Friday, April 28, 2006

You Must Be Joking

Our support division is divided into a bunch of "functional teams" which handle problems in various areas. Some do configuration, others installation, others server and OS problems, etc. Each team has some Duty Monkey (DM) who's responsible for checking all the incoming tickets to make sure they're assigned to the right team and with the correct importance. The members of a team take turns being the Monkey for 5-6 hours at a go, at which point some other poor schlub in another center takes over the position so that we have someone doing this for each team around the clock.

We also have two or three Functional Team Managers (FTMs) who oversee the entire team for the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), APac (Asia Pacific) and Americas teams on a full-time basis. When they're out of the office, someone gets to be the temporary FTM. There isn't that much to do besides sending out mail to the team begging to get someone to take a ticket approaching its commit time or joining in an argument over which team a ticket should be handled by.

And lo, it came to pass that this Dog was made temporary FTM on a day when he was also the DM. And there did come a great number of tickets that day. And other teams were pummelled with tickets, for we had sinned in the eyes of our customers. And all the Monkeys tried to pass as many tickets off on each other as humanly possible.

And it came to pass that this Dog did receive a request for a team change from another Duty Monkey afar. Acting as the Server Team Duty Monkey, he refused on numerous grounds, not the least of which being that the ticket dealt with data customisations. The furrin DM replied and insisted that this Dog accept the ticket on the grounds of a sentence in the customer's description. He immediately received a replying and yea, it was proven he was a twit. And he was shown the error of his thoughts, that the particular sentence was a red herring and had nothing to do with the problem.

Case closed?

Half an hour later, I had another mail, addressed to the FTM -- me again. It was a request anew for the same ticket to be moved into our team's queue. It included the same stupidity, poor explanations an ignorance. But lo! It contained more. This Dog's professionalism was called into question. There was also an accusation of "lack of helpfullness [sic]".

LookOut fills in the To: field automagically but FucknutsUK hadn't bothered to look at it before hitting send. If he ad, he would've seen to whom such false allegations were to be routed.

Begging and pleading, even bitching and moaning are one thing, backstabbing and lying quite another.

My reply:
While disingenuous claims are altogether too common when trying to rid oneself of a stinky ticket, outright lying about a cow-orker and trying to damage his reputation are quite another. You really should pay more attention to whom you send mail and more importantly, what you say about your colleagues. The ticket is your team's, for reasons I've already explained. I've sent a copy of this mail chain to your team's FM as well. Maybe he can set you straight about your team functions. As far as your unfounded complaints about me, I'll deal with them separately.
Both mail threads zipped and sent to his and my managers. If he wants another job so badly why doesn't he just quit? He clearly doesn't want to stay here.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Attention Microsoftie Infidels!

I don't hate you. Not personally, anyway. I don't particularly care for your company's politics but I don't care for mine's either. I really like your games department (and I'll buy anyone in the FSim group a beer) but your office and OS apps... well, they keep me busy. I don't need most of the office features and I'm not alone in this. WinWord 6 did almost everything I wanted although I'm glad you fixed the page numbering. That was hell.

The OS needs to be re-written from the ground up. You more or less pulled it off between 95 and XP, though let's face it: DOS is still at the heart of matters, HAL or no HAL. But now compatibility is easy: Anything that runs can run in the Virtual Server/Workstation. Yes, that would have to be partially rebuilt and recompiled but using that or a subset of it would let you start the OS all over and still keep most backwards compatibility.

You guys could go into hiding, declaring your intentions of starting anew. Everyone will wait. You can afford it. Those who are actually investors and not arbitragers will sit it out knowing they'll reap the rewards.

One hint: stop kissing RIAA's, the MPAA's and similar asses. They don't buy your software -- we do. The three biggest reasons people will continue to hate Microsoft OSes are: they get infected and crash easily, requiring another reboot and probably re-install; users have no idea what's actually going on and can't find out even if they're technically savvy; and you give control over files that I bought and paid for to a third party.

Fuck that.

