get me wrong. Spreading misinformation is not something I have an issue with. We do that to users all the time in order to prevent panic. The problem is that I've been asked to knowingly be wrong.
The fact that this policy came in PDF format complicates this even more, since PDF documentation is the I.T. equivalent of chiseling policy into stone.
The PDF in question, and the definition it relates, comes from some company selling licenses based on database instance counts. While a clustered database is, in every sense of the word, one database, they see it as two and require licenses on both.
They can set up their licensing however they like, but it doesn't change an industry standard definition.
I will not be wrong on someone else's orders.
The people that noticed this error (both of us) did quite a bot of flailing and whining before changing the subject intentionally.
Unfortunately, that landed us in the middle of a work discussion which later progressed into our plans to do more work over the weekend.
It was then that we cranked out a document defining "Work" as a noun or proper noun place name. The use of "Work" as a verb was left out intentionally and seen as having little value.
Saved as a PDF on our documentation store, this definition is now official.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Progress at a Terrible Price

A couple of months ago I attended and uncomfortable meeting.
My team is responsible for maintaining security settings on a group of servers. Since these are far from the only servers the company owns, there is another group with the same function which handles the rest.
In this meeting, we were discussing the previous weekend's remediation activities when that team's Director showed up.
He sat next to me, sandwiching me between himself and his people.
And he freaked all out on them.
He said their metrics were horrible. He said the numbers indicted incompetence.
He said that if the situation didn't improve before review time, he'd start lowering salaries.
I sank lower and lower into my chair. I was just thinking about crawling under the table to make my escape when he looked directly at me.
Then he asked them if they thought my manager would put up with the kind of horrible work they had been putting out. And he waited for them to answer.
When they did, he agreed. Of course my manager wouldn't, but he also didn't need to because I do my job.
I was pretty sure that there was no way I'd be getting out of their cubicle area after the meeting without a severe beating, but I managed to find a friend right outside the door and I physically clung to him until we got to the stairs.
I never attended another of those meetings, even though they have remained on my calendar.
But yesterday I had a meeting with that Director regarding some old findings in the environment which is my responsibility.
I had everything pretty much figured out, but I was still nervous. Not everything was done and unfinished work seemed to prompt him to ranting anger.
When I showed up for the meeting, he was in with some sales guys.
I listened to him outline the hoops he'd be putting these guys through in order to secure an order. He also recommended that they go directly to his boss, who would then defer to ham anyway.
But, when he emerged into the waiting area he smiled at me.
Then he said something which has haunted me for the past eighteen hours and promises to haunt me for many more to come:
"Hey, Garrick! You look so much older than the last time I saw you! Security work is definitely aging you."
. . .
Me? Aging?
The meeting that followed was a blur. Everything is fine or really awful or something.
The point is: Me? OLD LOOKING?!?!
I had to wait over an hour after the meeting to go home and frantically exfoliate and do my skin toning exercises. That hour was spent just tugging on my face to check the elasticity.
No pinching, just tugging.
I'm not sure how I'm supposed to handle this.
When I mentioned it this morning (in what could possibly be defined as a panic) to a co-worker she told me that it was probably just my split ends making me look a little worn down.

I may never stop crying.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Think Happy Thoughts

