Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hello, psychic helpdesk.

I have been described as being "psychically null", entirely insensitive to the energies of the world. One night, with K**** in Mellon Park, she had an overwhelming sensation of a presence. I recall asking if it was a zombie, vampire werewolf or ghost feeling. She didn't much like the skepticism in my comment but she described it as a werewolf-sort of feeling and she wanted to leave. For me, the darkness one the one side of the park was no different from that on the other side.

On the other hand, I have experienced some unexplainable "reactions". I have been known to wake from a deep sleep a minute or two before the phone rings. I'll be at work, leaning back in my chair with my arms crossed and my eyes closed, and I will, for no reason, open my eyes and sit up. My usual reaction is that I'm going to try to get more comfortable (which is impossible) but then the phone rings.

I had a strange occurrence today. A user called and when I asked for her login id, she gave me an id that ended with a two. For some reason when I wrote it down on my scratch paper I wrote a one at the end instead. Immediately realizing that I had not written what she had said I asked her to repeat the number, scratched out the one and wrote a two.

But when I searched for the id in the user database, it didn't come up. OK, that's not a big deal. Sometimes new users aren't yet in the Help Desk database, so I searched the mainframe database. It wasn't there either. I asked her to repeat it to make sure I had it right and when she confirmed that I did have it correct I asked her name. I did a database search on her name and it returned a number different from what she had told me. Users often don't remember their login ids because they type theme every day and it becomes a mechanical motion on the keyboard, an almost Pavlovian response to the request to type in a login. Sometimes they forget.

Her actual login id was not what she had told me but was in fact what I had initially written.

Oooooooo. Spooky.

Or not. I'm not sure if it's a form of dyslexia or if my brain is attempting to do some sort of pattern matching or random checksum calculation but I will sometime simply write a different number than what I intended to write. Usually it's the last digit of a login id and sometimes I'm even mumbling the correct number while writing the wrong one. So, it's entirely possible (in fact, it is much more likely) that my brain simply mis-fired and I just happened to hit the 1 in 10 chance of getting it right.

So, how do I respond before the phone rings? Am I not actually "psychically null" and tapping into the cosmic causality stream, reacting to the future before the event? Am I somehow super-sensitive to the electricity running through the lines, triggering a reaction in my subconscious mind before the electronics in the phone activate?

It's probably just a coincidence. I'm not waking up because the phone is about to ring. I'm waking up randomly and the phone just happens to ring. There are many other times that I have woken up and gone back to sleep without anything of note happening to keep me awake (such as the phone ringing). Those many instances are forgotten and the rare few that seem to be cause and effect are positively reinforced.

Mystery solved.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Empty temple and empty mind.

I drove to Wooster, Ohio today to participate in my first atlatl competition of the season. A short explanation, an atlatl is a stick with a hook on the end that is used to throw long arrow-like darts with tremendous power. Our Ice Age ancestors used them to hunt mammoths. The Aztecs used them to spear invading Conquistadors. The Inuit and Aboriginal Australians still use them today.

I did very well for not having thrown at all since the middle of last year. But when it came time in the afternoon to throw for the official World Atlatl Association score, I screwed up big time. When before I was hitting the target nearly every time (missing only once or twice in a set, very good for me) when it was time for the real deal I missed as many times as I hit. My only excuse was that it was the end of the day and my arm was tired. Had I thrown for the official score at 1pm instead of at 3pm I would have done better.

My second point. . .

In the latest Ohio Atlatl Association newsletter there was an review of "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus" by Charles C. Mann. It started with an illustration:From right to left, top to bottom, Atlatlists from the city empire of Teotihucan pay a visit to Tikal of the Maya, January 14, 378 A.D., resulting in the empty temple syndrome. The former Mayan ruler, having "entered the water", was replaced by the son of the ruler of Teotihucan.