I'm a geek; I'm not terribly worried about the restrictions because even WMV10 has been dealt with. I can watch anything encoded in it using other software. But I can't fix Aunt Minnie' computer so she can do the same. If you give the users (not "consumers") what they wanted, you'll be able to drag the big companies who don't pay nearly as much as the users into the 21st century. They'll finally figure out a business model which suits them and the users.

Dammit. I didn't mean to go into a rant, but I've received quite a few private mails from Microsofties (and true to my word, I will never reveal sources) that I pretty much had to write this.

I don't think Microsoft is evil but I disagree with a lot that the company does and plans to do. Not I18N -- you guys are stars there. But the licensing and DRM and broken standards (thanks for fucking Kerberos!)... those are some of the things that beg people to hate you.

With the available cash, the company could take a hiatus for the next ten years, work with every new technology being developed, dictate to the chip manufacturer standards -- open standards -- to move computing forward, and everyone worth a shit would play along. I expect that's the reputation you'd rather have than the one you're currently saddled with.

Microsoft, you can change computing again. You keep changing it for the home user. How you do it next is up to you, but three years behind on Vista and almost every promise already broken as well as tease pushed back? What else is there for me to say?

Some of your managers deserve a giant, bold-faced 17 from me. And in Helvetica, not Arial.

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They're all out to get me.

My lunch today was supposed to be a spinach, feta and pine nut-filled crepe. The one I had on Tuesday was Very Tasty Indeed. Plans changed slightly.

* * * *

The movie preview last night was excellent. It was a screening of the Film Perfume, directed by Tom Tykwer. Still in production, it was very good overall. Not only did I fill out the questionnaire, I participated in the discussion group afterwards. A few scenes are too long and the Titanic bit in the woods really needs the chop; the producer didn't agree but saw that every single one of us said, "Axe it" and may well comply. It's silly. The only other downside was Hoffman's horrid fake accent even though everyone else spoke with their UK or US accents, all the way up to the main character. Mook.

I'd never read the book and it took more than half an hour for me to realise it wasn't some at least vaguely historical piece. And because Tykwer directed, there are a lot of hot naked redheads. None of them run very far though, and there's no techno music. A female friend also attending told me she'd written the same comment about the redheads on her questionnaire, but she went even further and complained that not one of them was really a redhead. She's a redhead herself -- very dark brownish, but redhead nonetheless -- and sensitive to these things.

The woman leading the questioning wasn't doing a terribly good job (it doen't matter if I liked the film or character as long as each held my interest) so the producer finally got up and took over. After a few much better phrased questions, he then got wrapped up in the answers and started explaining himself almost defensively. Dude, if you have to explain it to me here, that means you failed to do so in the film itself. Don't defend, re-cut.

Some of us went for a beer afterwards and talked some more about the film; I didn't get home until after 1:00a.m.

This doesn't sound too bad, does it? Of course not. But these few hours of respite were only served by Fate in much the same way as a prisoner facing execution in the US is first hit with the very nice Pentothol.

I was awakened at 5:30a.m. by the dulcet tones of a jackhammer right outside my window. I hadn't quite got my minimum three hours of sleep and knew this would only be the start.
Attention People Riding the S-Bahn:
  • Stop shouting into your damned cell phones
  • Turn the damned sound off on the games and the buttons
  • Turn your iPods and WalkMen down or get better earphones. I don't care if you go deaf (unless it's the reason you're screaming into those cell phones); I just don't want to hear that shit when I'm sitting at the other end of an 18m long car.
  • Tourists and locals alike: your ticket entitles you to one seat, not a block of four. My ass needs that chair more than your luggage. What the fuck do you think those metal racks above the seats are for?!
  • Attention lady whose handbag I finally, unceremoniously removed from the seat and dropped in the aisle: everyone on the train wished he was me at that moment you fucking rude bitch.
After sorting out a few more customers who'd installed the latest Microsoft patch on their entire production environments without first testing, thus killing their entire 5,000-seat call center operations, I headed downstairs for lunch with a mate.

