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The ID10T Files
Computers are crap and people are stupid.
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19th-Apr-2016 06:22 pm - Civil War Living History in Carnegie
Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe presented a lecture on the Union Balloon Corps at the Captain Thomas Espy post 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Actually, it was aeronaut Kevin Knapp cosplaying Professor Lowe giving the presentation. I had seen online that he presented at various reenactments and actually pulled out hydrogen balloons for presentations so I was very pleased that he had come to my neck of the woods.

I have a copy of “Military Ballooning during the Early Civil War, Vol; 1” by F. Stansbury Haydon so most of Mr. Knapp's presentation was already familiar to me. Something I did learn came from his practical experience in ballooning. Originally, he would do his demonstrations using helium. But because the Republicans panicked over a $4 billion deficit in 1995, they decided to sell off the National Helium Reserve. Subsequently, the cost of helium climbed. Where it once took something on the order of $1,200 to fill one of his balloons with helium, it would now take $37,000. I had known the cost had risen but I hadn't had any information on the scope of the issue.

And so, Mr. Knapp switched over to hydrogen.

Something else I had not known. I had thought that human flight utilizing hydrogen had been prohibited by the FAA. That is apparently not the case, though Mr. Knapp says that he avoids saying the word “hydrogen” to avoid panicking the lawyers.

In speaking to him after the presentation, I informed him of things he had not known. He had not heard of Doctor Solomon Andrews and his unpowered dirigible. Nor had he heard of the Mystery Airships of 1896-97.

After that, we were shuttled over top Chartier's Cemetery for a tour of the GAR plot there. And while the information provided was interested, I couldn't help but notice the L-shaped piece of wire in the guide's hand.

A dowsing rod.

And, sure enough, at some point he started talking about dowsing, how it works and how useful it is in finding disturbed ground in a cemetery. He explained that the way the rod moves can show whether the body beneath is male, female or a child.

And the assembled were all in awe!

I was repulsed. You are in a cemetery, you shouldn't be surprised if you find disturbed ground. It's all disturbed ground. In fact, you can literally see that the ground is disturbed as the coffins decay and collapse and the ground above them sink. You just got finished telling us that's what happens, why do you discount the possibility that you looked at the ground, saw that the ground was disturbed, and then moved the wire to confirm that disturbance? Dowsing doesn't work. Professional archaeologists don't use it because it doesn't work (and they are the sort's of people who could benefit in exactly the same way you claim to). It's the idiometer effect. YOU are moving the wire, not some magical force. You said, when asked, that “you couldn't patent it.” Well why the fuck not? If it's true, you could patent it and make millions. In fact, James Randi has a million dollars in an account just waiting for you to collect. All you have to do is prove that it works.

On a previous visit to the Espy Post, I got to hear more woo in that psychic investigators had found all sort of power there. It was obviously haunted. I actual had a little bit of dread at returning to the library from the cemetery to hear more junk when I toured the post. My blood was up and I thought I might not be able to restrain my incredulity.

Thankfully, that didn't happen. I did, however, get a change to speak with someone knowledgeable about about the GAR and I was able to get some information on the GAR medal I typically wear in persona.

The hook on the back, embedded rather than cast, the pointy wings on the eagle, and the lack of a stamped campsite scene on the back identified it as a Type IV from before 1883. More importantly, the M as part of the serial number, combined with the other elements, set the date of manufacture in either 1881 or 1882, when the GAR was lead by George Sargent Merril.

There was a book sale in the library basement and I went down to have a look. I saw a book on ironclads on one table but I didn't buy it right then, wanting to look around and see if there one of the other tables had something I would have rather spent my money on. When I returned to that table I found that the table belonged to the divining rod guy who had given the cemetery tour. He noticed my GAR badge and started pontificating on it, providing me information that mirrored that given me by the guy upstairs. He then gloated that he knew more than some “experts.”

And there was the key. His disdain for professionals and other “experts” lead directly into reinforcing his dowsing confirmation bias. Magical thinking plus Dunning-Kruger equals woo.

And, honestly. Identification of GAR badges is really a simple matter of knowing the history of the design. What year what style badge was manufactured and who was in charge then. Anyone could do it with the proper document (in fact, I found just such a document online).

In persona, I typically carry a katana in a cavalry saber scabbard. Well, not the actual sword because the blade, though the proper shape, is too wide for the scabbard. I would like to fix that which would involve dismantling the scabbard, chiseling the inside wider, then putting it back together. It's that last step that I think will be the challenge because the leather covering the scabbard would need to be replaced. Currently it's sewn on somehow and I took the opportunity to speak with some of the reenactors there to get their advice on how that might be accomplished. No one there had gone so far as to have built a scabbard or knew how it would be done but the doctor had a suggestion that, for some reason, hadn't occurred to me.

Go to a cobbler.

I had someone who had resoled my boots, it would make sense to go back to him and ask how the scabbard might be accomplished. Maybe even commission him to do the work (if it's not too expensive).

As I think about it more, I am increasingly confident that I could do the work. It might not look perfect but, hey, this is steampunk. This is making and DIY. To Tandy Leather!

Maybe. There are a string of events coming up; 3 Rivers Comicon and Vandalia Con at the end of May, Sci-Fi Valley Con and Old Bedford Village in June, I would want to have the sword to carry at those events. So either I have to do this work in the next few weekends to have it done for those events or perhaps put it off until July.

13th-Apr-2016 08:59 pm - Symposium through the Looking Glass
This year's convention theme was Alice in Wonderland and while I made no effort to costume to that theme, many other did and walking in the door showed that quite positively. And standing in line at registration had several first time attendees put forth a marvelous effort. It was going to be a good, creative, con.

