Thursday, March 30, 2006

Second Step

I just returned from being out of town to find a message on my answering machine from the Think Tank, left on Thursday, asking me to come back for a face-to-face interview. In less than 24 hours they had decided they wanted to hear more.

Hoody Freakin' Hoo!

OK, now before I get too excited, this is just an interview. I don't have the job yet.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

One small step

I had a phone interview today for a "Remote Support Specialist" (sp. Help Desk) position. It was all very preliminary but, hey, it's a start. A public policy think tank is expanding their Pittsburgh office and consolidating all their remote support in one location. The first good thing is that I got a call at all. The second is that they have gotten "dozens" of responses but are hiring half a dozen so the odds are in my favor, better even than my chances at my last interview where they started with over 400 applications and narrowed it down to three or four.

When I was in school working on my Information Science and Political Science degrees, I sort of hoped that one day I could get a job working for The Tank. I didn't think it was likely because I hadn't started in Poli Sci but now it looks like I might have my chance having taken the I.T. route.

Even with nearly two decades of dreaming of just such an opportunity, I'm trying not to get my hopes too high. If I spend too much on expectations, the crash will be even harder should success elude me.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Lego Dominatrix

Got the new Lego catalog today and they have a new Batman series. Batmobile, Batwing, Joker, Two-Face, batarangs and even henchmen.

Catwoman has a Lego whip.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Patently Silly

Found a link for a website called Patently Silly that features submissions to the U.S. Patent Office that are, well, stupid.

Though not featured on the website, one of my favorite patents is Chet Fleming's Device for perfusing an animal head.

This invention relates to a device, referred to herein as a 'cabinet,' which will provide physical and biochemical support for an animal's head which has been 'discorporated' or 'discorped' (i.e., severed from its body). This device can be used to supply a discorped head with oxygenated blood and nutrients, by means of tubes connected to arteries which pass through the neck. After circulating through the head, the deoxygenated blood returns to the cabinet by means of cannulae which are connected to veins that emerge from the neck. A series of processing components will remove carbon dioxide and replenish the oxygen level in the blood, and return the replenished blood to the discorped head via cannulae attached to arteries. If desired, waste products and other metabolites may be removed from the blood, and nutrients, therapeutic drugs, experimental drugs, and other substances may be added to the blood.

The cabinet will provide physical support for the head, by means of a collar around the neck, pins or other devices attached to one or more vertebrae, or similar mechanical means. If desired, the spine may be left attached to the discorped head.

The support provided to the discorped head will prolong various natural metabolic activities in the head after it has been severed from the body. This will allow various types of analyses to be performed on the head (including pharmaceutical, toxicological, hormonal, and neurological analysis) without being affected by various metabolites generated by digestive and other internal organs when such analyses are performed on intact animals.

The severed head preferably should retain all of the sensory organs, and the vocal cords if desired. Depending on the surgical procedures used to sever the head from the body and the type of blood processing and drugs used during and after the operation, the discorped head might experience a period of consciousness after it has been severed from the body.

The best part is that the patent consistantly says "animal" but the illustrations are of a human head.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Today was one of the days I specified for spending some of the PTO I had accumulated before I loose it at the end of the month. I spend half of a day at work and the other half running errands.

For the half day I spent at work, when I had left I had taken a dozen calls, changing passwords, configuring VPN, changing printer settings and the like. In short, at the end of my time I had actually accomplished very little.

For my afternoon I went to a bike shop, had my bike tuned up and had some parts ordered to replace worn ones in anticipation of the summer biking season. Stopped at home to have a quick snack. Checked my porch to find that I had received the game camera I intend to use to catch the squicky vandal greasing my door handle at the Eliza Furnace Trail parking lot. I got a haircut. Got the oil changed in my car. Stopped by a Panera and had a another snack while I checked my e-mail using their wireless connection because I'm having problems with my network connection at home. I went to BestBuy and bought a new cable modem to solve said connectivity problems. And I bought some C-cell batteries and a charger to drive the game camera.

