Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Home to roost

Our Bank bought another Bank and the integration is beginning. I received a call from a Tech who wanted a password reset for a user. He did not have the user on the line so I could not verify the user's identity (mother's maiden name and such like that). When I asked him to put the user on the line so that I could verify that information, he launched into a story that "he always does this." What he's always been doing is calling a conference line specifically set up for this sort of thing but, due to a scheduling mistake, the conference line was occupied by an unrelated meeting and he just wanted it taken care of and so called the Help Desk.

I refused to violate identity verification procedures and after some
dancing around with Team Leads and the Function Desk, I transferred him to the Function Desk who said that they would do it, which made me look like a complete moron.

I immediately went to the Tactical Manager to complain about these "exceptions" that we never hear about and are somehow expected to just do.

I learned that these calls should be going to the Function Desk, where they "just take care of it", but if they're busy, the calls roll out to the general queue. I commented that I always seem to get these calls.

Not two minutes later, the same tech calling for the same nonsense got through to me again. I immediately transferred him back to the Function Desk.

And just after that, we received a message that "If anyone gets a call from Tech_A or Tech_B to reset a password, you may perform the reset without security verification. This applies to today only!"

Geis: "Would it not be appropriate to verify the identities of Tech_A or Tech_B?"

Team Lead: "In most cases I would say yes - but this a pre-authorized process that falls under the Conversion."

Geis: So let me get this straight. . . the only way we will know that the person claiming to be Tech_A calling for a password reset is really Tech_A is that he will say that he's Tech_A. And Data Security's OK with that? And if it turns out that the person calling isn't who he claims to be, what then? Really, if we abandon the security procedures just because the techs are too busy to follow them, why do we have them at all?"

Team Lead: "What can I say? I see your point. I also see that Management made a decision on how to proceed."

Geis: There will come a day, hopefully not today, that these "exceptions of convenience" will burn us very badly. And on that day, as the people who made that decision are clearing out their desks, my only comfort will be in saying that I tried to warn you."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Enemies of Reason

Richard Dawkins is presenting a program on the dangers of superstition and the religious assault on reality. I wish this were airing on American television.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are vandals.

I have already blogged previously about the Post-Gazette's unethical subscription marketing practices, today I get to complain about their website.

On Wednesday, we began getting calls from users at that could not access the internet. They could access The Bank's internal intraweb sites but any attempt to get outside was met with a "Page cannot be displayed" message, as if something were wrong with the proxy server. Except that if the user's rebooted, they could again access the Internet. That is, for a single website. then, the Internet was blocked again. Clearly, something was going on with these individuals machines because it was not everyone (if it were the proxy) and it only seemed to be affecting Pittsburgh users.

It wasn't until Thursday that we were able to connect this behavior to the Post-Gazette's website. People who would visit the PG website would have their systems hang and then, *crunch*, no more Internet. Something in the PG's scripting is wonky.

Today, I got a new PC and accidentally clicked on a Post-Gazette link. Too late. The Forcastfox weather bar on my Firefox blanked out. Firefox couldn't get to the Internet. IE couldn't get to the Internet. When I rebooted I received a Java scripting error. Once my PC came back up, everything seemed fine, so I had apparently avoided permanent damage to my system, or at least a reinstall of Java.

Hey, Post-Gazette webmasters! Is this some effort to slip malicious code into my machine or are you simply incompetent? In any case, I'm AdBlocking the Post-Gazette because I simply can't trust them anymore.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Read the instructions.

When I dropped my car off at the shop to have the broken axle mount repaired, the guy behind the counter was the same guy who pulled the wheel and told me the bad new day before yesterday. He took a long time writing up the work order to make sure that the floor technician knew what to look for and what needed to be done.

Geis: "I work at a help desk and know all about it. Many's the time I had to write explicit instructions to second level support about what to do to fix a particular problem, only to have them not do that and have the user calling back the next day wondering why their problem hadn't been fixed."

