Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Spaghetti Traffic

I came across some pictures of the renovations of Interstate 95 in Maryland and am appalled. The driver in me that despises being stuck in traffic can understand the perceived necessity of adding new roads to better facilitate traffic flow into and out of Washington and Baltimore but the cyclist in me looks at this monstrosity and wonders if the madness will ever end.

Here is what the interchange of I-95 and I-695 looks like now: And this is what it will look like after they add ramps for express toll lanes get added to the mix: My mind is visibly boggled. Can't we find a way for people to get from one place to another without destroying everything in their path?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Now everything you eat can taste like bacon.
Bacon Salt!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Proxy snark

Last week, I received a password call. Normally a simple enough thing but in this case the user was part of the Audit Department. Being Audit, these users have a higher security level than we do and so we cannot access their profiles to verify their identities or change certain passwords. The procedure is for us to call Data Security and have them address the issue.

On this call, the person at Data Security said "You know you can do these, right?" and directed me towards something labeled as an Emergency Password Reset Procedure. This was for off-hours and weekends when the Data Security Department wasn't staffed and was a back door around security.

I countered that the first page of the documentation indicated that during business hours we were to direct calls to Data Security. She resisted, saying that the workaround was available anytime but did the password reset anyway.

Afterwards, I sent a message to the Site Manager:

"Even though she did the password reset, she indicated that we can user the "emergency" procedures any time. I suspect that Data Security simply doesn't want to be bothered with these calls. (That, and they always take at least half a dozen rings and one rollover for anyone at Data Security to answer the phone.)

If Data Security wants the Emergency Reset Procedures to be standard
procedure, they should contact the Help Desk and authorize that change. If that is the case and they are authorizing us to bypass the access levels for audit all the time then it makes sense that we shouldn't be a lower access level than audit. Pointing that out to them will probably have them change their minds about making the Emergency Reset Procedures the new standard."

To my surprise, the Site Manager forwarded my comments in the entirety, snarkiness and all, to the head of the Data Security Department.

I wonder ho well that's going to go over.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

You must be this smart. . .

This Blog's Reading Level: College

UPDATE: (9 December 2007) When I originally posted this link, I realized that the ALT tag had something of a redirect that was an advertisement and I simply stripped it out of the code. This article reveled that it was more sinister than that in that they could at any time change the image itself to become an advertisement and that the link could also be changed.

So, I saved a copy of the image and loaded it up on my own dime. If you click on the link to calculate your own blog's reading level (and I'm a bit suspicious as to it's accuracy anyway) do the same.

Bad Sectors

On of my Windows drives may be dying at an accelerating rate. Last week I had some issues with it not responding properly and my loosing some files. I performed a scandisk and re-installed the mapping software I had on the drive but I'm having problems yet again. Another scandisk lost several more bad sectors.

Yet another reason to migrate to Ubuntu. Unfortunately, the mapping software that runs on Windows, National Geographic Topo, does not run under Crossover on Linux.

Deadlands RPG Game Session One

From: Mr. Zebulon Pike
To: Mrs. Hannilore West, Kingsport, Mass.
July 1878

Dearest sister,

I will first apologize for the lateness of this correspondence. Having left the silver rail of civilization, I have also left the somewhat more regular channels of communication. I will endeavor to continue in my regular writings and will send them as the opportunity becomes available.

I had late this afternoon arrived at the prairie town of Eastwood Ridge, an interesting moniker in that it is not particularly east of anywhere, there are no woods nor is it located in proximity to a ridge. It was also strange that at the still early hour, there was absolutely no activity. Like those puritanical communities that "roll up the streets at night," all the shops and houses were shuttered, barred and locked. That is, except for a pair of horses tied up at the town's drinking establishment. By a remarkable coincidence, the horses belonged to two gentlemen that I had met at the station some weeks ago.

The first was one Mr. Don Bongiovi, apparently a former cavalry officer (though for which army I could not determine) who was continuously strumming upon a well-worn guitar. Even when conversing, he would play upon his instrument to accentuate certain points, much like an orchestra would accompany and operatic performance, though singularly more pedestrian.

