Friday, April 25, 2008

Archie

I am the (proud?) owner of a first-place medal. In bowling. My 5-man team's combined best score never exceeded 730 and yet we beat the other seven teams at a $MeegaCorp-sponsored evening out at a bowling alley. It wasn't because the others sucked even worse than we did.

When I was sent off to summer camp as a kid, I was provided with reading material consisting primarily of Archie and Richie Rich comic books. I wasn't allowed to take books like Principles of Orbital Mechanics because "they might get ruined". More importantly, I was geeky enough that I didn't need the aggro and torment my bunkmates would've heaped on me for the entire month had they seen me reading such things.

Oddly, one Archie storyline stayed with me through the years. Archie was in some athletic competition and kept being bested in every activity, always coming in second. Reggie beat him in a race and Betty beat him in the long jump and so on. Even Jughead beat him in something. But Archie won gold at the meet. He did this because he placed consistently 2nd whereas the others who'd gotten first place in one event placed 4th or 5th in others.

Supergeek noticed something wrong and I demonstrated that the author was lazy and hadn't actually done his math; the numbers didn't add up and I said so. "Jesus Christ, Canine! Who the fuck adds up scores in a fucking Archie comic?" my fellow 9-year-old incarceree screamed. My nickname for the rest of August was Columbo.

But I was intrigued. Could there be a way to make the scoring work so that Archie could win even though he always came in second place? It took me a few tries but I figured out how it might work.

In my university prob/stat course we had to write programs in some glub-awful language like MAPLE. The Archie conundrum was still in my head and so I used it as the basis of a complex assignment. It turns out that theoretically it's quite probable that a second-placer will win overall as long as he's consistent and there are enough other actors (probabilty becomes >50% at 6 or 7 actors).

And now it's happened to me in real life. An evening of bowling on the $MegaCorp dime. We came in second place in each of the three full games played. But while some other team would soundly trounce us in one round, they'd play poorly in another. We played consistently and won.

The best thing of the night wasn't winning the damned "team-building" event -- like I could give a rat's ass about that. It wasn't even the free food (we had to pay for our own beer). It's that my Archie conundrum which has followed me for three decades or so has finally put to bed.

Me. First place in bowling. Insanity, I tell ya.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cars & Trucks

Part 1 in an irregular series about bad management

Imagine what things would be like if a major truck manufacturer -- let’s call it Peterworth – were to function like $MegaCorp. If Peterworth wanted to get into the automobile manufacturing business, it might make sense for them to purchase Maserati. It's a high profile manufacturer, a market leader in its division, and Peterworth would stand to gain valuable technology as well as aerodynamics and design engineers. However, it would be absurd for Peterworth to then insist that Maserati use the Cummins ISX engine for production vehicles.

But perhaps Peterworth’s managers might respond that the 11-liter Cummins truck engine offers 530 horsepower while Maserati’s top engine only puts out 405hp. If management’s only goal was brake horsepower and they ignored everything from design to weight to fuel usage we would at least understand the reasoning behind such a bad decision.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Peterworth likes consistency throughout their design and production. One constant design element is cab-over: to access the engine the entire cab rotates up and forward hydraulically. Maserati engineers would protest that the engine is in the middle and it’s impossible to lift the entire body to expose the engine since the car incorporates unibody design for safety and stability.

Peterworth management ignores the explanations and demands a new, cab-over design, telling the Maserati engineers to figure out how to do cab-over to expose the engine which wouldn’t fit under a normal hood anyway, and that if safety is an issue then they better get back to work on the design already. After all, they’re part of Peterworth now.

The engineers figure out how to mount the massive engine in the middle behind the driver, cut the body and strengthen it using steel beams, incorporate a cab-back design so that the back half of the body can lift and rotate, and they do their best to make the thing aerodynamic.