So, half an hour later the floor technician comes back and says:

Tech: "I drove it around the block and couldn't find anything wrong with it."

Geis: "It was making a thunking noise two days ago. I brought it in and they pulled the wheel and called it a broken axle mount. I looked at it and it looked broken to me. After the wheel was put back on, it didn't make the noise anymore."

Tech: "I couldn't replicate the thumping noise."

Geis: "That doesn't make it un-broken. Please, just pull the wheel and look at it."

He must have pulled the wheel and seen that it was, indeed, broken, because in another half hour I was presented with a bill for $260.

What is it with these people? Do they think we are morons? Do they think the coworkers who explicitly tell them what's broken are morons? It it arrogance? Laziness? Not enough oxygen to the brain? What?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Signifying nothing

For a while, The Bank had been making a big deal about Leadership Statements being attached to the e-mail signatures of managers. That seems to have dropped off some but there are a few still out there:

"My Leadership promotes a SOLUTION not a sale"

"My Leadership Causes People to Smile and to Reach Their Goals Wholeheartedly!"

"My leadership is the catalyst for inspiring compassion, integrity and excellence in others."

Does any of this really mean anything? Really. Do people honestly believe that their leadership causes people to smile? Do they think that including a statement in their email saying that their leadership inspires excellence actually inspires excellence?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Over the weekend I noticed that one of my car tires (right front) had suddenly gotten dramatically worn. My alignment must have gotten out of whack somehow and the tire was worn down to the cables.

That cost $271 to fix on Saturday.

Today on the drive home from work, I noticed a thunking sound in the front. Since the car just had those tires replaced and the alignment done, I figured I should take it back to the same guys. They declared that the axle mount (left front) had broken. That's going to cost me $228 to repair.

When I walked in the door of my house, I heard a clicking noise. It was the death rattle of my KVM switch. I hooked up an old replacement which can't handle my USB optical mouse and makes my display very fuzzy, so I'll need to go and get a replacement for that.

And don't forget the hundreds of dollars in dental work over the past few weeks.


Monday, August 20, 2007


Typical of Mondays and made worse by it nearing the end of summer when people return from vacations having forgotten how to do their jobs, today was a busy day at the Help Desk. A coworker walking out the door at the end of his shift was grousing (or perhaps gloating) over how many calls he had take.

Coworker: ". . . I even took more calls than Geis."

Geis: "Yea, but I've got two more hours on the clock."

Coworker: "Awwww, man."

In the end I took 111 calls for the day, 20-25 more than anyone else. I then got to top of a spectacular day with a bicycle ride home through a driving rainstorm.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Straw Man

The US House of Representatives approved an energy conservation bill on August 4th that includes, among other things, a tax break of $20 per month for bike commuters, which takes effect at the beginning of next year.

The vote on HR 2776 (Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2007) was largely split along party lines, and was preceded by inspired testimony from Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-NC).

"A major component of the Democrats' energy legislation and the Democrats' answer to our energy crisis is. . . hold on. . . wait one minute. . . wait one minute. . . it is promoting the use of the bicycle.

Oh, I cannot make this stuff up. Yes, the American people have heard this. Their answer to our fuel crisis, the crisis at the pumps, is: Ride a bike.

Democrats believe that using taxpayer funds in this bill to the tune of $1 million a year should be devoted to the principle of: "Save energy, ride a bike.'' Some might argue that depending on bicycles to solve our energy crisis is naive, perhaps ridiculous. Some might even say Congress should use this energy legislation to create new energy, bring new nuclear power plants on line, use clean coal technology, energy exploration, but no, no. They want to tell the American people, stop driving, ride a bike. This is absolutely amazing.

Apparently, the Democrats believe that the miracle on two wheels that we know as a bicycle will end our dependence on foreign oil. I cannot make this stuff up. It is absolutely amazing.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the Democrats, promoting 19th Century solutions to 21st century problems. If you don't like it, ride a bike. If you don't like the price at the pumps, ride a bike.