I wasn't quite home at my regular time but, as you can see, my time not working was much more productive than the time I spent at the Help Desk. Work is something I do to make money so I can be much more productive away from work.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Spring is in the air.

I hadn't been paying attention to the Gulf Tower Falcon Cam this weekend but watching this morning, the first day of Spring, I was able to see the female up off the nest enough to see at least two eggs.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

[sound of crickets chirping]

Normally, even in my 48 square foot gulag, I can hear the activity on the rest of the floor. Phones ringing, people talking, signs of life. This afternoon, it seemed very quiet out on the floor while I was taking call after call. I stood up to look over the partition and it was like a ghost town. Most of the cubes were empty.

This is a direct result of the decision to cut hours after finally getting up to proper staffing levels. For the day I took 40% more calls than the next most productive person on the floor.

I hear that the Site Manager argued long and hard to keep staffing levels up to where they should be but he was inevitably overruled by the Corporate Overlord's Bean Counters. So, all the work I did over the summer training a score of new people is being eroded by the bottom line.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The birds are back in town

On NPR earlier this week, there was an news item about the return of Pale Male, the Red Tail hawk with a posh Manhattan address. This got me looking for our own high-rise birds of prey.

At the Gulf Tower.

And at the Cathedral of Learning.

Welcome home.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Take a bite out of crime

"How can I help. . . oh, it's you."

It doesn't sound like a flattering greeting but this is the response I got from the officer at the Squirrel Hill station when I walked in to report that my car had yet again been vandalized at the lot at the end of the Eliza Furnace Trail. This time, like another commuter a week and a half ago, it was toothpaste instead of the previous grease.

So, I guess vandal season has opened early this year. Last year the first attack was in April or May. I didn't pay attention because I thought it was a one-off. Then they came with a much greater regularity: June 3rd, July 8th, July 27th and August 18th.

Last year, I had made much noise about getting a game camera to capture the vandal in the act but nothing came of it. The attacks ended and I spent my money on other things. I've had enough and am going to get a camera. This week. A little bit of camouflage and a steel cable to keep it from being stolen should it be discovered and I have a plan.

Minty justice.

Information Science 101

Had a call today from a Financial Services group member saying that a W****** report hadn't loaded with data for a certain date and to have the report reloaded. I looked up W**** in the Help Desk Reference Manual and could find no documentation. I looked up in the Financial Services Procedures Manual and found only a few references but nothing that had procedures for loading reports. I did a keyword search in the database of previously opened tickets and saw some tickets so I opened a ticket just like those.

My Team Lead was doing a Service Observe at the time, that is, he was listening in on the call. Afterwards he informed me that the user actually needed to place a C*** Platter Request and that she needed to call the Data Delivery group directly.

This is a failing of Notes because when you do a search for documents in Notes databases, it doesn't search the entire document for the keywords. It searched only the designated keywords. This would be analogous to a web search like Google only searching META tags instead of indexing the entire webpage.

More than that, this is a failing of document writers because, knowing how Notes works, they neglected to create keyword lists that actually reflected the keywords of the document. If an application or procedure has synonyms that users might use, then those other terms must be included in the keyword list or a search will never turn up those documents. If you can't search a database, the documents in that database are worthless.

One of the first courses I took in college for Information Science was about keyword searches of abstracts. How do you formulate searches so that you get the data you are looking for. How do you construct an abstract so that searches can find the document. In this case, the keyword was W******. Doing a search for this returned no results because the documents that had this information did not have W****** in the keywords to be searched. Both W****** and C*** were in the document and clearly they had to do with one another so the only reason why it couldn't be searched on was because of the person who created the keyword list.

Come on, people. This is basic stuff here. I did this 20 years ago.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Told you so.