I haven't read this book yet but this explanation of the carving's meaning seems needlessly euphemistic. It's pretty clear to me that the ruler of Teotihucan sent an army to visit his neighbor. The temple is empty because all the priests have been killed and the deposed Mayan ruler was probably tied up and chucked in the river to "swim with the fishes." Perhaps archaeologists and historians don't like to make assumptions about why the temple is empty after the atlatl-armed warriors pay a visit but I think that gives a skewed view of history.

"Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage" by Steven LeBlanc addresses the tendency of historians to romanticise pre-historic people. They look at "modern" examples such as the Native Americans and think that they lived peacefully with both their human and animal neighbors. This gets perpetuated in the media. In point of fact, early peoples did all the same things that their European conquerors did. They moved into new territories, depleted the local resources and came into conflict with their neighbors over those now scarce resources. Our impression of the natives living in harmony with nature is skewed because when we got to know these people their populations had already been decimated by diseases that the explorers had inflicted upon them. When most of your population dies, it's much easier for the survivors to find enough to eat. Europeans experienced just this sort of thing with the prosperity of the Renaissance coming after the horrors of the Black Death.

Ancient people were just like us and historians should say there was war instead of trying to call it "empty temple syndrome" like it's some sort of great mystery.

My third and almost unrelated point. . .

Tonight on the Sci-Fi channel, they are presenting the Sci-Fi Original "Mammoth." I think the line from the commercials says it all:

"We have an alien-possessed mammoth on the loose and if we don't stop it the government is gonna' kill all of us."

This gem of a line is delivered by Vincent Ventresca (Remember the "Invisible Man" series?) to Tom Skarrett, whose response is to fold over in in laughter. Yea, Tom, I'd laugh this guy out of the room as well.

Who writes this crap? The Sci-Fi channel has become the 21st Century's B-movie studio turning down "Farscape" and "Firefly" so they could churn out drek like "Mansquito". And a mammoth? They've had just about every other big animal they could think of run amok so they had to resort to bringing back a mammoth. Ok, I can imagine a mammoth frozen in the Siberian tundra being melted and brought back to life. ("Iceman" did a good job thawing out a caveman. Heck, even "Encino Man" was amusing.) But a re-animated mammoth probably isn't going to behave much differently than a wild elephant. Nothing exciting there. I know! Let's have it possessed by an alien. It's B-movie gold!

I wish I had a mammoth target to hurl darts at.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Flying off into the sunset.

The Corporate Overlords have announced half million share stock buyback program. So, after announcing a $10 million dollar lost for 2005, they are going to spend $4 million to take shares out of the market.


Well, the simple answer is that taking stock off the market increases the value of the remaining shares. Most often, this is done for stocks that are considered undervalued. Considering that the stock value of the Corporation is the lowest it's been in years, the market clearly doesn't consider it undervalued. If it's not an undervalued price, buybacks can keep the price up for insiders planning on exercising options.

So, are the top execs trying to take the money and run? I've been snooping on some market watch discussion boards and there has been some fascinating discussions about a recent conference call with the Chief Executive Overlord. Did he really get a big bonus ($500,000) and a new airplane (2005 Hawker 800XP)? According to one article, the Corporate Overlords claim that they are leasing the plane but the FAA says differently. If they aren't running, they are clearly bleeding the company for whatever they can personally get regardless of what it does to the company itself and the employees.

If they were genuinely interested in the company (or their customers), they would be investing in the product, not trying to float the stock prices. Produce a good product or service and the stock price will take care of itself. Of course, that would take someone who isn't a money grubbing bastard.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fools rush in. . .

When I entered the building after lunch there was an alarm sounding. Flashing lights, annoyingly loud tones, announcements by security, the whole nine yards. I went back outside and waited for the whole thing to blow over.

For the 15 minutes or so that I stood there I could see security guards rushing about. Two fire trucks arrived and fully equipped firemen scouted around and, for all that, scores if not hundreds of people returning from lunch continued to enter the building and head for the elevators.

