Monday, February 27, 2006

The Perfect Donut

Dunkin' Donuts now has Boston creme filled Munchkins! How cool is that?!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Curse you, Red Baron!

I've been playing "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City." In the "Bombs Away" scenario, Cuban drug runners are on the dock and I have a three RC biplanes with bombs strapped to the bottom that I need to fly across the bay and drop on the boats. Since I was playing with mouse and keyboard instead of the game controller I was having a great deal of problem controlling the aircraft. It would rise and fall like a roller coaster, eventually crashing into the water.

Reload the game and restart the mission.

With practice I could get it to fly nearly straight and level but any attempt to turn would cause it to slip back into the climb-stall-dive-splash cycle.

Reload the game and restart the mission.

Finally, I was able to get a plane to crash into one of the boats and blow it up. The cheat book suggested that the explosion of one boat should be enough to detonate the other two but they survived. The Cubans jumped in the remaining boats and took off. I could barely manage hitting one boat as a stationary target, let alone chasing down two different moving targets.

Reload the game and restart the mission.

At one point, I crashed the plane into the dock where the Cubans were standing around. They didn't seem to notice. I ran the plane into one of them. He fell down then stood back up as if nothing happened. I kept hitting him until he didn't get up again. So, I drove the plane around the dock, essentially chopping their shins up with the plane's propeller until they bled to death. Then, I drove the plane off the dock into a boat and blew it up. Since the crews were all dead, the other boats just sat on the dock waiting for me to fly another plane across the bay to make a rough landing in the parking lot and then drive onto the next boat.

Somehow, I don't think this is what the programmers had in mind.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Are you deaf?

Geis: ". . . It sound like you've either lost your connection to your L: drive or your Notes ID file has gone missing. Open notes and you should get a prompt that says 'Choose file to be used as ID.' Does it say that?"

User: "No, it doesn't. It says OK and Cancel and at the top it says 'Choose file to be used as ID."

Geis: "Which is what I just said. Now, click on the drop down next to where it says "Look in" and you should see a list of drives. Do you see the L: drive listed there? It will have your login ID."

User: "No, its' not there."

Geis: "What is there?"

User: "A: Floppy Drive. C: WinXP. D: CD. and my login with an L in parenthesis."

Geis: ". . . "

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Change of plans.

When I first interviewed for the Help Desk, I had a question about holidays. Since The Corporation had certain official holidays (Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, etc) and The Bank had several more holidays (Flag Day, Columbus Day, Presidents Day, etc), how was that going to be handled? As bank holidays, would we get them like the other holidays? Would we not work and therefore not be paid? Even though the Bank was closed, would we be required to work? What? The HR Rep didn't have an answer so she threw money at me. That's right, she just offered me a slightly higher salary, I believe because she feared that without an answer I wouldn't take the job and they were desperate for warm bodies.

Well, in the past six years they still haven't figured it out. Each bank holiday seems to have some new twist. Sometimes it's been the full timers working 4 hour shifts to provide coverage. Sometimes it was one holiday on and the next off. Then it was voluntary.

President's Day is coming up and I was told months ago that I would not be working. I would, however, have to work the next two "bank" holidays. It was great to know this in advance so that I could make plans.

Except that today, Thursday, there was a meeting of some sort and the plans changed again. I *will* have to work on Monday. And not a full shift but a six hour shift. 10-4.

H**** had taken the day off so that we could spend it together. Sort of a late Valentines.

Thanks a lot, pinheads. These days are on the calendar far in advance. You have the data on just what the staffing requirements are. You've been doing this for almost seven frelling years and you still manage to screw it up each time.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Mutants & Masterminds session #3

Brian had finished his baffling conversation with the Confetti Ninja
and began working on dismantling and investigating the robot that he had run over repeatedly with his van. His goal was to determine perhaps who had sent this robot. That information was not found but he did find a power core of unknown content. The other task Brian set to was to take the best images from my security cameras of the Confetti Ninja, map them to a CGI model, place that model in front of a 7-11 image and post it to the Internet to some super-person discussion group. "Have you seen this ninja?" He took it out of context because he wanted a good image that separated it from the lab a little bit.