Stay tuned for the next big idea for the Democrats: Improving energy efficiency by the horse and buggy."
There is so much wrong in these statements, he should have been embarrassed to stand on the floor of the House to make them. First off, he's clearly setting up a straw man argument, which isn't really an argument but is merely a way of ridiculing the Democrats. His statement, "Some might argue that depending on bicycles to solve our energy crisis is naive, perhaps ridiculous", is completely loaded If he was engaging in an actual argument, he would have followed that up with evidence of how that is actually naive or ridiculous. At the very least, he should explain how riding a bike does not solve energy problems. He doesn't, however. The closest he gets is calling it a "19th Century Solution."

Well, Pat. at least it's a solution rather than more of the same. Clean coal? Don't make me laugh. Clean coal is not clean, it is merely less polluting than the traditional, 19th Century coal technology. And when you say "new energy", you're merely talking about new sources of the same old energy, coal, natural gas and oil.

So, let's take a look at how much of a solution riding a bike might
actually be.

About 40% of all trips are shorter than 2 miles, which represents a
10-minute bike ride or a 30-minute walk.Let us make a ridiculous assumption that all of those trips were somehow able to convert from using an automobile to using a bicycle or walking. Actually, we'll use the numbers from the 2001 National Transportation Survey that estimates that there are approximately 7.6 trillion trips annually. Divided by the number of trips less than 2 miles and we'll round that to 3 trillion. A bunch of math later, accounting for the percentage of trips less than 1 mile and those less than half a mile, that come out to approximately 3 billion miles driven in increments of less than 2 miles a day.

At a typical gas mileage, if those trips could be turned into bicycle or walking trips, it would save 125 million gallons of gasoline (produced by 6 million barrels of oil). At $2.75 a gallon, it would be saving consumers $343 million.

So, riding a bicycle and saving consumers $343 million is not going to solve our energy problems. Saving 6 million barrels of oil out of the 400 million barrels that we use on an annual basis is not going to end our dependence on foreign oil. The fact is, the Democrats never said it would. The legislation is a small tax incentive to begin the process of changing the way Americans choose to travel.

Conservation. Not finding new sources of the same energy to feed our gluttonous lifestyle but actually using LESS energy. And, if it works, it doesn't matter what century the solution comes from.

Congressman McHenry used a photo of an 1886 New Club Tandem bicycle to ridicule the Democrats specifically and bicyclists in general.
Does this look like a 19th Century solution?

Or how about this one?

Is he and his oil industry friends afraid that this:
may someday be replaced by this:

Friday, August 17, 2007


Reported error for an Xerox Fiery printer:

"Exchange time of fixing cleaning unit"

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Two weeks ago when one of my extensively filled teeth started hurting, the dentist gave me the choice between extraction and a root canal. Last week, I had that root canal and everything went as well as might be expected. The best part was that it didn't hurt anymore. Tonight, the dentist drilled away the crown of the tooth and replaced it with a temporary cap. Now I have to wait a month before they give me a permanent replacement crown.

But, in the past week, since all this started, a tooth on the left side has started to give me trouble. Some years ago, the dentist had predicted that it would be the next on my hit parade and she was surprised when the tooth on the right side caused problems. Well, now that left side tooth has gotten sensitive to the cold.

Once this current tooth is all done, I'm going to have to have that tooth gutted and decapitated as well.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bicycle Boulevards

Here's another biking video I found on Metroblogging Pittsburgh.

It's another thing that I think would be great to see here in Pittsburgh but I doubt I'll ever see.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Separated Bike Lanes

Pittsburgh has bought in on the "sharrow" but has implemented it poorly by having it too close to the parking lane. I see separated bike lanes working on the Liberty Avenue corridor.

Of course, the city has no money to implement it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

My first full day in the new office

I have been told that the large plushy Cthulhu sitting on top of my monitor is now unacceptable (because of the half height cubes). Apparently it disrupts the professional conformity of the cubicle farm. I had said it looked like a call center.

