Monday, September 25, 2006

Rejected Timesheet

Last week, The Corporation announced some changes to the website that we use to fill out our time cards. "All changes are very MINOR and should not cause any difficulties when creating and submitting timesheets." I was not overwhelmed with confidence, having had paychecks screwed up before when there were so-called minor changes. The Operations Manager also included this little gem in her e-mail about the change:

"Over the past two weeks, you may have received a Recruitmax Timesheet Training Session Invite. If you did not receive this or you received this invite but was unable to attend, PLEASE DO NOT WORRY. I have attended the Training Session for you and have summarized some of the changes below."

Let's hear that again: "I have attended the Training Session for you." So, is that how training at the Help Desk is being handled now? Management takes the training and the rest of us are to learn by osmosis?

It was, therefore, no surprise, when Friday came along and noone was able to fill out their timesheets properly. My Thursday and Friday slots were blocked out so that I could not enter any times, as if these days were holidays that the offices were closed. The returned message was "Placement ended due to inactivity."

The Operations Manager had coincidentally called off so there was a scramble with HR to figure out what was going on. Team Lead D**** sent out the message:

"Please do not be alarmed by this.... it will be corrected and paychecks will not be affected."

First off, I have no reason not to be alarmed when every time there is a change, things get screwed up. It's not being paranoid if it's true. Secondly, as a Team Lead he had absolutely no authority to make the statement that paychecks would not be affected. He doesn't know shit about what's going on and it's inappropriate for him to make it out like he does.

Well, Monday rolled around and I was able to get back into the system an correct my time card so it looks like they fixed this foul-up. Even so, I have no reason to be confident in that their minor changes failed yet again.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


The lawyer for Codename P has asked for a continuance so the court date that was set for October 19th has been pushed back three weeks to November 6th. I can only guess that he's hoping that the delay will cause me to tire and abandon the case because I can't imagine what additional preparations he might need to make. It's not like it's a complicated case.

The most interesting thing is that the name of the lawyer making the request is clearly a relative of Codename P. Doing some websearching I'm guessing that he is Codename P's brother or cousin. Why don't I find it surprising that a weasel property owner who feels somehow empowered to vandalize cars would employ his brother the lawyer to defend him when he got caught.

Maybe it's a "family" thing.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Falling into the Equinox

It would seem that fall has officially arrived. My morning ride of 53 degrees was chilly only because my body is still adapted to the hot summer we've been having. Give me a few weeks and I'll be fully acclimated to wearing shorts down into the high 30s. To help that along, I'm going to ride the Pine Creek Trail this weekend. Mid-state above Rt 80 means a 10 degree drop in temperature. I'm not concerned about the cooler temperatures except that the forecast is for thundershowers and being wet can pull the heat right out of your body. My jacket is water resistant but I don't have anything that is water-proof. Normally, at the end of my daily commute I have a warm, dry place to be and a change of clothes. On the trail, I'm just going to have dry clothes and a tent (which may or may not be dry depending on how heavily it's raining when I try to pitch it).

Well, the adventure makes for good story telling. Hopefully, hypothermia isn't a part of the tale.

In other cycling news. . . Two weeks after the signs went up for the Hot Metal Bridge construction, it looks like they are actually doing some work. They have laid some drainage pipe along the front of the Parkway East retaining wall to redirect the water coming off the highway to make a solid bed for the trail around the ramps to be built at the end of the bridge. There is also a crane out by the bridge itself. It looks like they've built the bridge deck out to a retaining wall about 20 feet.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Things that bring down morale

I produced my extensive document on morale at the Help Desk and sent it up. Actually, it was two documents; one for "general" consumption sent to both D**** and the Site Manager and the other ABOUT D**** sent only to the Site Manager.

In the first document I mentioned no raises, no bonuses and the disappearance of the incentive program. I mentioned the regular confusion about holiday staffing. I covered no one being willing to admit to making the decision that I would not longer be the trainer. I went over illegal activities such as requesting that we not evacuate during fire drills and not paying taxes. I enlightened them about the big raise the CEO got last year when the Corporation had big losses. And finally, I brought up the lack of any results having said all this before when The Corporation sent an auditor to ask about morale.

"The evidence has lead me to believe that the management here at the Help Desk lacks the power to make the necessary changes."

After I came back from lunch, the Site Manager stopped by my cubicle and agreed with everything I had said. He confided in me that previous morale surveys had also listed the local Management's lack of power as one of the issues. Corporate's response was to ask him why that is.