The drawings still look workable even if the result looks nothing like previous Maseratis. But then a Peterworth engineer notices that there’s no way to stack the front of one car onto the back of another. Maserati engineers ask why the hell you would need to do that to which the Peterworth engineer responds, "So we can deliver the things." Trucks are normally delivered by chaining a few cabs onto the fifth wheel of the truck in front of them, sending them out to dealers in this configuration three to five at a time.

Of course the Maserati engineers are floored and try to explain that cars are delivered using car carriers which can hold six to eight at once. Peterworth replies that the have no car carriers and their market research shows that customers like the current delivery method. Some smart-assed dog-monkey in Maserati asks Peterworth management if customers had been asked about car delivery being handled the same way as trucks and is quickly muzzled.

So the engineers go back and make further design changes to reinforce the rear of the Maserati with more steel so that if can bear the additional weight. They then realize they have to increase the tire size and change the rear suspension. Maserati engineers also have to modify the front design to add weight and a linkage so that this stacked delivery method could function.

The car is now uglier than a 1972 Volvo, heavier than a Hum-Vee, has the aerodynamics of a garden shed, the handling of a canoe, and costs more than a Ferrari Enzo. But Peterworth management is thrilled because the car meets all their metrics: it has the highest horsepower available in a stock car, uses many of the same parts already used in production in other divisions, and it’s capable of being delivered using the Standard Delivery Methodology.

Despite poor reviews, complaints, dropping sales, drastically reduced customer satisfaction and constant demands that Maserati cars at least perform and handle like they used to, management sees raving success thanks to the chosen metrics being fulfilled.

Management has another idea: worker equality. The workload is widely distributed at Peterworth and there's no reason that the Maserati people should be treated differently. Peterworth's way of thinking doesn't allow them to differentiate between the ¤100/hr engineers, ¤80/hr monkeys, ¤30/hr secretaries and ¤8.37/hr outsourced monkeys. They all know Maserati, they can and will all do each others' jobs.

It doesn't matter that most secretaries have never drawn a single mechanical sketch in their lives or that the engineers don't know how to hand-bore an engine. Work is to be distributed fairly, meaning each person will complete X number of "tasks" each day. Anyone working for the Maserati subdivision ought to know how to work on Maserati issues.

The workers themselves are smart enough to know their limits so while some engineer is trying to figure out how the hell some glub-awful spreadsheet was put together, the secretary who should be doing it is asking him about metal alloy shear strenght since she's been tasked with a piston redesign. They're not allowed to trade tasks; management knows best. But they end up wasting even more time trying to figure out how to do their assigned tasks and helping others to do the tasks they themselves could do best.

But management is also always on the look-out for ways to improve a product. They approach the engineers and tell them that there’s only one small problem with the car: it’s not pulling enough weight. Literally. Next year’s design needs to raise the rear end and incorporate a fifth wheel so that the car can haul at least a standard 20´ trailer. The following year’s model can be upgraded to allow for hauling a full 40-footer.

This is exactly how management at $MegaCorp think and act. If you thought you knew who $MegaCorp was before, you can now be certain whether you’re right or wrong.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ATTENTION JULIE BECKMANN INFIDEL:

...and the rest of all you Googlies: Turn off that fucking geotracking already! When I go to Prague and need to use your site, I can't fucking find anything! I don't speak Czech and I don't know which fucking link is the one which will give me your goddamned page in English!

Geotracking is stupid. That's why most of us gave up on it a decade ago, about three and a half weeks after we figured out how to do it with some JavaScript and cgi. That's what the fuck cookies are for. If I don't have a cookie, default to the goddamned locale for the TLD I entered in my browser. If I wanted to see the results from google.de or google.co.uk I would've typed them -- and not google.com -- into the fucking browser. Do you have any idea how many fucking expats there are in this country? Stupid question; of course you don't or you wouldn't do this.

If I go to google.COM (or .co.uk, or .ca, or .nz or .au...) then give me the fucking site in English you fuckwits. Don't sit there querying my browser about the computer's locale; I have it set to Iceland, Afghanistan and/or Barbuda to fuck with anyone else trying to track me for marketing through any machine on which I have to run Windows (thanks for working on Linux compatibility for PhotoShop, BTW).