What the fuck is wrong with you people? A fire alarm means you LEAVE the building so that you don't die. Didn't they teach you that in Kindergarden? What the hell are you thinking? Sure, 99 times out of 100 the alarms are false but you're going to look really silly when Osiris is weighing your heart against the weight of a feather to see if you are worthy of entrance into the afterlife and says:

"So, let me get this straight. . . The alarm was going off, firemen were running around and yet you continued into the building to die a fiery death why?"

"I needed to check my e-mail before my lunch hour was over."

"OK. You're too STUPID to make it through your first life, we certainly aren't letting you into Paradise to be stupid for eternity. NEXT! Oh, hell, here's another one. . . "

I don't care how much they pay me or how important they think it is that I be in my cubicle answering phones, I am not going into a building when the fire alarm is going off.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The big letdown.

I didn't get the job with the Think Tank that was so eagerly anticipated. I'm not sure what feel. I shouldn't take it personally and it shouldn't be surprising if there are more qualified people out there applying for the same positions but they were hiring for six positions. So, out of two-score people they found half a dozen better than I.

So, is it me? Is it something so simple as someone being more qualified or is it something else? Do I seem too eager to leave my current position or am I not eager enough? Does the seven years I've spent with my current employer show loyalty and dedication or does it show a lack of initiative? Was it something I said? Something I didn't say? Was some ugly secret that even I didn't know about turn up in the background check? Did someone not like my beard?

The interview seemed to go well but did I miss something? Some telltale clue in an expression, posture or word that indicates that a decision has been made right there and then? Is there something I could have done? They never tell you why you didn't get the job so you have no real way of knowing if it was something you did or if it was completely out of your hands.

Self-doubt is an ugly, corrosive thing. Despair festers and builds and makes you to think you will never get ahead. It steals your dreams and leaves you with only ague hopes of getting something that is only marginally better than what you have now because the big steps are just too far. Beyond your reach.

In my mind, I know I'm better than that. But my heart keeps getting stabbed with disappointment.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Better late than never. Not.

The Corporate Overlords have finally gotten their act together to file the papers with the SEC needed back in October, restate their 3rd Quarter earnings and figure their 4th Quarter earnings for 2005. The answer? A net loss of $10 million for the year.

Now, they said that they were also going to do a "writedown of goodwill" to the tunes of $16 million. It took some study but I THINK it means that they aren't going to be posting as much income as initially expected because a bunch of that money is going into acquisitions. Goodwill is the difference between what they pay for the acquisition and what the acquisition is actually worth, trying to take into account things that don't have a solid value, such as patents, customer lists and trade names. A writedown means that you aren't going to be making as much money off of those things as you thought you would. The charming thing is that the aquisition that they are undervaluing is probably us.

Or something like that. It sounds like smoke an mirrors to me. Especially when, after screwing up with the SEC and NASDAQ for eight months and announcing $10 mil losses, the CEO says, "the Company continues to be well positioned with a strong balance sheet." Sorry, boss, but a $10 million dollar loss doesn't sound all that strong. And a $16 mil "writedown" says to me you're expecting more of the same.

Flash Dreams.

Dream 1: Two children are assembling a swing set, specifically the slide.

Dream 2: Yesterday, in realspace, I rode on the Ghost Town Trail in Indiana County. There was one place where there were some odd concentric semi-circular mounds beside what used to be the rail line. I couldn't quite tell what they were for, but in my dreamscape I saw a track junction and rail laid along these mounds as I rode by.

Dream 3: A red business-sized card has little mechanical feet, like those wind-up toys, and is walking along a asphalt sidewalk. There is some sort of writing on the card that I can't read. Two blue cards walk out of the grass to the right and advance menacingly on the red card.

Dream 4: I'm hiking on a trail that looks like one in south park and there's a side trail that I know will take me down to an intersection and then back to the parking area. Instead of taking that trail, I continue up further up to a different trail intersection that looks more like the Whitetail Trail near Uniontown.

