Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Are you happy?

Today I went to a discussion with a senior VP where he invites a bunch of employees into a room and asks them if they're happy.  I left with the impression that everyone is happy except me.
Don't get me wrong.  I have a job, and it pays well and provides me with health care.  I work for a good company, and I have worked for much worse.  But after the layoffs that hit our department in January or February, we are overwhelmed.  Managers (not my manager, but the guys above him) keep taking on more work, and they keep giving it to us.  And we keep trying to do it, but we fell behind months ago and have no hope of catching up.  There's no effort to prioritize.  A colleague recently asked a manager to prioritize the 8 projects he'd been given, and the response was, "Well, it all has to get done."  That's pretty typical these days.  Which is why I'm at work at 11 at night.
But in this room everyone was happy and enthusiastic.  They all felt like they had work life balance.  I was just sitting there and going, hey, I want to work where they work.  Because I'm pulling 12 and 14 hour days.  This right here?  This is a 15 hour day.  I don't do enthusiasm any more.  If you've seen the Lucy episode where she's got the conveyor belt full of candy, that's pretty much where I'm at.  My bra is full of candy.  My hat is full of candy.  I don't have anywhere left to put the candy.  And then this bright young cheerleadery chickie from another area of IT was all, "What can IT do for you, Mr. Senior VP?"  You know, like when the supervisor comes out to survey Lucy and Ethel's work and says, "speed 'er up!"  I am having trouble acknowledging the divine in that cheerleadery chickie, let me tell you.
I should have said something--not just because it's the right thing to do, but because I wouldn't now be tempted to just e-mail the senior VP and say, "I'm at work, and I'm not happy."  But then you're the "negative" person in the room full of cheery, sunny, shiny, happy people.  Which is never a good role.
Sorry, gang.  I'm not an effing cheerleader.  I'm at work at 11:18, and I'm not happy.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Finally, Vindication

When I was 35, What Not to Wear (the American version) urged me to throw away my cute miniskirt. I refused, and have worn it for the last two (nearly three) years. And now I feel vindicated. The Times of London gets real with decent advice that doesn't talk down to women over 30. If only I cared just a little bit more, I'd be really excited.

Sad but true

I was in a meeting on Friday when they were talking about efficiency and streamlining. Some people in the meeting had been to some network training on this and were reporting on it. Yes, this is going somewhere. As they were talking, they mentioned that their training was through one of three separate national efforts within our organization to work on streamlining and increasing efficiency. Unfortunately, the three separate efforts, all national, don't communicate very well and in fact hardly know that each other exists. I could not help but ask "So are you saying that our efforts at streamlining and promoting efficiency need to be streamlined to promote efficiency." Only one person laughed. The rest of the people just looked at me, and the people who were reporting all of this just nodded their heads. It was a scary moment. We should all have been laughing or crying hysterically but most of us were just so numb to all of this that it didn't seem worth a comment.

But not to me, damnit! I commented. Boy, did I comment! Fighting to change the world, one sarcastic comment at a time - that's Shifter for ya!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Latest book... and minor rant

Well, I did it. I read another non-fiction book. This is like, two in two months, a new record for me! This one was called The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich, and it was very good, I thought. I read it so fast I didn't even have time to put a picture of it there on the side bar. I'm quite the political neophyte, so I can't really tell you if his arguments fit the broader landscape of the facts. They fit the ones he presents, as he presents them, but I'm not so much of a neophyte that I don't know you can argue anything as long as you're the one who gets to trot out all the facts in whatever light you want, to present the counter arguments and the answers to them, and so forth. Yes, I've seen Fox News, I know all about that crap. But, as I said, it seems to hold together.

His central argument is that 1) American foreign policy is never based on anything beyond expansion or protection of American interests, 2) When you say it's for something else (defending liberty, human rights, protecting those poor for'ners from the evil oppressors) you're full of crap, 3) that's not necessarily bad, but 4) it's not working anymore. I think point 3 there is just his way of sidestepping an argument, he's kind of saying "Yeah, look, I don't care if you approve of that or not - maybe you do, fine! But it's still not working." Of course he's talking about Iraq and Afghanistan, but he's pretty much saying it has always been this way. The cynic in me tends to agree. I mean Iraq is a no brainer. We're there for our own interests? Not to save the Iraqis from Saddam? Really? Shocker! But you like to think that sometimes we intervene in other countries to help. But that could be totally naive. Countries are not nice people - they look out for themselves. People in countries can be nice, but countries themselves, well, I'm more skeptical.