"Because you're not lying well enough to deflect blame away from them," I explained. He shook his head in agreement. He is sitting in that hotseat where he knows he has no authority to make real decisions and his managers apparently want to know why he's not taking the blame.

The second document was sent just to the Site Manager and, in some ways, had the same answer.

"If I were asked what was the one thing that could be done here at the Help Desk to improve morale on a daily basis I would say “Fire D****.” Every interaction I have with him is riddled with nothing but stress. Other analysts regularly comment to me about his bullying tactics and micromanagement. “Petty dictator” is one of the kinder descriptors I’ve heard. Expletives make up a good percentage of other comments."

The Site Manager said that he had attempted to address that issue but that he was "deterred" from taking action. It all starts to fall into place and I see how it all happened:

Last year about this time, a trainee reported to Management that I had been bad-mouthing D****. T***, the Site Manager at the time, being the screw-up that he was, didn't exercise any authority but merely reported it up the chain. It would surprise me if D**** didn't have a part to play in this. Perhaps the trainee went to him directly. In any case, Corporate sent word back down that I was no longer to be the trainer. As has been typical with communications here at the Help Desk, no one wanted any sort of confrontation or really wanted to take responsibility (which, by rights, wasn't theirs anyway) so I was cut out of the loop. I was told nothing as if I wouldn't notice. When I did notice, everyone I asked could honestly say that they didn't make the decision.Unfortunately, they also lacked the guts to honestly tell me what had really gone on.

The Site Manager again registered his disappointment that my transfer over to The Pharm had fallen through. He thought the reasoning was "bullshit" and this time gave me the impression that, if he had it his way, I would be a Team Lead instead of D****.


"On 8 February 2006, a Corporate auditor came to the Help Desk asking what we needed to succeed. In my meeting with him I detailed many of the things I have stated in this document. Given that seven months later I am going over all this again says to me that little or nothing was actually done with what was said in that meeting. I feel I wasted my time then and am likely wasting my time now as I honestly expect nothing to be done."

Later in the day, D**** responded to the document I sent him:

"I just read your email...... and I'm speechless...... It's unfortunate that I never asked you for this in the past...... you bring up extremely valid issues."

Speechless. He would have an aneurism if he saw the OTHER document I created and sent to the Site Manager.

Northern Crown/7th Sea game session #2

[Read the blog about session #1 here.]

After beating up the guys with yellow tabards and looting the bodies, the rest of the party followed Kurt, who had set of after the one that had escaped. Having lost the guy, Kurt was returning. There wasn't much to go on so they wandered back to "our" tavern to see if we could figure something out. From the bodies they had recovered a knife which was believed to be that of the person they were looking for (since the GM had mentioned his knife several times) and a note with an address.

"Hy've got an idea. Ve go dere, kick in de door und kill everyone ve find."

"I don't think that's a good plan."

"Hy never saeed it vas a goot plan."

With a little more investigative work (I bought a local drunkard, a surprisingly good source of information, a few beers) we learned that the guys in the yellow tabards were Spanish mercenaries. We also learned that the address was for a seedy tavern. Samm had gotten himself drunk (the player didn't show last night) so, the remaining three of us went to the tavern, paying the barmaids at this tavern some extra money to look after our drunken comrade. Once there, Máire overheard a piece of conversation and set off after a boy who made a run for it after having been noticed. When I caught up with them, Máire had caught the boy and was trying to get information out of him but had only learned that "The Master" had told him to meet the mercenaries.

"Here, lemmee try."

Being a big orc with tusks and sharp, nasty teeth, I was easily able to terrify the boy into taking us to where his master was.

"It's a trap, uf kourse. Oddervise de mercenaries vould not hef de knife. Ve vere supposed to beat dem up, find de knife und address und follow de breadcrumbs back to de villain's's lair vere dey hope to put an end to us. Now vat do hyu tink uf my plan uf kickink in de door und killink everyone ve find?"

"Good plan."

I kicked in the door to find no one inside. He intimidated the boy into directing us to a hidden stairway to the basement. Finding no one there I intimidated the boy until he revealed the hidden door behind the big wine casks.

"Hyu first."

The boy made a run for it but fell to his death in a pit trap. Too bad. At the next "decision point" I was going to throw him a copper to buy himself some clean underpants and send him on his way. The first door we come to in the underground complex opened up into some sort of ritual room.

"Kultists. Hy hete kultists."

Second door was a library. Third door was a treasure room guarded by a trio of emaciated walking corpse things.

"Hoops. Vrong door."

