Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Free Comic Book Day

There is a store locator on the site. It is Saturday. You have no excuse not to go.
The whole situation may be made more convenient with the presence of a child to drag along with you, but you can show up without one without raising any eyebrows. If you must have a child as a cover, I recommend picking one up on the way. They wander around department stores all the time and seem to have no price tags or UPC marks so I'm pretty sure you can just walk out with them. Just be sure to bring them back to where you got them before you have to pay for college.
Anyway, I've made a point of calling attention to this event every year in an attempt to drive some traffic their way. This is when publishers put out some of their best work to gain new readers. Also, there have been free toys every year! Free toys!
Okay, while you are there, pick up a few comics the host stores are selling. All that traffic is useless to them if they make no money. Also, there is a lot of good stuff crammed up in those shelves.
Since the Wolverine movie is coming out this weekend and some people still haven't seen it, this is the perfect time to catch up on your Wolverine before hitting the theatre/bittorrent site.
You must read the original Wolverine miniseries by Claremont and Miller. Wolverine heads to Japan to explore part of his history there. Also, he fights ninjas. Like thousands of ninjas. This comic is largely the source of most of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mythology. Before they had their own movies and toys, they were a Wolverine spoof.
While not a Claremont story, Wolverine: Weapon X is pretty essential reading as it tells the story of all the things that happened to Wolverine when he was a Canadian military experiment. Also, I learned that at one time Canada had a military, so the book was educational as well. Side note: Is Canada still open? Anyone know what the hours are?
The Essential Hulk Volume Five contains the first appearance of Wolverine (in issues 180 and 181, conveniently bound into one volume with a bunch of other less awesome stuff). Back then he was already "Weapon X" but his costume was . . . different. Anyway, it's worth a read.
And while Claremont is again not responsible for this (though he's all over the Wolverine brand) the Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon is composed entirely of snarky dialogue, character analysis, and solid, undiluted awesome.
The major plot is completely dumb on a lot of levels, but the comic works as Whedon proves that campy sci-fi crap is not what comics are about anymore. That is the backdrop for the interactions of the characters. And Whedon seems, to me, to get Wolverine.
Okay.
So you have time to plan around it, find a store, and gather a kid (or not) to attend Free Comic Book Day. I don't want to hear any "I've got a wedding to attend" because I've given you enough notice to convincingly fake sick. None of that "the flower beds need to be weeded" nonsense either. Weeds convert CO2 into life-giving oxygen, you eco-terrorist. And don't try that "I'm not a nerd" excuse, either. You've read this far. The Geek Boat has sailed, my friend, and you are on deck.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eight Days to Go

For the past year we've been moving towards the official audit steadily and meticulously. In the case of Government approval for information systems, we've been aiming at a moving target the whole time. Settings change in the official requirement and new updates are released with a frequency that rivals Stephen King novels.
On May 6th, the auditors are due to finally arrive.
At that point, we are unable to change anything. Our days are spent assisting with the scanning and answering extensive interrogations about processes and the work of our team.
Once they give us the results of the scan, we get to fix everything on it. Immediately and frantically. And then there is another scan and more interrogations about the stuff which showed up on the first scan, how our processes failed and which team member is responsible.
Each finding represents a line item on an Excel spreadsheet. To give you an indication of the volume, last year Excel could not display everything they found wrong. There was an actual email circulating about how things were going to be better this year, not because we were in better shape -- Just because Excel 2007 can display more data than 2003 could.
All this goes into a massive file somewhere along with pre- and post- on-site remediation efforts.
During this process, we can't leave. Food (or food-like substances) gets brought in and we remain at our desks, enduring the questioning and frantically fixing every single stupid thing.
To prepare, we've been doing our own scanning. All eyes are on us, the new group, with the full expectation that we will botch this as fully and awfully as everyone else always does.
As of this morning, our total number of unique findings is 22.
I'm pretty sure even Excel 2003 can manage that one.
My concern at this point is that if we aren't up here fixing stuff for four straight days with no break, how can I pad my hours to make up for it?
I'm sure I'll find a way.
One doesn't remain a consultant for this long without picking up an ability to bill creatively.
And mercilessly.

Monday, April 27, 2009

When Procedure is the Desired Result

When I started working here, there was an initiative to standardize access by job roles. On the surface, this is a fabulous idea.
It defines responsibilities and allows for smoother configuration of the accounts of new hires.
The problem is the transition.
Several people on my team have been with the company for a decade.
During that time, they have accumulated accesses they no longer need by definition but still use as a learned component of their day-to-day jobs.
My manager is one of these people, and since this whole project ties in with our groups role in the company, he has been tasked with making it happen even though it is something he does not want.
According to process, he assigned a project manager to the task and sat back.
This project manager diligently began documenting roles and responsibilities and access lists and submitting paperwork. The my manager found something else to take priority and pulled her off the access project to work on that.
He assigned another project manager to take over the access initiative. This project manager needed quite a bit of cross-training and catch-up information from the first, but once the transition was complete, he too began to document things and submit the proper forms to make this change a reality.
However, as frequently happens in large and complicated environments like this one, something came up. My manager pulled this project manager and set them against the new task, assigning another to replace him on the access standardization initiative.
Again, there was a period of cross-training and catch-up. This third project manager found some inconsistencies in the process which had existed from the start. She began the process of correcting these, starting with the beginning of the project timeline. Since some of the original requests are over a year old, they need to completely be re-submitted for review. Further, the error makes a good case for a re-evaluation of existing gathered data sets, prompting a review of those.
Closing his office door behind me, I asked my manager if he knew that the project had just been effectively rebooted, delaying the end result well past the deadline established in the project budget and calling the whole future of the effort into question over paperwork errors.
His answer to that question also clarified a few questions I've long held about corporate life:
"Oh, I know. Why do you think she is the Project Management Team Lead?"
"Does she know that is why she is the Team Lead? Because she is the preventer of progress?"
"No," he was smiling,"If it were intentional complication it would be considered sabotage. Her intent is pure, so everything is good."
It is possible, internet, to be promoted specifically for not getting things done and more for not getting things done in a spectacular manner while adhering to the letter of the corporate policy manual and ignoring its spirit.
While this fact brings a strange warmth to my heart, I suspect that is because 10+ years on the inside of this kind of place has left me a hollow shell of a person who delights in turning processes against themselves and each other in corporate policy gladiatorial death matches.
I also suspect that the standardization project has just gotten a resounding thumbs down from the crowd.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Saving The Planet