Anyway, Bacevich goes into some arguments about the increasing power of the executive branch, the growing of the industrial-military complex (yes, he credits the author of that quote), and so forth. One of my favorite parts was when he talked about a clear distinction between two points of view that embodies what is going on. He said it was when Carter gave a speech about how America is dependent on oil and needs to get off of it, and in order to do that we all have to sacrafice. Drive less, pay more, change our life styles. Carter said all this. Then he ran against Reagan. Reagan was kind of like Bush, in that he said "All you need to do for us to succeed is keep spending and do whatever you want!" History records which path we as a nation chose. But I think that those two positions - we have to change to fit with our resources, to plan, to be responsible versus we have to do what we want - it's our right - are indeed key to where we are today. Every time you think about some lasting change in government or society the argument is always that it will cost too much or be too unpopular. But if you want things to improve you have to pay. And if we are living beyond our means, as a society, then you either need to increase your means (the book is arguing that this is simply not working) or you change how you live. So that's what I was taking away from it. If you happen to read it (or have read it), feel free to let us know your thoughts.

Kind of funny how I start by saying I'm a political neophyte then deluge you with a bunch of poltiical stuff, huh? Kind of Fox News like of me, eh? See, I'm learning. I'm not an actor, but I play a news person on TV. Heh.

Better Off Ted

JP at Time has a great re-evaluation of Better Off Ted.  I really get the "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" vibe from it, and that show was genius.  I love the comedic style where a beat is as good as a punch line--it strikes me as ideally suited for satirizing office culture, where so often all you can do is blink at the absurdity.  I love the scientists, especially Jonathan Slavin, who was terrific as Andy's office mate in "Universe."  I love Portia de Rossi's Veronica and her struggle to deal with the inferior race she's stranded with here on earth.  And I really love Ted.  Even though he's a middle manager, his efforts to navigate a path between corporate success and personal integrity have an Everyman feel.
ABC has a pretty darn good web viewer--I'd encourage our imaginary readers to check it out.  "Racial Sensitivity" is my personal favorite so far, but I have a special place in my heart for anything that makes fun of Power Point.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Change Your Clothes, Change Your Brain?

I just hate wearing "work savvy" clothes.  I mean I just hate it.  And every place has its own little rules, and every time you change employers it requires certain changes to your own little wardrobe. 
Years ago, I worked at a manufacturing company.  It was fantastic.  I wore jeans and t-shirts, or occasionally skirts and t-shirts.  I could wear tennis shoes and sandals and flip-flops to work if I wanted to.  It was bliss.
Then I moved to New York and worked at a snooty company.  Fortunately I was on the lower rungs of the company, so I didn't have to dress up a whole lot.  I could wear pants or skirts and tights.  I had to invest in a LOT of heels, but apart from that, it wasn't so bad.  And on top of it all, in summer, there were specific summer work attire rules.  They were kind of obnoxious (no tank tops--a rule which was flouted ALL the time--and no flip flops that made noise, which is a rule open to a lot of interpretation), but the great thing was that in the summer I didn't have to wear pantyhose, which, as I'm discovering, saves some serious dosh.
My new company is less snooty generally, but my division's boss is a former consultant, and he thinks (rightly) that our department has an image problem.  I won't go into the many, many ways that you address an IT division's image problem.  (Solving problems, maybe?  Or educating your business partners so that they understand the value of the services you provide?  Or setting realistic expectations, making realistic commitments, and then meeting the realistic commitments?  But I digress.)  We are, I am assured, doing many things to manage our image problem, and one of them is managing a huge enterprise deployment with what appears to be extraordinary skill, care, and attention, which is nice.  ("`Appears,' Katy?"  Well, yes, Imaginary Reader.  The deployment hasn't happened yet, and as a former user of the enterprise system we're rolling out, the proof is in the pudding.)
But one of the things we're doing is dressing sharp.  I won't go so far as to say it's the ultimate in style over substance, because I really do believe our division has substance to follow up the style.  The substance is oft-mismanaged and we are desperately overcommitted, but we're not the Paris Hilton of IT.  Still, when it comes to understanding our customers' priorities, I'd hazard a guess that making sure our belts match our shoes is pretty low compared to having a low-maintenance, reliable enterprise application.  I comply, to a certain extent.  I'm going through pantyhose like there's no tomorrow, which sucks--I feel like King Kong when I run a pair of pantyhose right out of the package, as I'm trying to put them on.  "Oopsie.  Hulk smash."  But I wear surf skirts to work a lot (they are made of wondrous fabric that is comfy and cool in summer and wrinkle-free right out of the dryer, and if people can tell that they could also be worn in the ocean, well, they haven't mentioned it to me).
I see the guy's point, in a way.  I used to watch a BBC show called "Faking It," where contestants would have 3 weeks to prepare to deceive a panel of experts into thinking that they were, say, a head chef, a dj, a television producer, a hairstylist, a dancer, whatever.  As I write it, it kind of sounds easy, but think about it.  They took a guy who knew how to make beans on toast and made him pass for a head chef at a snooty London restaurant in three weeks.  That's not exactly Frank Abagnale, but it's definitely in the same vein.  Anyway, the contestants that did the best were the ones who got made over--including wardrobe--for their new identity as early as possible.  Actors say the costume makes a big difference in their ability to portray a character.  So I guess the costuming decision has merit.
But the manufacturing company I worked for had an actual policy that someone's clothing, hair, footwear, and general image were not to be a part of how anyone assessed their performance.  As long as they weren't frankly offensive (wearing clothing that left uncomfortably little to the imagination, say) clothes were deemed officially irrelevant.  And I dug that big time.  I think it's possible for a corporate culture to change the way people think about things--like wasting people's time (rules about meetings starting on time and serving a definite purpose) or wasting money (saying "no" to the private jet for the CEO) or spending a lot of time on image rather than substance.  And I assure you, I'm not some starry-eyed ingenue.  I'm bitter about my work--bitter like coffee that's been sitting on the burner for a couple of days.  And I'm not unrealistic.  There will always be people who resent a rule like that and want everyone to look like they stepped out of whatever catalog is on their coffee table.  But I do think you can change most of your employees.  If you can't change their thoughts, you can certainly change their behavior. 
And, as disturbing as it is, I think you can change their thoughts as well, to a certain extent.  The manufacturing company also had a policy about safety.  If you walked down the stairs with an armful of stuff, someone would point out to you that it would be safer to use the elevator.  If you went to a conference room and plugged something in, stringing a cord from the outlet to the conference room table six inches off the ground, someone would suggest that you find a safer place to plug it in.  If you stuck your hand in the elevator doors to keep them from closing, someone would point out to you that there was a button which was almost as effective and much, much safer.  There were programs that encouraged everyone, even office workers, to get up and stretch twice a day to avoid manufacturing floor injuries, carpal tunnel, and other slumping/typing/staring-at-a-screen-all-day maladies.  It seemed ridiculous when I started, and some of it still seems silly.  But over time, I have to admit that thinking about safety became second nature to me--it's extremely noticeable as I work in different companies that have no vested interest in safety.
Companies don't hesitate to change our thinking for the worse--to encourage us to believe that a 70-hour work week is normal, for example, or to encourage us to defer repeatedly to a boss who's 25 minutes late to a meeting, or to encourage us to waste time at endless meetings with no clear purpose and where we have no clear role.  We accept this brainwashing without complaint, for the most part--at least, that's the norm judging from how people look at me when I suggest that it's obscene to put up with these things.  So since we're trusting our employers to tinker with our innermost thoughts anyway, we should at least encourage them to tinker in good ways rather than bad.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A modest proposal