The other occupant of the tavern was another former soldier, one Mr. Ezekiel Tobin. My first encounter with Mr. Tobin was his asking me, entirely without provocation, as to whether I had ever met or heard of a certain man. Given his demeanor and the armory he carried I had the distinct impression that Mr. Tobin had some deadly unfinished business with this mystery man. It also seemed that Mr. Tobin had received the worst of it so far as he drank heavily and had raspy cough.

The taverns proprietor made an appearance and we learned what had the town closed up so tight. There had been a series of horrible assaults and murders in recent weeks. Homes would be broken into and the occupants would be dragged out of town to be hung en-masse from the so-called hang'n tree a mile outside of town. Several posses had been formed to seek out these marauders but many of them had not returned. Out of fear, the proprietor said.

The coincidences piled one upon the other when Mr. Alexander Pace, who I mentioned in my last letter, also arrived in town. Quite spontaneously we all took action to investigate this situation. Mr. Tobin and I took the horses to the livery, Mr. Tobin having to be exceptionally persuasive to get the stable attend to unbar the door and take in the horses. Mr. Pace took up a position on the roof of the tavern while I and the others were at the one end of town in the house that had been most recently assaulted.

After midnight, there was a gunshot from the tavern and while both Mr. Tobin and Mr. Bonjiovi had earlier exhibited selfish tendencies, they both showed good character in immediately moving out into the street to lend assistance.

Up the street, the unfortunate tavern keeps was being dragged away by a shadowy assemblage of assailants. And while Mr. Pace and Mr. Tobin each dispatched several of the brigands with rifle shots, others set upon the tavern keeper and continued towards the edge of town, still intent on hanging this man even though several of their own had been killed.

Now, dear sister, I must stress upon you at this point not to pass on what I am about to replay to you to any others, most especially not your husband. His opinion of myself is already at an ebb tide and I would not want to fuel his disdain.

As the others continued their pursuit of the attackers, I paused to investigate the bodies as, even at a distance in the dark of night, they seemed unusual. They were corpses. Not for having been just shot but the cold, deep lifelessness of having been deceased for day or even weeks. Their spines had been broken and the heads swung loose on only the muscle and tissue of their necks. It came upon me the dread realization that these people were the victims of the previous week's lynchings and after having been dressed in their best clothes and respectfully laid to rest by their neighbors, they had risen from their graved to reap some unknown revenge.

When I caught up with the others, they were locked in battle. The hanging tree was not a mile outside of town, it was right at it's edge, and by some dark arcanum was ambulatory, having literally pulled itself from the ground to advance upon our group with malevolent waving of limbs and ropes, like tentacles, reaching out. Mr. Bongiovi had cut one such rope from around the tavern keeper's neck and was fighting off additional ropes while Mr. Tobin repeatedly fired rifle rounds into the apparently unaffected trunk. Mr Pace was nowhere to be seen, having gone back to the stables to recover the horses to accelerate our pursuit. He can easily be forgiven for missing out on the fight, not realizing that the tree had come to us.

I am quite pleased with my steadfast comportment under the deadly assault from otherworldly horrors. Lesser men might have fled or be struck dumbfounded but I set upon the task with purpose and fortitude. I drew forth one of the sticks of dynamite that I had purchased on a whim in Chicago. I had placed two stick in the pocket of my jacket earlier in what I had thought at the time as being somewhat overly paranoid. The first stick hurled at the tree with a short fuse exploded with little more effect than to make the monster "angry" and advance upon me with surprising swiftness, that is, for a tree. The second stick landed in the boughs and hurt it more significantly but it set upon me with enchanted ropes and threatened to throttle me were I not to escape in short order.

That monstrosity of a pistol you had insisted I take with me was drawn from a pocket and fired at close range, severing the rope that had attached itself to my leg. Meanwhile, Mr. Tobin had set on the ingenious idea of taking one of his whiskey bottles and, with his handkerchief inserted in the bottle and set alight, he threw the improvised incendiary at the tree. This slower burning weapon was much more effective than the explosive effect of the dynamite I had thrown and in short order the tree was fully ablaze. (I must make myself something similar for future use.) The walking dead who had been under the tree's evil influence collapsed, signaling the end of its power.

So, the rumors are true. Strange things are moving out on the frontier and I was right to travel here to investigate. And while little would please me more than to reveal this revelation to your husband and his cadre of doubters, there is not yet enough proof. I will show them, though. I will show them all.