And registration? I stepped up and they handed me my badge. They knew me so I didn't have to say or do anything.

I had been looking for a specific hat for some time. Something like Lee Van Cleef wore in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” as well as most of his other western roles. I had previously purchased a slouch hat from Gentleman's Emporium for $79 and was very pleased with the quality. They didn't have the style I was looking for but I had expected that paying the same amount for another hat with merely a different style crown and brim would have similar quality. I was apparently mistaken. The first I had found online was from Hollywood Prop. The hat was round and, since no one's head is really round, it did not fit well. Additionally, the felt was thin and the hat felt like it was made out of cardboard. For $75 plus shipping it was junk and I sent it back.

I was referred to The Mask Lady. She had a few hats that weren't going to fit my large cranium unless they were stretched. I was not pleased with that option, especially since that slouch hat had fit just fine. She also pointed me towards a costume shop but when I balked at costume shop and theatrical rental quality, she took great offense. Look, I know what that quality is like, it's what I had sent back from the previous dealer, and I'm not willing to spend $100-plus for that when I know what I can get from Gentleman's Emporium for about the same price but better quality.

If only they had the right style.

I contacted Caliqo Hats and was asking about the weight of their felt. I was also looking at Indian Village Mall and Spaghetti Western Replicas but, as the Symposium approached, I put it off, giving the convention the chance to surprise me by maybe having what I was looking for in the dealer's room. Before the main dealers room opened, I visited a few of the dealers set up outside. At Thom Truelove's table, I found The Hat.

OK. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for. I was hoping for a broader brim, but at $50 it was better than the Hollywood Prop hat I had tried previously and it was right there in front of me to judge its quality and try it on. I was very, very pleased. With the long coat I purchased at Teslacon, it looks very “Tombstone.”

Once the dealer's room proper opened, I found a beautiful vest at Time Traveler Outfitters. It was a blue and green material that would go fantastically with my uranium glass ring oscillator tie pin but it also was woven in such a way that as it moved, the color changed from blue to red. Unfortunately not only was it sized too small for me but the proprietress checked and found that the material was no longer available so I could not even order one to be made in my size.

Over the three days of the con I had three presentations scheduled. My aether presentation was first and I realized that I needed to make it multimedia. Relying on my script and the whiteboard were insufficient in either helping manage my time or ensuring that I covered all the elements I wanted to cover.

In doing my Century of the Beard presentation, I recognized that I need to make better use of my presentation software. The open source LibreOffice Impress software has a great feature in which the projector will present a slide but the laptop screen will show the slide, the next slide, notes and elapsed time. Rather than working from a script if I work from notes on the screen I can present that information over the course of several slides, showing more pictures of men with beards while not skimping on the information provided and also not devolving into “her's another picture of a man with a beard.” More like a documentary.

My airships presentation is one of the more practiced in my repertoire. Even though I am thoroughly comfortable with the material, I think I could stand to streamline it a touch so as to allow some more time to cover more elements of airship design.

Aloysius had a con critique panel on Sunday, actually before my airships panel. The most important thing to come out of that, aside from next year's Symposium returning to Blue Ash, was some online comments about the presentations becoming stale. The same group of people presenting the same assortment of presentations.

OK. I hear you. I've been wanting to do new programming but life has conspired to hinder my progress. I will redouble my efforts to create new presentations.

I would like to do the History and Technology of Submarines. Just as airships went from paper hot air balloons to fully realized passenger ships and war machines over the course of the 19th Century (plus a few decades), so to do the submersable go from a hand-cranked barrel to the nearly perfected U-Boat in the same amount of time. Throw in Nemo's Nautilus and that will be a pretty good presentation, I should think.

I have also been thinking about a presentation tentatively called How Guns Work. And, again, the 19th Century saw firearms technology go from muzzleloading flintlocks to modern automatic weapons. The challenge I see in that presentation is that I would want props. I have some actual firearms but, of course, they could not be brought to a convention. I would have to substitute replicas, which becomes expensive. Instead, I'll just have to rely on slides and videos and add props as I slowly make the investment. So, this presentation would not only be a primer for writers, gamers and makers on the basics of how guns work but a chance to show some of the stranger weapons of the time. That's what steampunks want.

A presentation on Victorian scams, shams, hoaxes and pseusoscience has been simmering in the back of my mind for some years now and I should knuckle down and make it happen. Crystal skulls. The Cottingley Faeries. Spirit Photography. Homeopathy. Séances. The Flat Earth. The Great Moon Hoax. The Cardiff Giant. All hoaxes debunked in their day, and yet still around.

With the Symposium moving further north next year, this may have been my last opportunity to get to Jungle Jim's and buy a shopping cart full of craft root beer. I've filled a “wine rack” at home. Perhaps I should have a tasting party.
30th-Mar-2016 04:37 pm - My Performance Managed
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My first annual Performance Management teleconference was to have been with my Manager's Manager. That didn't work out apparently and my meeting was with my Manager instead. Before that, I was to review the actual performance document which had been produced back in January. Most of the fields were blank with no commentary from management. A few had minimal “meets expectations” notes. Only one field had anything of substance:

“Geis is a new addition to the team this year. Geis has demonstrated sound and proficient technical abilities. He has completed all tasks given him in a timely manner. I would suggest that Geis continue to learn the customer in his local area in order to device a way to better support the customer in the most efficient manner. Geis has met all goals for this year and as he learns his environment as well as the customer. With continued mentorship he will become a great asset to the team as well as The Corporation.”