I recently was given the privilege of writing a funding proposal for our local network office. It was a small proposal, about $100k, to hire a staff member to expand services to rural areas. The details are unimportant. And you already have them. Anyway, because it was quite a small proposal in the grand scheme of things (we were asking for $100K out of an 18 million dollar pot that the network has to allocate) I kept wanting to call it "A Modest Proposal." Something in the back of my mind kept saying "you're telling them to eat their children." Oddly enough, that thought made me want to use the language all the more. Not that I want them to eat their children, even our network isn't that bad off financially (ha ha) but just the twistedness of it. Can you imagine those facility heads and network leads getting an email entitled "A Modest Proposal?" I think if I'm ever on my way out of this line of work and I've got one last email to go, I'll draft a Modest Proposal and send it on to the whole facility. It could be pretty cool I think. It wouldn't involve eating kids though. I can come up with some equally satirical modest proposals more tailored to my setting, I'm fairly certain. And if I do, why, I can post them here as well! So stay on the look out, dear imaginary readers, for a few modest proposals. If you see too many of them you know ol Shifter is about to lose his job!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Latest Timewaster

Well, I've got a new one. You'd think it would be something productive, something worthwhile. Something that builds character. Or muscle. But no. It's another video game. I haven't played MOO in weeks - not it's Fallout 3.

Fallout 3 is the sequel to, wait for it, Fallout 1 and Fallout 2. Fallout 1 (or just Fallout), in particular, was a really awesome game that came out in 1997. Like the rest of the series, it was set in the post-apocalyptic 23rd century, as you make your way through the nuclear wasteland and try to survive. Think Mad Max without the cars. The storyline was immersive, the voice acting was awesome (especially for the time), and it was just a hoot. RPG, of course, all the best old games were RPGs in my opinion.

Fallout 3 is quite a bit different. It's an RPG, but it's an "action" RPG in that it's also a first person shooter (FPS, think Doom or Quake). It's set later than the first Fallout, but in the same post-nuclear holocaust wasteland. The graphics are amazing, the voice acting is great, the music in the background is awesome. So although the game play is very different, it's just a way cool game. I don't play FPSs as a rule, but this one I'm stickign with. So it's now officially the newest Timewaster. All hail Fallout 3.

Ah mix tapes, how I miss you...

