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The ID10T Files
Computers are crap and people are stupid.
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5th-Feb-2017 07:06 pm - Death of the death of the long form
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If you are one of the three or four people who read my blog, you might remember my posting from back in August. If you are new here, you can probably scroll down and read it because, in spite of my claim that the time that I was going to endeavor to blog more, I failed.

It would be easy to blame Facebook. Easy to blame Kerbal Space Program. Easy to blame the election cycle. Easy to blame them all and, in fact, it would all be true. However, the underlying cause of that failing is myself.

That's how depression works.

I haven't blogged about it, and will continue to not blog about it for at least a few more months yet, but my life has been a bit of a shitstorm for the past several years. And that change in my life has led to depression and all that implies.

Not sleeping. Not eating the way that I should. Waiting for the sink to be completely full of dishes or waiting until I have run out of socks to finally do the things. Becoming angry more easily. Crying more easily. Not being able to start or complete projects. Not being able to find the words to explain what is going on in my brain, or rather, simply not having enough motivation to sit down and actually write those words

Perhaps it's not clinical depression. I haven't sought out professional assistance because, unlike clinical depression which can hammer you for no good reason, this has a definite cause and, once that cause has been resolved, I have every confidence that the symptoms of depression will go with it.

In the meantime, though, I struggle.

And here I struggle some more. Trying to turn things about by actually writing. I had told myself that I was going to set out a schedule. To the gym twice a week. Walk away for the Internet at 9pm to do those other things. If I'm not going to bed by 11 at least be productive by reading or writing rather than more time on Facebook.

Aaaaaaand. . . . it's 2 in the morning and I'm still arguing online with some Nazi-apologist shitwank.

There were several iterations of that before I was able to actually sit down and write this. Maybe it's a breakthrough. A turning of the time. In truth, the shitstorm does have actual, functional, signs of its impending resolution. Or perhaps this is another abortive attempt. It doesn't feel like before. Now that I am actually in front of my keyboard writing this, the words flow easier than they had been.

It's a start.
24th-Aug-2016 09:33 pm - Productivity
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When I was working Tier 1 calls, I was told that if I hadn't resolved the issue in 7 to 10 minutes I was supposed to open a ticket and assign it to Tier 2.

"I thought I was Tier 2."

My manager actually replied to that with a literal "LOL". But like when I was working Tier 1 for The Bank, they were interested in addressing as many calls as possible even if the address turned out to be someone else's and it took hours or days to deliver.

I've always had an ethical problem with saying "Sorry, I've worked on your issue for long enough. I'm going to stop now and give it to someone else because of corporate metrics." And so, I didn't. I took as much time as was necessary to resolve the issue.

My numbers have been running at around 100 calls a week. I have no idea if that is good or bad as compared to the other Tier 1 analysts but Tier 2 is expected to field at least 32 calls a week and the reports my manager sends out seems to have the Tier 2 analysts ranging from the 20s and 30s up into the 60s and 70s. And there aren't enough analysts to really get a good average. It's a lot like a scatter chart. For myself, before I started this Tier 1 stuff, I was making my numbers in the 30s.

I just got my numbers from last week, the first in many months that I was back on Tier 2.


The previous months have paid off with experience allowing me to run with the top performers at the Tier 2 Help Desk. I would not have had anything close to that if I had been "six minute dropping" callers.
15th-Aug-2016 07:48 pm - Return to returning
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I think it was back in March when the drive encryption software failed yet again and I was put on the Tier 1 line to address the again overwhelming number of calls. In April, the new contract was signed and we became sub-contractors. But part of that new contract was that the Tier 1 needed to trim their wait times down to 30 seconds.

Now, my previous 15 years of Help Desk experience had tought me that there is really one way to accomplish that: Warm bodies. You can't work harder. You can't work smarter. You can't tweak the numbers or conjure time out of free air. No, you need more people answering the phones.

And I was one of those people. So as the call volume for drive encryption software dwindled to almost nothing, I was given over to the general queue. It wasn't that bad a thing as I was being paid a Tier 2 salary for my Tier 1 effort. I was told (as I had while working for The Bank) that if I didn't have an answer in 7 to 10 minutes I was supposed to open a ticket. What? And assign it to myself at Tier 2? I ignored that as I had in my previous job and went about fixing problems of whatever tier.

Apparently, the new people hired have gotten their security clearances, certifications, and what not as today I return to my Tier 2 duties. . . just in time for the next systemic failure.

For security reasons, before a machine is allowed on the network it is tested. If it fails that test it is put into quarantine. Tier 1`has a tool that they can lift that quarantine and allow it on the network temporarily. (That is typically done without any attention being paid as to why it was quarantined in the first place, which sort of ignores the security in the first place but, hey, that's not my pay grade.)

