Thursday, October 26, 2006

But All the Cool Kids Have It

Fifteen years ago, few people other than programmers had ever heard of "beta" software. Then came the Web, and with it the hype of the dot-bomb bubble. "Beta" quickly became a buzzword as non-professionals slowly started reading what industry people wrote and mixed with them in forums and newsgroups where all had a common interest, such as rec.aviation.piloting, alt.usage.english, even alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork.

Getting access to a beta program in 1996 generally required either knowing someone at a software company or stumbling across an announcement of an upcoming version, then registering, providing information on your technical background and explaining why you should be allowed to participate. If you got in, you were pummeled with warnings about the software being unfinished and buggy, that it was definitely Not Ready for Prime Time, and that you shouldn't install it on any machine you weren't prepared to rebuild completely.

The flourishing warez scene, once relegated to some private BBSes and FTP sites, increased the availability of these beta builds dramatically. If you couldn't get into a beta program, you probably knew someone who had access to a warez server. Or you had a FOAF who could.

As the bubble grew, so did the marketing hype. Companies realised that they didn't need to spend so much money on full internal QA. The general public would actually -- willingly -- put their own machines at risk, install unfinished software, and even send in bug reports, all in order to be the coolest kids on the block. Part of the "bleeding edge".

My father was one of those people. Truth be told, so was I. The difference is that I had a dozen boxes, three of which were reserved for testing. It didn't matter that build 451 of Windows 98 beta might let explorer.exe run away with the processor or maybe build 827 might accidentally wipe a directory; it was running on a testbed. Not so for my father. He learned about back-ups the hard way.

The consumer magazines didn't help matters. Ziff-Davis and all their competitors couldn't publish a single issue of any of their ad-laden rags without at least one report on the latest beta no matter how meaningless and pointless the actual application, fanning the flames of users' desires to get hold of such software so they could also be "in". So great was the demand that Microsoft managed to charge users $30 for Windows 98 beta!

The beta juggernaut continued. Companies -- especially those whose software would ultimately turn out to be vapourware -- started releasing alpha into the wild, calling it "beta". Quite a bit of it cough*Longhorn*cough never made it past cough*Duke Nukem Forever*cough that stage.

It's 2006. To the general public "beta" no longer means DANGER WILL ROBINSON!, only Oooh! Shiny! Beta is seen as nothing more than the latest version one can get for free or a reduced price.

The word "beta" should start the klaxons ringing. Instead it's an invitation -- a Siren, or more appropriately, a Succubus. Nobody's scared of beta anymore. To the general public and even technically-oriented friends of mine, "beta" means "working", "stable" and even "safe".

Google's GMail has now been "beta" for more than two and a half years. On their front page Microsoft is pushing beta software. The majority of the page is covered in a splash screen encouraging visitors to download "Office beta 2". In the second week of September, 2006 the focus was on inviting users to download "Windows Defender Beta 2". Two weeks later it was for "Expression Web Beta 1". Two weeks ago they were pushing Office 2007 beta update. All of these are still available and recommended on Microsoft's home page. The download pages for IE7, Office 2007 and all other Microsoft beta software contain much hype and no warnings whatsoever. Not a one.

There's no warning to users that their entire systems could be corrupted and made unusable. Google doesn't mention that the entire interface could change and that all mail could be lost. Microsoft doesn't mention that even sites which were designed for IE6 using Microsoft's recommended methods may not work in IE7, let alone Web-based applications. $OurBigApp sure as hell doesn't work in it.

The tech community needs to take the word back from the marketers. Yes, it's great to get others to do your testing for you but they need to know the risks. Instead, users and administrators alike are downloading the latest beta versions and installing them on production systems, then screaming at other vendors that everything's b0rked.

Over the course of two months, seven companies with over 20,000 seats total were down thanks to users and admins installing IE7 beta 2, beta 3, RC2 and RC3.


x-posted from HuSi where there's a poll

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Former Cow-Orkers

A lobotomy isn't a $MegaCorp exit requirement. I know this because on occasion I meet up with Johnny and sometimes Poopyhead comes along, too. We have fun and drink and Johnny tries to get me to leave $MegaCorp and come to whichever shop is his current employer. I inevitably trump him with the fact that I have incredible flexi-time which, he painfully admits, is something $CurrentJob does not believe in.

Johnny sent in a ticket last week which was simple enough; I guess he just forgot the mechanics or didn't know if they'd changed since version 4.0.b. I sent him a quick answer and he gave me 10s across the board. That survey will be ignored. Not only is Johnny a buddy, he's one of the original BadBoys, a group of us less-than-corporate types (including Poopyhead and me) who did our best to make the place more tolerable. Managers remember him all too well.