I hadn't planned anything specific for Earth Day. I generally chop up plastic six-pack rings and drop cans and bottles in the recycle bin, but Earth Day is about making an extra effort on one specific day before climbing back in the massive domestic SUV and driving out to some private land to shoot at forest creatures.
Accordingly, I decided to not use electricity for an hour last night.
I did plan to continue using my share of oxygen from the atmosphere because there is only so far I am willing to go for the planet.
I gathered a pile of candles and shut down my laptop and cellphones at 9:21EST last night and grabbed a notebook to record the process.

9:21EST -- After watching the screen go dark, I immediately wonder if anyone else is performing this ritual in honor of the planet. Before realizing it, I've typed "www.goog" on the unresponsive keyboard of my powered-down computer. Research will need to wait.

9:22EST -- I can totally do this. It's an hour, right? And I have a book.

9:24EST -- One of the character names is familiar. I turn again to the darkened screen to hit Wikipedia to find out if this character has been in another book I've read, or if I've possibly already read this book and just don't remember it. The laptop is still closed.

9:25EST -- How much power does a laptop really use? Not like I can go online and check. . .

9:31EST -- I found a magazine I haven't seen before. One of the models is scary with super dark eye makeup. She wears a wool dress to the beach for some reason. I suspect she wants to sell me something, but without being able to go to the freaking website on the ad I will likely never know.

9:36EST -- I shut off some stray lights in other parts of the house. There is still some light from glowing LEDs and flashing "power off" indicator lights.

9:45EST -- Is it cheating if I just go to sleep? Again, the impulse hits to ask the internet if there are rules about this kind of thing.

9:54EST -- Okay, seriously. I recycle. I drive responsibly. What has the planet ever done for me?

10:02EST -- If the ice was already made, is it cheating for me to put some in a glass? Also, how "green" is the vodka production process?

10:05EST -- I found food coloring. Candlelight sucks. Vodka is now definitely "green".

10:10EST -- You know what the problem is? It's dark outside. Today was so beautiful. Tiny white puffy clouds, temperatures in the mid seventies, a light breeze. It was hard to stay cooped up at work. All I wanted to do all afternoon was skip out, head home, fire up the laptop and browse the internet for adorable kitten pictures. I wasn't done with that until dark.

10:14EST -- If I were actually going insane, would I know? What would that feel like? I miss you, WebMD.

10:20EST -- I can go a minute without looking at the clock. Sixty seconds. No big deal.

10:20EST -- One, Two, Three, Four . . .

10:21EST -- Begin transcribing my notes into this post. Still shaking a little, though. Stupid planet.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Guilt Brownies

I asked a co-worker what his plans were for Tuesday. He said he had off-site training. Something about moving cheeses, but I wasn't really paying attention.
The point is that I figured it was a cover.
I just knew that he was going to go to "off-site training" just before the big surprise party celebrating my first full year with the company (and, it must be noted, the second longest stretch with a single employer since I entered the weird world of Information Technology). It was almost too easy to guess, but I told him that he was good and that I wouldn't tell anyone that I knew and that I was fully capable of acting surprised.
I even demonstrated:

"Oh! I had no idea! You shouldn't have!"

"What are you talking about, Garrick?"

"For me? I thought everyone had forgotten?"

"Seriously, man. What?"

"Presents? And cash? How did you know my favorite things?"

"I'm going to go back to my cubicle now, Garrick. Are you okay?"

"Oh, I'm okay. And now you know it is no big deal that I know about the party."

"What party?"

"Exactly."

A few minutes later he came back. "This is bothering me. Did I forget something? Is it your birthday? I can see you circled the date on the group calendar but there is no label. Just a picture of a kitten. What does that even mean?"

"Don't worry, Dave. I'm cool. I don't know anything about any surprise party and you totally didn't give it away."

"Seriously. What the hell are you talking about?"

At this point I began to suspect that he wasn't playing the surprise party game. "Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of my start date. Did you really schedule an off-site cheese meeting and completely forget to plan a massive party in my honor with cake and pie and balloon animals but no clowns because they creep me out?"

"Um. Yes?"

And with that, I knew he was telling the sad truth.
I showed up to work on Tuesday anyway, because I'm paid by the hour.
However, Dave stopped by my desk on the way to his cheese thing. He gave me a big box of brownies (which I shared with the row of people participating in some weight-loss contest) and fresh cut flowers (which I took home and placed on the mantle out of the reach of the cats who are horrible and eat plants and the cables for brand-new noise-canceling headphones).
And you know what? It was even better than a party for one simple reason:
I got to bill my time for it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I Find Your Standards Unacceptably Low