You know what I don't get enough of in a standard week?
The first thing that comes to mind is ice cream, but aside from that I would have to say "grim reminders of my own mortality".
There are days when my bones don't creak when I roll out of bed.
Sometimes I go for hours without stressing over the possibility that a random undiagnosed heart condition or sudden aneurysm will strike me down in the midst of web browsing.
It has been a long time since seeing a flock of geese has sent me running back indoors crying about bird flu.
There is value in considering the ramifications of my passing, though.
Shana has all the passwords for our financial whatevers.
She can also email the real-life people I know from my guild in World of Warcraft to let them know they need to find a replacement for the raid.
But what about you guys?
If I'm suddenly slain by our litter robot or Avon/Umbrella sends their goons to take me out, who is going to let you know, internet?
It could be days or a week before anyone notices that the posts are no longer coming. The first few days would be chalked up to my slacking or being too hungover to type, both possibilities completely reasonable explanations and, in fact, defined in the Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng policy manual as "Post Quality Review Process".
But after that, the final post will just sit there. Forever.
And it will probably be about something stupid, too, since that is always the way it works with accidental memorials and (more importantly) statistically speaking about 95% of these posts qualify as near-meaningless stream-of-consciousness rambling. And that is assuming the reader takes the coming robot/zombie/alien uprising/infestation/invasion as seriously as I do.
There is a company in Houston called Deathswitch which exists just to manage this sort of thing.
You give them your passwords and pre-written emails and video messages and they email you regularly and request that you respond.
If you stop answering, Deathswitch decides that you are dead or incapacitated and sends your account information to your loved ones as well as the email and videos.
I'm not sure it has ever happened, but this system could fail pretty dramatically if, for example, I leave the emails to sit in my inbox unanswered for weeks like I do with most emails.
Suddenly either flowers would show up at the house (triggering my allergies) or my video messages would be delivered and the appropriate charges would be filed against me with the local authorities.
Also, the service costs $20 a month.
I've just written a final "death post" and published it for a date in the future. If I don't log in regularly and set the date forward, eventually that post will appear here to let everyone know I finally stopped beating the odds.
I apologize if this was depressing.
Please accept this picture of a kitten which has had too much Kahlua:

Monday, March 16, 2009

At Least We Will Still Be Wrinkle-Free

I have two responsibilities that I take very seriously as Chief Propaganda Officer here at Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng Worldwide Amalgamated LLC.
The first is to advise my fellow geeks about the latest options is skin care.
The second is to warn everyone about the coming zombie infestation.
It is rare (though not unheard of) that I get to do both in a single post.
Avon has a new product called Derma-Full, an "injectable-grade facial filler". It satisfies all our long-term wishes for a wrinkle remover without all the painful needles! I'm as thrilled as you surely are and I'd added several bottles to my shopping cart before the image registered with that survival-focused portion of my subconscious.

It is pretty, sure, but so familiar.
Avon is a publicly-traded company, so the books should be totally transparent. However, I suspect that the majority of the shares are owned by an umbrella corporation.
More specifically, I suspect that the majority of the shares are owned by the Umbrella Corporation. Three live-action movies and about two dozen video games have tried to warn us about these guys, but people just don't listen.
In pursuit of the bottom line, these corporate monsters have caused countless deaths and unleashed ravenous hordes of zombies just about every time they display their logo.
I know the economy needs trend-setting companies right now, companies which will develop the new product that everyone must have. I also know that my allegation that Umbrella Corp is pulling the strings at Avon may be met with some questions.
However, I must make my reasoning clear.
See, the Umbrella Corporation unleashed the Tyrant Virus on the unsuspecting citizens of Raccoon City in an unheralded frenzy of rampant zombie-ism. While there are admittedly few regulations regarding zombie-creating super viruses, it should just be common sense that all testing should be extremely freaking careful.
Still, in game after movie after game, this T-Virus is spilled or sprayed or stolen or dumped somewhere and every time the city is overrun with zombies.
This doesn't explain the Avon connection, but perhaps this image of the T-Virus itself does:

Holy crap it is the same junk!
Okay, for those of you who followed the link early in this post and already dumped a lot of Derma-Full into your online shopping cart, please drop them now.
If you are reading this after getting your supply of Derma-Full - DO NOT DROP THEM!
The warning label clearly states:

*Results not comparable to a professional procedure. **Derma-Full Serum and Cream should not be used together. ***Compared to Derma-Full Facial Filling Cream. ****Based on those who expressed an opinion and were not already transformed into hideous flesh-eating zombies.