Several things struck me. The first and most glaring was that horribly structured sentence in the middle (that I highlighted). The sentence after that one also appears to be missing an entire clause. “As he learns.” Comma. There's supposed to be more to that but it just hangs.

Oh, and there is also the double spacing after each sentence.

Neartly a year ago, I was asked to come up with objectives beyond “do my job” and “learn more stuff.” I came up with the idea of producing a training document. When I was visited on site by my Manager and my Manager's Manager (there were in town for all of ten minutes), neither of them seemed enthusiastic. My manager even specifically dismissed the idea of sharing the documentation she had because she felt new employees would “try to skip ahead.” And with that, I didn't pursue the matter.

In my Performance Management documents, there was no mention of my failure to meet this objective.

So, when I got on the phone with my Manager, she confirmed the generally positive assessment of the document with one caveat; our conflict of personalities. I know that she dislikes explanations but I could not let this go.

I started out by explaining that “I have history.” I'm not a young man anymore and I would guess that I have been doing this stuff for at least a decade longer than either of my managers. I have seen things. And my most recent experience had been with the loss of a contract, assurances that we were all going to keep our jobs, and subsequent loss of employment when those assurances turned out to be false. So, when I hear the same rhetoric coming from current managers about how, even though they lost the contract, we are needed and our continued employment is assured, I am understandably skeptical.

And I'm too old and too experienced to just keep my mouth shut and tow the company line.

Therein is our personality conflict.

Nevertheless, she accepted this explanation. The made additional assurances to which I responded with a shrug. “Ask me again after the contract is actually signed and we know what is going on. Before that, decisions cannot be made with zero evidence.”

I was also informed that I got a raise. Four percent. Those additional funds will be very useful. That is, if the job actually continues as promised beyond the contract expiration at the end of the month.
23rd-Mar-2016 01:44 pm - Silent Song
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At the beginning of February, we got word that we had lost the contract. Here it is a month and a half later and a month and a half from the formal end of the contract and we still have no word on what is happening. The manager offers up two possibilities: that we will become employees of the new company or we will remain employees of the current company and therein become subcontractors.

There is, of course, an unconsidered third possibility.

At a conference call meeting the other day, my manager used the phrase "we are a go" and the tried-and-true "moving forward." We are not a go for anything. We are not moving forward. We are in a holding pattern waiting for the axe to fall.

When she said that, I could no longer contain myself and said that I expected word to come with "two weeks notice" and the closer we got to that deadline the more likely that the answer we finally received would be bad.

She did not take that well and doubled down on her corp-speak.

I'm not sure whether she is as ignorant of the decision as we are or if she is playing manager and keeping us in the dark until the last minute. Her naivete suggests the former but I have my doubts that the decision hasn't been made yet. Surely the contract the company signed with the contract has provisions for what will happen with current employees. Will they be hired? Will they be fired? Will they have to interview for the jobs they already have. I find it hard to believe that no one knows the answer to that question. At best, my employers are still negotiating, trying to convince the new corporate overlords to keep us on as sub-contractors so they can keep a piece of that pie.

I just hope I get some pie as well.
17th-Mar-2016 10:45 pm - Curiouser and Curiouser
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I received a text message from my manager asking who things were going. I responded that things were well enough. That, even though things had been extremely slow, I had received a few calls from clients directly asking for assistance. She agreed that it was slow.

And that was it. End of conversation.

It had the characteristic of being the small-talk introduction to another issue that never happened. Did she forget what she was going to talk to me about? Was she just checking up on me in some way? Bored or lonely? What the hell?
1st-Mar-2016 07:06 pm - Back to "work"
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I started my current job exactly one year ago. That was six months after I received the offer letter and there was another six months after that waiting on security clearances, certifications and other administrative delays. Then, there was three months of what was generously described as a training period where I was essentially thrown to the wolves and expected to figure things out for myself. Just as I was getting my legs under me, a bad update wrecked the drive encryption software system wide and I was taken off of my tier 2 job to help those calls. Three months of that, and with a fix now in place, I am now doing the job I was actually hired to do.

Sort of.

It seems that the seasonal drop off in call volume has begin and I received only two new issues in my ticket bin. One was a printer driver issue that I was able to address quickly. The second had two incorrect phone numbers and my attempt to contact the user via email bounced.

The rest was mind-numbing boredom and composition of blog posts.
18th-Feb-2016 10:30 pm - Office Warming
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My office has been cold. I have been wearing a hat and scarf. Recently, I've taken to wearing my coat all day while sitting at my desk. Yesterday, I went into someone else's office and it was toasty warm because he had brought in a space heater.

Now why didn't I think of that?

Probably because in my previous job space heaters had been banned because the energy they pull can damage electronic equipment when they share a power strip not designed for that much wattage. That, and climate control buildings.

So, today when I came in to work I brought my own space heater. And it was unnecessary because the temperature was at something approaching normal. In fact, it seemed actually warm. Later in the morning, a tech came around checking the temperate because he had finally solved the underlying issue of the computer thinking the space was warmer than it actually was and shutting off the heat. He indicated that my office was overly warm (78 degrees) because the thermostat was located in a neighboring empty office and, with no one there, it was working harder to keep that space at the proper temperature but heating my office first and thus over doing it.

And it's supposed to be in the 50s as the weekend approaches.

I think I'll leave the space heater in the office for a while just in case.

2nd-Feb-2016 08:14 pm - Same old song
Today we received word that we lost the government contract. I have been employed here for eleven months and, in short order, I may be working for another company.

Or not.