We have a set of servers which must be kept up to Department of Defense standards at all times.
If compliance slips, horrible things happen. The details of this horribleness have never been spoken aloud. Nor should they be.
The threat is omnipresent regardless of details.
We have another set of servers with security requirements not spelled out by the government. We can do what we want there, within reason. This was the first group of servers we built to replace the most disgustingly screwed up bunch of broken servers when I started.
Since we had no directive from the Department of Defense, I put them in according to my own ideas of security.
Users have no rights to the local drives. They cannot view the registry. They cannot open a command window. They cannot right-click.
These specific guidelines do not exist in the Department of Defense guidelines. As a result, they are not configured on those servers, even though security is technically tighter.
This company is big. Officially it is the largest employer in the state. The data center is the largest in the state and in the top 2% globally.
There are also many, many levels of management. The CIO is so far removed from my group that only one guy I work with has ever even seen him. To say that there is no direct line between my group (or any I.T. group here) and the CIO is not exactly true. It is just that the line in question crosses half a dozen firewalls and a DMZ.
This is why I was surprised on Monday when my team lead burst into my cubicle before coffee and said my manager needed me in his office immediately since the CIO had an issue with me, personally.
See, once upon a time the CIO didn't like having individual applications published to him. In the old servers, he got a published desktop which looked just like his own.
When the applications were migrated, so was that published desktop.
The issue turned up when he logged in and couldn't do anything with that desktop because of the security measures I had put in place just because I liked them.
The first words I ever heard the CIO say were over my boss's speakerphone: "You said that self-important jerk who took away my rights on the server was here -- Where is he?"
My manager said, "He just walked in."
Oh. So I'm a jerk right from the start. To the CIO. Where do I go from there?
I got a "Shush" gesture from my team lead as I was starting to ask exactly what access he was missing, even though I had guessed exactly what the access was already.
I was asked exactly why I had over-hardened servers people needed to do work on.
I was able to reply that the servers were hardened according to industry standard best practices. I also offered to set up his own server somewhere where he could do what he wanted. I'm all about security, but the government doesn't care about the network I'm putting that server in and I enjoy getting paid.
The CIO seemed satisfied and hung up, leaving just a Director on the phone with my manager.
"I'm going to see if I can get that Post-It note off his desk now," the Director said.
"Post-It note?" I have no idea why I asked. I wasn't even sure it had actually been out loud until I saw my team lead gesture wildly about something. It was actually a full-body flail.
"Yes, Garrick," the Director explained,"When he asked who was responsible for the security on his server the CIO was given your name. Traditionally, he writes down names he collects on Post-It notes which he sticks to his desk for follow up. You do not want to be on one of his Post-It notes."
"Can I have it?" Before coffee, I have less than no impulse control, internet.
The Director, to his credit, laughed as he said,"If you want to get into his office and get it yourself you are welcome to it."
I turned to my manager, who ended the call and gave me a look.
"No, I will not give you a PC repair kit and send you into the CIO's office to collect a Post-It note with your name on it in his handwriting after you engineer some kind of issue with his machine. Please just set up his access and make sure he doesn't call again."
As my team lead and I walked back to my desk, I asked him how my manager knew what I was going to ask for.
"You're starting to get a reputation around here."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Poor Planning

You asked for it. Here is another way awesome World of Warcraft post:

I meet a lot of people when I play WoW. Most of them I'd be perfectly happy never meeting again. Those that are not complete and utter jerks make my "friends" list, and there are enough of those that the in-game list frequently fills and must be purged of people who haven't logged in in a while.
Knowing nice people is good, but not having faces to associate with names (faces other than the generic orc or elf mug) they tend to get forgotten as individuals from time to time.
These aren't the people I play with every week. Those people I know by their real-world, meat space names.
The people on my friends list are in another category. These are not "friends", they are people that annoy me less than everyone else on the server.
Anyway, a few days ago I got a message in game from someone I didn't immediately recognize. I checked my friends list and they were not on it. Since the message was more than the standard "lol fag", I guessed that at some point I had annoyed this person less than everyone else on the server and made their in-game friends list.
We chatted back and forth for a little while. I had a raid to attend and this person was running a few quests.
They were nice enough. Not nice enough to make my own friends list, but nice. Space is at a premium on that thing.
I attended my raid and went about my virtual life for a couple of days before hearing from this person again.
Then they sent me another message while I was gathering some babies from one tribe to deliver them to another (long story there, but it may have been the right thing to do) just to say hello and find out how I was doing.
Again, we chatted for a few moments before I had another raid to attend (fully 80% of my time in-game is spent in raids now, with the other 20% spent preparing for raids).
I was getting a little creeped out by now, cursor hovering over the "ignore" button on this guy. People can work their way off my friends list, but ignore is eternal.
He sent me a message while I was actually in a raid, ignoring the auto-responder which should have told him I was in the middle of something with no time to chat.
"Guess what?"
I switched Webinara over to auto-attack and (against my better judgement) responded with a "what?"
"Guess!"
Internet, I play games online. A lot, to be honest. "Guess" is not the game I pay $15 a month to play.
"Um . . . You got a flying mount?" I'll admit, I've lost touch with what lower level people do.
"No!"
"Exalted reputation with someone?"
"No! Well, kind of."
I switched targets and cursed in meat space about n00bs. "How do you get kind of Exalted?"
"I'm getting married!"
Oh no. I was completely afraid that this conversation was going to head somewhere which would make me uncomfortable. Again, I hovered over "ignore".
"Congratulations." I said. Because that is what you say.
"Not in real life. In game!"
Aw, crap. With that, this officially crossed over into a couple of areas I find weird.
"That's awesome," I lied, switching my attention back to killing a very frightening giant spider-beast.
"I want you to attend, Webinara, because you are one of the nicest people I've met."
Shit.
"I'd love to attend. Just tell me where."
The giant spider-beast died. There was cheering around me.
"I have to buy a ring first and find some Tailor who can make a tux and wedding dress."
lol fag
"That's too cool. Talk to my friends Mairick and Moatte. They can make the clothes you need." I mostly wanted to fling this attention at my real-world friends Darrell and Todd. To this day, I have no idea if either can sew an in-game wedding dress.
Side note: I miss you guys more than this story indicates.
I had hoped he'd spend some time doing that. My hopes were crushed when he sent,"I know where I want the wedding to be."
"Oh?" Webinara was concentrating on loot at this point. Of the 80% of in-game time I spend raiding, 99% of that is spent worrying over loot.
"Scarlet Monastery Cathedral."
This guy needed someone to lead the way into Scarlet Monastery Cathedral, kill all the monsters which would try oh-so-hard to end his newbish life and that of his bride, wait for the corpses to vanish, then hang out by the alter to pick off any stragglers who show up during the ceremony.
Now this is a wedding I can get into.
"That sounds lovely." I was really running out of encouraging things to say.
"I need a cake."
If everyone in my guild was not already logged onto a character I know, I would swear someone was attempting to punk me.
However, being the repository of in-game trivia, I told him about the cakes sold by one of the vendors in Dalaran.
"I'm not high enough level to get to Dalaran." He seemed so sad.
"I can mail you one," I offered, thinking it might soothe the burn of my waiting for him to log off and putting him on ignore.
"Thanks! Just bring it with you. I want you to plan the wedding."
WTF?
"I'm a horrible planner of anything," and I am,"You'd be better off hiring one of the professionals in Orgrimaar."
"I haven't seen those." he answered.
I haven't either,"Oh sure, you see them in trade chat all the time. Very reasonable rates."
"But I like you and I want you to be a part of this. Look at the ring."
He linked the ring to me. It was a [Wedding Ring]. No armor bonus, no agility buff, no attack power. Just an expression of nerd-love.
"Just let me know where to be." Webinara is a sucker for romance. And n00b jewelry.
Please remember that I still have no idea who this person is and how I might know them.
The following day I got another message. Apparently, he had assembled his guild outside the gates of Scarlet Monastery Cathedral and they were waiting for me.
I had no notice. I hadn't picked up a cake and those things show up at the vendor on a timer.
"Now?" I asked.
"Yes. We decided to elope."