I closed the door and was prepared to just move on to deal with the undead later but they began chopping at the door to get out. Once they had chopped a big enough hole in the door, I just shoved a grenade through the opening and blew the room to shit. One undead thing survived enough to stagger out of the room but an axe blow to the head finished it off. I wanted to storm ahead but a bunch of snake guys with spears showed up.

There were two one either side of us in the hallway. I was engaged with two when Máire tried throwing a dagger past me.

"Don' kill across me, voman. It's very rude."

She went back to fight with the other two snake guys and left these two to me. The one took a few hits to go down with an axe blow. The second missed spectacularly so that I was able to step into it, grab the spear under my arm and lift, crushing his skull against the ceiling.

The Rake had finished off the other two and wanted to loot the treasure room. I didn't want to waste time, this being a trap and all, and wanted to move ahead as quickly as possible before the forces of evil could rally. I rushed down the hall to some big double doors and kicked in the door to reveal another ritual chamber with pillers, an altar, more snake guys and "The Big Boss"

I half expected him to be the guy we were searching for. It turned out to be the head of the the temple. Ohhh, big surprise. He started to gloat:

"You are the first outsiders to . . . *erk!*"

I shot him in the head. It wasn't a good enough shot to put him down, however. Just a glancing blow. Whereupon he transformed himself into a snake-thing, too. (They're called Naga, right?) The snakey minions open fire. One pistol shot misses. The other fires a mortar that catches Máire in the gut, knocking her down. It bounces off and detonates a moment later, shrapnel rattling against my breastplate. My comrades want to run but I choose to rush them. The blast knocked off my hat.

I rush into the room and engage one of the minions with my axe but don't do too well. I can hit him but simply can't do enough damage to put him down. His comrade chucks a grenade and I take most of the blast in the back. Meanwhile, the Big Boss is trying to cast spells but I am easily resisting those effects. I finally put the snake guy down but the Big Boss casts another spell, raising him from the dead, or some such. Máire puts the other minion down and tries to stab the Big Boss, taking a lot of damage from a necromatic touch.

"Hy hef hed enough uf dese modderfuckink schnakes in dis modderfuckink game."

I throw down my axe and strike the minion with my fists. He goes down instantly. I rush over the the Big Boss, grab ahold of his head, and nearly twist it off. *Kerruntch*

After that, it was discover the guy we had been looking for all this time tied up behind the altar, hear his sob story (possession. called that one), collect up the loot, collect up our comrade left at the tavern and call it a day.


An axe does 1d8 of damage but Kurt's fists do 1d3+4. The maximum damage isn't as good as with an axe but I'm guaranteed of at least 4 points of damage whereas with an axe I have even odds of doing 4 or fewer points. So, now the axe is just for chopping wood

Chekhov is attributed with saying, "if you show a gun in act one, you have to use it by act three." In our own act one, the guy who had hired us to find the missing guy mentioned the knife. I knew it was going to show up again and immediately recognized it for what it was.

Kurt didn't interact much with the head of the temple much when the party visited looking for information so I, as a player, chose not to pay much attention. If I had, I would have seen the behavior of the head of the temple as a sure sign that he was involved and not just a jerk.

The mess with the Orcish pirates wasn't a ruse. We had heard that they were putting to see the next morning. Had we not figured things out, our quarry would have been on that ship and we would have to chase them down. Had we not killed the Big Boss, he would have been on that ship making his escape.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Back in June when Codename P and his lawyer went to the Pgh Police to accept a harassment citation for the repeated vandalism of my car, I thought it was pretty much over. The officer told me he said that he wouldn't do it again (which sounds like an admission of guilt).

Well, it seems that he has changed his mind and pled "not guilty" to the charges. That means that on October 19th at 8am, Codename P will appear in District Court to face the charges against him.

I'm not sure what part I have yet to play in this drama. The document I received was a copy of what was sent to him and not a call for me to appear as a witness. That document may be forthcoming. If not, I intend to at the very least be in the gallery to hear just how he justifies his actions or tries to deny that it's him in the picture.

The wheels of justice continue to turn.

The Helpdesk Manifesto

D****, team lead and arch nemesis, came to my cubicle to ask something of me. I thought he looked a little put off by my wearing of sunglasses against the glare of the newly re-installed fluorescent lights. Apparently he was looking for me to produce a list of things that were hurting morale at the Help Desk.

I laughed out loud. I could go on for hours detailing the things that destroy morale at the help desk: not getting raises in 4 years, not getting bonuses, the abandonment of the incentive program, etc, etc. But, if there is one thing that depresses morale on a daily basis, it is D**** himself.