The lights are far too bright. People are complaining about headaches by it being so bright. Call center

While I have a 6'x8' cube, most of the cubes are paired, with two people sharing a 12'x8' space with no wall separating them. Call center.

I despise the half-height cubes and glass actually in the cube walls. I've already taped them over but I still can't help seeing all of my coworkers. I'd rather not. Call center.

It started off a bit warm but cooled off a little after complaints. Instead of having a huge vent blowing air down on my head (which I had tried taping over) I now had a small vent on the floor behind me blowing air onto the back of my neck. Thankfully, I was able to pry up the floor vent and realign it so the air was blowing in another direction.

The Function Desk is on the far side of the room. At the old location it was on the far side of the room as well but the room was half the size. With the huge room, it should be centrally located. That is, if they actually want people to come to them with questions. I have learned that most of the answers I get from the Function Desk aren't helpful anyway so I have little reason to ask them for advice anymore.

There is no vending machine with chocolate milk so I need to wait until the building cafe opens for my "breakfast." The cafe has a decent view, plenty of seating and reasonable prices. The milk isn't as cold as it was from the vending machine, though.

A coworker has a peanut allergy so they have been banned from the workspace. Snickers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, about the only two candy bars I ever eat, are banned.

I was told that the building had lockers and a shower. Unfortunately the procedure for actually using these facilities make them useless to me. I would need to go to the security desk, leave "collateral" of some sort, go down stairs to us the facilities, then come back up to return the key. They clearly don't want people actually using these facilities by making them convenient.

Comfortable chair.

Morning Wood

On the ride in this morning I passed a homeless guy lying face down in the grass beside the trail humping the wet ground.

I can't think of anything witty to say about that.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Public Bike Meeting

On tuesday night I attended a public meeting concerning bicycling improvements in Pittsburgh, specifically in Oakland. And I want to start off by saying that I despise Powerpoint. I believe it makes people morons in that they end up reading the screen instead of using the so-called multi-media as a supplement. At the meeting, an intern with the City of Pittsburgh Planning Department did just that, reading what was on the screen.

At one point, the presentation involved a listing of Oakland streets that the Cornell student team determined to be "bicycle friendly." The chuckles from the audience, people who actually ride these streets on a daily basis, made it clear that they didn't agree with the designation. When the obvious question of how it was determined that these streets are bicycle friendly, the intern had absolutely no information.

I asked, "If we don't know what criteria was used to declare these streets "bicycle friendly," then how are we to make an informed decision or actively debate the conclusions?"

Even though we were told that this was not going to be a meeting where we are told what's going to happen, I don't feel we had any real substance to make informed debates. And the guy running the show regularly indicated that we didn't have time and needed to move on.

There was talk of bike lanes through Oakland on Fifth Avenue. Since there is no room or political will to sacrifice an rntire lane of traffic to bicycles, it looks like it would be one of those "sharrows" that have been put up along Liberty in Bloomfield.

I think that's a death trap. All the information online that I have see for these shared use markings is that the bicycle icon on the street is supposed to be at least three feet away from parked cars to show that bicycles should be riding well outside to opening door zone. The lanes in Bloomfield do not have this sort of clearance and cyclists in these lanes are at significant risk of being doored. I've heard of two incidents already and they've only been out for a few months.

Through Oakland, these would be deadly. There are promises of taking bicycle traffic up onto repaired sidewalks or even across an abandoned road throughway but that road is up a steep hill and this does nothing to make the road themselves safer. I think Pittsburgh is trying to do this on the cheap.

The other item on the agenda was a new bicycle parking initiative that was being developed. The plan is that any new development in the city that would involve parking, either new parking or the identification of parking availability, will be required to include bicycle parking. Build a 100 car parking lot and you will have to give up one of those parking places for bike racks. Or rather, this meeting was to find out what the ratio of cars to bikes should be.