Also, it may be time to revitalize the economy the old-fashioned way -- By buying stock in companies which make baseball bats, shotguns and chainsaws.

Friday, March 13, 2009

More Pictures

I decided to go through the memory card on my camera phone to see what was on it.
I tend to snap pictures when I find something which amuses me with the intention of later using the pictures to amuse you, internet.
Sadly, almost everything was too blurry to use or (more often) something I took a picture of and can no longer identify.
There are a couple of "What was I thinking?" images, sure, but most are just things I have no memory of ever wanting to document, much less the actual documentation process.
Anyway, I do have a couple which may be worth sharing.
Girl Scout cookie season is over. Gwynyth sold absolutely no boxes in the initial pre-sale, but I dragged about three cases to the office where I just left them against the back wall of my cubicle to quietly sell themselves. They were quite good at that.
I did have a few days to examine the packaging and grabbed this photo of one of the boxes:

This Girl Scout is wearing some kind of headset with a microphone. I'm not sure why she is, but art is always interpreted through the same lenses we use to view our lives. Our own experiences add color and meaning to still images. In this way, the artist and the viewer are co-creators in a shared art experience. A work is never complete until viewed and interpreted.
In this case, given my experiences, I have to assume she is leading a raid in World of Warcraft in her attempt to earn the "pwning n00bs" merit badge. She seems to be smiling, but in fact this is her determined grimace as she calls out the Warlock for "standing in the freaking fire" and yells at the Hunter to "control that freaking pet before it causes a total wipe". She has also likely just promised to dock the Mage 100 DKP for pulling aggro off the Main Tank like a jackass.
I have no idea why else she would be wearing a headset.

Speaking of the shared interpretation of art, I had the opportunity to visit a showing of some artwork by people participating in an Art Overcoming Addiction program. There was some really good work, completely flying in the face of the semi-proven fact that no good art is created without the use of mind-altering chemicals, otherwise known as the Phish Theory of Artistic Expression.
This piece caught my eye:

These tigers are awesome. The proportions are right and the shading is subtle and effective. The tiger on the right seems incredibly surprised at the attention from the tiger on the left, though.
If ever something needed to be "LOLcat'd", these tigers are it.
The piece is available for purchase from the people running the program.
It is titled "Licking Tigers", which is about as honest a title as I've ever seen.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Jungle

In the original Tarzan story, the boy raised in the jungle by apes (by the way, not gorillas, apes) is discovered by people from England and carried back there to deal with reintegrating into the society of his heritage. He deals with his "civilized" rivals using philosophies developed during his basic struggle to survive in Africa and, eventually, exposes the high society types as being more brutal and primitive than his animal friends.
In later books, Tarzan goes back to the jungle to continue kicking ass, loincloth-style.
I remember a passage where Lord Greystoke gets off the boat and steps off into the dense underbrush. He feels it like an embrace. He is rejuvenated. His civilization-dulled senses sharpen and his primal strength returns.
After shaking off his exile in England, he is free.
My training session on Thursday was in Charlotte, which is about an hour and a half from where I live.
More importantly, it was in downtown Charlotte.
Like most downtown areas, it has extremely tall, nicely maintained buildings surrounded by urban squalor.
The streets are all one-way and road construction clogs most of them.
A flood of oblivious pedestrian traffic slows everything except the sense of urgency of the other drivers.
Parking is hidden in underground burrows where cars seem to lair, slowing ticking out the heat of their recent frantic journeys.
Arriving into this at 8am Thursday morning was like Tarzan returning to the jungle.
Instantly, I became aware.
The co-worker in the passenger seat became concerned having most likely never seen a predator move through his natural environment.
"We have the address of the hotel but they didn't tell us where to park," he said.
"No problem," I said,"I know the way."
Even though I'd never visited this particular metropolitan center, I found a garage like a great cat would find a watering hole.
"That's not a crosswalk," he called out from behind me as I stepped off the curb inches behind the speeding trolley. I slapped the bail bonds sign on the back casually, close enough to not need to extend my arm the completely before it sped out of reach.
"This isn't the way to the seminar," he complained.
"No," I answered,"It isn't." I stepped into the lobby of another hotel and crossed to the back side, arriving in line at the unmarked Starbucks a step ahead of a pack of tourists who were delaying themselves looking up at the tall buildings.
"You've gone all weird," he muttered.
"Do you want a latte or not?"
"Yeah," he grudgingly answered,"Low-fat, no foam."
"No problem," I smiled grimly,"They know me here."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Free Lunch