During the course of this, a limo pulled up to the gate. The passenger spoke with Aimee (the lab's computer) introducing himself as Luther Lexington.

Now, here I have to digress a little. One of the other players characters is called Cosmic Kid. (Brian hasn't met him yet). Cosmic Kid is just like Superman but without the super strength (he couldn't afford the points). He also comes with all of Superman's back story and baggage, all not-so-subtly changed to avoid copyright infringement. One of his buddies growing up in Tinyville was Luther Lexington. Ugh.

Anyway. I asked the GM what I knew of this Luther Lexington and all he said was that he was the son of corporate magnate Leonidas Lexington. The name Leonidas seemed familiar but I couldn't place it. It was late and Brian was working on the robot so Aimee passed on the message that Luther should make an appointment for a time during what would be considered business hours. Luther made a stink that he had an offer that would expire when he left. Aimee told him to have a good evening.

I could tell that the GM was stumped. He seems fairly used to laying out very clear plotlines and having his players follow them. My insistence on playing the character and ignoring the path he set out for me confused him. He pulled a bunch of pages out of his plot document and moved on to dealing with the other players.

During that, I listened in on what they were doing. There had been some sort of break in and fight at Lexington Corporation and they had obtained a data disk of some sort. They went to Freedom Hall (superhero central) to see if they could get the information off of it. They screwed it up but before the disk destroyed itself they got a screen that said "Project Θερμοπύλαι". I don't know Greek but as they worked their way through I heard them saying "Thermo-something."

I started laughing. Laughing hard. It was Project Thermopylae. The Battle of Thermopylae was the famous battle in 480 BC where 300 Spartans, lead by King Leonidas, held off an army of a million Persians. The Gates of Fire. So, it shouldn't be surprising that Leonidas Lexington is working on a Project Thermopylae.(I couldn't place the name because the GM pronounced it with a short-i sound in the middle and, since I didn't know proper Greek pronunciation, I had always pronounced it with a long-i.)

What bothered me about this was that the GM kept dropping hints until they figured it out. If he wanted them to know, why did he make it such a puzzle? Wouldn't it have made more sense to keep them in the dark, challenge them to figure it out for themselves or have them go to Brian to find out?

Back to Brian. Still overnight, The Confetti Ninja teleported into the lab again whereupon the defense systems immediately started shooting at him. He bounced around, asking Brian to "quit it."


The GM seemed a little taken aback by the question and had the Ninja
respond "Because you're the nearest thing to a friend I have in the world."

"Really. That's ironic because you are the nearest thing to an arch-enemy I have in the world."

Brian let him dance a little while longer before stopping the shooting The Ninja presented him with a dark rock with green crystals in it. He was told it was unbihexium. As a player, I knew immediately that this was really a stand-in for kryptonite. I also guessed that it was this unbihexium that was in the robot's power core and that it probably had to do with Luther Lexington's visit and Project Thermopylae. The Ninja also threw down a pressure suit and said that Brian should put it on in the morning.

Brian ignored him.

When morning came, the Ninja teleported in again and was immediately fired upon. After jumping around a bit, he grabbed Brian and the suit and teleported to the downtown area. (I knew he wouldn't teleport into the vacuum of space without his having the suit on). There was a fight going on. A red Hulk-like being had thrown a truck through a restaurant windows and the other player characters were fighting him. Using player knowledge that Cosmic Kid was being mentally affected, I had Brian put on the suit, believing that perhaps the Red Hulk was emitting some sort of confusing gas that the suit would protect against. After that, what is a Super-Genius going to do against a rampaging monster? I asked the GM what might be available such as power lines, convenient vehicles and so on that could be used. He gave me nothing. Brian had to resort to pulling his blaster and shooting.Brian noticed a green crystalline spike in the Red Hulk's back. The assumption was that this was unnatural and it was this crystal that was driving the action either through pain or through remote control. In either case, when the Red Hulk was stunned and Cosmic Kid was compelled by the GM to go for the crystal, I thought it was a bad thing. The GM granted Judgement (the other player character, a teleporting energy caster) a Hero Point and said that he goes for the crystal. The GM awarded me a Hero Point saying that I shoot the crystal.

