Friday, August 15, 2008

Life in the flatlands

A couple of years ago I had this horrible job. It wasn't really terrible, It just had certain elements that made it horrible. It wasn't dangerous, I wasn't exposed to harmful chemicals, or forced to perform degrading acts of sexual depravity. It wasn't even a dirty or smelly job. In fact it was such an easy and laid back job, it was kind of ridiculous that they paid me an hourly wage. And I would have been happy except for one thing (yes, that is clearly hyperbole on my part) -- the job required interacting with that unwashed mass of idiot rabble called the general public. To make matters worse, the majority of these brainiacs were students at a private (and of course disgustingly over-priced) party school that has been coasting on its reputation for about twenty years.

So, my expectations were low. Hearing these kids complain about finding a parking space for their Cadillac Escalades, or watching them bounce past my office in their designer sweats and leased tans grated on my nerves. Listening to them talk about philosophy or literature as if they had discovered something no one else had heard about or could understand was simply embarrassing. But I persevered, and found a certain joy in relating some of the more ridiculous episodes to my quickly shrinking circle of friends.

Still, one day I found out what writers mean when they say a person is dumbfounded. "Shocked," "surprised," "astonished," not even "flabbergasted," could describe my amazement to discover someone dumber than the dumbest thundering dunderhead I had ever met.

Perhaps I've oversold this story.

Let me back up and preface this story by saying that I live in a very flat state. The building I worked in does not sit on rolling hills. It does not overlook a lake, or a canyon. In fact, I would bet there is no change in elevation within 20 miles of this site, if you don't count the concrete canyon cut through the middle of the city for the interstate highway.

We are talking about a lot of flat flat farmland. Let me make myself absolutely clear, I want to stress to you, gentle reader, that there is no hill or hummock or steep grade or meandering staircase up which a person must climb to enter the front doors of this building.

On this particular afternoon a student entered the front door of our establishment. He stepped up to the worker at the front desk and asked, "Is this the second floor?"

When he was informed that no, this was not the second floor, and would not be considered the second floor in Britain, or any other backwards culture, he asked, "Where is the second floor?" The stairs behind the worker were, perhaps, too obvious a clue.

I must admit that there is a slight, very slight rise, as one strolls up the Ashley Taylor* Promenade (courtesy of her loving husband, a famous war-criminal) in front of the building. But in no way would a normal person believe he or she was entering a split-level ranch house overlooking the Pacific Ocean, or that perhaps we had a hidden network of terraces dropping down the slope of a dormant volcano on the opposite, hidden, side of the building.

So, no, the worker told him, this is not the second floor.

I sometimes wonder about this poor lost soul and ponder on what kind of world he must live in. It reminds me of my own days in the heady world of academia where I was introduced to the strange and mystical world of certain eastern philosophical schools of thought. Apparently there was a group of Indians, I think they were called Charvaka Materialists (I'm sure that spelling is wrong), who held the odd belief that one cannot make inferences about the world around them. I guess they had to experience anything for it to be considered real. So, for instance, if they were off in the woods collecting mushrooms and saw a giant cloud of smoke rising from the vicinity of the temple, the would simply consider that they were seeing a giant cloud of smoke. Just because every time they saw large billowing clouds of smoke a fire of not inconsiderable size was found under it, a Charvaka Materialist could not infer that a fire was the source of this black cloud, or that every time a fire burned it would produce smoke

So, their answer to some of the more tricky philosophical questions that have plagued liberal arts majors for decades, were actually quite simple. A falling tree does not make a noise in the forest unless they are there to hear it. In fact, how can you know that the tree actually fell? -- Maybe aliens placed it on its side for unknowable aesthetic alien reasons. Just because it's on it's side doesn't mean it fell. Perhaps it got tired. I like to think the Charvaka Materialist, faced with a glass containing water near its midpoint, would simply drink it. It's not a glass of water until it is drunk, is it?

But I wander. Personally, when it's 2:00 AM and I've been imbibing alcoholic beverages for a considerable amount of time, I find myself remembering the stranger who didn't know what floor he was on. Perhaps he was the last surviving member of this confused tribe of people who couldn't understand that sex brings babies any more than a gorilla (and I don't mean to be unkind to gorillas here) can understand quantum physics.

Good luck young man. Good luck.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Just a little warning there, so I don't spoil the ending for those of you who like surprises or are in denial. But if you're still reading, brace yourself for this shocking revelation: when you die, you're dead. And that's it. When you settle down for that final big dirt nap, that's the end of the story. You're not going to be greeted by a choir of heavenly angels or a troop of hellish ghouls. In fact, you're not going to be greeted at all, because you are dead.

As much as I would like to think I'll be greeted by 69 vestal virgins on the other side (by the way, does anyone know what the hell a vestal is?), I have to be honest with myself. The only things that will be interested in me once I reach a non-breathing state are worms, bugs, and possibly very small rodents. That is, if medical science doesn't get their hands on me first.