What is disturbing about these dreams is not their content but that I was able to have them in-between calls sitting in my cube at the Help Desk. Normally, I don't go to sleep easily and it's not unusual for me to lay in bed for an hour before drifting off. But I have discovered that in the morning I can cross my arms, close my eyes and fall into a dream state yet still be alert enough that I can answer an incoming call before the second ring.

I think there are several things going on here. The first is simple sleep deprivation. Four or five hours of sleep is the norm for me during the week.

Second, is the lack of anything to get my brain actually working in the morning. Calls are mostly passwords and mail servers being down so it's easy to be done with a call and drop off without having to think much about it.

And thirdly, I think my mind might just be wired that way. When I'm not getting enough sleep, I've hallucinated. Usually it's when I'm trying to sleep or just waking up I'll be in the space where I'm awake enough to see my bed room but asleep enough to see the aliens or demons from my dreams superimposed. I haven't been having that happen to me recently but this may be something similar.

I read a recent article that people who have had near-death experiences also experienced REM Intrusion, the overlaying of rapid eye movement sleep and brain wave patters over waking consciousness. Well, my dreams aren't intruding into my wakefulness but the time between my being awake and dreaming is greatly reduced. In most people, going from being awake to REM sleep, where most dreaming happens, takes 90 minutes. I'm apparently , under the right conditions, able to be dreaming in only a few minutes.

A little more investigation into the issue have shows that some dreaming does take place during other stages of the sleep cycle (they call this "covert REM sleep"). So, I'm not experiencing REM Intrusion but dreaming between phone calls is still not normal.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Complex mathematics

User: ". . . It's still not taking my new password.
Geis: "New passwords must be six to eight characters long. . . "
User: "It is."
Geis: "It must contain both letters and numbers. . . "
User: "It does."
Geis: "It cannot contain common words. . . "
User: "It doesn't."
Geis: "And it must be something you haven't used before."
User: "I haven't. . . and it's still not working."
Geis: "How many characters ARE in your password."
User: "Seven letters and two numbers."
Geis: "That's nine. Passwords can have no more than EIGHT characters."
User: "Oh. . . " *click*

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Avian Flu Resiliency Preparation

Recently there have been a number of instances where clients have questioned us about our plans and preparations for a possible outbreak of pandemic illness - specifically the Avian Flu.
That's how one of the many e-mails I get at work started out.
. . . The Bank has established a comprehensive, cross-functional scenario planning process, designed to identify exposures, business impact, existing control cap bilities, gaps and remediation recommendations based on major scenario types has been established. This process serves as the foundation of The Bank's "Scenario-Based Business Resiliency Planning" program and facilitates a more effective management prioritization process to invest and continue to enhance The Bank's business resiliency capabilities.
Now, I can appreciate that a large financial institution should have a business resiliancy plan for dealing with emergencies. Hell, I even worked on the Help Desk's plan after 9/11 when I became the floor warden (a plan that seems to have been forgotten in the years since). But, in all honesty, compared to Avian flu, I suspect my finances are at a greater risk from mis-statements of earnings and fraud perpetrated by overpaid executives than by a disease that has thus far only affected people who live with their chickens.

This fear-mongering is propagated by the sensationalistic news media and, much like drug company advertising drives people to demand treatment for non-diseases like "restless leg syndrome", the Avian flu panic is driving our financial institution to waste cycles on on this nonsense rather than doing what people really want it to do; manage their money.

Not to completely discount the risk of a influenza pandemic but should such a thing happen, the ability of my bank to provide good customer service for my financial services questions is going to be the least of my concerns.

On the other hand, one could conceive of a scenario wherein the banks are unable to to staff properly. The poor customer service causes people to fear that they won't be able to access their money leading to a run on the banks, a financial collapse of the American economy, chaos and anarchy.

I should write a made-for-TV movie script.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dreaming in the Neighborhood.