Harrumph. The awarding of Hero Points is compensation for the GM taking control of your character and forcing you to do something your character wouldn't normally do so that he can advance the plot in the direction he wants it to go. I really dislike this. Especially since the previous monkey wrenches I have thrown into the plot, not meeting with Luther Lexington for example, have been met with confusion on the GM's part. Judgement was going to try to stop Cosmic Kid from grabbing the crystal. I also though it was a bad idea and was going to shoot Cosmic Kid. What the GM makes happen is that Cosmic Kid and Judgement both touch the crystal and I shoot the crystal. Suddenly, we are teleported above Europa in orbit around Jupiter.

The crystal races off to the surface. Judgement can't teleport back to Earth (another plot device). Cosmic Kid flies us down to the surface. Noone can talk to one another in the vacuum so the two of them begin using their Freedom League secret-decoder PDAs. Brian hacks them so he can listen in. The crystal has grown into a Fortress of Solitude (tm). Cosmic Kid flies the group off to that. They are attacked by Omega Drones.

Omega Drones are robot minions of a supervillan called Omega. Really
powerful stuff. Anyway, at the Fortress there is air so Brian can take off his helmet. Introductions all around. Cosmic Kid gets the "This is Your Life" message from Marlon Brando. Brian and Judgement are encased in ice while Cosmic Kid races back to Earth. When Brian and Judgement are released, Omega is there. Judgement teleports Brian and himself back to Earth where it is only a few moments after they left. Brian finished the fight by blasting the Red Hulk.

Plot Hole #1: Why didn't the Red Hulk teleport with the rest of the group grabbing the crystal? He had the crystal imbedded in his back. Plot Hole #2: Why couldn't Judgement teleport and then was suddenly able to teleport? Plot Hole #3: How did Deadpool (I'll start using that name because Brian finally learned it) know that Brian was going on an interplanetary trip?

I really dislike Deadpool. I believe that the GM would really rather be playing Deadpool as a character and grants him super powers so that he can always win. Those super powers include secret information about where the plot is going and the ability to ignore the need to roll dice to judge the success or failure of any action so as to advance said linear plot. In fanfic this kind of character is referred to as a Mary Sue.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Use it or loose it.

I believe that our Corporate Overlords regularly use the technique of "bait and switch" when it comes time to announce unpleasant things. I particularly recall a meeting where the Site Manager brought us in to talk about where The Company was going and where they stood compared to the rest of the industry. The picture looked pretty good. Then we lost our 401k matching funds.

Well, as I said, there has been an Auditor in the area. When I spoke with him he talked about getting our ideas, asked if there were any tools we needed to do our jobs better and was generally upbeat. Well, today my skepticism was validated when the announcement came down concerning major changes to how vacation time is managed.

Previously, you accrued PTO based on the number of hours you worked. I recall it was something on the order of 1.6 hours of PTO earned for 40 hours of work. These hours were stockpiled indefinitely.

Now, vacation hours will be awarded based on seniority and status. Be employed for 1 year, earn 80 hours of vacation time for the year. Be employed for 3 years, earn 96 hours. If your a part-time employee, whether you work 20 hours a week or 35 hours a week, you only get half as much.

For myself, there is good and bad, and neither to the extreme. My 6+ years of service earns me 120 hours of vacation time for the year. I looked at my past usage of PTO and it's ranged from the mid 80s to the mid 90s so I am, in a sense, getting more.