The floors in this building are highly-polished granite. If you were in charge of the cleaning schedule, would you have the staff mop the floors and make them almost frictionless
  1. early in the morning before workers get in
  2. in the evening after the workers have gone
  3. in the middle of the day when the building is full
Lunch became some sort of green mush, and it hurt to sit down and eat it, but not badly enough that I can get written off of work for a week or two.

Fuckwits.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

You think YOU'RE sick of it?

Verbatim ticket:
We are exhausted with two things:

1) Microsoft incompatibilty
2) Functionalities being taken away.
Lemme tell you something, buddy. We're sick of it, too. Every time Microsoft release a patch to fix a few dozen of the thousands of bugs they know about, they break functionality. Worse, what they break or remove often revolves around a previously recommended method.

What did they take away? On April 11 they released patch 912812 which forces a modification on IE due to the Eolas patent case. In order to get around the patent dispute, IE now requires some sort of user interaction before running any embedded content. The way around that is to embed content dynamically using VBScript or JScript, a giant pain in the ass.

We use a lot of ActiveX. This one isn't our fault (save for the fact that we used ActiveX to begin with). The patch to break IE was optional when released at the end of February. It was first announced that it would be forced onto machines in the April 11 security roll-up on April 1. Thanks for the warning, guys. We need more than a week and a half to reprogram three major versions of our software.

The last time they boned us this badly was with XP SP2. We used to use background window pops to pass data between some ActiveX components. Microsoft had not only recommended the method, we had their developers working with our software monkeys to make the damned pops work the way they were supposed to.

This shouldn't have come as a surprise since they'd screwed us royally with the JVM/JRE fiasco. All our components were filled with the poisoned Microsoft JVM-only stuff. MS had to stop making the JVM available, we had to work with it, then shortly afterwards, a patch came out from Redmond which removed the JVM. Yet despite the hell ths caused us for months, we went with their ActiveX.

So anyway, I understand when Aunt Minnie questions why she has to get a new version of some software even though her helpful XP Home machine just finished telling her her it had loaded the updates and that her computer was just peachy. What I don't understand is a goddamned "system administrator" who doesn't read MSKB documents on a patch, can't grok the fact that major code changes have to be made to our software, and that those changes can't be written and tested inside two weeks.

Bootnote: he didn't like the suggestion that he could stop patching his Windows servers and workstations. Quoth he: "I have to patch the Windows machines. I just don't want to have to patch your software anymore. It should just work."

Even Notepad gets patched: the current version is 5.1.2600.2180, dumbass.

Root Cause: 3-3rd party
Sub-type: Microsoft OS

Actual Root Cause: 17-Fuckwit
Sub-type: Lazy-ass whiner

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Screenshots

When you submit yet another Service Ticket, it's nice that you've finally learned to also send logs and screenshots when appropriate.

Except that...


...you're still a complete fuckwit. I'm almost speechless.

Yep. They really took photographs of their monitor and sent them in. But it gets worse.
A screenshot of my 1600x1200 dektop only results in a JPG under 500KB. I knew there was something wrong when I saw their screenshot attachments were over 3MB each. You can't get that even if you save a normal screenshot as a Windows Metafile, drop it into Word and embed that in PowerPoint.



Opening these "screen shots" revealed the answer. They took great big honking full-size, max-res 2592x1944 photographs. Of a 1280x960 Samsung monitor. That's right: more than four pixels in a photo for every pixel that the monitor had, and still the pictures were almost useless.

On a lark I opened up some photography software to read the embedded EXIF (Exchangeable Image File format) information. So I'm a geek. They took the pix with a Fuji FinePix E510 set at ISO200.

I really don't need to see all those IE Favourites, either. Why do you need a quad-Xeon server to play Bounce Out?.

Idiots.

Before posting this I showed it to my girlfriend, she of Serendipity fame who curretly works as a waitress. She said, "Even I'm not that stupid. I might have to ask you how to make a screenshot but I wouldn't just take a picture of the computer."