Anyone remember Mix tapes? If you're under 30, you probably don't. You're thinking mix CDs. If you're under 25 not even that. You think in terms of "Playlists," don't you? I, however, am eld. And I remember the mix tapes.

Time was we laughed scornfully at the 8 tracks because we had the ultimate in HiFi technology - the cassette tape. Yes, 90 minutes of High Quality blank cassette, combined with a dual cassette tape deck and a CD player, and a decent tape/CD collection, could create endless combinations of music. And it was good.

Back in The Day, making a mix tape was a big deal. You had to plan the things. You had to think about which of your albums, actual physical albums, you would select from, and what order, and what would fit on Side 1 and what woudl fit on Side 2. There was always a bit of guess work involved. And then you had to monitor the recording levels to make sure you didn't have some songs blasting and others whispering. If you were fancy you had to work on fading in and out between songs. But most important, you had to have the right mix of tunes. Of all your favorite songs, which ones best fit the mood you were in right now, or the mood you wanted to create in the tape, and which ones best fit together? Yes, this was the kind of thing you pondered. When it worked, it was awesome. You had this one tape of all the songs you wanted to hear at that moment just right there, ready to play in your room, your car, with your friends, whatever! When it didn't work, well, you just blew $3 worth of tape, my friend.

Let me give you an example of what this was like. My sister and I had this friend named Mike, right, and he had a nice tape deck and CD player. And I had a nice tape deck and CD player, so we loaded up my system and took it, along with a ton of music from my collection and my sister's, to his house and we spent an afternoon crafting the mix, with songs from all three of our collections, using this amalgamation of equipment. Then we ran a bunch of copies for our friends and our selves. Actually, I didn't like the resulting mix all that much (too boppy for me) but the process, that's what I'm talking about. This was a day's effort, and none of us thought twice about it - that's what the mix tape thing was.

I can still remember some of my favorite mixes. My number one all time mix tape was called "Homesick on the Borderlands" which I thought was an awesome title. It's first song was, in fact, Homesick by the Cure, and it had a New Model Army song about the boderlands (can't remember which right now, to my shame), and the songs blended together just perfectly, and all built on each other, and had the right mood. It had Sisters of Mercy, Cure, NMA, all my favorites at the time. I played that thing probably hundreds of times. When I hear one song from it, say on the radio or on a playlist today, I automatically expect to hear the next song from the mix. And then there were the mixes you made for other people. People you were good friends with, or people you wanted to be good friends with (i.e., wanted to date), and all that. And the tape was like a book you were writing - it had a story to it.

Nick Hornby actually wrote about it in his book High Fidelity: "I spent ours putting that cassette together. To me, makign a tape is like writing a litter - there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again, and I wanted it to be a good one ... You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention and then you've got to up it a nothc, or cool it a notch, and ... there are loads of rules." If you've seen the movie, you've seen John Cusack talking through a similar speech (quite well, actually).

So I guess the whole point of this post is that, well, those mix tapes (and the later CDs) are going going gone. These days it's all ipods and track lists. You don't have 90 minutes to play with, you've got 4 gigabytes. You've got a whole hard drive. And putting together the mix is as easy as drag and drop. I put a new mix together every few weeks for my running. Totally different feel. And I love the technology, and all the cool stuff we can do now, and the freedom of it. But I do really miss those mix tapes.

Frigging virus ... update

Welllll, just thought you'd all like to know that my wife's PC is now working fine again. The combination of MalwarBytes, Norton, and Adaware seemed to fix it up. Oddly enough, the full Norton scan I did as a final sweep did find one last file with Koobface on it, which it then took care of. Not sure if that's because Koobface was somehow interfering with the scan before I malware bit it, or some other odd factor.

The weirdest thing about the episode, though, was that some nice lady named Emily posted a message saying she works with Norton and would be happy to put me in touch with their customer service people. Which was, well, nice. I didn't publish the message because it had her contact info on it, and I personally am paranoid about putting non-anonymous contact info on the web. I also didn't email her because, well, there goes my anonymity (are you noticing a theme here??). But I did want to say thanks to Emily for the offer. And let her know that it's all ok on the wife's PC.

But then I thought, what kind of crazy customer service is that?? To actively search out dissatisfied customers via web search to offer to help? I mean wow, that's over the top. If the IRS had that kind of customer service department, it would require a staff of about 10 million people :o) Unless Emily just happens to be a regular imaginary reader, which seems too far fetched for me. If you are an imaginary reader, Emily, no offense. I just assume you dont' exist (see previous posts on this subject).

"It's Christmas?" "Yeah, didn't you get the memo?"