But that tool has failed, somewhat. There are machines that don't appear even though they have been quarantined. Because they don't appear, they cannot be taken out of quarantine. Some machines that are quarantined do appear in the system but no attempt to release the quarantine works. Sometimes the tool says that the machine is quarantined but a ping of the computer shows it has an IP address within the production network. No quarantined.

It's a hot mess and Tier 1, instead of telling people that the system is broken and we won't be able to help them, are opening tickets so that the next day the ticket will find its way into my bin so that I then get to call the user and tell them that we won't be able to help them.

I am expected to clear about 32 tickets a week. I had that many dumped into my bin just today.

Why, again, did I want to go back to working Tier 2?
6th-Aug-2016 09:02 pm - Death of the Long Form
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When I started this blog, it was with a number of purposes in mind. Firstly, and as indicated in the title, it was a place for me to vent about the stupid I found in working Help Desk. It was also for the stupid I found in religion, politics and life in general. It was also an opportunity for me to write about the good things in my life; science fiction, steampunk, and so on.

Most importantly, though, it was to write. An intellectual exercise in consolidating thoughts and ideas and forming them into coherent sentences, paragraphs, and essays. Practicing the art of wordcraft to make me a better writer and a better thinker.

Facebook pretty much murdered that.

Facebook is insidious in that it promotes small talk. Sure, there are the occasional intellectual discussions but most of those devolve into arguing about how to argue. The rest is political ranting, a quick picture about how I fixed the tiles in my bathroom, and stupid cat videos.

My life of the past two years or so has conspired to change my interaction with the world so, of course, Facebook isn't solely to blame. It simply made it easier to become more social with people (in and of itself not a bad thing) while at the same time saying much less of substance than I used to.

Writing once was easy. Not easy in its execution, wordcraft itself can be quite difficult, but easy in that I could just sit down and write something. Now I will need to actually carve time out of my day specifically for writing. To train myself out of “wasting” my time on Facebook.

This posting is the beginning of that process. And less Kerbal Space Program. Yea, that game is taking up a metric crap ton of my time as well. I should write more, perhaps, about Kerbal Space Program and actually play less.

A future blog post.

30th-May-2016 11:51 am - Arrogance
At the dead-dog dinner after TeslaCon, I got a chance to hear some of Thomas Willeford's opinions about his experience on the reality TV program “Steampunk'd.” He couldn't say much because he was still held under terms on a non-disclosure agreement. At this year's VandaliaCon, it had been a year since the show had aired so many of the restrictions had been lifted and he was able to talk more openly about what happened behind the scenes. I don't want to attempt to retell his stories (go to a con where he is a guest and hear them for yourself) but some of the things he said resonated with me and I wanted to expand on that.

He went into “Steampunk'd” as a potential competitor and ended up telling the pre-screen judges flat out that they wouldn't let him compete because he was that good. Wanting to have an actual competition, that earned him a seat at the judge's table but also earned him some accusations of arrogance.

arrogance, noun, an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people.

But what if you actually are better?

I have worked IT for a long time. Help desk for 16 years now. My job is to use my technical knowhow and experience to solve other people's computer problems. When I do that, however, I regularly (well, not in this latest job) would be accused of being arrogant or condescending. In part, I think it's having a baritone voice that I try to use in a measured manner so I can be understood clearly over the phone but the other part is people's reluctance to admit that they don't know something. The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that people tend to believe themselves more competent than they actually are and the less you know, the more confident you are in your delusion of competence.

When you are calling the Help Desk, you have already admitted that you don't know how to fix the problem and then, when I fix that problem, I'm not sure how that makes me arrogant. Sorry, I really do know more than you do.

Additionally, I see a strong current of anti-intellectualism in this country. Most especially in the realm of politics, people think that being college educated is worthless, that their ignorance is somehow more qualifying than your knowledge. I have even been accused of (and this is my absolute favorite insult) “pretending to be a pseudo intellectual.”

This was spewed entirely without a sense of irony.

But, with Dunning-Kruger, how do I know that I am competent and confident and not arrogant? Can a narcissist recognize his own narcissism? Well, in the IT realm, I know through my success. I know what I know and do not claim to know what I don't know. When I have an intractable problem, I admit that I don't have a solution. And I certainly don't try to tell people their jobs.

Apparently, not letting them tell me my job is egotism.

And when I go to conventions and give presentations on topics of which I have become knowledgeable; airships and the like, for example, how do I know I'm not arrogant and condescending to the people who sit in the audience absorbing the information I am bestowing on them? I know by, when they come up to me and compliment me, I am still embarrassed by their compliment. I feel honored that they took the time to come to my presentation. And when they offer disappointment for having missed one of my presentations, I have no problem dropping whatever I was doing and spending time with them to catch them up on whatever they may have missed.

Worst. Narcissist. Ever.

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 how 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.

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