/ignore
/logoff

Friday, April 17, 2009

Maths


+

+

=
900 posts, internet!
That's a pretty freaking insane amount of content, but I have to justify my blogging salary somehow, I suppose.
Let's review, shall we?
Does anyone enjoy the "discussions with my brain" posts?
More or less World of Warcraft talk in the future?
Has anyone figured out what my function is at my day job? I mean, besides me as of this week?
Would you prefer more technical posts or more where I disclose my interactions with co-workers and random people who happen across my path?
Anyone in the medical field (or regular viewers of Dr. Phil) care to offer up a diagnosis?
Feel free to leave a comment below with favorite or least favorite posts from pages gone by or email your opinions to geek_@_prettygeekything.com.
If you are new to the site, welcome to the Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng Experience*. For anyone who has hung out for the past 900 posts . . . Whoa . . . What can I say? I'm really, really sorry.

Thanks,

G

* No formal welcome is implied by this statement on behalf of Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng Worldwide Diet Cola Disposal Group and Tourist Mocking Enterprises. Further, any and all experiences referenced as "the Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng Experience" are at the sole risk of the experiencer. For the purposes of proper documentation of the experiences experienced, the standard internet pics-or-it-didn't-happen qualifier is in effect.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm on it! Wait. What?

Tuesday the 21st will be the official first anniversary of my employment at my current company. Since I was made to jump through all kinds of hoops to get my badge access extended I must assume my contract will be renewed.
As remarkable as a that is in itself (I've requested a party with cake) the most amazing thing happened yesterday.
I had a meeting with my manager where we discussed my roles and responsibilities. Essentially, we went line-by-line over the job description I threw together months ago as a goof.
The end result is that 51 weeks after starting my job, I have been told what it is that I do.
The 51 week honeymoon is over -- Time to start cracking user skulls (maintaining control of the user acceptance testing process) and looking at LOLcats (tracking the latest trends in activity of various Internet subcultures).
While fifty-one weeks may sound like a long time to be administratively adrift, I have spent that time doing actual work. It is just now all divided up into stuff I do and stuff I farm out to other groups.
And, to be fair, fifty-one weeks is actually a record amount of time to be without a job description.
This job description beat the last record by a full eighteen months, the previous record holder having been Reliant Energy which told me after two and a half years what stuff I should cross train my overseas replacements to do.
Oh, but I trained them so hard!
And I'm pretty sure when I was done none of them had retained the skills to use a mouse.
Anyway, next week "Year Two" kicks off. If I were Batman, I'd totally be fighting The Reaper and dealing with Joe Chill before getting retconned, joining forces with Robin, then having the whole thing written off as null and void after the DC Universe re-sets itself. Again.
But I'm not Batman, which is pretty good for the whole Batman concept, were I to honestly examine my behavior, look deep inside myself to evaluate my motivations and core ethics. Which I'm not.
Both as a matter of my personal "No Self-Examination" policy and because it is not in my job description.
Hmm . . . "Not in my job description" has a pretty nice ring to it.
I'm going to create an email signature now.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Access Control