This is one of my favorite lines from The American President with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning.  (I love the movie chiefly because Lewis, the speech writer, is such a great writer character.)  At the White House Christmas party, people are talking shop, and someone stops them saying something like, "It's Christmas.  Can't we take one day out of our busy schedules to enjoy each other as people?"  And Lewis says, "It's Christmas?"  And the demographic analyst, Leon, says, "Yeah.  Didn't you get the memo?"
My project has reached a smooth point.  It's very, very small, and we'll be lucky if it lasts through the week.  This is the moment between the point where we stop touching the code with our grubby little fingers and the point where we import the code to production where the end users can start touching it with their grubby little fingers.  They'll torture the code and probably break it, and then we'll have to go through whatever hell it takes to fix it.  If you want anything from me, ask fast. 
(Although I have to let you know that a charming young man has already been wooing me with Venn diagrams, so, you know, ask fast.  Because seducing me with a Venn diagram puts you at the head of the line.  Because Venn diagrams, as Eddie Izzard conclusively proved, are very sexy.)
We've been released from the project war room, and are free to mingle with other humans again.  I got to attend my staff meeting today, for the first time in weeks.  I got to clean out my inbox and start taking care of things that had eluded me.  I can once again solve simple problems without having to close my eyes and think real hard.
The project war room has been my home for six weeks of testing (and yes, it should have been twelve).  I have been sitting less than six feet from the chief programmer, the business lead, and the test lead for six weeks.  Today the chief programmer, Will, walked by my desk, and I was like, "Miss you!"  He was like, "I know!"
So this afternoon, I thought, I'm going to go to Will's desk and relate to him, you know, as a human.  I'll ask how his fiancee is doing and stuff.  So I did.  (She's fine, despite a home improvement adventure they had this past weekend wherein she may have fractured her nose.)  But then, you know what we did?  We ended up talking about work. And then we got into SAP and looked at some code.  Still, it was fun being human with him for a minute.
I'd just like to urge all of you imaginary readers to have an actual human interaction with one of your coworkers today.  Unless they're coworkers who are currently engaged in driving you batshit crazy.  If you see them, run!  Save yourselves!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Finish Line For You...The Start For Me

After our weekend from hell, where our entire project team worked until 2 a.m. Friday (technically Saturday), then the test lead and I worked until 1:30 on Saturday (technically Sunday) and then the test lead and I worked for at least another 4 hours on Sunday, everyone gets to go home early today.
Everyone except me.  I have about 30 hours of paperwork and fiddly crap to deal with to get this into production.  Then I can start on the other 90 things that have been on hold forever.
I dearly hope that I get to go home early someday.  I pray that someday I get some kind of payback for the insane amount of time I did last week.  But it ain't gonna happen now.
Am I bitter?  Yes.  I'm afraid I am.  They deserve to go home.  I'm happy that they get to go home.  One woman on our team in particular has been putting in long hours despite being pregnant, and she's getting a week off in recognition of her extraordinary service, and thank God.  But...I wanna go home, too!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Infomania for Short Attention Spans

I did a 78 hour week last week. This week is probably going to be worse. I've already talked to my Project Manager for an hour this morning putting together a cutover plan, which is essentially a list of deadlines. At each deadline I'll have to stop work and tell people whether I've met the deadline. If I haven't, then I get to sit in a meeting for an hour (during which I maybe could have finished the task) and tell them who can help me and when they need to be available and why I suck so much that I couldn't meet the unrealistic deadline. Then I get to do it all over again the next time there's a deadline! And with each successive missed deadline, the ensuing meetings mean you have that much less time to accomplish the next task! Hooray!

The issue with this, as with all the project management tools we use at my company, is that it's a great idea if your project is actually well managed. But when your project manager isn't given any actual resources or options or power and isn't backed up by any higher power with a vision, each tool is just an opportunity for a bunch of managers to come milling around your project and pretending they're useful. And unfortunately, appearing to be useful is much more time consuming than actually being useful.

All of this was a prelude to the fact that my attention span for most things is mighty short these days. Ten minutes tops, really. So Current TV's website has become my favorite place to spend time. Here's my favorite clip from today. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New Shoes

Not to be confused with Dancing Choose, that awesome TV on the Radio song (yes, that was a shameless attempt to get a TVOTR reference in here - shameless but effective, baby!).

But anyway, I bought new shoes. That sounds anticlimactic but it isn't, oh no, it isn't. Because these are not work shoes (Payless black, bought the same damn pair the past 8 years). Oh no, these are running shoes. And that makes them sexy. They're Saucony Triumph 6's. Triumphs, baby! Powerful name, for powerful shoes. Thundering shoes of awesomeness. Birds fall from the sky when I wear these things. Well, I assume they will when I wear them. I just bought them so no bird tests just yet. But you'll see. So I've got the Triumphs, and nothing can stop me now. Other than a bad summer cold. But I digress.

I'd really like to post a picture of these cool shoes. They're white, with black and red trim. They're sleek. They're sexy. They're absolute chick magnets. They're fast. If they came with a 10 year/100,000 mile warranty they'd be a car! And they cost almost as much.