Tomorrow I have an off-site thing for most of the day. Well, it is actually only three hours, but there is two and a half hours of driving, too.
I got kind of roped into being responsible for a particular technology at work.
And by "roped into" I mean I wasn't paying attention when my boss asked for a volunteer.
But so far being in charge of this thing has been pretty low-impact. I have no formal training in it, but I can pick my way around the interface like a professional now.
Anyway, apparently the company which makes it is hosting a "training class" tomorrow in North Carolina and since being up to date with the latest developments in this platform is a key component in our technology strategy I have to drive there first thing in the morning. It didn't hurt that it isn't costing my company anything.
I'm generally suspicious of anything free, and this training class is no exception.
The fact that the registration form included questions about products we haven't decided to use is a pretty solid tip-off that this whole thing is more sales pitch than training class.
A bigger hint was that the host invited my co-worker and I to lunch within ten minutes of our registration this morning.
The fact that I'm a consultant with no purchase-making authority pretty much makes this a giant waste of time for all involved.
I also have a suspicion that the technology they will be pitching is one which I used at a past job and really completely don't like.
The whole thing sounds completely not fun, but we pretty much have no choice but to attend.
We have, however, decided to attempt to make it as interesting as possible.
There is officially $10 going to whichever of us can go the longest without speaking to the sales guys during lunch.
I have my strategy already mapped out. When asked a direct question, I plan to repose the question to my co-worker. If asked a general question, I will maintain stony silence or pretend to respond to a text message.
I plan to spend my $10 on lunch Friday since it is wings day in the cafeteria.

Monday, March 09, 2009

NERDS!

Saturday night Gwynyth spent the night at a friend's house and Shana and I attended the annual IS Social for work at a hotel downtown.
I had no idea there were so many people in IS here. I'm also not entirely sure what "IS" stands for, though I suspect it is "Information Services".
Whatever IS is, the theme was "A Cosmic Event" and the hotel ballroom was filled with hundreds of nerds -- Quite a few of them dressed in science fiction costumes.
Shana and I participated. Though I'm pretty sure I mentioned it prior to our arrival, Shana seemed surprised when we showed up and she noticed that business casual was an option.
Our Firefly costumes probably need a couple of extra weeks of prep, so we were unable to put that together in time. Fortunately, it isn't like we don't have other science fiction costumes.
My team was lightly represented, so we didn't actually win the costume competition which was judged solely based on crowd noise. The cash bar numbed the pain of loss nicely. An "R2-D2", at $5.25, is made of Diet Coke and one of those adorable mini bottles of rum.
There were casino tables set up and fake cash for betting, though we didn't actually make use of any of that.
I think the most popular costume choice of the evening was a reflection of our uncertain financial times. A red shirt and black pants is not only inexpensive, it works well with a sign on the back reading "expendable".
Depressing? A bit.
But my manager had an ample supply of liquor in his room so my concern level was pretty offensively low.
"You wanna play with my lightsaber?" was the question of the evening, though it generally is at most social gatherings involving co-workers.
I've made a game of avoiding this kind of event for about the past ten years. However, there hasn't been a time in the past decade when the dress code specifically allowed for Jedi robes.
Most awesomely, ours was not the only gathering at that hotel on Saturday night.
While a few hundred nerds were wearing glowing antennae and greeting one another with the traditional Vulcan wave, a conference of high school cheerleaders spent the evening being freaked out about the whole thing.
It had been a long time since I horrified a high school cheerleader with nerdiness and I didn't even realize how much I'd missed it.
Live long and prosper, Tiffany.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Misinterpreted Intentions