There were, of course, plenty of assurances that my job is not actually at risk. “They need us.” “We will be rolled over to the new company.” There is even some past precedent that some long term employees at the help desk have been swapped into other companies multiple times over their careers but, honestly, I've heard this song before and it didn't turn out as promised.

The Corporation is apparently negotiating with the Winning Corporation as to how that will all be managed. The Corporation is still hoping that they will be able to keep some sort of hand in it by being a sub-contractor to the primary contractor, but we don't know.

Guess I should be dusting off my resume.

21st-Jan-2016 08:12 pm - Job Modernization Explained
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It turns out that “Job Modernization” means almost nothing. The Corporation is changing its org chart in such a way as to make the corporate ladder a bit more clear and the path to management better defined. All it means to me is that my job title will change from Help Desk Support Specialist 3 to Technical Support Specialist 3.

20th-Jan-2016 08:10 pm - Job Modernization
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My Manager's Manager sent me an email wanting to set up a conference call with me tomorrow to discuss “Job Modernization.”

I have no idea what that means.

I searched on the Internet as well and it had no idea what that meant either. Apparently is some corporate euphemism for something that managers think is completely obvious but the rest of us have no clue about. I do suspect that it is not a bad thing. For one, if it was something bad, I would think the manager would be more likely to say vaguely “I have to talk to you” and not say that he was going to fire of censure you.

Bad news is much more likely to be obfuscated.
10th-Jan-2016 09:26 pm - Return to "real" work
I have been two months now working the Tier 1 queue to cover issues with the failed encryption software update. In that time, my call volume has gone through the ceiling. No surprise, of course, since working the front lines simply has a higher volume than Tier 2. But what I don't understand is how I can take 50% more calls than the one other Northeast region Tier 2 analyst put on the encryption queue with me.

I could see if we were taking a variety of calls. There, my Tier 1 experience could give me an advantage. But working this line, every call is essentially exactly the same with the same troubleshooting steps and the same solution. Four to six minutes each and the only thing that will make it take longer is if the caller has multiple machines to address. Even then, that should lead to the same number of "calls."

But, no. I'm clearing many more calls. And perhaps that is the reason why I'm not done with this yet. On Friday, the manager sent out an email saying that our support of Tier 1 was being rolled back. I will be returning to my Monday through Friday schedule instead of working Sundays through Thursdays. But I will still be working the encryption calls in the morning.

My coworker? He's done. Back to his original schedule and dedicated to his Tier 2 calls.

Or maybe it's because I am the lowest man on the totem pole.

I honestly don't think they are quite ready to do this roll back, though. Upper level support hasn't resolved the underlying problem and today I took wall to wall calls because I think I was literally the only person working. When I started at 7 am, I was getting one call after another ind it looked like the first callers had already been waiting on queue for nearly an hour. By later in the morning the wait time had dropped to about 15 minutes but then I went to lunch.

Coming back after an hour, I found that the calls I was taking were for people who had been waiting for 50 minutes. Unless everyone else working Sunday came in at the same time I sis and took their lunches at the same time as well, the best correlation was that there was just me.

So, with a weekend like this, what will it be like the rest of the week when there are more people on site attempting to work?
28th-Nov-2015 07:22 pm - TeslaCon 6
I know that I have been doing this trip for six years now but I have finally boiled down the way to sanely traverse Chicago. First, leave early so as to avoid rush hour(s). Leaving Pittsburgh at 7am will get you through Chicago before the evening rush. Sort of. The traffic is building by that time but it's not too bad. Second, once you cross the skyway, keep left. Just stay to the left and you will get through without having to panic about watching signs and highway numbers.

Immediately after checking and while waiting for a luggage cart, I ran into Jim Trent. He is the designer/publisher of the steampunk card game “Twisted Skies” which includes a card of me. (Which is awesome.) He told me that the year's of waiting for something to be done with the steampunk Civil War history I had written for Lord Bobbins was coming to an end. He had gotten permission to publish mine and other stories in the TeslaCon universe. (Which is awesome.) And he also told me he is working on a steampunk convention that would take place aboard the dreadnought USS Texas near Houston. (Which is awesome.)

My first thought is about the cost of traveling to Texas. But when I compare the cost traveling to TeslaCon (over $100 in gas plus over $50 in highway tolls) to the cost of flying to Houston and back (estimated around $275), it's not undoable. Well, there's another $140 renting a car to get me from the airport to the hotel and then the con, still not exorbitant when added to the $400 I'd already be paying for four hotel nights, plus food, swag and con membership.

Man, when you spell it all out, convention going is expensive. Probably why I only traveled to three cons last year when several years back I peaked at going to eight cons in a year.

Jim was also somewhat freaked out in that I wasn't wearing my goggles yet. I pretty much wear them all weekend at any con so it is a part of my persona. Seeing my eyes is a rarity. As soon as I got upstairs into my room I put my goggles on and felt more myself.

There was a pool party Thursday night. I'm not much of a swimmer but I got the chance to break out my Union-style bathing suit. (“Johnny Reb don't surf.”) The hotel has a salt water pool, rather than using chlorine. I probably should have stayed longer as all the poolside photography happened after I had returned to my room. Pictures or it didn't happen.

First thing Friday morning was the dealer's room. Last year, RavenWorks had a rifleman's coat that I really liked but instead of getting it then I put it off to think about whether I really wanted it that much and by the time I had decided, yes, I did want it, someone else had claimed it. I wasn't going to make the same mistake this year. I could have purchased it online in the meantime and saved a little bit of money but I wanted to put the coat on and make sure it fit.