I returned to my desk after lunch to find the other 50% of Tactical Services alternating between laughing and sobbing.
"I can't work." He told me.
"I know," I answered, "I'm not into it today either."
"No," his eyes took on a manic gleam,"I can't log in anywhere."
As the Earth-bound Avatars of Security, an inability to log in to the servers is like having our wings clipped, like vampires waiting on an invitation to enter a home, like Superman confronted by a Kryptonite wall. Or like me confronted by a Kryptonite wall. That stuff is carcinogenic. And likely heavy.
Anyway, this story rightly begins several months ago when someone asked us (Tactical Services) if we were in favor of keeping the number of users in the Local Administrators group small. Of course we are, and while we are at it can we keep the users off completely?
Well, that change went through yesterday at noon and it seems our approval meant a merciless culling of that group. Including our own access.
Obviously this couldn't stay that way, but the person who administratively approved the change was out of the office, so revoking the order was impossible. Further, we in Tactical Services felt comfortable in yelling about our inability to work but not in approving our own access rights countering a Managerial order due to the obvious conflict of interest.
It was decided to sling us into another Administrator group on the server.
As Tactical Services is the group responsible for granting access to the servers, the request to restore the access came to us. Of course, since our own access rights were the ones missing, we had no technical way to restore them. We would need the access we had in the first place to restore the access we had in the first place, turning the whole situation into a slightly less nerdy episode of Dr. Who.
Internet, this went on for over four hours. No kidding.
At one point I was asked to do work. It needed to get done. Not having the proper access to let me do it cleanly and according to best practices, I hacked the change into place.
I then sent an email to the group that removed my rights informing them that if they planned to remove the access for the Access Control group, they should be more thorough since I apparently still had way more ability to change something on a server than they intended.
But that was wrong of me, a reaction to the ridiculousness of the situation itself. And pretty funny.
At one point we had one group with approval to make the change but no rights and another group with the rights to make the change and no approval. There was no Corporate mechanism to form up into the Voltron of Productivity, so our little robotic lions were left on their own, growling at sudden noises and wondering who invited Pidge to the group.
My access works this morning. I have seen no paperwork documenting the changes needed to make that happen, or of the changes needed to have removed it in the first place.
I'm not new enough to actually expect that documentation to materialize, so I've been writing up my own and setting it as the desktop wallpaper on those servers, lest someone forget the terrible, terrible mistake they made.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Window

Last week the meeting invitation for the weekly Monday morning staff meeting contained a special addition.
What, it was asked, was our problem.
What hinders our progress? What gets on our nerves? What process halts progress?
I thought about it most of the weekend, since not having a problem outside my control firmly places the blame for any future shortcoming firmly in the area of "my fault". That, unlike every other area of my life, is an area I strive to keep completely clutter-free and spotless. Even if that means I have to just put down new carpet and stomp the lumps flat.
Anyway, the meeting progressed as normal until ten minutes from the end when the discussion began about calling the meeting off early and getting back to work.
But I prepped! I never prep!
"Hang on!" I looked up from my doodle of aliens attacking a tank,"You asked what we would change and I have an idea!"
All eyes turned to me.
"I did some research and learned a little local I.T. history. Eight years ago there were fifteen servers and less than a thousand workstations. It was decided that these machines would be patched and upgraded on Sunday nights between 5pm and 9pm. And everyone was happy. Today, there are three thousand servers and almost seventeen thousand workstations. The outage and upgrade window hasn't budged. To make matters worse, everyone shares this Sunday night outage window. If we patch something and run into issues, the email server is down and we can't pull up contact information for the application owner. If we finish up at nine and want to submit our time for the week, we can't because the mainframe is down. Also, the volume of servers and perceived time-compression makes everyone rush through everything at a time when we can't contact anyone to test before starting the business day on Monday morning."
In retrospect, I should have spoken with my team before voicing this. I didn't ask anyone their opinion and I didn't spend any time examining the feelings of my fellow geeks.
Also, change doesn't happen here overnight. Obviously, the outage window is set in the stone of corporate procedure somewhere in a loose leaf binder labeled "The Way Things Are". The fact that that binder has a picture of the original Knight Rider on it has little bearing on anything.
Side note: Mr. Hasselhoff, how about releasing another album here in the states? I think Americans are desperate enough for it to work now.
Anyway, five hours and sixteen minutes after leaving the meeting, my concern was addressed by management in an email to the team.
Our outage window is from 5pm to 9pm n Sunday nights. However, if we don't get it all done we can also patch at any other after-hours time provided we send an email to the Change Management Office.
Effectively, the whole week is an outage window now, if we want it.
Speaking as an hourly consultant, I can only hint at the number of new pairs of backless business casual shoes in my future:
Thousands.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Weekend Away

<===This is not our picture.
Anyway, we spent Saturday on the beach and wandering the streets of Charleston.
Sunday, we went to the highly-touted Boone Hall plantation.
We thought Gwynyth might enjoy a look at a house with no access to cable TV.
Boone Hall has the longest oak avenue of any plantation. It was very impressive. And the drive through the oaks and up to the house itself revealed a picture-perfect example of an antebellum plantation.
We walked up the the hospitality center and scheduled ourselves for the first tour of the day.
We learned almost immediately that this house is not the original house.
That's fine. The Civil War took a terrible toll on South Carolina and we would be naive to expect big fancy houses to have been immune.
But then we started to hear about the history of the plantation from Bob, the tour guide.
Apparently, the house in the picture above is the fourth house on the site.
The guy that built it bought the land from the owners (who had switched from producing cotton to making bricks, anyway) during the great depression (brick sales having waned along with new construction, I assume) for $55,000.
Then he (a Canadian) tore down the third house (a tiny, authentic little thing) and built the mansion in 1935 according to the Hollywood vision of what southern plantations should look like.
What?
The whole thing is a reproduction of a misconception? And we paid $17.50 each to get in and have our hopes dashed?
There was a "Slave Street" with the servants quarters all nicely restored to their typical squalor and the smokehouse on the grounds was built in the 1750s, so that was cool.
We watched a guy speak Gullah, which was also pretty neat.
We learned that the plantation itself was the largest source of pecans at one point (before a hurricane knocked down all but two trees) and I imagine it kept an iron grip on the national candy industry. Without this estate's influence, millions of people would stop at truck stops every year to purchase nougat logs, most likely.
Gross.
We also saw no ghosts, though that possibility is just about the only reason I ever go to places where the cell signal is poor.
I also learned some very unpleasant things about okra which may result in my never eating it again. In fact, I'll just go ahead and put that on the list of vegetables I won't eat right now next to cucumbers (taste like chlorine) and raw onions (texture issues).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Over to the right