Disclaimer: This is another World of Warcraft post. However, the post is less about the game itself than the delicate web of human interaction it reflects.
I've been playing World of Warcraft for quite some time now. As a result, I've met a lot of people from all over. Some are total jerks, to be fair, but a lot more of them are actually very nice.
Wednesday night I was invited to participate in a raid of the capitol cities of the opposing faction. Wednesday night is not a raid night for my guild, so I jumped at the chance.
One of the latest features of the game is an Achievement system which tracks all the characters and grants points for doing specific things in-game.
Get a haircut? 10 points.
Complete a dungeon? 10 points.
Defeat the final big bad guy in a dungeon while juggling lemurs? Another 10 points.
There are achievements related to killing the leaders of the opposing faction. Each is worth 10 points for a total of 40 -- Plus there is another achievement for defeating all 4 which is 20 points and a personal letter from the leader of the Horde including a super-fast awesome exclusive riding bear. 60 points and a freaking bear? I'm so in.
The difficulty in this achievement is that once you start attacking one city, the opposing players group up at the next one to try to stop you. This makes each kill increasingly more difficult when you try to do them all in the same night.
However, we had a pretty good group of forty semi-dedicated Player-versus-Player specialists. Most of them I did not know, but I happened to be grouped with Vallyra.
Vallyra and Webinara were in the same guild for over a year. From voice chat, I learned that she is an actual girl from New Zeland who plays on a US East Coast server because her work schedule is weird or something. Raiding at level 70 with Vallyra and voice chat is a lot like having Olivia Newton-John tell you, "Stop standing in the fire, n00b!" When our guild dissolved we ended up in different ones and really only see each other in passing now, though we usually stop to offer a wave and right-click > Inspect for the opportunity to offer congratulations on new epic awesome super gear.
Vallyra had attempted this achievement before and only needed one city to complete it.
I insisted that we hit that city first so that she could leave afterward and do her thing.
I will spare you a complete description of just how, specifically, we obliterated the human King of Stormwind and sum it up by saying that it was over remarkably quickly. He did not suffer and we teleported away to leave the citizens of Stormwind to grieve with dignity.
Vallyra did not leave, though. She opted to help us out at the next city.
Staging 40 people for a long ride into hostile territory takes a while and the average WoW player is short of attention span, so there was a lot of goofing around at our start point. Players would dance and duel each other and cook weird things and flirt with animals. Typical stuff, really.
Anyway, Vallyra challenged Webinara to a duel.
Webinara has been challenged to plenty of duels and she has always declined them. I always assume that the person doing the challenging must have some reason for this confidence and being defeated in a duel just sounds not fun to me.
But Vallyra is someone I would consider a friend, and I felt certain that this challenge was just a good-natured way to spend a few minutes waiting for the others to arrive.
For the first time ever in years of playing, I accepted a request to duel.
Vallyra is nice enough, but I'm not about losing.
Webinara unleashed the full arsenal of her abilities as though Vallyra had personally insulted her parentage.
Having similar gear quality, I expected us to be pretty evenly matched. It did not work out that way at all.
From her first attack, Webinara mercilessly ground Vallyra into the dust. Webinara took absolutely no damage at all, but dished out a ton. Explosive arrows, poisonous arrows, flaming traps, angry insects, literally every trick in Webinara's book was triggered with a few keystrokes.
And winning a duel? 10 points.
The hardcore Player-versus-Player crowd around Webinara laughed since most of them got that particular Achievement within minutes of the implementation of the Achievement system.
I was still feeling pretty good. Webinara had overcome a literal challenge. And 10 points is 10 points.
Then I got the whisper from Vallyra,"Oops. I meant to right-click you and select "follow" because I needed to step away for a sec and I accidentally hit "duel" instead."
I possibly feel worse about earning those 10 points than any other 10 points I've ever gotten.
Even worse than the 10 for blowing up a bunch of turkeys or the 10 for poisoning a virtual well.
But the bear Webinara got in the mail about an hour later did a lot to make me feel better.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