It did and I dropped the $200 for it right there. Very “Tombstone.” The next thing I want to get is the right hat. Specifically, the kind of hat worn by Lee Van Cleef in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and just about any other spaghetti western he was in. I had ordered such a hat from Hollywood Prop but was terribly disappointed in the quality. It seemed like cardboard covered in felt, unlike the slouch hat I had gotten from Gentleman's Emporium for about the same price.

I have been looking into custom hat makers, surprised that the style is not more common amongst the mid-tier dealers (such as I consider Gentleman's Emporium) and also deterred by the cost, double and more than what I paid for my slouch hat.

I went to opening ceremonies but paid absolutely no attention to the goings on. I was in the back talking with someone which, in honesty, is the bulk of the reason I go to conventions; to meet with people I done get to talk to except through something like Facebook. And I've been going to these things for six years now, opening ceremonies, even with the immersion script, have settled into a predictable pattern.

As the opening ceremony was rolling around, it was beginning to snow. The first weather warnings were for a lot of snow; 9-14 inches. The snow that I saw on Friday evening didn't seem to be coming down at such a rate, which was borne out the next morning when there was only about 4 inches on the ground. Other places got more and it was noted that the weather or the threat of weather had deterred some people from attending the con. I've driven in some really awful weather for less incentive so I wasn't myself concerned.

On Saturday I attended a presentation by the proprietor of Bare Knuckle Barbery wherein he presented a tutorial on wet shaving. I had been to other presentations on shaving and had learned quite a bit, improving my own shave. This was expanded on.

For example, I recognize that when I go to conventions, razor burn increases. I always attributed this to the fact that I was trying for a clean shave 3 or 4 days in a row whereas, under normal circumstances, I perform a “get the itchy beard off my face” kind of shave every 3 or 4 days. What I learned was that the lousy shave at cons was more likely attributable to hard water. I had noticed when showering, the shampoo wouldn't lather well, which I had attributed to cheap hotel shampoo, but never connected this to my problems shaving as well.

The offered solution was a pinch of salt in the shaving cup water.

And that was the second thing. I typically use a shaving foam in a can. “Goo in a can” as the proprietor called it. I had always assumed that it was pretty much soap and moisturizers in a pressurized can, not realizing all the chemistry that was going on. You see, canned shaving foams use isobutane to get your beard hairs to stand up, and this is accomplished by irritating the skin, causing it to swell and essentially squeeze the hair follicles into standing at attention. You then need the multiple blades, one to lift the hair and additional blades to cut them off because, otherwise, when the swelling subsides, the stubble appears instantly. Moisturizers are added to try to mitigate the damage produced by the chemicals and awful shave.

In wet shaving (with a cup and a brush) the soap changes the surface tension of water, allowing the hair to stand naturally. The hot water, soap and action of the brush clean away the crud that collects at the base of the hair. The skin is relaxed so, when the blade cuts, it does so closer to the root of the hair. In all, these allow for a cleaner, smoother, and less painful shave.

I had been wanting to try out a more traditional shave but the presentation pushed me over the edge of my procrastination. From him I purchased a badger hair brush with a hand-turned wood handle, a cup, shaving cream and a safety razor. I didn't use those new things while at the con but have in the meantime and, yes, it's a much better shave.

It trying it in upstairs and downstairs bathrooms, though, I think I need something of a third option. Shaving is best done after the shower when the warmth has softened the beard hair (and the brush has soaked in very hot water during that time) which means the upstairs bathroom. But with the sink where it is and my being near sighted, this sort of shaving places me either too far away from the mirror or uncomfortably leaning toward it over the sink. I may need to get one of those mirrors on an expandable arm to get it where it closer to where I can see my face better.

Throughout the weekend I kept running into people asking if I was doing any presentations this year. I explained that life issues had prevented me from making any commitments. All were disappointed and complimentary of my past presentations. I spoke with Aloysius Fox, director of the Steampunk Symposium and he asked if I had made any submissions to present at his con. I explained that life issues had prevented me from making any commitments. He asked again, more slowly this time, if I had made any submissions to present at his con.

I got the hint.

I have submitted to present at the Symposium and, over TeslaCon weekend, spent a lot of time thinking about what new presentations I should develop. “Victorian hoaxes, frauds, and pseudoscience” is one that I have been considering for quite some time but what I think I will devote my immediate time to is “Victorian Submarines.”

Apparently, local artist Jacob Wilson (and I guess that was his dad) saw me as I was stepping out for dinner. On my return they ambushed me with an offer of art. Jacob had previously done an action portrait of Captain LaGrange and, impressed by my own persona, wanted to do my portrait. As this was going to be commissioned art, I asked the obvious question of how much such a thing would cost me.

Now, I had commissioned some art in the past (and continue to do so). One, it supports artists. Two, it strokes my ego a little to see myself done up as if I were a celebrity super hero. Third, it humbles me to see others interpretation of my character.

Jacob's answer to the cost was “free.” They were going to just go ahead and do the artwork without my input and just gift it to me next year but having seen me at an opportune moment, they had a chance to talk to me first. I was flattered.

By chance, I turned my head and saw that someone had dropped a $20 bill in the hotel hallway. I gave it to Jacob in payment for art he hadn't even started yet and was going to just give away. Still free for me, though.

In the dealer hallway I commissioned a portrait from another artist named Terry Pavlet.

One of the weekend presentations was on the US Camel Corps. Fascinating stuff. I recall seeing “The Last Camel Charge” in the Carnegie Library but neglected to pick it up to read. I will have to correct that failing.