This chance meeting of four travelers in the wilds and our subsequent adventure, did I not know better, might have me believe that divine providence had taken a hand. And even though it is the most suspicious of coincidences, I have nonetheless taken the opportunity to throw in with them. Their "type" seems the sort to invite adventures of the preternatural sort and since research of such things was, again, my initial goal, I will continue to travel with them.

Do not fear if my letters do not come with as much swiftness as they had previously. The vast distances of the frontier make such correspondences unlikely. But I will continue to write regularly and post the letters as a group when such opportunities present themselves. Give my warmest regards to your sister-in-law and my continued disdain to your husband.

Your most loving brother,


Friday, November 16, 2007

When someone asks if you are a god. . .

I received a call from a user today who was having problem after problem with her passwords. The short explanation after half an hour of troubleshooting is that she is part of a pilot program that has Call Center employees working from home with a special version of remote access running. This somehow links ther logins in such a way that if their Windows and Remote Access password do not match, then the login will fail. Here problems had been that she would have a problem with her Windows password, the Help Desk would reset that but she'd call back a few minutes later with a Remote Access password issue. The Help Desk would reset that but then her Windows password wouldn't work.

As I said, I spent half an hour working out a procedure that ultimately involved the Help Desk setting her Windows password to what she told the Help Desk she wanted it to be and then having her synch up her Remote Access password.

She was overjoyed that her weeks of problems on and off had (at lest, we think so) had been solved by me. She had called previously and I had worked with her on an issue on the same day she had been working with the personal issues of a death in the family. She was so grateful then and was so grateful now that she called me "a Help Desk god."

If I played by the rules and never went over the recommended 7 minute talk time, these issues would never be solved. It is my independence and refusal to conform to arbitrary rules that allow me to solve real problems. And in this issue, there are three:

1) There are only about a dozen people in this pilot program so if they call the Help Desk do not make it known to the analyst that they are Call Center Remote Access users, their password reset will fail because the analyst will assume they need the same sort of passwords that the thousands of other users need.

2) The analysts need to be informed of this procedure. If they don't do it correctly, the reset will fail.

3) Support needs to get on the ball and fix the application. This procedure has the inherently insecure procedure of the Help Desk knowing what password the user has chosen. While we really don't care and probably couldn't do anything with it anyway, it is still a security issue that must be resolved.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Severe Policies

Earlier this month, Management instituted a policy that Severity 1 tickets (issues of the highest importance) were no longer to be opened. Analysts were to open lower severity tickets and then notify the Function Desk. Why? Because too many analysts were opening high severity tickets incorrectly. So, instead of TRAINING people to do it right, they create a more convoluted procedure that is even MORE likely to be done incorrectly.

And so, today I had to pick up the pieces. A user called to report that all the phones for an entire building were down. A ticket was opened that should have been a Severity 1 issue. It was opened at the lower severity, as directed, but a bunch of other things were screwed up.

Fifteen minutes later, a Senior Vice President calls and asks me what's going on.


The ticket had not been assigned. It had not been updated. The severity had not been raised. Nothing. This is an entire building down. People with deadline. People have to communicate with the Federal Trade Commission. People who need to move money. So, I updated the ticket and went up to the Function Desk to find out what was going on. The excuse was that they couldn't get into the ticket because I had been in it.

"Not for the past 15 minutes!"

In the end it took a full half an hour for the ticket to be assigned.

When the Site Manager came back on the floor, I took a few minutes to rant at him. "I know why you took away Sev 1 tickets. It's because people were screwing it up. But you don't solve that problem with another procedure they're going to screw up, you do it by training people how to do it right. Now, I know you don't want me as a trainer anymore but you have to find someone to do this shit."

He had a look on his face like he was surprised to find out that I wasn't wanted as a trainer. Apparently, the Service Delivery Manager hadn't passed on the contents of our last conversation.

"In any case, there is no reason for it to take half an hour for a ticket like this to be assigned. This procedure has failed on EVERY level and I'm getting sick of cleaning up this sort of crap because of sucky training. If you find someone who can do training better than me, fine. Do it. But get someone training people how to do this right or we're going to get burned."