Root Cause:17 - Fuckwit

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

"Unsupported" doesn't mean "except for you"

cust: We're having problems with YourBigApp on Citrix.
me: I'm not surprised. Citrix is unsupported.

cust: Yeah, we know it's not supported. But anyway, we set up YourBigApp on Citrix...
me: But we don't support Citrix. It won't work.
cust: Fine. Let me finish. So we set it up on Citrix and it mostly works, but there's $Problem1 and $Problem2
me: I know. Those are the reasons Citrix is unsupported.
cust: But we need a solution to $Problem1 and $Problem2.
me: Talk to Citrix.
cust: But Citrix works.
It's YourBigApp that doesn't.
me: Does OurBigApp work in a non-Citrix environment?
cust: Yeah, but it doesn't work on Citrix.
me: Exactly. Our app works.
cust: But not on Citrix
me: So talk to Citrix.
cust: But Citrix works! And Citrix says all apps work on Citrix.
me: So ask Citrix why OurBigApp doesn't work.
cust: We did. They said to talk to you.
me: Citrix is unsupported.
cust: But you HAVE to support it. We did all our development based on using it.
me: Did you search through the knowledge base on "Citrix AND OurBigApp"?
cust: Umm... yeah?
me: No. Because if you had you would have seen $doc1 and $doc2 and PublicTickets 1, 2 and 3, all of which I wrote which explain why Citrix won't work. Our search was tweaked to ensure these documents always come up as the most relevant whenever a search includes "Citrix".
cust: But, but, but... but we NEED it to work on Citrix.
me: So tell Citrix.
cust: But it's YourBigApp
me: Yes, it's OurBigApp which works fine without Citrix, that we explain won't work on Citrix, that we explain why it won't work on Citrix (because they lied to us during development), and that Citrix will have to support if they claim it'll work on their system.
cust: But, but, but, but ...
me: Ticket closed. Root cause: Customer. Reason Code: 12-Unsupported Environment. HAND.

You know this should be a 17.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Like Talking to a Wall

When we publish Technical Alerts, it's not because someone has a writing bug. The process of getting one published is pretty complex and follows this path:
  1. Someone sees a need for a TA and either writes a draft (or "draught" for you UKians) or asks someone else to do so
  2. Draft sent to area members for assistance/suggestions
  3. Completed draft sent to other area person (often me) for clean-up
  4. Document submitted
  5. Request sent to an area expert for approval
  6. If approved, documentation department checks for conformity
  7. Questions directed back to area expert
  8. Once everything is resolved, the Technical Alert is published
This can be an infuriating process when we have a hot issue with P1 or P0 priority (i.e., warn people not to do something recommended by Microsoft lest their entire system stop working) but most of us work well together and I've written TAs which were published within 6 hours of my writing the initial draft.

Such is the case with a TA concerning Microsoft's patch 912812, something wholly unnecessary which breaks ActiveX functionality to comply with the order after MS lost the Eolas case (quite possibly on purpose). If you install this, our application will throw up a dozen confirmation boxes on each instance for each user. We're not the only company affected by this, but we're big enough (or our "partnership" agreement with MS is strong enough) that we helped in getting MS to release patch 917425 which repairs the functionality broken by the recommended patch.

We had that TA written and published inside three days back in February when the initial developer version of the IE update was released.

I wasn't surprised when I saw a ticket today called "TA #nnnn" since the damned patch was released yesterday. After almost six years here, I shouldn't have been surprised by the full explanation of the problem.


Customer: We have to apply 912812. When's your patch going to be ready?
Me: We're working on it. No ETA.
Customer: In the meantime [sic] a workaround is required.
Me: Apply MS patch 917425 like the 912812 documentation tells you to do.
Customer: We don't want to.
Me: Too bad.
Customer: We want a solution.
Me: That is the solution! It's Microsoft's solution. They even say so.
Customer: No, we want you to provide a solution today!
Me: Our solution is to use Microsoft's solution.
Customer: But we don't want to apply another Microsoft patch.
Me: You don't want to apply a MS-provided patch which would cost each user five minutes without affecting any other user, but you do want to apply our patch (which we haven't finished writing and testing), the installation of which would take your system down for all users a few hours if you do everything correctly.
Customer: Yes!