But, here's the trick; if that time isn't used by the end of the calendar year, it evaporates.

The Corporation provides this benefit plan to provide a healthy work-life balance. The Corporate Overlords expect each employee to take the full allotment of vacation provided each year.

This isn't "work-life balance" if I'm forced to spend it at the rate they define.

But wait. There's more.

The PTO time I have right now, 55 hours, must be used by April 1st or it will disappear as well. In the next month and a half I need to spend over a week of PTO or loose out.

Damn right, I'm going to spend it now. I'm going to look over my calendar and start spending it left and right. Perhaps I'll avoid the nasty queue and take each Monday off for the next six weeks. Maybe I'll take six Fridays off and have some nice long weekends for a change. Maybe I'll just take a whole week.

But what about some of my other coworkers who I know have accrued more PTO than I have. I know of at least three with over 100 hours. Are they going to get a chance to spend their time or are they going to get ripped off? Am I going to be cheated out of my time while Management tries to accommodate everyone?

And, of course, I see this as another symptom of problems at the Corporate level. Switching from an hourly-based PTO accumulation to one that has a set amount a year allows them to budget more efficiently. No nasty surprises when an employee who's never taken a vacation collects all of it at once. And, for every employee that doesn't spend all his vacation time by the end of the year, well it's like free money in the pockets of the Corporate Overlords.

So, another shoe has dropped.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Carrots and Sticks.

Yesterday, we received a message that an Auditor from the Corporate Overlords was in the office and we were not to be doing anything not project related. That is; no surfing the web, no reading books, stuff like that. Well, he was still around today. At one point my Team Lead came into my cube and said that when I was done with the call I was on I was to go into the training room for a meeting with the Auditor.

"Are you sure you want me to do that?" I asked.

The Auditor wanted to speak with one Analyst from each of the three teams and my Team Lead had chosen me because he knew I had opinions and wasn't afraid to voice them.


So, in this meeting I went over many of the things I had gone over last week with the Site Manager. I toned down some things but I didn't mince too many words.

There has been a drop in performance by the help desk as a whole. Much of it has to do with the huge influx on new analysts but a significant and surprising amount come from experienced analysts who aren't acting with due diligence. They are making more mistakes. Careless mistakes. Why?

Well, we have no incentive to do better or work harder. No bonuses. No pay raises. Why work harder if we aren't going to be rewarded for our work.

There is also no dis-incentive to working poorly. There really is no punishment that can be inflicted on us for poor performance. A stern talking to or a threat of being fired isn't going to do it because we have learned from experience that it take a spectacular fuck up to get fired. Just being piss-poor, lazy or mediocre isn't going to do it.

So, we have neither carrot or stick. No reason to work better. No fear of consequences for working poorly. Just a huge, apathetic center.

The Auditor took all this in over 45 minutes and three pages of notes. I even had some suggestions. The spin he put on it was that he was there to learn how things work so that what works for us can be taken to other sites and what works there might be brought here. It all sounded so promising but I've heard this song and dance before. The cynical voice says that he's her to see where the fat can be squeezed. The company stock is still in the toilet and while they have avoided being de-listed from NASDAQ, they are still under scrutiny and probable pressure from their shareholders.

I have no reason to believe anything good will come of this. In the final analysis, I expect more of the same. No carrots. No sticks.

Monday, February 06, 2006

One for the thumb.

The Steelers won the Super Bowl last night. I wasn't watching the game but the end of the game was clearly anounced in the community with car horns and gunfire.

Yep, people were out in their yards firing shots into the air. In Oakland, a car was overturned The windows were busted out and revelers were allowed to dance atop it for 20 minutes before the police came to put a stop to their fun. Denied that form of vandalism, the crowd moved on, tore down store awnings, smashed windows, flipped city trash cans and newspaper boxes, pulled down street signs and destroyed parking meters. Eventually they found another car to flip over. On the South Side, riot police had to control the mob with Plexiglas shields and batons.