But as much as I love them, I find them a little deceptive. Like any lover on a first date, they lie to me just a bit. Their name, for instance. The Triumph. Who do they think they're kidding? I'm not a runner who triumphs. Hell, if I was a runner who triumphs I'd have an endorsement deal and they'd have to pay me to wear their freaking shoes. I'm a runner who doesn't die. That's about it. I can run a sub 4 without dying. There's your triumph. So really, they should name them the Saucony Don't Die 6's. That'd be a bit more honest.

The other deceptive thing is they have, I swear to god, a new shoe smell. It's like a new car smell, only it won't do 0 to 60 no matter how long you have. It smells faintly of rubber and synthetic mesh, it's very sexy. But it's a lie, because these are running shoes, and they will only ever, ever smell this way until tomorrow morning, when I take em out for the first 7 miles. After that I won't know how they smell because, frankly, I'm not gonna sniff em. Would you? We wear these shoes for 300-500 miles before they wear out, and we sweat every single mile, rain or shine. So who wants to take a little snort? Frankly, I just hope I don't smell them after a while because when I do, it's not a new car smell. Not even close.

But deceptive or gorgeous, they're my new companions for the next 500 miles of fun. Long live the Triumphs. Here's to a glorious 4 months together.

Sarah Haskins--My Hero

I had seen one of the Target: Women spots before, but JP on Time.com reminded me that every single one is a gem. Sarah Haskins brings her delicious brand of sarcasm to bear on the rampant stupidity that infuses pop culture's treatment of women. View them all. But just in case you're not convinced, start with this one:


P.S. Dear Joss: Thanks for not treating women like cute little imbeciles!*

*and mad props on the live performance of your song on the TAL Livecast. It's still stuck in my head.

Frigging viruses

My wife paged me at work today. That never happens. I get messages, phone calls, but never pages. So I thought, naturally, that someone had died. I called her back right away and she informed me that we had a virus on her computer (We have separate computers - geek, remember?). It had happened while using Facebook, and she was freaking out. Relieved no one was dead, I told her to turn off her machine and I'd look at it when I got home.

When I got home I did a quick search online using my machine (should have used the Linux box but used this one instead) and identified it was most likely the Koobface virus that has been hitting Facebook for a while. The link, by the way, is to a news story, not the actual virus ;o) The descriptions matched what she had told me about almost exactly. Armed with this knowledge, I turned on her machine and started to tinker with it. I ran Norton quickscan and it caught one malware program that had been installed, this one that, ironically, says your comptuer is infected with a bunch of viruses and invites you to pay for and download this (bogus) antivirus software. I had helped a friend with that one before, so I knew what was up with it. But for some reason Norton didn't even touch the Koobface stuff, or this adware redirecting thing that was hijacking the browsers search functions or this other one that was bringing up BS popups all the freaking time. I ran an Adaware scan, came up with lots of stuff, quarantined it, but no change (Adaware always finds lots of stuff, most of it low threat). I checked the processes and found some Freddy46.exe process (a Koobface variant as it turns out) and a few other weird ones. Then I did some more searching (again on a different PC) and came across recommendations for Malwarebytes malware removal tool. I double checked to make sure it wasn't malware, downloaded it, and it seems problem is solved. I'm in the middle of a full system scan with Norton now just in case, though my confidence in that software is considerably diminshed now. All told this has taken an hour and a half of my life. Sheesh.

I've never actually gotten a virus/trojan etc. on my pc that I know of, but that's mostly because I'm obsessive about NOT opening, clicking, viewing anything that I don't expect and know a lot about. I figure eventually I'll get something on one of my other machines though. What a pain in the ass.

So the point of this post is 1) be careful what you click on from facebook, 2) malware sucks (I was going to say viruses but technically I don't think any of that was a virus, worms mostly?), and 3) the Malwarebytes Malware removal tool seems pretty handy. It was WAY faster than either Norton or Adaware and got right to the problem.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Spirit of the marathon

I just got through watching the movie/documentary of the same name, which was a Christmas gift from my sister. Yes, it took me that long to watch it. It was worth the wait. I have no idea if I would have found it so profoundly inspiring and enjoyable if I wasn't into running marathons, but I found it incredibly moving. It reminded me of what it was like to finish my first marathon back almost 4 years ago. I've had better races since then, but I've never felt quite as incredible afterwards - just this feeling like "I really did it, I really really did it." It got me inspired to run another marathon, which is a rare feat given I'm still recovering from the last one :o) So, highly recommended and I think even available "on demand" (on line) from Netflix.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Total eclipse of the heart ... LOL

You guys are totally regretting that I ever learned to embed video into the blog, aren't you? That's ok, I can't help myself. My wife forwarded me this video and it's hysterical. If you've ever seen the video for that old 80s song "Total Eclipse of the Heart," or even if you haven't, you have to check this out. "Mullet with headlights." Classic.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