Everyone!
Since I wasn't feeling quite enough attention focused firmly on me, I opened a Twitter account.
You can follow me (PrettyGeeky) through whatever you currently use to track tweets or from the handy gadget on the sidebar.
The issue I've found is that I already seem to completely spill everything in the form of a blog post, so I'm still trying to figure out exactly where Twitter falls in the scheme of my eternal information distribution network.
I have not, to date, installed an application on my phone for mobile tweeting, but I think it is only a matter of time before that happens.
I've embraced Facebook, I participate in a number of internet forums, and I Tweet and blog for one simple reason:
Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng Worldwide Amalgamated Aspartame Disposal and Panic Surfing LLC is a fully-transparent enterprise.
I never want the American people to question where our Federal corporate bail out funds are being applied.
The trip to Disney is a fact-finding mission, internet.
Quality blog posts cannot be churned out reliably from last year's Macbook Pro. That is an established fact.
My many herbal supplements serve to keep my brain actively producing the ideas which fuel the dreams of the readers. And also keep my prostrate healthy. But those are separate pills and I fully intend to break that out on the spreadsheet I am putting together on the advice of council.
I need not detail the amount of Federal money we spent on facial cleansers, exfoliation treatments, and gels made from the butter of endangered mammals which keeps my skin supple and radiant. This is an expectation my readers have, and I will not let them down.
Especially in these trying economic times when the rosy glow of my complexion may very well serve as the only light of hope for so many.
I bear that burden willingly in my baby-soft hands, internet.
Anyway, if you are the type to follow people on Twitter, feel free to follow me. Apparently it is not stalking at all, legally speaking.
I will, in turn, Tweet as often as I find it interesting.
Thank you again for the tax dollars keeping us afloat in sweet, sweet cash. You know. For the good of the nation or whatever.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Another Training Session

Yesterday afternoon my whole team trudged up the hill to the tower building to meet with someone from another team to discuss the anti-virus product.
I thought the point was to go over our recommended settings and exclusion lists. There are directories which should not be included in virus scanning. They either change too often or they are set up in a way which is self-isolating and having a scanner constantly try and fail to scan them is a terrible drain on system resources.
We did not have this discussion at all.
The problem with dealing with people from other technical teams here is that the seem to assume that their team is the only technical team, so they tend to speak too slowly for me to remain conscious.
The whole ninety minutes could have been saved had the guy sent an email which said:

Go to this directory, install the application, you have read access only but you can look at how everything is set up and email me if you have questions.

Instead, we got walked through mapping a network drive and installing an application.
At one point, I had to stab myself in the palm with a pen to keep from saying,"Wait! We accept the license agreement? Is that true everywhere? Is that why, in the past decade, I've never ever been able to install a piece of software at home or at work?"
This was a knowledgeable guy, but he didn't bother learning about his audience before talking to them.
I regularly get called to speak to other groups about whatever the hell it is that I do all day.
I always start with a quick check for their technical proficiency so I know how to go about explaining things.
I do this by lying.
At the beginning of my speech, I throw out some falsehood as fact. When discussing printing for remote users I like to go with,"All print jobs are converted to PDFs by the software, copied to our PrintSecure holding facilities in Bangalore, then transcribed line-by-line into a printer driver language compatible with the printer model on the user's desk."
This is nothing like what happens. "PrintSecure" doesn't exist, nor does any facility in Bangalore which my company has dealings with.
If the audience calls me on it I laugh, explain why I lied, and proceed to speak "Geek" with them. Surprisingly, knowing they have passed some bizarre screening seems to make them happy, which is just the kind of audience you want when you are explaining why you aren't going to help them.
If they do not react at all to my lie, or nod knowingly at one another as though they had engineered the real-time driver creation print solution themselves, I'm free to spend the rest of the hour saying whatever the hell I want, spinning our environment into a unicorn-powered magical wonder network. I still get to tell them why our group won't be helping them, but instead of the actual technical reason I get to tell them it is because we can't get budget approval for the gold-plated rocket pony I want.
Ideally, this will someday result in a signed purchase request making it through various layers of management and the eventual delivery of my rocket pony.

Anyway, apparently if you want software to install, you need to accept the license agreement. I honestly hope that helps someone, though I doubt it will come as news to anyone reading this blog.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Other Jobs In I.T.

I've suffered disk drive crashes plenty of times, and I'm guilty of not backing stuff up.
I actually have several crashed drives at Pr3++yG33kyTh1ng World Wide Amalgamated Corporate Head Quarters which I intend to keep until technology develops to revive them, much like I intend to have my own head frozen in the event my daily exfoliation and moisturization process begins to deliver less-than-stunning results.
Anyway, I have felt, both personally and professionally, the loss associated with a data repository failure.
While I have always turned to friends, co-workers and alcohol (sometimes a combination of the three) in order to deal with my grief maturely, I had wondered, until this morning, if there was a more well-defined mechanism.
It turns out there is for clients of Drive Savers, a company which specializes in data recovery.
I think the technical process of recovering data from failed hardware is fascinating and I've often considered moving into the "Data Recovery" business, but mostly for the off chance that the data which needs to be recovered has simply been stolen, leading me on an action-packed chase across the globe after an international band of data thieves with accents so I could make smart-assed comments like Bruce Willis would do. If Bruce Willis was into data recovery, you know.
Apparently Drive Savers is not hiring action heroes at this time, unfortunately.
The point I was originally flailing at is that they do have, on staff, full time, a professional "Data Loss Counselor".
This person basically listens to the customer as they discuss their loss. Working in data recovery, they can also recommend options to get the data back. In the event this is impossible, however, the Data Loss Counselor is also a certified grief counselor.
In an interview she said she hears from distraught people constantly, sometimes from one panicked I.T. guy one day and then from another at the same company on the next day because the first guy got fired and all the broken stuff got turned over to someone else.
It must be enormously stressful to hear from users in this kind of distress all day, every day, as a function of one's job.
It also has to look seriously sweet on a resume.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Tuesday