Well, in truth I don't believe that. I will live on, or at least parts of me will, as long as I die in such a way that my organs are relatively healthy. Yes, I carry an organ donor card. I have to admit, though, that the first couple of weeks after signing it I jumped every time the doorbell rang. I kept having images of Monty Python's Meaning of Life flashing through my head.

We're here for your kidney, mate.
That Python guy sure is a funny dude.

But back to the subject at hand, the great hereafter. I'm sure it's not shocking that someone who describes himself as pro-pandemic (see Word Choice) is also anti-god. (I do hedge my bets, though.)

I am convinced there is no afterlife, no old man with a grey beard hanging down to his most holy knees watching me every minute of every day making sure to take notes of every terrible sin I may commit, like coveting my neighbor's ass. God forbid I should have immoral or unpure thoughts -- how much ink can the guy have, anyhow? Regardless, I don't believe any of that crap. I was raised catholic, for god's sake.

And here's the cover-my-ass (sort of) part:

If on the off-chance that I'm wrong (it's happened), and there actually is a god waiting for me on the other side, (although I know there isn't), then I doubt he (or she) cares a whit about where I am on Sundays, or how often I've used his (non-existent) name in vain. So do you get that? I don't believe there is a god, but if there is a god, I don't believe he cares if I believe in him/her.

So there.

Right about now my friend Ann Margaret* would be ducking for cover, certain the next lightning bolt would steer unerringly towards that exact middle point between my eyes.
But no, there is no god.

But the guy with the black cloak, big pointy scythe, does the reaping thing and speaks in all CAPS, in Him, I do believe.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Pet Goat

My 10:00 Monday meeting is with our CIO and Senior Management. We review the project list (that I pretend to maintain). It usually lasts for about 30 minutes. When we're done, I get to leave and the Sr. Staff and the CIO have a staff meeting. Once in a while I'll be asked to stay because I'm working on a project they will be discussing, but that rarely happens. Today, though I really wish I'd been able to stay.

Just as we are about to get started, our Director of Information Security, Savanna Samson* walked into the meeting looking like she's one step away from her eternal afterlife (this is actually pretty normal, however today she was looking particularly funereal). Anyhow, she drags herself through the door and announces, "There's been another one."

By another one, she is referring to another Security Breach. About two weeks ago our system was "compromised" and a hacker was able to obtain sensitive information like SSNs for nearly 10,000 people (mentioned in The Inmates Are In Control, Part Uno).

Peter North*, the CIO, asks if it's bad. She replies that it is "worse than last time." and that she has been working on it all weekend.

The first thought that pops into my head is, "She's been working on it for 2-3 days and hasn't informed her CIO?"

Peter leaps to action, "Do we need to talk about it now?" Talk about bold leadership.

"No," she says, "we can talk about it in our 10:30." Meaning she won't say anything more until I am out of the room. I guess she knows I'll be informing all my hacker buddies of the countermeasures.

Super CIO says okay, and that's it. Not the slightest sign of being perturbed or upset about this.

And that is Standard Operating Procedure.

He reminds me of George W. Bush sitting in an elementary classroom reading the children's book, The Pet Goat. You can see the wheels turning, but instead of formulating a plan of response you can tell he's thinking, "must look presidential, must look presidential."

Saturday, August 9, 2008

It's Like They Just Write Themselves

I'm still on my harangue about stupid people. A favorite topic of mine.

Even before Russian stealth tanks started rolling up I-95 from Miami, I stumbled upon another great example of people typing while their brains were stuck in neutral. I recently started reading a sometimes very funny blog called "Holy Juan." (On a side note -- I must recommend his entry of July 12, 2008, Tips for Meeting Your Future Self, an idea I may have to steal.) Anyway, amongst all his other doggerel was a short piece called Stay Out Daddy. I won't waste time summarizing it -- it's only three paragraphs for god's sake.

But I strongly recommend you do as he suggests -- read the comments. There are 87 as of today. You might even spot some offerings from yours truly, the most woeful one.

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

In my previous post, I linked to a hilarious Yahoo Answers discussion. Unfortunately, Yahoo Answers, censors that they are, has deleted the question I had directed you to, so you'll have to imagine the stupidity. Basically, a fellow was curious about some news and posted this question:
I live in georegia but i dont see rusia no where not even sound but they says theres tanks should i be worrie

i herd on the news that rusia has invaded but i dont see them no where wats going on

Needless to say, the guy was joking. But a huge amount of uptight fools took the bait and posted comments ridiculing the guy's stupidity. There were some classic insults about the Georgia education system and annoying pedants educating all us dumb bumpkins that Russia had invaded Ossetia, a province of the country Georgia that borders Russia, not the state that borders Florida.