Saturday night's entertainment was a circus. Literally. Acrobats. Magicians. Jugglers. I particularly liked the Mongol juggling bowling balls and performing other feats of strength. After that, I swung by the dance but a lot of the people I was used to seeing and talking to weren't around. I went back upstairs and there was a party just down the hall from my room. I hung out there for a little bit but abandoned that because, well, typical party. I left my room door open so that people on their way to or from the party might stop in to talk to me. That met with some marginal success.

The closing ceremony on Sunday afternoon was, again, much as I had come to expect. There was the typical drama of Dr. Proctocus showing up to spoil things. The video presentation. Proctocus getting brought down. Et cetera. At the very end, Lord Bobbins had a chair brought out for him to sit and give his closing monologue. As he spoke, the music in the background began to swell and, yes, he went there. “When you wish upon a star.”

As that happened, a person sitting behind me snored loudly.

I fear it has really gotten that predictable.

At the Dead Dog Dinner, I got the chance to hear Thomas Willeford talk about his experience judging the “Steampunk'd” reality television show. I wandered a few tables and Jim Trent embarrassed me by introducing me to the assembled as one of the best writers he knows. Hopefully, his anthology project will get me published so that people can decide whether that praise is justified.

After that, I was loading the car so that we could just leave in the morning and I slipped on the ice, jamming the P-38 can opener I always carry on my key chain into my hand. Balling my fist I, at least, didn't drip blood all over the hotel lobby before I got back to the room to bandage it up.

I've been sort of off my game for some time (as evidenced by the late posting and subsequent backdating of this blog posting). Hopefully this next year will mark an improvement in the situation when TeslaCon travels (virtually) to Paris.
17th-Nov-2015 07:17 pm - Just when I thought I was out
Three weeks ago, techs pushed an update to the disk encryption software and broke it. User are now calling in at an increased rate to get the recovery key so that they can get on to their machines. They are calling at such an increased rate that the Tier 1 Help Desk call queue can't hand it all and callers are being told to call back later and are then disconnected. Those that do access the queue have hold times of over an hour.

And so, I have volunteered to do what I had done in my previous job for 15 years. . . Tier 1 Help Desk.

Well, not quite. I didn't use the word volunteer. I was not given the opportunity to choose. Instead, my manager chose me and another to do this task, probably based not on my years of experience but on our having the lowest seniority. Newbies get to shovel.

I can't say that I'm particularly bothered by having to do this. I understand the choices that are made when you are a contractor renegotiating a contract. You give things away. No, what bothers me is that I was given away and was told I volunteered. In the conference call my manager unironiocally used the term “volunteer” twice.

Do not speak for me. Do not lie about the choice I did not make and then thank me for it. It's unprofessional and disrespectful.

15th-Nov-2015 03:17 pm - Honda Disservice
After having Shadyside Honda declare that my Accord was not showing any sign of oil loss after 1,000 miles, I drove it for an additional 1,000 miles. I then checked it myself after letting it sit the proscribed 10 minutes.

Down a quart.

I checked multiple times and each time it came up the same. Down where it had been every time I took it in after 1,000 miles for the past several years. I took it to Valvoline and asked them to just check the level and they confirmed that it was down a quart and even gave me a receipt to show that they checked at at such-and-such a mileage and found it to be down a quart.

Honda Service disagrees.

I went to Shadyside Honda and asked to speak with the Service Manager. Barry was dismissive from the very outset. When we entered his office and I began my story, he didn't sit down. He didn't look at me. He was moving about apparently intent on some other thing and he interrupted me as if he already knew what was going on and wasn't interested in hearing the rest of my story.

I had not called ahead to let them know I was coming.

I told him that I did not want Eric near my car and he got Bob. Bob opened the hood while I watched, checked the oil. Checked it again. And then walked away without sharing what he found with me. Unable to find Service Manager Barry, he went and talked to Eric. Again, it seemed somewhat conspiratorial, like they knew I was coming.

When Service Manager Barry finally came back and Bob showed him the dip stick, he announced that it was at half a quart for 2,000 miles and that they were going to do nothing. I indicated that it was after 1,000 miles because it had been apparently full when I was in the last time. Barry dismissed that observation. He then indicated that it would need to be 1 quart of loss in 1,400 miles.

This conflicted with what I had been told previously that the Dealerships are unaware of the actual trigger numbers and need to go to Corporate for authorization of whatever level. I said that I had been told something different each time I talked to someone.

At this point, Service Manager Barry was becoming more insistent that what I thought, what I had observed, and what information I had gotten from other sources was irrelevant and they were not going to do anything more with my vehicle. If I didn't like it, I was welcome to take my “business” elsewhere.

And while he spoke, he stepped forward to well withing arms length, actually trying to physically intimidate me. I thought carefully and noted that, yes, he had started the conversation much further away and was threateningly advancing on me to get literally in my face.

“Sir. You need to step back from me.”

At this point he threw his hands up in the air, stepped back and told an employee to open the garage doors. I was summarily dismissed.

Even if their measurements were correct and my car did not qualify for service, every interaction with Honda in this process, from the misleading initial letter from Corporate to the ghost of Soichiro Honda, seems to have taken extra effort to make this experience as unpleasant as possible. Congratulations, Honda Motor Company. You and your employees have pretty much guaranteed that I will not be buying another Honda.

"The third, the joy of the person who buys the product, is the fairest determiner of the products value. It is neither the manufacturer nor the dealer that best knows the value of the product and passes final judgment on it. Rather, it is none other than the purchaser who uses the product in his daily life. There is happiness in thinking, "Oh, Im so glad I bought this." This joy is the garland that is placed upon the products value. I am quietly confident that the value of our companys products is well advertised by those products themselves. This is because I believe that they give joy to the people who buy them."