What do you think of when you hear "Surprise!"?  Is it a good surprise, like a party or a cake or flowers or a friend on your doorstep?  Or is it a bad surprise, like your car breaking down or a phone call with bad news in the middle of the night?
For me it's somewhere in the middle.  I imagine a work surprise.  My work is very surprising these days, and almost never in good ways.  Like today, we got a surprise deadline.  Those are always the best.  Unreasonable deadlines are pretty nasty.  But a surprise deadline is an unreasonable deadline with even less notice.  Today at 1:00 in the afternoon, we found out that we had a deadline for 6 p.m.  I'm frantically trying to marshal resources and keep my project manager from having an actual, factual heart attack.  That's not actually a joke--he showed up in the project room breathing heavily and looking far more red than usual, and then he started to sweat profusely and became extremely pale.
It's all very surprising.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Andy's back!

Because I worked out as soon as I got home last night, and because I'm still mildly jet lagged from my trip to the UK, I passed out before Conan's debut on the Tonight Show.  I don't normally watch late night shows.  I love Conan O'Brien--what's not to love?  He's a pasty white Irish boy, he's personable, and he's sexy in that skinny misfit way that's probably the male equivalent of girl-next-door sexiness.  I Tivo'd last night, and I'll Tivo tonight, and who knows, maybe at some stage I'll get into a routine I used to have a long time ago, where I'd eat breakfast and watch Conan's monologue.  Of course, that would require that I remember to eat breakfast.
I couldn't wait, though, to hear how it went, so I went straight to my man JP at Time Magazine, who was pretty enthusiastic.  Granted, New Yorkers want to see Conan make good, but I trust JP's opinion, and I was glad to hear that Conan's set is a nod to classic late night TV, just the way his Late Night set was.
But the thing that's going to make me run home and fire up the Tivo is the opportunity to see Conan and Andy together again.  I've missed their companionable humor over the last few years, and I can't wait to see them again, even if it'll take a while for them to find their LA balance.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Marathon report - bit by bit

Yes, it's what none of you have been waiting for ... the marathon report.

It all started well as, the day before, I couldn't even find where I was supposed to pick up my packet. For the uninitiated, that refers to a set of stuff you need before a race, such as your number/bib and your timing chip. You always pick this up a day or so before, it's always at some booth or expo, and usually it's easy to find. In this case it was at a hotel downtown. Fine. I drove there. Fine. I couldn't find a place to park. Fine. I did find one. Fine. I walked to the hotel. Fine. I walked in and there was a sign saying "this way for marathoners." Good. I followed the sign, which led to another sign, which led to an empty hallway filled with locked doors. No kidding. Not fine. I exited the hotel. Not fine. I walked around in a circle. Not fine. I came across the booth outside the hotel. Oddly enough, there were no signs inside or outside the hotel saying "This way to the OUTDOOR marathon packet pickup." Oddly enough, the only signs were indoors, saying this way to the packet pickup, leading you to an empty hallway. Not fine. Now, I was feeling pretty stupid by the time I stumbled on the packet pickup, but not too stupid because 10 other people were doing this with me.

But packet in hand, I was set. The next day I got up at 5 am and took the light rail downtown to avoid parking hassles. I ran into some running buddies at the start line, chatted until about 20 minutes before the start, then got in line to use a port-a-potty before the race. Lines were such that I had 2 minutes after finally getting to use the facilities to get to the start line. Which I did, and I even found the 3:50 pace group. The plan, as you know, was to stay with the 3:50 pace group as long as possible, then drop back if needed. Worked great except I lost them 2 miles in and couldn't find them for 10 miles after that. I literally have no idea if they were in front of me, behind me, or running in the air above me. All I know is they were there, then they weren't, then at mile 13 they were suddenly right there again. So I rejoined them and stayed with them for a ways. The first half of the course was nicely shaded, and early enough in the morning that it was plenty cool. It was a bit more hilly than expected but hey, no big deal, right??

So I did a good job of keeping my pace reasonable - between 8:30s and 9:00s for the first 19 miles. I stuck with the 3:50 guys up until about mile 19. I kind of had a feeling I would be dropping back a mile before then as it was getting hotter and hotter. The sun was pretty much right overhead with no shade for most of the second half, and that just kind of sucked. So at mile 19 I started to slow down and had the joy of watching the pace group move steadily father away from me for the next mile. About mile 23 I started to walk a bit, and that does bother me. I try not to walk except at water stops on runs. Even training runs. When you start to walk, you always do more than you planned, and you always walk again and again. But I got really tired and so I started to walk for a few minutes longer at water stops, then resume the running. And sure enough, the walking parts grew longer and longer.