So, I will go through my notes and produce two comprehensive and exhaustive documents. One document will be all the things I mentioned above and more. The other, sent only to the site manager, will be why D**** destroys morale. I may except some choice paragraphs once I'm done with it but, if you've been reading my blog, you already know what to expect.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Let there be light.

Looking over the wall of my cubicle last week I noticed that the floor was quite dark. Apparently many of the other analysts have discovered, as I did long ago, that working in a darker environment was more comfortable. They had gotten up on their desks and disconnected most of the florescent lights.

I've been doing that for years. Occasionally building maintenance will come around fixing lights and I would just say "leave it like it is." They would.

But today when the maintenance guy came around, he said he had been told to turn them all on. I went to the Site Manager to ask why. Some Corporate Bigwig is coming to visit and, on seeing all the lights out he is likely to say, "why don't you call maintenance to get the lights fixed?" Being a Bigwig, the answer of "we like it that way" will not be acceptable. Just do what he says. Don't question him. Be the mindless drones you are paid to be. In fact, don't even wait for him to make the comment, just do what you assume a Corporate Bigwig would say in such a situation so that there isn't even the remotest chance for displeasure on his part.

The only good thing is that immediately following the Bigwig visit, people will be back on top of their desks disconnecting the lights again. In the meantime, I'll bring in my sunglasses. Already, the glare is giving me a headache.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Certificate of Underappreciation.

I was in a coworker's cubicle asking a hardware question and noticed a Certificate of Appreciation pinned up on the wall. The Corporation's CEO was thanking her for her years of service and offering her corporate prizes in recognition for her valued work. Fascinating because I have put in more years of service and have never received much of anything other than a paycheck from Corporate.

Just one more thing to ask about when my seventh year performance review comes up next month.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Trail Narrows

On the way back from work along the Eliza Furnace Trail, there were several construction signs warning "Trail Work Ahead" and "Trail Narrows". That means that construction on the Hot Metal Bridge has begun.

For a while there it looked like it was going to put off for another year. The contracting bids had all come in $2 Million over the target $7 Million but they looked at what those overbids were actually for (increased materials costs, gas prices) and decided that it was the best they were going to get. PenDOT moved some money around, delayed some other projects and came up with the funds for the project to go ahead.

Hopefully they are able to manage the construction without closing the trail completely. They were able to do that with some Parkway East retaining wall reinforcement work they did a few years back so prospects look good.

Construction was supposed to begin in July with the potential to be completed by the end of next year. The two month delay will probably push it to Spring of 2008.

Mandatory overtime, day two

Seven years ago when I was interviewing for this job at the Help Desk, I had some questions about holidays. The Bank had twice as many holidays as the Help Desk, how was that going to be dealt with? Would we be working when The Bank was closed? Would we get paid for bank holidays even though they weren't official Help Desk holidays? The Operations Manager didn't have the answers to those questions so, apparently fearing I wouldn't accept the position without those answers, she boosted my salary offer.

In all that time, they still haven't figured out how to deal with holidays. They have tried bringing in all the full-time staff while giving part-time staff the day off. They have tried asking for volunteers. Sometimes we've gotten holiday pay for non-Help Desk holidays. Sometimes we've been paid time-and-a-half. Sometimes it's just been regular pay and nothing if we don't work. This year they made an announcement that we would alternate, working one bank holiday and then having the next one off. They changed their minds and the next holiday that I was supposed to have off they made me come in.

The day after a holiday is always a challenge. This, my second day of "come in an hour earlier" was a complete wash. In that extra hour I took no calls at all. And even in the next hour, what would be my regularly scheduled time, I took only 4 calls.

Help Desk management has seven years of holiday and after holiday statistics to set proper staffing levels. The holidays come on a regular schedule that could be calculated centuries in advance. Why is management always surprised?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mandatory overtime

Users have a hard time remembering their passwords over the weekend. And another day for a holiday and it's even worse. And, since we are still sorely understaffed even though management seems to be hiring new analysts on a b-weekly basis, they needed to come up with a way to take care of the increased workload. Thus, the brilliant idea of having everyone come in an hour earlier.

In the end, I don't think it made much of a difference. I took 70-some calls, a rate I would call typical for a Tuesday after a holiday weekend with no other drastic surprises. The extra hour I spent on the phone in the morning fielded 5 additional calls which really didn't affect the overall numbers. We had queues at the times we typically have queues. The wait times were pretty much what they've been recently.