Again, this is the City operating on the cheap. Instead of making infrastructure improvements for bicycle safety, they are passing the requirements for bicycle amenities onto local businesses and developers.

The flyer handed out at the meeting indicated that 1,635 people use transportation other than a motor vehicle or walking to commute to work. They boasted that this was a 14% increase over the previous decade but I really doesn't mean much without all the other numbers.

So, I looked it up. According to the 2000 census, 141,844 people commute to work on a daily basis. 93,918 drive (66%), 29,062 take the bus (20%), 13,870 walk (10%) and 1,635 user "other means" (1%) which one might assume means at least some bicycles. And that only accounts for City residents. Nearly as many commute from outside the city, and all of them are coming by either car or bus. (The total commuters is 270,000)

Total the numbers and vehicles make up 95% of the traffic, leaving only 5% for cyclists and pedestrians and "others". The vehicle is king of the road and it shows.

The film "Contested Streets" presents several cities around the world that have drastically changed that ratio. Copenhagen has has changes the ratios to an even division between cars, buses and bicycles. Every time I bring this up I hear the same opposition by automobilists that what works in Copenhagen or Paris or London, or even Seattle, Denver or San Francisco won't work here. They blame the rivers, the hills, the 250 year old street plan, any number of things as to why streets can't be made pedestrian only or lanes can't be dedicated to bicycles.

But the lessons that should come from "Contested Streets" are not the specifics of how lanes are divided up. It's a matter of political will. At some point, the leadership of all those cities decided that they were going to rebuild their city into something that accommodates all traffic, automobiles, buses, bicycles and pedestrians, equally. Political will. . . and money.

Richard Meritzer, a senior city planner and the host of the Tuesday meeting, said in a Trib article "The city has no money for bicycling projects." And yet, the Port Authority is building a subway under the Allegheny River. That tels me that there is money somewhere but not the political will to put it where it needs to go to accommodate everyone equally. So, again we're bback to political will. And I don't believe the leadership of this City has what it takes to go up against the automobile commuters, businesses or Port Authority.

The city's plans will not work because they are half-hearted attempts.

Sulky McLaidoff

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Move it on over

Today was the big move from our one office space to the new location. Most everything was packed and ready to go by the end of my shift at 4:30 so it took less than half an hour for me to break down the workstation, label everything and have it ready to go. Then it was an hour waiting for the movers to arrive, exacerbated by the fact that some moron turned off the air conditioning at lunch time. Normally my cube is a chilly 60 degrees but the temperature climbed all afternoon into the 70s.

Once the movers arrived and starting loading stuff up, it was a walk over to the new building and then another hour wait for the equipment to actually arrive. At least the temperature was reasonable. While I was waiting in the cube with my iPod filling the time, the Operations Manager came by and asked what I thought.

"It looks like a call center, and even more so once they get the lights on."

"I think it looks like a professional Help Desk."

"I've seen professional Help Desks and every one I've seen has subdued lighting and full cubes. It's going to be too bright in here and I don't like the glass-walls on the half-cubes."
She gave me a pained look. "If you didn't want to hear my opinion, you shouldn't have come over here to ask."

"No. We want your opinion."

"For all the good it will do."

In addition, I was told that the building had lockers and a shower. This sounded like a good thing but I found that to use the lockers I had to go to the front desk and leave some sort of collateral for a key. Then go downstairs to use the facilities, back up to exit the building or retrieve my collateral. I suppose for someone taking a break once in a while to jog during lunch this is not an onerous requirement but for me commuting every day to have to beg for a key twice a day, every day, it's inconvenient to the point of uselessness.

I'm sure I'll have all sorts of more detailed comments to make once I actually start working in the environment but, for now, I'm under-impressed.