Last night's dreams were not unlike many of my dreams. A major portion of it involved my defending against an alien invasion. (Large, tentacled monsters like those in "Half Life".) The space fighter I was climbing into was suspiciously like a WWII Spitfire. Then, like dreams are wont to do, it changed gears and I was entering a house that looked like that of my Great-Grandmother in Homestead. I was part of a tour, and once inside the scene changed again to that of the offices of WQED. Specifically, it was the set of Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

I grew up watching Mister Rogers on the television. Twenty years later while my daughter was growing up watching him on the TV, I met him a few times when I was a delivery driver for Kinkos. Metting him was little more than greetings in the hallway but from seeing him sitting on a couch reading or working behind the scenes to produce his show, one could easily see this was the same person. The Mister Rogers who sang "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" while he changed from loafers to tennis shoes was not a persona he put on with his sweater or an act, it was exactly who he was. What you saw on television was the way he was in person and the way he was when he spoke before Congress. When the camera panned over the model of the neighborhood and he came through the door one had the impression that he had walked there because he had actually walked to work that morning. I saw him regularly walking through Oakland on his way to or from the studio.

And in my dreamscape, it wasn't incongruous for my Great-Grandmother's house to seamlessly transform into Mister Rogers' house. In a sense, he was like a part of the family. He was the kind of relative every child deserves to have instead of the asshat uncle we actually got.

In my dream, I turned the corner to the darkened Neighborhood of Make-Believe set. The castle of King Friday XIII. The tree of X the Owl and Henrietta Pussycat. It was exactly as it was on television, except that it was empty. Lifeless. Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003. In my dream, I cried alone in that darkened soundstage, tears unselfconsciously pouring down my face. Even now as I write this, I feel the sadness for the world having lost such an irrefutably good person.

Good-bye, Fred Rogers. We still miss you.
Fred Rogers

Monday, April 10, 2006

On the rim.

My bike was in the shop last week for some repairs. The gears had worn out, the crank, freewheel and chain were being replaced. This work was done at the new Iron City Bikes in Oakland, by the way. The technician pointed out a problem with my brakes. The pads were still ok but when I squeezed down on the lever, I used up almost all the slack in the cable of the side-pull brakes. I knew I had to do something about that but I didn't actually notice it until I was riding this weekend and the back brakes weren't working.

Only when I was at the hardware store buying some washers to take up some of that slack did I realize why this problem was happening in the first place. Last year, one of my rims broke and when the techs at TRM replaced my rims they did so with slightly narrower ones. Most of my riding is on trails and road so having slightly narrower rims and tires on my hybrid isn't a big deal but my brakes were designed for rims of a certain width and changing the one means I now have to adjust the other.

I should have insisted on rims of the same width but the rim was broken and they didn't have the identical size in stock so I had little choice but to get what they had. Thankfully, adjusting the brakes to work with the new rim width was a simple matter of adding some 1/4 inch washers.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Taking credit where credit isn't due.

We'd been really busy all day, starting with a server outage that lasted most of the morning. This afternoon, there was a little bit of a queue in the phone system, after which Team Lead D**** sent the following message:

not to worry everyone.............I cleared the queue for're welcome
Hmmmm, I looked at the number of calls I had taken so far for the day; 72, and compared it to the number of calls he had taken; 0. According to the ticket generation system, he had not generated any tickets at all. Not one. Yet he felt comfortable in announcing to the entire Help Desk that HE had cleared the queue.

I've also noticed a new addition to his repertoire. When the queue climbs a little bit and he thinks that too many people are not available or taking calls, he says "You're killing me." Sorry, but I don't think it quite reaches the level of life threatening.

And by the end of the day, my call total was 88. Not a record (I have cleared over 100 calls on two occasions) but one of the highest. Working that hard for what I'm making, now that's killing me.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Step three

I had my interview with the Think Tank today and I think it went well. Several times I heard one of the interviewers (by video conference at the Home Office) say "That's what I wanted to hear." They also said that they only hand out the form for the background check to people they are serious about. Then they handed me said form.

The Think Tank is in the process of moving to new offices so they won't be getting back to me probably until the begining of May but I have a really good feeling about this. There's a part of me saying, "I so have this job," but it could still go the other way.

*deep breath*