Since Microsoft releases patches once a month on a Tuesday, there is a regular security meeting to go over those. They only do that on a single Tuesday each month, but the meeting here is every Tuesday, recurring until death.
The process in these non-Patch Tuesday Tuesday meetings is the same every time. We look at scan results, argue over the validity, promise to fix any straggling servers before Friday (even though the outage window is Sunday night) and then spend 45 minutes discussing how this process (the meeting process, not the patching process) is being refined.
One of the more interesting meetings concluded with the meeting organizer asking everyone if they felt like they had gotten good use of their time in attending the meeting.
This was the meeting organizer.
There could not be a more loaded question in a corporate environment without violating the code of conduct for sexual harassment.
The answer, of course, is "Yes. Time spent here in this meeting was time well-spent. Let us take the information we have freely shared and venture forth into a new age of improved I.T. functionality." I mean, that is the answer since I'm a consultant. If I were full-time I'd have answered with saliva-laced profanity.
After that meeting, we have a meeting with our management to discuss what was said in the first meeting. After that, there is a closed-door session where we go over what we said and heard and what that looks like in comparison to current corporate rumors and/or reality.
A few hours later, there is a conference call with the participants of the first meeting to discuss progress, even though any actual progress would have happened at the expense of our uptime agreements with our customers.
Then an email is sent summarizing the conference call.
I can't decide if this would be more or less funny if I were making any of it up so I'll just put a picture of John Stamos here.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Problem Solving

A meeting first thing on a Monday morning is pretty brutal, especially when it is early enough that the first cup of coffee isn't over and people expect a person to know what he is doing this week.
But this is an every Monday thing and I've taken to writing down my plans on a Post-It note on Friday so I can hand it to whoever sits next to me on Monday so that they can just read what I planned.
If there are questions, I can generally answer them. Or at least grunt knowingly, which seems to accomplish the same effect -- That of making the questions stop.
When the topic switched mid-meeting to why a co-worker was taking three days off this week, I snapped to full consciousness.
I've been fascinated for the past year with the wildlife dwelling in the greater metropolitan Columbia area.
I've seen foxes and deer and an otter, all without having to get out of range of a Starbucks.
But my co-worker is taking part of a week off to snake-proof her yard.
There is apparently a product called "Snake-A-Way" which is sprinkled around the perimeter of the yard. This prompted me to ask what would happen if the snake were already inside the perimeter. Would it be trapped there? Growing ever more hungry and bitter?
These questions were not well received, amazingly.
So I led the meeting into full-on problem-solving mode.
The take-away from this particular meeting is that there is no solution readily commercially available.
However, our official recommendation was for her to purchase an eagle or, depending on the local laws which we (admittedly) did not research, an owl.
When she said she owned little yippy dogs the solution of adding a large avian predator was even more appealing to some members of my team, while disregarded by a separate dog-loving faction which advocated burning the house to the ground and renting an upstairs apartment in the university district.
The other thing which came from the meeting was an action item for Management to reschedule the Monday meetings for after lunch for some reason.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Pictures Tell A Story



In this crappy cellphone picture taken from the second floor window just behind my desk we can see a couple of interesting things.
The point is the large yellow stain on the parking lot.
That's pollen. And the levels have actually dropped in the past couple of days.
I'm used to a light dusting of the stuff, but here I guess the pine trees produce enough that it actually forms drifts on sidewalks and discolors drains.
The piles were high enough some places at the beginning of the week that I could swear I saw bedouin tribes setting up tents on a couple while they passed through South Carolina.
A co-worker told me this is not a particularly bad year for pollen, really. He said if I grabbed and shook a pine branch it would look like it was snowing.
However, I learned in biology class exactly what purpose the trees have for pollen and I really don't want to involve myself in that. I mean if the trees are going to get busy out in public that's their business and who am I to judge? I just don't have to assist.
The other feature of the image is the top-notch pre-dawn parking job done by me. I like to sprawl out in a space a little, apparently.
The guy next to me (and directly above the pollen mound) took my favorite spot like he does every single day.
According to my custom, I dragged my keys down the side of his car in retribution like I do every single day.
He's tried fooling me by driving a different car just about every day this week but I haven't fallen for it.

Ahead of the Trends

I keep finding myself cool before the times catch up with me. When Dungeons and Dragons finally becomes a game the cool kids play, I'm all set.
For years now, I've been frustrating loved ones and co-workers by never checking my email. My current phone number doesn't even have it set up yet, nor will it ever.
I can see who called and I can call back.
I'm skipping half a dozen steps involved in listening to and deleting voicemails.
My work voicemail box has been full for over eight months and there isn't even a call log on that thing. Those calls will never be returned.
No one has missed it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/fashion/02voicemail.html?ref=personaltech

The text from page 1:

Published: April 1, 2009

WHEN Steve Hamrick left his last job as manager at a software corporation, he had at least 25 unheard messages in his office voice mailbox. And that’s not counting the unreturned calls on his cellphone or landline at home.

It’s not that he doesn’t like to talk. But with the cascade of messages he receives by e-mail, texting and on Facebook, Mr. Hamrick, 29, a self-described “voice mail phobic” from Cupertino, Calif., said he’d found better ways to keep in touch.

“I had to give up something and that, for me, was voice mail,” he said. “It’s cutting out some forms of communication to make room for the others.”

When it was introduced in the early 1980s, voice mail was hailed as a miracle invention — a boon to office productivity and a godsend to busy households. Hollywood screenwriters incorporated it into plotlines: Distraught heroine comes home, sees blinking red light, listens as desperate suitor begs for another chance to make it all right. Beep!

But in an age of instant information gratification, the burden of having to hit the playback button — or worse, dial in to a mailbox and enter a pass code — and sit through “ums” and “ahs” can seem too much to bear.

Many dread the process or, like Mr. Hamrick, avoid it altogether, raising the question: is voice mail on its way to becoming obsolete?