And I have tomorrow off so I can go get my root canal.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Several years ago, one of my molars was filled to the point where it's mostly a big chunk of metal that has since painfully transferred cold directly to the nerve. Actually, just about all of my teeth have been drilled and filled in one form or another, but this was the only one that was sensitive in that way. About two weeks ago, the tooth started to ache a bit. It wasn't much but I immediately knew that the time was fast approaching for the inevitable root canal. This past week, the ache had increased. Not to the point that I would call it "painful" but enough that if I am not distracted by something, I notice the irritation. Say, when I'm trying to sleep. As such, I haven't been sleeping well.

The dentist gave me two options; extraction and root canal. I immediately chose root canal because I want teeth to chew with. I've got a prescription to counter the infection that's causing the pain and have to make an appointment with another specialist to have the actual digging done.

Some fun, eh?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Deathrace 2007

On Thursday, A truck coming out of Home Depot parking lot struck a woman and three children walking across Highland Avenue in East Liberty. This made all the news reports (Post Gazette, WTAE, WPXI, KDKA, etc). And while this is certainly newsworthy, a much more terrifying story from the day before was covered only by the Bike-Pgh message boards. Here's an excerpt; a Letter to the Editor concerning a Post Gazette article:

My name is Shaun, and I am one of the coordinators with the Free Ride project that Michael participated in and wrote about. Sadly, one of our volunteers who is featured in this article, Elijah, was violently and intentionally struck by a vehicle at Baum and Liberty Avenue on Wednesday, the same day Michael's article was published.

After exchanging words with Elijah at an intersection, exclaiming that he needed to get off the street, the driver accelerated as the light turned green in an effort to chase Elijah down. Realizing he was in danger, our friend rode his bike up onto the sidewalk to escape - only to be followed by the car onto the sidewalk and struck violently. The "gray sedan" stopped just short of hitting a utility pole before reversing quickly into oncoming traffic and speeding off. Nobody who witnessed this assault, which amounts to an attempt at murder with a motor vehicle, stopped or was able to provide any information about the driver. This happened at around 4pm in the afternoon.

To be clear, Elijah suffered minimal injury given the circumstances - a broken wrist, badly burned leg, and a destroyed rear wheel. Given that all of this happened on his 25th birthday, he's remained in great spirits, never one to let something like this wipe the perennial smile from his face.

Unfortunately there is a tacit assumption by members of the cycling community that the police will not follow up a situation like this past the initial report that is filed, and further that the local media will not give a terrible story like this - an attempt at murder with a motor vehicle in broad daylight - the proper attention and follow through it deserves. It is all too typical that cyclists are blamed in situations where they are attacked, as though each of us on a bike in Pittsburgh is asking to be treated with disdain.

I hope you will consider a follow-up to Michael's story regarding this situation. At the least, please print this letter in the hopes that anyone with any information about this assault will come forward and help. Elijah does not have medical insurance to cover his injuries, and the people who attacked him should not be allowed to get away with it. Please contact Free Ride at freeride@bike-pgh.org or 412-731-4094 with any information.
Thank you...

So, a stupid driver who makes a turn blind and hits a family gets headlines and film crews while a homicidal madman who goes up on the sidewalk to run down a bicyclist gets away clean. No headlines. No reporters. No investigation. Not even any witnesses.

Does Pittsburgh hate cyclists so much?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New gloves

The Trek Waterloo Classic Crochet Gloves I ordered to replace the Trico Handshock 1000 Gloves that have worn out aren't working. The padding is insufficient to keep my fingers from going numb on even my short commute into work. And since the Trico gloves aren't being manufactured anymore I'm pretty much out of luck looking for a crochet-back glove that will serve my purposes. I picked up a $30 pair of Trek Moby Gel Gloves hoping that they will work. I don't like the way they feel on my hands but if they solve the numbness problems I suppose I'll just have to live with it.

If not, the next step is the replacement of my grips and shifters. I'm thinking of Ergon GR2 Comfort Grips and SRAM Gripshifters (or something similar). What I've been reading highly recommends the Ergon grips. I'm just disappointed that I may need to spend over $100 for lack of an $18 pair of gloves.