Apparently, I ruffled some feathers because latter the Problem Manager, the guy who covers the Function Desk, came over to tell me I didn't know what was going on behind the scenes. That they were on the phone trying to contact people while I was in the ticket.

"I didn't know what was going on because there wasn't anything in the ticket. That's what the ticket is for. To keep track of what's going on so that when Executive Staff calls asking what the hell is going on we don't have to say, 'Nothing' or 'I don't know.'"

He tried grilling me about the specifics of why it was a Severity 1 issue and when I said "communicating with the Federal Trade Commission isn't enough?" he chided me for not stating that in the ticket.

"I didn't open the ticket. Someone else screwed that up and I'm just trying to clean up the mess while Executive Staff is asking why nothing's been done with her issue."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


There are times that I react to things without realizing what they are. As when Team Lead D and half a dozen of hos co-conspirators were fired and I, hidden behind my cubicle walls, could sense that something was going on outside my sight. I had a similar response today. I don't know if users were particularly stupid or if I simply had a harder time moderating my response, but I was in a bad mood all day and I didn't know why. Only at the end of the day did I realize what was really going on.

While I was droning away in my cubicle hell, the elves came out while I wasn't looking and set up Christmas in the lobby.

I suppose Thanksgiving isn't even a holiday anymore as we've skipped right from Halloween to Christmas. Even in the stores, they seem to have given up on Thanksgiving altogether.

41 days, 5 hours, 40 minutes.

The Creation Museum

Hugo nominated author John Scalzi vowed that he would never visit the Creation Museum. His readers, however, dared him to go, bribed him with a lot of money, and he has thus created the following review:

"Here’s how to understand the Creation Museum:

Imagine, if you will, a load of horseshit. And we’re not talking just your average load of horseshit; no, we’re talking colossal load of horsehit. An epic load of horseshit. The kind of load of horseshit that has accreted over decades and has developed its own sort of ecosystem, from the flyblown chunks at the perimeter, down into the heated and decomposing center, generating explosive levels of methane as bacteria feast merrily on vintage, liquified crap. This is a Herculean load of horseshit, friends, the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Augeas.

And you look at it and you say, “Wow, what a load of horseshit."

Read the rest of his review at http://scalzi.com/whatever/?p=121

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ubuntu Ascending

I've solved the issues I had several weeks ago with my iPod and USB drive and appreciate Ubuntu for it. Having had difficulties getting both Win98 and Ubuntu to recognize these devices I pulled up Ubuntu's system log. Helpfully, the log suggested an issue with the USB cable. I worked out with my desktop machine that the issue was with the unit's USB port. Using a different port solved those problems.

I had a similar problem with getting my iPod to also be seen by my laptop. Using a different USB port also solved that issue. For some reason the iPod prefers to use the upper port rather than the lower one, even though the port itself is fine and other devices work on that port without issue.

I've installed Crossover from Codeweavers.com, an application that uses Wine to run Windows applications on Linux. The application I want most to run, National Geographic TOPO, doesn't work, unfortunately. Autostitch works. GSAK fails when you first start it but then works.

I have had an ongoing issue with connecting to the wireless AP at Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill. A week or so ago, I was at the library in Carnegie and was able to connect without issue. Today, I am now able to connect at the Squirrel Hill library (I'm posting from there now) so I imagine that my update to Gutsy Gibbon had something to do with that.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Total Appreciation = $28.88.

Today's Employee Appreciation prize was a Timberline Colorado fleece blanket (50" x 60" with heavyweight nylon stadium carrying strap and imprinted with The Bank logo). They spent all of $8 for it. Ooooh. Ahhhhh.

Actually, it's the first thing all week that I find actually useful. Well, besides the food.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Total Appreciation = $20.88

We received an email from The Bank to the IT Department (of which we are nominally a part):

"By now you've received the first of several tokens of our appreciation for the hard work and dedication you've shown throughout the year. On Monday we celebrated the tremendous effort by our entire team around The Integration, the largest and most complicated integration in The Bank's history. Please enjoy the other events throughout the week and know that none of this success could have been accomplished without IT's greatest asset, our employees! Watch for a surprise on Thursday as the week draws to a close."