If I wanted your German site dann hätte ich google.DE in der verdammten Browser-Instanz eingetippt. Og ef ég vil lesa þetta á íslensku, skrifa ég google.IS í Firefox, fávitarnir ykkar. I typed google.COM. English, motherfuckers; I SPEAK IT. Or allow language specification through a language code prefix the way Wikipedia does it: en.google.com, de.google.com, jp.google.com. Simple, huh?

You're doing this with Adsense, too. All attempts to view my account are met with your stubborn insistence on throwing up the new T&Cs in German, even though I'm logged in and you know my preferences. You force me to click through this page and accept or deny the new T&Cs. In German. By doing this you're giving me all sorts of rights you really didn't intend to.

German law makes it very clear that unless a contract benefits all parties it's invalid. We already have an agreement and you must live up to it if I'm not willing to renegotiate. You're not giving me a choice to keep my old contract or accept the new one, a condition $MegaCorp was forced by law to do when they took over $BigCorp. They made the new contract slightly more agreeable in order to get me to sign.

A contract which I'm coerced into accepting though I don't understand it is equally invalid. This boils down to the following: by using that goddamned geotracking and not giving me any option to change the language so that I can read the contract in a language which I am comfortable with in a legal sense, you have denied yourself any new rights this contract gives you. Any attempt to enforce the new terms when they differ from the old terms will be futile. Stupider still, the Accept/Bug-Me-Later/Deny radio buttons and accompanying text are in English. So you know I want English and still refuse to present it to me.



I speak German but not at a level necessary to understand the ramifications of legal documents. The less-than-stellar outcomes of my German legal experiences serve as clear evidence of this. You're not allowing me to read the goddamned documents in the language of my choosing which happens to be your official language of record.

I am now no longer legally bound by the AdSense contract, Google. You are; I'm not. I know you don't realise this yet because your I18N group is seriously lacking thanks to your decision to do most internationalisation work via volunteer intarweb translators. Y'all might want to read up over at Michael Kaplan's blog. I'm curious: how long did it take you to realise how much you were pissing off Spain when their calendars were starting on Sunday instead of Monday? Was it before or after you realised the Icelanders were upset because they could search in Klingon, Fuddian and SwedishChefian but not in their native language?

If you, like the typical geek coders you hire (fluorescent tan and only the most abstract idea which end of a girl is "up" much less "in"), just have to keep the damned geotracking turned on, then for fuck's sake add a fucking language preference dropdown at the top of every single page. Or just pay attention to any of the 14 cookies for each of my IDs that you've dropped in my browser, almost every one of which specifies English as the language of choice. Like both of the AdSense-accessing accounts.

In case you haven't been really paying attention to what I've been writing over the past couple years, Im willing to entertain job offers and it seems like y'all are in some serious need of an I18N czar. I prefer to work primarily from a home office (currently in Krautreich) although I'm willing to commute. I fly business when you want me to show up for meetings because you'll expect me to be functional within 20 minutes of arrival at SFO and that ain't gonna happen if I'm stuck in cattle class.

So here's the deal. You turn off the geotracking and I'll consider your job offer as long as it's in English. I think that's fair.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Charting the Present

A picture rather than the usual thousand words. Click for a legible version.

Flowchart

That pretty much sums it up. Now back to some guy's HP-UX problem. Not that I know HP-UX but that didn't stop me from getting chosen to resolve it,. The Citrix problem that came in from Germany, from a German, written in German, needing technical knowledge... that went to someone in Bangalore. Her only comment in the ticket: "What is Citrix?" It's in my queue now.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Which Side Are You On?

Current Location: Near a high tower
Current Mood: Murderous
Current Music: Billy Bragg - Back to Basics


So the conf call is over. I was right. Had I not had the logs beforehand we would've been completely confused and gone in the completely wrong direction based on their verbal descriptions. But just before it began...