On the way into work this morning, NPR made mention of some of the latest legislation that again had provisions for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Sitting down in front of my PC to read some news, the BBC website had an article on an oil spill from the onshore pipeline at Prudhoe Bay. Over a quarter of a million gallons, the largest spill ever recorded on the North Slope. This spill happened 2 weeks ago but is only now being reported.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Reap what you sow

The huge amount of hiring and training that happened over the summer and fall was not only a desperate attempt to bring our staffing levels up to address the increase from the new Financial Services clients, but also playing catch-up for having been understaffed for years. Finally, we were told, we were up to the proper staffing levels for our call volumes. Huzzah!

Except that this week they started cutting the hours of our part time staff. It would seem that they discovered that having a full staff spends too much money. Oh, and there are simply too many people sitting idle waiting for calls.

Today, there was the pop-up message that we had a queue and that people should stay available because "we are short-staffed."

And who's fault is that? We can be fully staffed and when something goes wrong there will be a queue because hundreds of people are affected and they are all calling the help desk. If you want to be prepared to handle those problem times then you are going to have to accept that there are going to be times when people are doing nothing because nothing happens to be broken. Management is going to have to decide whether we are going to be fully staffed and have people idle or be understaffed and have queue problems.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Vandalism with some teeth

The squicky vandal who last year was putting grease under car door handles at the Eliza Furnace Trail parking lot has apparently returned for a new season. An e-mail from a fellow bicycle commuter tells me that his car was hit on Friday (3 March) but this time, instead of the grease it was toothpaste under the door handle. I happened not to be parking that day as I took the day off to pick up my daughter for spring break or else I probably would have been hit as well.

Well, at least toothpaste is water soluble.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Out in the cold.

The other handwashing shoe has dropped, so to speak. I was called into a meeting and was formally asked if I would wash my hands. The statement was made in such a way that, if I refused, I would be fired on the spot.

The Site Manager brought up that Pennsylvania is an "at-will" employment state and I can be let go at any time for any reason. So, they can use a nonexistent law to punish me and hold up another convenient law to let me know that there is absolutely nothing I can do about it.

This isn't about handwashing. I am not some back-to-nature, anti-fluoridation, neo-Luddite barbarian choosing to be filthy to make some sort of societal statement. I simply don't always stop by the sink on my way out of the rest room. A lot of people do it. I've seen them. But I've done nothing illegal and apparently all those other people haven't been called on the carpet. So, it's not about cleanliness or hygiene. It's politics. It's The Bank flexing it's contractual muscles against its Help Desk minions. The other Bank employees on the floor have regularly made it clear that we are not a part of the team. We are outsiders who, 7 years ago, usurped the status quo by replacing the previous Bank-run Help Desk.

And I am a convenient target. Someone made a stink when I came onto the floor in my biking gear forcing be to change in the bathroom on another floor. This handwashing accusation based on a lie about health codes is just another strike. Next time, it won't matter what the accusation is. It won't matter whether there is any truth to the matter or even if it's relevant at all, I know that my employers will do absolutely nothing to defend me. I will be sacrificed.

On the ironic side, I've read a new article that The Corporation isn't doing so well, either. They have missed another SEC filing deadline. They've gotten one more extension from NASDAQ to the end of the month or risk being delisted. Also, the CEO is in a bit of a tussle as his estranged wife is initiating a lawsuit charging him and his family with mismanagement, self-dealing and abusive use of corporate assets (including tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements for strip club visits). In another suit, she charged her phone provider with allowing her husband access to her phone records. She also threw in charges that he beat her and forced her to engage in deviant sexual acts.

So, here I am having my career threatened for not washing my hands while the Corporate Overlord himself is raping both the company and his wife. And while he has the best lawyers his half-million dollar a year salary can buy, I have no recourse whatsoever. I haven't gotten a raise in four years so that the Corporate Overlord can spend the cash on hookers.

Welcome to the American Dream.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Mutants and Masterminds session #4

After the battle with the Red Hulk, Justice and Cosmic Kid fled the scene leaving Brian Czitrovszky to deal with the police. They wanted to take him downtown for questioning but Luther Lexington showed up and vouched for him. Oddly, though, that defense was not followed up on in any way.