What I'm Reading

As I've mentioned several times, I don't have any patience for reading books which would be considered, in literary circles, "good".
I read junk. Popcorn fiction. Dragons, magic, laser swords, ninjas, killer robots, etc.
I wouldn't classify most of it as bad, really. The dramatic elements are generally all the same, the characters are alike enough to sometimes confuse from book to book and author to author and the plot twists are telegraphed from the opening lines or (in a style which makes me shudder and yet fills me with comfortable warmth) just a few lines before the twist itself as though the author forgot until that very moment.
It's all pulp. It was written to sell books, not stand as an example of art for all time.
While not written during the initial glut of books published during the Great Depression with the apparent purpose of amusing people in bread lines, Death in Delhi by Gary Gygax is a tribute to them. Of course, it is impossible to know whether the tribute is intentional.
It does lack the weird imperialist leanings of Burroughs and Howard.
In the Tarzan or John Carter Mars books, it can pretty much be assumed that the white guy just does things better than all the uncivilized people around him who need a good conquering. The Conan and Bran Mak Morn stories were almost a rebellion against western european entitlement stories -- The problem being that they are no less archaic in their perceptions on racial equality. I can forgive either since that is just an artifact of the time they were written. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer can be pretty offensive, too. The fact that Twain's books are considered classics doesn't give them any more of a pass than the pulp writers get. It must be noted that his Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court was pretty close to pulp fantasy itself.
The protagonist in Death in Delhi is an Ægyptian wizard/priest/private investigator. He is capable of solving most crimes through his use of magic but he mostly seems to just observe things better than most. This is the same technique Sherlock Holmes used. The characters even share the same distance from the reader. Holmes works on an almost supernatural level. Watson, masquerading as the sidekick and narrator, primarily exists to bridge that distance.
In Death in Delhi, the sidekick more blatantly does the same, though she also kicks a lot of ass.
The bad guys are cliched Thuggee assassins. I'm convinced this is deliberately cartoony like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or The Stranglers of Bombay (1960 - In Strangloscope!). If he were going for historical accuracy, they would have been a lot scarier (since the cult of Kali was reported to have killed over 20,000 people at the height of British occupation) or non-existant (since a lot of current research indicates they never existed and were a fabrication of the Imperialist movement).
This is not the first Gary Gygax novel I've read. I actually started with his Greyhawk series sometime before middle school. To be honest, it isn't literature. It also doesn't ever pretend to be and I can appreciate that. This book, and all I've read by him, are just supposed to be fun.
Just like Dungeons and Dragons (which Gygax helped to create), this isn't a history lesson. This is fantasy mixed with modern conveniences slightly skewed by magic and pop culture references.
During his time working in various game companies, Gygax became famous among the gaming community for his not-interviews. He frequently picked up job candidates and drove them to lunch. During the drive, he'd ask off-the-resume questions about jobs outside the industry, books and movies recently enjoyed or hated and activities unrelated to gaming.
The opinion is that he didn't want game designers or editors working for him who took it too seriously and weren't well-rounded enough to make things fun.
James Lowder said thirty minutes of his not-interview centered around his days laying asphalt.
As they finally arrived at the restaurant for lunch, Gygax told him, "You do what you have to do to feed your family and then, if you're lucky, you get to do what you love for the rest of your life."
It is obvious, in reading this novel, that Gygax had a lot of love for what he did. Skill? Maybe. Love? Most definitely.
I would rather read something someone enjoyed writing than just about anything else.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I'm a Demographic