It's a stupid, fucking football game, people! It's just a game! And all YOU did was watch it happen on television.

So, congratulations, yinz guys. My thumb's up for your making this burg truly the City of Champions.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


I went on a short hike along the Harmony Trail near Wexford. The Rachel Carson Trail Conservancy is working on converting a 4 mile section of what was once the Harmony trolley line from New Castle to Pittsburgh. At one point, the person leading the hike pulled a bright yellow "Posted" sign from a power pole. We were shocked until she explained that they investigated the name and John Knapp of 190 Clay Road in Wexford does not exist. The name does not appear on the tax rolls. The street doesn't even exist in Wexford.

It is known that several land owners along the corridor are opposed to "their" throughway being used as a trail but it is the general consensus that these signs are an effort by a local hunter to keep people off "his" prime hunting ground. We saw a number of well-traveled deer trails and one hunter's tree stand.

It's actually fairly clever to put up "No Trespassing" signs along what they consider to be unused land. Most people would simply believe the signs and stay away. The RCT Conservancy has been carefully looking into who owns what along the corridor and has been negotiating with property owners. When these signs started appearing (and apparently those previously had a different false name) they looked into it and found them to be ficticious.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Failure to Communicate

New stupid policy today. We were handed an eight page packet of procedure that we have to post in our cubicles. Not just pinned so that we can reference them but each one pined up so that wer cas see them all at once. Now maybe, just maybe, if these were procedures that needed to be referenced often I could possibly imagine the utility of having them all visible and handy but all of them, not just some but all of them, are procedures that are rarely necessary. For at least half of them I have NEVER received a relevant call.

But seven of the eight were relevant to the Financial Services group, apparently still populated by people who feel that they are the MOST important part of The Bank and must be waited on hand and foot.

Hey, if The Bank thought you were THAT important, they wouldn't have liquidated your own private Help Desk and given the job to us.

Requiring that we all have these procedures posted in view in our cubicles is insulting to those of us who know what we are doing and will be ignored by those who already ignore the stacks of procedure related emails we already receive. And since I count myself among those who are insulted by treating us like children, I went into the Site Manager's office to say exactly this.

To his credit, he stood up to me this time. Usually, he just sort of takes my ranting and agrees with me. This time, he's got his feet to the fire. Each day, he's pulled into a meeting where the Financial Services people hold up every mistake by the Help Desk as a reason why the elimination of their own personal Help Desk should never happened. He's a political punching bag.

But when the other shoe dropped, I lost all sympathy.

It would seem that a long time ago, when his predecessor was still "in charge" and I was working my ass off over the summer, one of the trainees complained that I editorialized about one of the team leads . (You can guess who. I've mentioned him here often.) N***, the new Site Manager and someone who I had previously thought was forthright and honest, revealed to me that he learned of this and decided that "it was not his place" do let me know.

This is my fucking career, we're talking about here. If someone is making claims or accusations about my performance, it is management's responsibility to address the issue. By sitting on this, I was denied either the opportunity to defend myself from unfounded accusations (which I wouldn't do because they happen to be true) or amend my behavior. By keeping me in the dark, I can only continue on the way I have been. I can only be led to conclude that my not being involved in the current training cycle was part of the diciplinary action that was meted out in absentia. I was told that this wasn't the case but the secret was kept from me for the better part of a year. Why should I believe you?

I told him, "N***, I thought you were better than that."

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

It's nothing new. I have said for years that Management at the Help Desk has failed to address issues in a direct manner. They make broad policies and mandate that everyone follow them when, in fact, there are a handful of individuals that need remedial training or to be pulled into the office and told to shape up. I have told Site Managers, Team Leads and the Ops Manager this to their faces. Now, I am one of those people that needed to be pulled into the office and they didn't have the guts to address the issue head on.

Spineless, selfish bastards.