Hey, I've got an idea. Instead of overworking your already overworked and underpaid employees, how about paying the people you've got and the new hires what they're worth and give them proper training. That way, they'll stick around for more than a few weeks and you'll be able to get the Help Desk up to the proper staffing levels.

Or, you can continue to cut corners. Cut costs. And produce a crappy product so that when the contract comes up for renewal, The Bank decides they aren't getting what they were promised and dump your sorry asses. Oh wait. That's not going to happen for another three years.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Northern Crown/7th Sea game session #1

"You all meet in a tavern. . . "

We'll this game didn't quite start out that way, but it was close. First, party introductions: There is, of course, myself as Leutnant Kurt von Sturmblähung, an Orcish grenadier from the Bavarian Alps. Máire, a red-haired Celtic raider with a short temper. Samm Spaccioula, an Italian rogue. And a rakish adventurer who has yet to reveal his true name. There is a certain irony in that among all of them, I am the respectable one.

We had signed aboard a merchant ship with an eye towards sharing in the profits but when the cargo spoiled, we were left on the docks at Freeport (Port Royal) with nothing. Nothing except a press gang. We were met by a gang of pirates who gave us the choice of joining their crew voluntarily or being beaten into service with clubs and belaying pins.

"Hy tink not."

I drew my pistol and shot the leader in the head. It wasn't a good shot, landing only a glancing blow, but the fight was joined. One of the pirates grabbed at my pistol to wrestle it away from me. I was half again as strong as he was and simply pulled him towards my fist and he went down. I pistol whipped another, my comrades stabbed a few and the rest fled.

We were immediately greeted by a studious looking monk who had witnessed the fight and, believing us to be adventurous types, offered us payment for help in finding another of his order who had gone missing.

Thus, to the tavern.

To sum up the tale, this missing person had been normal. Became unbalanced. Was thrown out. Disappeared for several years. When he returned he had no memory of what had happened. Eventually worked his way back into the order's trust. Recently began showing disturbing tendencies and has gone missing again.

A doppelgänger, hy tink. Perheps an evil tvin. Or zumone else in his head, ya?

This led to a search of his home, questioning the locals and a lot of wandering around without much to show for it except the name of an Orcish pirate.

Being an Orc, I went to the ship to see if I could have a conversation with this captain but was ridiculed by the Orcs at the gangplank. I was civilized in a red coat, pants and shoes and they taunted me mercilessly. I attempted to engage them intelligently but I realized they simply didn't understand. So, I punched one of them in the head. The other drew a sword and took a swipe at me.

"Hey. Dat's not very neighborly at hall."

I punched him as well and he went down. That's when the sniper in the crows nest shot me through the lung. My comrades hauled me back to the temple and got me healed up. While they futzed around trying to interrogate the monks and getting nowhere, I returned to the inn and reloaded my pistol with the ball they dug out of my chest. I had plans of returning it.

Later, we went out in search of the Orcish captain and were waylaid by a squad of armored soldier-types in yellow tabards. We were outnumbered 2:1 so we thought to run. Well, I wasn't running far. My plan was to duck into the alley, wait for them to follow and then toss a grenade into their compacted midst. That didn't work out as the rest of the group got caught fighting out in the open. I drew my axe and ran into the fray.

The first went down with his head cleaved crown to jaw. The next, who happened to be the leader, was nearly cut in half and went down. I killed a third on my own and finished off a fourth that had already been wounded. The other three of the party had taken out one each, leaving one to make a run for it when he realized that he was the last one standing.

"Ve hunt!"

Well, he got away in the twisty alleys.

Game Commentary

The fights remind me why I never liked D&D and its successor, the D20 system. Hit points. And a critical means double the hit points of damage. I played Rolemaster for a number of years and enjoyed the graphic critical hits. "Shot through both ears. Hearing impaired. Dies instantly. Awesome shot." It adds to the mind's eye image of what's going on instead of just saying, "you take 4 points of damage."

Even though this is supposed to be 1688 or so and we are armed with matchlocks, the nature of using those weapons was completely forgotten. We might as well all have flintlocks. There were flintlocks in that time period but I blame the D20 system.

I've also never been able to reconcile the gold-standard inflation of the D&D universe. A night at the tavern cost 2 pieces of gold.

The GM is having a tough time playing to period. The guys in the yellow tabards who attacked us were not well described and, while I imagined them much like the Cardinal's men in "The Three Musketeers", they were described much more like your typical medieval fantasy town guards.

Finally, Kurt is much better suited to being the heavy than in all this Sherlock Holmes investigative crap. He's a grenadier, a storm trooper. Not a detective.