“Once upon a time, voice mail was useful,” said Yen Cheong, 32, a book publicist in New York who has transitioned almost entirely to e-mail and text messaging. According to her calculation, it takes 7 to 10 steps to check a voice mail message versus zero to 3 for an e-mail.

“If you left a message, I have to dial in, dial in my code,” Ms. Cheong said. “Then I mess up and redial. Then once I hear the message, I need the phone number. I try to write it down, and then I have to rewind the message to hear it again,” she added, feigning exhaustion.

Tim Kassouf from Baltimore, 24, who calls himself “a certified voice mail hater,” said he had 68 messages, 62 of them unheard, in his cellphone mail box. Scott Taylor, 41, a senior manager at an e-commerce company in Phoenix, said voice mail was “just totally an ineffective communication method, almost ancient now.”

Like many others, Mr. Taylor advises callers on his outgoing message to try his cellphone or to send an e-mail message if they need to reach him right away.

It is good advice. Research shows that people take longer to reply to voice messages than other types of communication. Data from uReach Technologies, which operates the voice messaging systems of Verizon Wireless and other cellphone carriers, shows that over 30 percent of voice messages linger unheard for three days or longer and that more than 20 percent of people with messages in their mailboxes “rarely even dial in” to check them, said Saul Einbinder, senior vice president for marketing and business development for uReach, in an e-mail message.

By contrast, 91 percent of people under 30 respond to text messages within an hour, and they are four times more likely to respond to texts than to voice messages within minutes, according to a 2008 study for Sprint conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation. Even adults 30 and older are twice as likely to respond within minutes to a text than to a voice message, the study found.

There are no definitive studies of how many voice mail messages American leave compared with earlier periods, but if the technology is heading toward obsolescence — as many communication experts suspect — the trend is being driven by young people. Again and again, people under 25 recount returning calls from older colleagues and family members without bothering to listen to messages first. Thanks to cellphone technology, they can see who called and hit the Send button to reply without calling their voice mail box. “Didn’t you get my message?” parents ask. “No,” their children reply, “but I saw that you called.”

Jack Cathey, 20, a college student in Lewisburg, Tenn., said his parents and grandparents continued trying to leave him voice messages despite his objections. “Do you know your voice mail’s full?” a family member asked him recently, failing to comprehend that, for his generation, that might not be a problem.

To cater to those with no patience for voice mail, wireless providers are busy rolling out a new generation of text-based alternatives that promise to make communication faster and more efficient.

The most popular is Visual Voicemail, which comes standard on the iPhone and is available on other smart phones, including the Samsung Instinct and the BlackBerry Storm. The application displays messages in a visual in-box, just like e-mail, and allows users to listen to messages one by one, in any order, so important calls can be returned first and others saved.

Other companies have taken a bolder approach, eliminating the need to listen to messages altogether.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fixing Stuff

Some users astound me with their complete stupidity. I wonder at their ability to walk and breathe at the same time. Their utter incompetence is only overshadowed by their complete lack of concern for the personal lives of the I.T. staff.
I'd like to again recommend a special internet for these people. One where updates are only allowed temporarily, with the whole thing reset to proper working order every day at 4am from backup.
Anyway, when someone decides to put a user in charge of something, often this results in weird things.
In a standard security scan, findings are categorized by severity level. There are high, medium, low and informational findings.
The first three are pretty straightforward. The severity dictates how quickly the issue needs to be resolved.
With informational findings, there generally isn't any action to be taken.
This is stuff like "The scanning account has rights to read security settings" and "Windows Server 2003 is installed". I could, technically, fix either of these things, but not without pissing off a lot of people.
Generally, informational findings can be ignored. It is just data the scanner picked up in the course of the scan.
Except when a user gets involved at a high level.
Apparently, the guy dealing with the auditors last year was tired of seeing the same informational findings turn up year after year. He decided to ask the auditor to change the severity level on all informational findings to low, medium or high to make sure that the I.T. people would act on them. This modified report was submitted in that way, and getting a finding which is categorized as low, medium or high pulled out of an officially submitted report requires an act of congress. What I mean to say is that since the systems in question contain health records of current military personnel, it literally requires an act of congress.
From what I understand, congress is a little busy at the moment, so I have to submit crazy detailed paperwork on something like 14000 findings which should, in reality, be all but ignored.
And this, dear internetz, is why users should never ever be put in charge of anything important or given access to anything with more processing power than an Etch-a-Sketch.
It is also another item on my ever-growing list of reasons why I hate them. So hard. In the face.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Kinder, Gentler Th1ng

I got a call last night at about a quarter to nine. Users were reporting sluggishness in accessing applications. Since "sluggish" can encompass a lot of different things based on the quantity of the effect itself, I knew I'd be troubleshooting for a while just to figure out what they were talking about. After that I'd still have to go about solving the problem itself.
At first, I was angry.
I mean, I'd put in a full day at work already and just settled in to attend my WoW guild's first official heroic-level raid. The last thing I wanted to do was work harder than I should have to to resolve some nebulous issue for a user.
Then I had an epiphany.
It wasn't like a burst of light or spectral choir kind of epiphany. It was more a connection-related epiphany.
As I was logging in to get to work, I realized that these users with the complaints were no different than me. They have families and lives outside of work and probably didn't want to be grinding away at tasks after hours any more than I did.
Their ability to work quickly and efficiently is my responsibility, and by executing that responsibility I can get the users back to their families or favorite TV programs faster, improving their quality of life in the process.
And so I resolve from this day forward to do just that.
I will consider myself an employee and friend of the end user. If I keep them happy, the company benefits from their increased productivity. I'm sure the company will reward all of us based on our improved performance, which will fling us all into a never-ending happiness loop.
So, my challenge to you, internets, is to walk a mile in the packet shape of those users around you.
Think about their feelings and tailor your interactions around them.
Good intentions are the universal language of harmony. We will be able to use our good deeds as karmic currency.
I look forward to this new time of shared awareness and sincerely hope that you do as well.