Another mail from upper manager arrived with a distribution list including extra names of people who had nothing to do with this issue or customer. Like the director of Program Contract Management. I ess-ploded.

John the upper manager is actually an upper upper upper manager. And instead of doing his job and getting a PITA customer to provide information so that I didn't have to sit on a conf call with my thumb up my ass saying, "Durr, I don't know," for the duration, he instead demanded I waste time and make us look like incompetent jackasses. This company has a cornucopia of stupid from which each level of management drinks more deeply than their underlings.

Luckily my lowest-level manager did manage to get the company to send shit in and delay the call. This angered upper upper upper manager who believed we should simply be on the phone rather than pissing about with technical information. When 1500 users are doing nothing but searching their machines for winmine.exe, most companies don't want group hugs and idiots empathising with their situation. They want fucking answers.
Can we have a customer focused monkey assigned to this ticket. The customer is extremely concerned, most of their business is unable to run and we won't speak to them!

I spoke to the customer, they are reasonable, they feel they can explain what they have done quickly on the phone and are willing to work with us on this but just would like the reassurance of a discussion.

Please help.

Judy,

FYI for when the customer satisfaction complaint arrives.

Regards,
John

I hit the fucking roof. He's not only put in writing the claim that I'm not "customer-focused" (a Very Bad Attitude indeed), he additionally added his expectation of a customer complaint.

As soon as the call was over, I got to work. Not responding would only indicate my acceptance of his letter. 'S how it works in shitty corporate life. I'll be damned if this cocksucker's bullshit is going to affect my reviews.

John,

I strongly resent the baseless and patently absurd characterisation that I am somehow not "customer-focused". I'm currently focused on 31 customers and I have a long history of high customer sat.

I followed procedures and asked management to do what management does whenever we're confronted by an customer making unreasonable demands. Discussing the problem without seeing the logs is an exercise in futility and a waste of time which could be better spent resolving other customer problems. I have been told to follow such a procedure by three different managers over the past eight years.

$BigInsurer sent the logs and we were able to make a diagnosis. Had they not sent the logs this would have been impossible; their descriptions of the problem would have led us /away/ from the true cause. On the call I provided further information and testing procedures they can follow. Before joining I sent an answer which they agreed was more easily understood when read.

Please retract your unconscionable statement and atrocious characterisations of me. I'm shocked and appalled that you would not only fail to support me in trying to do my job but that you would publicly claim I was not "customer-focused" and note such an expectation of negative feedback.

Oddly enough mail from him has since dropped to zero. $BigInsurer is happy. Their system is working and they're getting quick updates from me. They're praising me in each reply.

One might expect this bastard to try and take credit for this by having forced me onto the call. Enough mail and customer comment proves otherwise. What this fuckwit John doesn't know is that I know his boss supports my position. I know this because $LowestManager was at the big meeting where $BigBoss explained this. As dangerous as my response might seem, my ass is covered. Turns out that John has become notorious for screwing the workers and taking the idiot customers' sides despite explicit corporate policy to the contrary. Which side are you on, Boy? Which side are you on?

Not five minutes after hitting send, up popped an IM window from sn4tchbuckl3r the manager in Bulgrohungria. "OH NOES! We fucked up a ticket! Nobody answered for a week! Can you take it?"

Why me?

"It's Citrix."

Of course. Surprisingly it wasn't filed by $VeryTouchyCustomer. That company is in the same country, and the business is related. More importantly, it reads almost exactly like tickets which $VeryTouchyCustomer does send in.

<clicky clicky>gg: $VeryTouchyCustomer $OtherCustomer
A subsidiary.

<clicky clicky>SELECT Contact, DataCenter from T_CUSTOMERS WHERE Profile=(SELECT Profile FROM T_CUSTOMER.$OtherCustomer);

Like Wile E. Coyote, he never learns. As he stood there in his Acme Shell Corporation Account suit wringing his hands with anticipation of the answer he so wanted to hear, I pushed him off the cliff with a quick cut & paste from the last $VeryTouchyCustomer ticket. At which point Sandra walked over to ask me certain Citrix-based questions. I didn't have to ask for whom. She was curious about $StupidDocument and hadn't yet had a chance to talk to Gloria.