My cubicle neighbour Frankie is a nice enough guy, especially when I start his day off right with a few pictures of unclad wimmenfolk, but even that kindness I show only goes so far. He finds the the noise caused by increasing the my-head-shaped-dent in my desk excessive and he complained to management. No more nekkid pix for him this week.

Root Cause:3-3rd party (MS-OS)
But you know damned well that the response from this guy richly deserved a 17.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Who needs permission?

You know, we really don't write these basic scripts for shits and giggles. They actually do stuff. Why do people think otherwise?

No, we're the company that actually makes the base software. We get the money if you use the software. It's in our best interest to write as little as possible and do so as cleanly as possible. Now, no app this big and variable is "clean", but it's relatively cruft-free and it works pretty well. After various security incidents we also found it to be in our best interest to lock as many people as possible out of system areas and access points and let only our internal components do the actual reading and writing.

Since every insert, delete, drop, and change to the database is handled by the sytem's own admin user account, it would stand to reason that this acount would need full access to the database. My techno-tard sister understands this (as long as I put it into restaurant terms, thusly):
"The restaurant is being more careful with the booze. The customers can't pour their own drinks; they have to ask the waiters. The waiters have to go ask the bartender for the order. When the bartender runs out of some bottle -- say, Hendrick's Gin -- he has to go to the manager for a fresh bottle. The manager then has to go to the basement to get the bottle from the liquor cage. All clear?"

"Sure. So what's the problem?"

"The landlord won't give the manager the basement key."

So I think it's understandable that I was more or less gobsmacked by this beauty of a Service Ticket:
"The database administrator refuses to execute the InitialUserSetup.sql and he wants to give to the two Admin users the permissions that he considers pertiment - I want to know the implications of this practice in the rest of the aplication."
[emphasis mine]
The my-head-shaped-dent in front of my keyboard received my forehead in much the same way as the Utah desert received the Genesis probe.

He then continued explaining that he had another problem, namely stuff like:
[DataDirect][ODBC Oracle driver]String data, right truncated. Error in parameter 18.
Error inserting row 147433 into table $TABLE
Thousands of lines like it following Every. Single. Operation.

So, in summary, the Database Administrator doesn't want to grant the system permission to access its own database, and the Application Dude doesn't understand why writes to the database are failing.

I need a Root Cause 34 for this SR. The pair of 'em.

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Cow-orkers I

She Who Can't Be Ignored

One of our band of monkeys is an Eastern European. She joined the company a few months before me. She's not entirely unattractive though I understand from others who went on a rafting outing that there's a lot of cottage cheese for those lucky souls who get the swimsuit view of a hard-to-miss posterior.

I have a question! You have to help me!

This is Ripa's catchphrase. It's preceded by the victim's name and is called out in shrill tones. She's been here six years now. One would think she could solve just one ticket all on her own. One would be wrong, even if dealing with exact same problem she'd worked on a week earlier.

I have a question!

I shudder and try to ignore her.

REC! You have to help me!

I quickly minimise Age of Empires as I see her making her way over.

The COOOstomer is doing... something he shouldn't be. Natch. And not only was he dumb enough to do that, the sad bastard ended up with Ripa handling his ticket. Which means that one of us will actually do the work or -- more likely -- will tell her the same damed thing we've told her a hundred times. There's a 50-50 chance that she'll protest and argue that whatever she's been told was wrong and she'll then terrorise a different colleague, send a request to the customer for unnecessary information and testing, then finally come to her own conclusion which, oddly enough, matches what we'd already told her. However, she'll insist that we told her something different and will steadfastly refuse to put us on ticket as having assisted, yet another metric by which we are judged.