Surprise! Today's addition to Employee Appreciation Week was a certificate thanking me for all my "hard work and dedication." Ooooh. Ahhhh.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Total Appreciation = $20.61

The Operations Manager sent out this message:

Hello Team -

In continuation of "Employee Appreciation Week", we have a CAKE for your enjoyment. Please feel free to stop over to get a piece. (It is located next to my cube.)

Again, thank you for all your "Hard Work" and "Dedication".

Why is "Hard Work" and "Dedication" in quotes? Is it the ironic or snarky usage of quotes meant to imply that we are not working hard or are not dedicated? And while that may or may not be true, it's not particularly professional for Help Desk Management to state it this way. It makes me think that they really don't "appreciate" what we do. But, in all honesty, I just think that the Operations Manager is clueless when it comes to corporate communications.

In response, an analyst commented:

"Now, Milton, pass the plates around so everyone gets a piece, ok?. . . JUST DO IT!"

Referencing the scene in "Office Space" when the long oppressed Milton passes cake around to all his coworkers to find that the pieces have run out when it's turn for his piece. There is certainly irony in this as yesterday those who weren't first in line to get "Employee Appreciation Sandwiches" were left out. There was plenty of bread and salad, bowls of condiments and a gallon of salad dressing but not enough meat and cheese.

I sure those hungry employees felt "appreciated".

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Total Appreciation = $18.86

Today's Employee Appreciation Week festivity was lunch. Big bowls of salad, fixin's for sandwiches, chips and cans of pop, served by our management staff. I figure they spent another $8 or so a person on this. Ooooh. Ahhhhh.

They set up tables on the empty side of the floor in an apparent attempt to get us to sit and socialize but the vast majority of people simply grabbed their food and went back to their cubicles.

Monday, November 05, 2007



Remember, remember the fifth of November

"Happy Counterterrorism Day" by Scott Horton.

"Special Comment: George Bush’s Criminal Conspiracy of Torture" by Keith Olbermann.

Total Appreciation = $10.56

The first day of Employee Appreciation Week and we have received a Leeds New Connections Dual Compartment Lunch Cooler affixed with The Bank's logo, valued at $10.56. Ooooh. Ahhhhh.

The plastic logo was easily removed so now I have an insulated lunch bag that I will never user to sit next to the three other insulated lunch bags that I have collected over the years and never use.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


It's a mangy bear.

Why do I say that and not agree with the Bigfoot "experts" in saying that it's an "unclassified primate"?

1) Bear spines curve like that, primate backs do not. They are straight. And even when bending over, a primate's back does not curve that much.

2) Bear front and back legs are pretty much the same length, ground primates, like chimps and gorillas, have shorter back legs.

3) Bears are common to Pennsylvania, primates are not. In fact, there is no physical evidence, either contemporary or in the fossil record, that primates have ever lived in Pennsylvania since they first evolved some 34 million years ago.

4) Two bear cubs were photographed by the same camera at the same location 28 minutes earlier. This close association suggests that the mystery animal is not only also a bear but a bear related to the cubs. Perhaps even the bear's mother.

The PA Game Commission agrees in saying that it's a bear. The Bigfoot Field Researcher's Organization debunks the Game Commission's statement by saying that the PGC is wrong when they say there are no mountain lions in Pennsylvania when there actually are. First off, this is not a "debunking", this is an ad hominem argument, saying that someone is wrong about one line of reasoning because they are wrong about a completely different thing.

Taken on it's own merits, the arguments of the Bigfoot enthusiasts simply aren't convincing or even compelling. And that they label the photographs "unclassified primate" instead of "unknown animal" lead me to think that they have already made up their minds as to what they want the creature to be.

That is bad science.

Friday, November 02, 2007


Next week will be Employee Appreciation Week at the Help Desk. On both Monday and Friday, the "business casual" dress code will be relaxed so that employees can wear Steeler black and gold. There will be a free lunch. Free cake. Certificates of appreciation and gifts from several divisions of The Bank in gratitude for all we at the Help Desk did during recent integrations and major rollouts.

Meanwhile, other technicians within The Corporation are having their compensation adjusted. They will no longer be receiving commissions but will have an increase in their base pay. When the dust settles, however, they will be getting three or four dollars an hour less than when they were making commissions.

Now that's some appreciation.