Brian caught a bus home to work on repair his van. While doing that, Cosmic Kid and Nexus (a new player character, essentially a humanoid black hole) showed up tracking an energy signature. They are immediately fired upon by the lab's defenses. Cosmic Kid can withstand the paralyzing rays long enough to call the lab on his cell phone and ask to have the shooting stop.

They come in and ask Brian about the Unbihexium. Still working on the van, Brian says, "Sure, it's the box on the table over there. Knock yourself out." Whereupon, Cosmic Kid nearly does just that when he opens the box and is bathed in the Kryptonite, err, Unbihexium rays. (He looses 1 point from each of his stats.) Nexus closes the box and makes an exclamation about Brian's letting something so dangerous lying about.

"Poppycock!" Brian says and takes the crystalline ore out of the box to show that it has no effect on him. Cosmic Kid, however, takes more damage (2 more points) while Brian is fascinated by the effect it has on his alien physiology.

Deadpool teleports in with Flashdancer (another PC) and a cop from the Star Squad (yet another PC that hasn't chosen a superhero name yet). It was from the cop that Brian learns that Deadpool had stolen the Unbihexium sample. Brian was done with it and so had no problem with allowing the cops to take it back (with the hope the they would also arrest Deadpool and get him out of his hair.) Shortly after the fast ones left, half a dozen robots of the type that first attached Brian's lab show up.

Deadpool and Nexus fight them while Brian attempts to remote-hack. He is able to regularly break through the firewall but usually is only able to stun one of them to keep it out of the fight. Eventually, he's able to crack one wide open and he orders it to do a complete shutdown. Cosmic Kid and Flashdancer return and give fight. Flashdancer is a speedster (ala The Flash) and does the cliched "wrap the opponent in cable" trick. Brian connects the end of the cable to the power supply on his particle accelerator and fries the thing. Eventually, the rest are defeated and the game session ends.

Brian's goal for the fight (aside from staying alive) was to capture one of the robots. The robot's mission was clearly to either kill or capture meta-humans. Once that task was complete it would return from whence it came. The robot's memory has that information and with that, Brian will be able to track down who keeps sending these guys to wreck the lab. Another thing to deduce is how these robots are identifying metahumans. Are they programmed with individual information ("Capture Brian Czitrovszky!") or is there some sort of sensor that allows then to detect metahumans? Lastly, with the robot intact it should be able to be reprogrammed and set it to the task of defending the lab from other attacks.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Spelling Geneyus.

I was driving up Rt.66 on my way to pick up my daughter from Bradford for spring break. In Marienville there is a restaurant:Route 66 DinorI haven't been able to figure out why it's misspelled. It's not just a mistake on the sign. There is a smaller sign next to it and their website at has it the same way. But on the menu, they do say that this is a diner, so it's not that they don't know how to spell the word. Perhaps it's some sort of tradition lost in the mists of time.

And right across the street:The Ronald McDonald Funeral Homeapparently, the Golden Arches is diversifying to prepare for all it's super-sized clients.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cleanliness is next to harassment

I stand accused of not washing my hands. It seems that some Bank employee witnessed me leaving the restroom without my having washed my hands. He complained up the chain of command and it came back down from my manager's manager's manager that I was violating some sort of health code. I looked it up; there is no such code. I called the City, County and State health departments and they confirmed that the handwashing codes only apply to food service.

The last time I checked, Information Technology has nothing to do with food.

Yet, because a client complained I have received an official verbal reprimand for violating a law that doesn't exist.

I have asked if there is some sort of policy within the Bank or The Corporation that applies. I doubt it.

And this isn't the first time this has happened. I looked in my records and this happened December 1st of 2003. At the time, the Site Manager just said, "This has been reported", I told him it was bullshit and that was the end of it. This time I don't think things are going to go so well because this was made official with the Operations Manager and my Team Lead all in attendance and the statement being read off the e-mail.

They didn't even ask if it was true.