---- Soichiro Honda, The Three Joys (1951)


31st-Oct-2015 03:58 pm - Desked
round glasses
When I started with the Service Desk in March, I was put in a temporary office. That's wasn't an inconvenience in that all that time the owner of the office only showed up once. But it was someone else's office and it was planned to put me into my own space.

Half a year into working here, my cubicle arrived and was set up. It was twice the size of any of my previous cubicles. However, the cube had no power and no network connection.

Finally, nearly eight months into the project, they have found an extension cord, a power strip and a long cat-5 cable to actually get me up and running at my desk. Not the desk I wanted because the extension cord and network cable aren't THAT long but I now have my own, dedicated space.

Theoretically, I am supposed to share the room with two other contractors but they are seldom on site so I will effectively have the space to myself. That means I can keep the lights off, using only a desk lamp like my other IT morlock brethren.

It's further away from the other offices so it's quieter. Also, my resonant baritone voice won't disturb my neighbors as it had in other work environments.

All the chairs are broken in one way or another so I have chosen the least broken of the assortment.

It's on the second floor making it further away from the kitchen. On the other hand, it is right across the hall from a water fountain and rest room. It's also not as cold, though on the second day after moving they turned on the building heat and the room was filled with a significant burning electrical smell.

All in all, though, a step up.

28th-Oct-2015 06:13 pm - Automotive Miracle
After driving my Accord for the proscribed 1,000 miles, I contacted Shadyside Honda for them to check the oil levels. The person I talked to was concerned with how long it might take for me to actually be able to bring the car in after passing the 1,000 miles because if I went more than 100 miles over that they would need to start over again.

Really? Are that really that stupid as to be unable to calculate a proportion? Are are they really that dickish in their attempts to deter me from actually getting my car repaired?

In either case, I took the car in with the odometer saying I had driven 1,114 miles but they didn't make a stink. Why? Because the oil level was perfect.

So, let me get this straight. . . I have been having issues with burning oil for years now. One quart for every 1,000 miles. My mechanic said 2008 engines do that. The quick lube guys said 2008 engines do that. The letter I got from Honda admitted they do that. But when I take it in for service at an authorized Honda dealership the oil level checks out as absolutely perfect.

Either I was visited by the oil faeries overnight or fraud.

The guy at Shadyside Honda Service had told me when they changed the oil not to add oil and not to even check the level. I foolishly followed his directive and did not check the level before taking it back to him. A mistake I will not repeat. After another 1,000 miles I will check the oil level. If it is normal then I will probably have no choice but to thank the automotive deities for performing a miracle healing on my vehicle.

If it is not. . . if it is a quart low as it has been for each thousand miles I have driven over the past few years. . . well, then. That will be a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

7th-Oct-2015 07:19 pm - Thank you from Shadyside Honda
The letter I received from Shadyside Honda

I see that you were recently in Shadyside Honda for service on your vehicle.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for choosing Shadyside Honda and putting your trust in our dealership to properly care for your vehicle. ABSOLUTE CUSTOMER SATISFACTION is paramount for all of us here at Shadyside Honda and I want to ensure that each and every customer was taken care of by our Service Team. I would be grateful if you would take a few moments to respond to these 5 simple questions in regard to your recent visit. Please also use this opportunity to add any comments you would like to share with me.

1) Did your Service Advisor listen to and understand your needs?
2) Was your vehicle serviced/repaired satisfactorily?
3) Was your final cost in line with what you expected?
4) Was your vehicle ready when promised?
5) Did your service writer review your Honda Multi Point Inspection?

Again, I thank you for your time to share your thoughts with me. You may also receive an email survey from American Honda Motor, Co. I encourage you to take the additional time to complete this survey and let American Honda know how the Shadyside Honda Service Team performed for you. If for any reason you cannot grade us "EXCELLENT" in anyway, please contact me personally at 412-683-3800 or by email at BBelback@ShadysideHonda.com.

Have a great day and happy motoring!

My response . . . .

"1) Did your Service Advisor listen to and understand your needs?"

I'm going to dispense with the five simple questions and tell you the whole story. You'll get the answers to the questions in context:

The background first. I purchased a 2008 Accord four years ago and have had an increasing issue with it burning oil. I'm up to 1 quart of oil for every thousand miles. The guys who change my oil told me that 2008 was a bad engine year. My mechanic told me 2008 was a bad engine year. After all that time, I finally received a letter from Honda admitting that 2008 was a bad engine year and that they were extending the warranty and replacing the defective piston rings.

Except, that the actual replacing of those rings have been resisted every step of the way.

I called Shadyside Honda because it was the dealer that was best situated so that when they had my car I could still get from the shop to home and to work on my bicycle. 7 to 10 miles for each trip.

The service person I talked to on the phone indicated that they wouldn't repair the car until they had determined if, in fact, it was burning oil (even though the letter was an admission of a defective product). I explained the 1 quart per thousand mile rate and reiterated that the letter said it would be fixed. He said "OK" and passed me on to the Appointments department where I assumed that I would get an appointment to have the car repaired.

But, no. The person making the appointment also went through the "we don't believe you" story requiring an oil change and more time and I again explained the 1 quart per thousand mile rate. She said "OK" and made me an appointment and I again assumed that my explanation had been sufficient and that I was going to get my car repaired.

So, with my bicycle on the rack so I could get home, I went to the appointment to drop my car off and the Service Tech said that they were going to change the oil and that I would need to prove that it was burning oil before they would make repairs. Having been misled by the previous two people I had spoken to made no difference. If I wanted anything done, I was going to have to get the oil change (and pay for it) and then come back again to see if, in fact, it is burning oil and then bring it back again to, finally, hopefully, get the thing fixed that the letter said they were going to fix. The Service Tech refused to make eye contact, attempted to dodge responsibility by saying he didn't actually work for Honda, he didn't make the rules, I could go somewhere else if I wanted, and was generally dismissive.