This was a freaky part of the run for me. Before I started to slow down, I had a good 6 minute buffer going, meaning that I was 6 minutes ahead of where I needed to be to get in under 4 hours. But when I started slowing, I really started slowing, and the buffer started vanishing. By mile 25 my pace was closer to 11 minute miles (due to walking parts of the miles) and I was feeling really drained. I had pretty much given up on the 4 hours at that point. I know that sounds weird, but there comes a point in many a long run when you're just thinking "I don't frigging care, just let me get to the end and sit down." I wouldn't say it's the worst I've felt on a marathon, but it wasn't a great feeling. Well, about mile 25 it hit me that I only had about 1.2 miles to go. I looked at my watch and realized I had about 12 minutes to get that done, so if I didn't walk much I could still make my time! And so I started running and just refused to walk another step. So of course the next thing I see is this freakin hill at mile 25. That's just mean. All these spectators were there yelling "You're almost to the top" "Keep going" "bla bla bla." Very nice and supportive but all I could think was "What the F*&% is with this F(#*ing hill??" That's just rude. But I kept on. I wasn't passing anyone at the pace I was going, but no-one was passing me either. I got to where I could see the finish and started to push it, and when I saw the big digital time display at the end, and that it still didn't say 4 hours, I started to run as fast as I could (which wasn't very fast). I remember literally saying "come on come on come on!" to the guy who was in front of me as we went into the chute, because I could see there were like 10 second left. We hit the chute, I crossed the second timing mat (that finalizes your time) and I literally jumped into the air and shouted cause I had seen that I was under the 4 hour mark. I felt terrific! For about 5 seconds. Then I felt tired and sore. So I limped around getting my medal, a banana, some water, some more water, and then some chips. Somewhere between mile 1 and mile 26.2 I had turned into a human salt lick. I mean I had sweat enough, and enough had dried on me, that I had white powdery stuff all over my face and some of my clothes. Those of you who run will understand. A horse could have used me for nutrients. I splashed water on my face at the finish line to try to reduce that possibility but still ... ewww.

The race organization did not improve - there was like this .3 mile walk from the finish line to where you got your finisher jacket. I know that's not a lot, but after you've run 26.2 miles, it is a lot. Of course, nobody really told you about the hike to get the jacket, you just had to follow the herd of limping runners. Then after I got the damn jacket, I had to walk back to the light rail terminal. I promptly got turned around and got a little lost. Remember what I said about walking after you've run 26.2 miles? Now do it when you suddenly realize you're walking the wrong way along the tracks to get to the terminal. But I got there, got to my car, and got home.

So was it my favorite race? No, that was the California one. I had a worse finishing time but it was a MUCH easier course, with much better weather, and of course my sister there running it with me. But this was my fastest run so far and I made my goal FINALLY so I'm very glad I did it. And even though I love to complain, and there are all the aches and pains to complain about, all the stuff I love about running was there too. It was a good experience, I'm glad I did it, and I look forward to the next one.

Thank you for your attention. You may now resume your regularly scheduled, uhm, living?

Dark Chocolate of the Soul

So last week I went on vacation.  I went to England with my folks, and we had a great time.  It was what my mom wanted for her 50th wedding anniversary present, and as presents go, allowing yourself to be taken to London for a week is a lot harder on the receiver than on the gift-giver, so I was happy to oblige.
Unfortunately, it's left me a little jaded upon returning to work.  It's true that work runs you down and makes you exhausted, until your short term memory erodes and you forget completely what your own name is or what you were working on twenty seconds ago.  [An aside--multitasking is totally not as effective as you think it is.  I'm fairly sure there's scientific evidence, but if you need anecdotal evidence, you just let me know.]  But working for six months also builds up a hard candy shell of resistance to the absurdity of your job.  Your perspective disappears, and you start to think a little less like Dilbert and a little more like Catbert.  I'm not saying work makes you inhuman, but…well, actually, maybe that is what I'm saying.
Now I have my perspective back, and it is devastating.  My patience has evaporated.  I no longer have infinite patience to deal with the fact that the entire business world is full of MBA's who can't do simple math (we have 350 projects that represent 800,000 man-hours of work, but we only have 6 people, who in a year can work a maximum of 18,000 hours before they actually claw our eyes out--hey, wait a minute, there's a deficit).  I'm disappointed to realize that someone who took a stand against a particularly egregious situation two weeks ago has now been suckered into taking part in said egregious situation.  For a moment this morning I was bucked up by the fact that I was asked my opinion on a seminar on requirements management--then I heard that the audience was only going to include the one other person on our team who has some understanding of requirements and how they're important.
I kind of want to scream or quit or mount a quiet resistance movement.  But instead I'm resorting to chocolate and caffeine, and then tonight I'll try to make it to the gym and run it out, because Shifter seriously inspires me (apart from the part about how he feels sick and dizzy, but you know what I mean).