No one says anything about this. She's protected. A high manager in our department is also from the same former Soviet-bloc country. I found this out in a Root Cause-17 manner:

I'm the only monkey in all of EMEA who works with Eastern Asian languages (Chinese/Japanese/Korean, or as they're known, "CJK"). This ability, along with specialised knowledge in OS, database raw data and font handling, gives me quite a few easy tickets in addition to a lot of stinkers because no one wants to even look at a Japanese version of Windows despite the damned icons all being the same, as are the Control Panel and Admin program names. Although she was once an MCSE (I have no idea...), she is incapable of pressing the pretty buttons or hitting WinKey+R and calling up the Services control panel.

So I was astonished when I went back to the queue to take a fairly simple problem from $BigChineseCorp that I could resolve in about 5 minutes with a quick test and found it had disappeared. Had one of our Singaporean colleagues taken it? Maybe someone in India? An insomniac in our California office perhaps?

I ran a quick search and found the ticket. In the owner field was "RIPA". I turned to my mate and said, "She took a ticket she can't even work on! It requires knowledge in so many areas in which she's never worked that it's pointless, and I'll be damned if she's going to pad her quarterly numbers by cutting and pasting my E-Mail responses."

As I said this, LookOut flagged me that there was a new message in my Inbox. Oh joy. My friend smiled and said, "You wanna bet?"

That was a foolish €10.

Vera, a high-level manager, is from the same country as Ripa. The two of them are clearly friends and though it had dawned on me that Vera was the reason for Ripa's continued employment, I equally expected that following the proper chain of command (and doing so both respectfully and discreetly) would have results.

Results I got, but not the ones I'd expected.

Rather than whinge to my direct, lower-level manager yet again about Ripa, I went to Vera's office and closed the door. Looking back, it wasn't one of my brightest ideas but at the time... well, y'all without sin can cast the first stone.

"Vera? Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure. Come on in."
"It's about Ripa."

Only in the aftermath do I remember Ver's eyes narrowing. I calmly explained that Ripa had once again taken a ticket she couldn't possibly work on, much less answer. The ticket required being able to read and enter Chinese characters. It required working knowledge of two Unicode systems. It required technical knowledge of fonts. It required knowledge in almost every aspect of computing in which Ripa was lacking.

Apparently what the ticket really required was me teaching Ripa how to speak Chinese and Japanese along with everything I've learned about code handling over the past 20-some years.

Vera exploded.

I was accused of damned near everything other than sexual harassment: refusal to assist colleagues, inability to work in a professional manner, having a personal vendetta against Ripa, lack of motivation, inconsideration -- whatever she could possibly come up with as she ranted on.

During her tirade she said how she was sick of all these accusations against Ripa. As I defended myself against the accusation of having some vendetta I said that the fact that there were so many complaints from others backed up my own complaint.

What happened next made her initial explosion look like a firecracker. I finally realised I needed to STFU, put my tail between my legs and agree with whatever was being said. I was on official verbal reprimand. Any further "unprofessional behaviour" would result in a written reprimand. I was directed to assist my colleague in any and every way necessary and if teaching a bricklayer to do neurosurgery in 15 minutes was what it took, so be it.

I left Vera's office and went back to my cubicle, handing Jimmy the tenner. I hit control-R in LokOut and started writing the answer which Ripa cut and pasted into her response to the COOOstomer.

Vera played "telephone", sending me customer responses and sending my replies back. It took a week and a half to finish the ticket instead of an hour or two. Ripa again refused to put my name in the "Assisted By" field.

The my-head-shaped dent in front of my keyboard continues to grow.

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In compliance with $MegaCorp's general policies as well as my desire to
continue living under a roof and not the sky or a bus shelter, I add this:

DISCLAIMER:
The views expressed on this blog are my own and
do not necessarily reflect the views of $MegaCorp, even if every
single one of my cow-orkers who has discovered this blog agrees with me
and would also like to see the implementation of Root Cause: 17-Fuckwit.