Dinner was half a tray of 4-day old leftover Indian take-away and bottle of 18-year-old single malt Scotch. I finished my entire meal.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Heart Attack

No, I didn't go to Donnie's Happy Place. A couple weeks of pneumonia followed by a vacation during which I caught a cold gave me enough time out of the orifice that I actually arrived today in what could almost be termed a state of "calm" (for values of boolCalm < "mania").

Inside three hours my blood pressure has returned to its usual value of astronomical-over-gargantuan.

Right away I was hit with bad news: Mini-Me is gone. Fucker. He sent me a note. I don't blame him. Under the circumstances I'd've done the same thing. Smart puppy, Paul. Getting out before his skills deteriorate and he's locked into this hell the way so many of us are with few externally marketable skills is the smartest thing he can do. The pay increase doesn't hurt either. The reasons for his departure are the subject of a half written, less-ranty entry.

As I started clearing out a load of dead and forgotten tickets, I was visited by a TAR who wanted to know about Citrix. He then started arguing with me saying that we do support it as if he himself was the fucking customer. A light went off. He wasn't arguing like just any customer, he was arguing just like these jackasses.

"Joe," I asked, "is this about $VeryTouchyCustomer?"
"Yes, why?"
And I explained all our time they've wasted over more than a year, coming here, having me go out there, letter after letter after document. They thought they'd found a loophole. This belief was made possible by their ignoring the fact that I'd told them "Vendor-verified" still doesn't mean we'll deal with any problems. Shit won't work, period.

I checked the worldwide tickets for references to Citrix. There are only two people in the company not getting Citrix tickets: me and Mini-me, odd because we're the only two people qualified to answer them. Mini-Me knows at least enough to cut and paste my answers. Not so the other monkeys. I had to add notes to a dozen other people's tickets.

And that should've been the end of it. But it wasn't. It never is.

Gloria showed up. Wanting to know about Citrix. And vendor verification. And documents. Gloria's some sort of non-technical Company Rep. No, she hadn't talked to Joe. No, she's not sure if it's for $VeryTouchyCustomer. I had her check. Of course it was, and I got to spend the next 30 minutes explaining the same shit to her that I'd told Joe an hour before. While she didn't fight like Joe did, she kept interrupting because she didn't understand how "vendor verified" wasn't the same as "$MegaCorp certified and supported". Muppet.

And just as I got back to the CubeDesk of Hate high atop Munich on the first floor of the Panopticon Greenhouse, up popped a note. I have a Sev-1 ticket from $BigInsurer. Surprisingly their data center is not on any subcontinent but rather an actual island. Oh joy of joys!

It was then that a flood of mail came in. Escalation mail. A quick peek at the audit trail showed me the following:
  • 11:17 Ticket submitted
  • 11:19 Escalation level 2
  • 11:20 Escalation level 1
  • 11:24 Activity: phone number changed
  • 11:26 Activity: Manager response
  • 11:29 Ticket dumped in dog's lap
  • 11:29 Escalation notice sent to REC, managers, upper managers
  • 11:31 Demand for conf call
  • 11:34 REC requests basic information, logs, etc. since none were provided
  • 11:37 Conf call details provided
  • 11:38 Conf call details changed
  • 11:41 Another demand for conf call
  • 11:44 Response to info request: we'll wait for the conf
  • 11:47 REC demands info immediately, gets manager to explain pointlessness of joining call.
  • 11:53 REC receives demand from upper management to get "customer-focused" and join call
  • 12:12 Lower manager gets customer to agree to send logs and reschedule conf call
  • 13:04 REC receives logs eleven minutes before conf call
Fuckwits, all of them. In ten minutes the fun starts.

I know need nitroglycerin. I just haven't decided if it would be more appropriate to ingest the shit or just detonate it.

To be continued...

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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.