The better comments were from people who actually got the joke:

Relax. I'm in Michigan and we heard about it on the news. Many of us are on our way in a convoy of pick-up trucks to help! Stand-by and stay where you are until we get there!

Nø need to fear the Russians. The Havarti Quesadilla Revolutionary Årmy is the real menace. The south will be reclaimed. Long live the Dano-Mex revølution. Long Live Knud Gonzales, the river to his people.

These smarter answers also covered (in depth) the existence of Russian Stealth Tanks painted with light-refracting spray paint -- this makes them invisible. But the smart idjits still didn't understand. Even some other sites became obsessed with this stupid guy from Georgia. One forum discussion starts with the question from the guy in "georegia," along with the comment, "This is why breeding should require a license." I don't think he got the joke either.

I Don't Even Have To Try

Grab your guns boys and girls. The red menace has finally made its move. Well, at least they were smart enough to start at our weakest point -- Georgia.

One can never underestimate the ignorance of the people on this planet. The internet was invented to prove this. Out of 1,000,000 people, three might know what the hell is going on and can spot the joke.

Personally, I think only one out of the 3 actually gets it and the other two agree with him to sound smart. And to illustrate stoopidity in the world I offer two items today. The first is found here -- Yahoo Answers, where Yahoo proves that Wikipedia is an anamoly -- Web sites that allow the masses to post and edit information only rarely provide intelligent and accurate information. Most of the people here are either too smart for their own good, or completely clueless.

Attack of the Russkies
My second illustration of the ignorance afflicting this planet -- My sister worked in the travel industry for years. Back when she was taking reservations for Gamma Airlines someone in her office got a call from a young serviceman who had just received his deployment orders. Being a good soldier, he called Gamma Airlines to book his reservation. Only problem was that he didn't know where he was going. He'd never heard of Maconga. No one in the reservation office had heard of it either. Folks were pulling atlases out and poring over World Encyclopedia maps. No one could figure out where Maconga was.

Could it be some small former soviet-bloc province? Maybe some tiny city in South Africa? Or perhaps a tiny island near Grenada?

Finally, a light bulb went off, and my sister asked the young man, "Could that possibly be Macon, GEORGIA, sir?"

It's great to see the military mind at work.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Inmates are in Control, Part B

Now let us return to that special place that resides between what is and what could be, in a dark corner of the improbably chaotic, surreal, and ridiculous. That little patch of insanity that I call Work Is Hell, otherwise known as my job.

Previously our hero was attempting the herculean effort of navigating the red tape and barriers thrown up by the dastardly staff of the infrastructure services group. Ginger Lynn* and her cronies were stonewalling our man in his attempt to order some mission critical (at least to him) equipment. As we join him he is on the brink of snapping.

The problem is this. These people are morons. Complete. Utter. Morons. And I can't go around them.

For example, the friend who writes hardware specs I mentioned in Part 1 of this little saga, is actually the hardware procurement manager for a major web-based service provider. I sent him pretty much the same information I sent my infrastructure team. He replied within 10 minutes with a basic server configuration specification. I'm still waiting on the infrastructure team more than a week later.

Even if I had the exact hardware requirements and great documentation, I would still have to deal with this. I'll write up the spec, and then these same people will again say, "You can't do that -- we have to have meetings and discuss the funding and the purpose and whether it fits our strategic goals (which we haven't looked at since they were written five years ago) and by the way, have you checked to see if you could do this in Excel?"

And that is not bullshit.

This should only take 10 f*king minutes. But instead it will take at least another week of my time. A week I don't have and will never get back.

After multiple secondhand conversations, between my engineer contact and Ginger Lynn* and Ron Jeremy*, the infrastructure team has this recommendation: if we want to integrate the help system content with the ERP, we will need, get this, three servers. One database server (for the content indexes), one web server (which has to be secured out the wazoo because it is "public" facing), and the App server (contains and pushes the content out).

On a side note, perhaps you can explain this to me -- since the Help system will only be available to the "outside world" through the exceedingly secure ERP, why does it need to be so heavily secured itself. I'm sure there are a lot of good reasons, but nothing explains why we need to secure a server that contains absolutely no sensitive data on it. Unless we're worried some hackers are going to steal Mighty Mouse's Social Security number, or get Bruce Wayne's employee ID, I don't think we have to worry about this stuff. Most companies don't even bother securing this type of data. Is anyone really going to be able to hack our system because they know how to use the ERP to assign Service Indicators? I don't think so.

And here's another logic-challenging conundrum. Apparently, since power is such an issue here, we need to host these three servers on three separate machines -- that's physical machines, not virtual machines. Huh? Apparently our power problems mean we aren't configured correctly to power Blade Servers, and I guess I'm crazy to think one can create virtual servers on anything other than a Blade, ergo, our power problems require us to use three servers instead of one. Does anyone else expect Alan Arkin to show up just about now?