My call to Corporate didn't go much better. I was explaining this to the person there and she interrupted me to say that, yes, the technician was right and I would need to prove that it was burning oil. When I attempted to continue my explanation, she interrupted me again. I had to tell her not to interrupt me when I was talking. Then, while I was still in my explanation she interrupted me again, asking if she could interject. And she continued to ask if she could interject until I stopped out of disgust so that she could tell me what was essentially "too bad, that's the way it is" one more time.

The next day, I rode my bike to work and then to the shop to get my car where I learned that, no, I didn't have a oil leak and that I would need to drive it for 1000 miles and come back. When I did that, hypothetically speaking, if I was loosing oil, the Tech would then call Honda to see if I had lost a sufficient amount of oil to qualify for the replacement of the piston rings that Honda had already admitted were defective when the car was manufactured. And at no time previous to that had anyone told me that process of authorization and the final replacement of the piston rings would take a full week whereas the letter had specifically said to "allow two days."

The grand irony of all this is that in 1937 when Soichiro Honda started his first company, it was manufacturing piston rings for Toyota. A contract he quickly lost because of poor quality.

Front to back, this has been one of the worst customer service experience I have ever had. And what makes it worse is that it's not over. In 1000 miles I have to go back. And then wait to see if burning a quart of oil every 1000 miles is enough for Honda to finally fix the problem they admitted they had in the letter they sent me.

I have only ever owned Hondas and have been generally pleased with the product but I guarantee you, when I next purchase a car, that history will be set aside and customer service will have much greater weight than previously. You have successfully destroyed any brand loyalty I had.

So, does that answer your "5 simple questions in regard to my recent visit?"
25th-Aug-2015 07:19 pm - Two weeks in
round glasses
Although I have been employed for six months, I have only been functionally working for two weeks. In that, I already have clients asking me if they can call me directly for assistance or even pass my number on to coworkers.

Wake up, people. I honestly don't know shit about what I'm doing!

OK, that's not entirely true. I understand help desk. I understand troubleshooting. I understand customer service. I don't know the details of how the systems here work or the policies and procedures that things operate under but, based on some of my interactions with my coworkers, specifically the person tasked with "training" me, I am not far behind the game on that front.

On several occasions, I worked an issue as far as I could go before calling out to my mentor. In most of those, her response has been "reinstall," the final resort when Tier 2 can't figure out what's wrong.

So, really? Am I already pretty much up to speed in terms of what I can and cannot accomplish in my position? If not, I'm pretty sure I will be in relatively short order.

I am going to own this place.
10th-Aug-2015 07:31 pm - List Removement
round glasses
The issue began with an email titled “Question's.” Not the plural “questions” as it should have been grammatically, as the sender had multiple questions, but the possessive “question's”, as if the email belonged to the question, or perhaps the DC character “The Question.” In any case, that was merely the beginning of the fail because the email itself seem to be sent to the wrong distribution list.

This was at 2am this morning.

The Question who had erroneously sent the email tried to recall it but that pretty much never works.

Within half an hour people receiving this email replied saying “Take me off this distribution list” or, even worse, used Reply to All to make their request to be removed from the list. That meant that everyone who received the email erroneously also received multiple erroneous requests to be removed from this list. This lead to them using Reply to All requesting that these other people not use Reply to All.

There was the one email from someone who was attempting to explain by using Reply to All that their requests to be removed from the distribution list were not going to work because the distribution list was an automated system warning people that they were over their email allocation except that he never read the actual first email that had nothing to do with email allocations from The Question that had gone to the wrong distribution list.

There were also the messages from a few people who, also not having read the original message, asserted that this was a breech of security. They used Reply to All to do this.

And this went on for the next six hours involving hundreds of erroneous requests and replies. It was not as bad as it could have been for whatever reason. Some years ago when I worked for The Bank, a similar Reply to All conflagration was so severe that they had to shut down mail altogether to break the cycle. I wonder if some action was taken to keep this from escalating, whether it was limited in scope because of the relatively small size of the distribution list or if people wised up.

I am most certainly not over my email allocation so I should not have been on that distribution list. Maybe I should Replay to All to get myself removed from the list.

5th-Aug-2015 08:10 pm - Travelling
round glasses
It took a week to get my admin rights. Then, I needed to get the card that I would use to actually employ those rights. An added level of security. My manager provided me a huge list of people within the system that could get me the card so I started looking for people nearby. I had bounced emails. Some without any responses. The one I did get a response from said he was no longer in Pittsburgh.

My manager insisted that the list was accurate and up to date.

I was finally able to find someone half way across the state. Since I was being pressured to take care of this quickly, I made arrangements for him to get the card. After that, someone from here in Pittsburgh finally returned my email and said he could do it. However, since the guy three hours away had already started things, the local guy couldn't proceed. I held out on the possibility that once the guy got the card he could forward it closer and save me day of driving.

No such luck. At least I will get reimbursed.

So, with card in hand my manager said essentially "get to work" and assigned me tickets to address. Aside from having had zero training on how to actually proceed with addressing any issues, let alone these particular ones, my admin card wasn't actually working. A software installation that I had been told to request three weeks ago wasn't done because I didn't have the admin rights provisioned. Something that couldn't happen without me having the physical card, which hadn't happened until yesterday.

Really, hasn't she done this before to know the order of things?
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