Sesame Street, and the associated Muppets who practically raised me, taught me that one of the most important things I can do is just be myself.
As I matured, I came to appreciate the fact that "be" is not an active verb, really. There is no associated action with "being one's self". It just happens, without effort (something I embrace) and following one's interests and beliefs leads organically to this Muppet-endorsed feeling of selfness.
As someone who has always revered individuality, I tend to notice when someone misses the target when trying to market to me.
When I watch TV, I absolutely love seeing commercials for things which I would never, ever purchase because it indicates to me that I'm watching a program that highly-compensated marketing types were certain I wouldn't.
Sure, a lot of my limited TV time is spent watching feminine hygiene commercials or advertisements for bizarre and painful looking kitchen gadgets, but I've managed to prove someone wrong by being myself -- and watching TV is about as close to completely inactive "being" as a conscious person can get.
But lately, mostly when crossing open areas, I feel a tickle on the back of my neck. I become convinced that there is the red dot of a targeting laser tracking my movements. Companies seem to almost desperately want me to buy stuff from them, and the economy is only making that worse as their desperation mounts.
Trying to cram me into the thirty-something paranoid-about-retirement crowd is ineffective.
Lumping me in with the sports-fanatic gang hanging out at Hooter's on Tuesday nights is also going to be a waste of precious marketing dollars.
If some company decides that my demographic is accident-prone and that my carpet needs a Shamwow they would be sorely disappointed at the number I've purchased.
The result of these wasted marketing dollars is an on-going effort at re-categorization. My people have found themselves targeted as "Gamers" -- Aged 22-40, predominately male, spending a majority of entertainment dollars away from television and cinema.
This is why there was a Doom movie.
This is why complicated computer peripherals can serve a single purpose and cost hundreds of dollars.
This is why Dorito flavors and Mountain Dew have become increasingly "extreme".
First, I'd like to apologize for all of those things on behalf of my community. Second, QQ more, newb.
The most horrifying example I've found is from Gillette. It seems my month-and-change of not shaving at the beginning of the year has caused them to re-work their Fusion line of strangely-vibrating razors.
One of the branches is called the "Fusion Gamer" edition.
Somehow, Gamer skin is different than regular skin and it requires a special razor.
To completely disclose how close to home this is, I actually currently use a Fusion razor. Sometimes more than once a week.
The blades (which cost a small fortune) are replaced once per quarter whether they need it or not.
But is there enough of a distinction in my skin to merit the purchase of a gamer-specific shaving device?
I looked over the website to examine the features.
There is no mention of gamer skin that I can find at all.
The qualities of gamer skin should be the focus of any razor ad campaign which targets it, but it really looks to be exactly like the Fusion I already own.
If the copy had mentioned "unique blade designed to comfort skin untouched by the glaring light of the hateful sun" I'd have been moved to purchase, certainly.
If it had mentioned that it "catches stray hairs which grow outside the beard-zone for no good reason" or that it "soothes skin irritated by conventional razors back to its naturally rubbery, grub-like texture" I'd have dropped whatever I was doing to head to the store to buy one. And by "head to the store" I mean "log in to my Amazon account" and by "buy one" I mean "add to my cart and flail over trying to hit the $25 minimum for free shipping".
The point I'm trying to make is that if they want to market to gamers, calling the same razor the "Gamer Edition" doesn't cut it when selling to a crowd more comfortable with Google searching than reading Consumer Reports.
Unless they make the colors a lot more extreme than they currently are, I'm probably sticking with my regular old over-priced vibrating nine-bladed razor.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Conference Calls