Now, if we decide not to integrate the help (which makes complete fucking sense since we wouldn't want anyone to actually know how to use the new system), we will still need two hardware servers. And, unless we can somehow manage the help system development without any administrative rights, we will have to purchase and support these servers ourselves. At least that's what I understand from my conversations with my engineer contact. Of course it would be helpful if we could have a meeting about this, but since I don't know the answers to the question I want to discuss in the meeting, I can't call the meeting. Makes sense.

I think the infrastructure team is possessed by the spirit of Dilbert's pointy-haired-boss. Either that, or that other Dilbert character, Mordac, The Preventer of Information Services, or probably the guy with the spoon - Phil, the prince of insufficient light, the ruler of Heck, the punisher of minor sins, the dark angel of demos:

Yossarian: Let me see if I've got this straight: in order to be grounded, I've got to be crazy and I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded, that means I'm not crazy any more and I have to keep flying.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Inmates are in Control, Part Uno

Over the years I have worked at a variety of different places some small, some megalithic in size. In that time I have come to the not surprising conclusion that all companies are dysfunctional. And to paraphrase Oscar Wilde (?), all companies are dysfunctional in their own unique way.

This list includes a variety of issues and ills. One small startup company suffered from some major delusions of grandeur. An international conglomerate was more religion than multi-level marketing company.

Currently I work for a medium to gigantic (it depends on how you count) corporation. It suffers so many ills that it’s hard to know where to start. It’s equally hard to believe.

My latest trials and tribulations will have to serve for now.

Recently, I started (or tried to start) the process of ordering a web server and a database server. I’m pretty sure these can run on the same piece of equipment. The web server will host a help/training solution for our Enterprise resource planning (ERP) package. I don't expect a lot of heavy usage of this small help system, except at the beginning of the implementation.

The file server would house the shared content for developers to work with. The application is a process capture/playback tool that will (possibly) hook into the ERP. I know the fileserver piece will host a SQL database. But beyond that I’ve had difficulty discovering the actual hardware requirements. The associated installation documentation never deviates from the procedural style: Click this, Type that, wipe my butt. I think you know what I mean.

As I pursued this simple item, my encounters confirmed my worst suspicion: The people here have their heads so far up their asses they can watch their dentist at work.

All I want is a web-server/file server. I know nothing about writing hardware specs, but how hard can it be? A friend of mine does it for a living – and he used to be technical writer. Anyway -- Friday I met with an engineer who also knows nothing about writing any kind of hardware spec. He had talked to one of our managers in the infrastructure services area. He said we needed to talk to another manager (let’s call her Ginger Lynn) in his group who does database stuff. Of course, she was on vacation until today.

When Ginger Lynn got back she sent me a reply to my meeting request (which she tentatively accepted). It was classic SOP for this company:
Unless there is (sic) any database requirements for this software, my team would not be involved. You probably should ask Tera Patrick* (windows) and Ron Jeremy* (unix) to review the technical specifications. If there is (sic) staffing resources needed to implement and support this product, you would need to send the request to Rocco Siffredi* [ed. note: her director].
I replied with some more background – trying to explain this simple task. Her reply to that was also more red tape.
You will need to get the Windows and Unix teams included for these areas. I can only represent the database team. I think it would be best to put this request to Rocco Siffredi for his group involvement. What is the priority of this project? With other projects, security incident and the ERP go-live [ed. note: I did mention in my request that this was for the ERP implementation], resource availability for John’s team is limited. What funding is available for hardware/software for this project? Is this a product for which we are licensed [ed. note: WTF?]? What about using product X [ed. note: Again, WTF? Product X is a tool a different department purchased 2-3 years ago to track temporary employee’s hours for state reporting purposes. On an ironic side note – this has yet to be implemented, because they don't have a server!]
She goes on:
What do you plan on achieving in this meeting? I don’t have a space available that can hold more than three people. You can ask Bree Olson* if she knows of a room available or your admin. assistant.
If I weren't so angry, I'd cry. And trust me, this is very typical. In fact, the infrastructure group is so screwed up they seem to think every web application needs to reside on its own web server hardware. The other problem this request faces is something I've never heard affecting a company, especially one of this size -- most server requests are currently on indefinite hold because we don't have the power to support the servers we already have.

Then of course we have the other idiocies - Rocco Siffredi filled an entire room with server racks only to find out they are too small (or maybe too big) for our servers. Also, I'm pretty sure that the security incident referred to above was related to a DNS flaw -- the hacker was able to mimic a DNS and redirect traffic or something like that. This is just a hunch, but I think that flaw was publicly exposed and documented more than a week before the breach was discovered. The most annoying thing for me is, I don't think anyone will even be written up for this, never mind fired. Our CIO has really fostered a culture for accepting failure as standard practice.

I feel like a true idiot for working here.