With meeting space typically at a premium around here, the technical groups end up doing a lot of work through conference calls.
It makes communication a little more difficult since it is impossible to judge the effect your words are having without the feedback provided by facial expression and body language.
That, and the fact that some people (let's not name names here) tend to think of the other participants of a conference call as "not real people".
This is kind of like the assumption I prefer to make about everyone on the internets: They aren't real people.
I know, we all interact with people online pretty regularly through Facebook or World of Warcraft or message boards, but this interaction is eased by the knowledge that no other online avatar represents a living human.
I realize my theory still needs some substantiation, but I'm going with it until someone can prove to me that they exist.
Anyway, while I try to believe that the other participants of my conference calls are not real, sometimes they still provoke anger in me.
During a recent security call, there was a question about how a certain set of servers would be remediated in anticipation of an upcoming audit.
The person responsible for the activity in question launched into an explanation which reminded me of the old Mouse Trap board game.
"Person A, if unable to access the system, will send an email and call Person D, who keeps the contact information for Group N which controls access but not patching for these servers. If they are unavailable, a call to Group B, with escalation to Groups C and F, will be made. If the outage is about to end, physical access will be requested for manual patching," or some crap like that.
None of the people referenced are me, and none actually work with me. Further, the servers aren't my responsibility either.
It didn't matter, though. The process was dumb and overly complicated and prone to error.
I felt compelled to speak.
"I don't care what process you use. No one cares. If you think your group can follow these steps every single time these servers need a patch (and these are Windows servers, so you can expect once a month at minimum) then write this up into a procedure document and send it up for review and approval. As long as you do this exact thing every single time, you are fine, but explaining this as a one-off process does not make it official and it wastes our time. This isn't the venue for procedure discussion, the moderator just asked for a completion date."
I realized I was probably harsh. It had been a long day, though, and I sensed the little productivity these calls provide being leeched away into a discussion of work-arounds for work-arounds.
There was no response anyway.
Just a silence.
A stunned silence.
It lasted long enough that I checked the display on my phone thinking I'd been disconnected.
The problem with silences is that I see them as something which needs to be filled. The problem with filling this silence was that I'd just thrown out a bunch of words and using a bunch more would be awkward and, likely, rambling.
But the silence stretched on. Since I had no body language or facial expressions to go by, I had to assume everyone was offended.
In the end I filled the silence with a casual sounding,"Yo, I'm just throwing that shit out there, dog."
Oddly, this seemed to make everything better as the rest of the call (following quite a bit of laughter from everyone involved) was less tense.
It did not, however, make the call productive.
I recommend the phrase, but it isn't magic.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Another "Snow" Day

Since the mere rumor of snow here causes school to close, Gwynyth is home today.
There is no snow. There is no excessive moisture. Even if the ground were wet, it is not freezing.
This is the second time hysteria has resulted in excessive Disney Channel viewing. I am starting to think that the school district gets some kind of kick back.
Of course, schools have to get funding somewhere.
Saturday night Gwynyth and I attended the Girl Scout Princess Ball. Apparently, Father and Daughter dances are a big thing around here. We were invited to three of them.
The decorations were adorable and Gwynyth had a good time with some girls from her troop who shared our table. There was a speaker and a long line for food, so pretty much everyone was fidgety by the time it came to actually dance.
After "the" dance, Gwynyth and the rest of the scouts hung out on the dance floor until we were all asked to leave.
I decided that I should avoid activities where I can watch other people parent. The guy next to me was so busy with his BlackBerry I went from feeling bad for him to feeling bad for his daughter.
After about an hour of brief interaction with his child, he buzzed again and gestured angrily at the screen while saying,"Next time your mother should bring you because then at least she wouldn't keep texting me!"
I had no idea which parent to like less. I enjoy knowing who to dislike and by how much. This is a statistic, a rolling mental graph even, which fuels my every interaction with the people around me.
In the end, I just helped Gwynyth and the other little girl with their crafts and managed trips to the water fountain and buffet for both.
I think we would definitely go again. After the scheduled activities Gwynyth actually managed to have a good time in spite of grown-up attempts to leave that out of the agenda. She can generally squeeze fun out of any boring old thing if there are other kids around.
And we will probably be invited to another three of these things next year.
Maybe more if word gets around about how fabulous I looked.