Today I got hit with a question from another former cow-orker. I remember him being good at his work and that he even had a sense of humour, so I'm hoping his managers forced him to write the stupidity he submitted in that ticket.
Please be informed that after $MyCompany installs IE 7 onto our STAGE and PRODUCTION servers, we will be submitting tickets for any break in functionality.

Please inform our Technical Account Representative.

Let us know if you have questions.

Yeah, I have a few questions, Skippy:
  1. How long does it take you guys to support a new platform? $YourCompany needed eight months before it could run on XP.

  2. How the hell can you expect us to support a new platform immediately upon its accelerated release?

  3. How the hell can you expect us to support a new platform immediately upon its accelerated release?
Please be informed that after $YourCompany installs IE 7 onto your STAGE and PRODUCTION servers, we will be replying with the same response to each one.

You're going to be submitting a lot of tickets, Sport, and I'll be taking them all, closing each and every one of them with the same damned answer: IE7 is unsupported.

Not only do I want to close this ticket with a Root Cause:17 - Fuckwit, the guy who submitted it understands what that means. Instead he's just getting a 13: Unsupported Platform.

x-posted from HuSi, sans poll.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fuck You, Lufthansa! Thank You, USAir!

I really have to stop answering the phone when my brother calls. It's never good news. Yesterday my favourite uncle died. The funeral should've been today but has been pushed back to Thursday to allow a lot of relatives who live far away to get there, like me in Munich and Sis in France.

Apparently European airlines don't offer bereavement fares anymore except for travel originating in the US or Canada. I was looking at ticket prices starting at over €1400. I'd used every Web service and found nothing so I started making phone calls. Since the EU offices of many airlines were already closed and because they charge €0.12-0.28 per minute for the privilege of talking to them in order to give them more money and pay an additional "service charge" for that privilege, I opted to call the US offices.

It was a no-go on all accounts. The only option was to call the EU offices. Lufthansa gave me a number that was supposed to be manned until at least 8:00 p.m. I called, and for the low, low price of around €0.16/minute, I sat on hold for almost 10 minutes. Then someone answered.

While I was staring at my monitor and seeing prices from €1300 to over €5000 for steerage class, the woman quoted me a ticket from Munich to $City for €3300. WTF?

"Yes, that would cost you €3300 including fees and surcharges."
"I'm looking at airlines here offering one third that price!"
"If you stay over through Saturday the price becomes much lower."
"I'm not going on vacation here. I'm going to a funeral. I also can't take that much time off two different jobs."
"Well your ticket would be cheaper if you would book your flight at least three weeks in advance."

I should book a flight for a funeral in advance. Three weeks in advance. No fucking wonder they don't let us have guns here in Germany. I swear if I ever meet that cunt I'll clobber her.

You complete and utter fuckwit. Go die.

With time running out today I managed to get a bereavement flight for me and for my sister with USAir for a total cost under €1300, and direct to $City instead of to Newark, sparing us a three-hour drive each way.

Fuckwits everywhere.

x-posted from HuSi.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

(C)rush Hour

After a long day of answering follow-ups from one lame mook desperately seeking LART application after another, I just want to go home. Unfortunately a truly bizarre problem which is interesting only because it's so wacked-out required a conference call with multiple machine remote access. That took more than an hour.

I normally leave on a Friday by 3:00p.m. It was quarter past four. I skedaddled before anyone could try to get me to answer a new Citrix ticket that showed up. It'll wait. The subway was packed. I was stuck next to a guy and a girl who were droning on in English about the most inane shit.

Imagine the most pathetic gay stereotype character from the worst BBC sitcom you can imagine. This guy was worse. He took a cheap shot at how I looked and without looking up from my book I uttered, "Arschgeige".

Quoth he: "See? You have to be careful. There's still a lot of hatred against foreigners here."

"That'd be a neat trick, you fucking cunt."

A look of shock came over his face as one of bewilderment came over hers.

"You stupid fucking mook. Do you not know that some 30% of this town is made up of foreigners? Do you not know that the fucking Krauts speak English? You're a twat. You're annoying. Shut the fuck up and let me get home in peace. Manolo Blahniks are not important."

Can't... breathe...
Fuckwits... everywhere!
x-posted to HuSi, sans poll

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Thank You, John Grisham

One of Grisham's best novels which also translated well to film was The Rainmaker. It happened to run on TV a few weeks ago and a good thing that was, because a great scene remained fresh in my mind. As a result a response I sent to a customer was missing a line I might've otherwise inserted.

Regina's company hadn't patched $OurBigApp yet and the Microsoft 918899 roll-up which would permanently disable the 917425 and 919010 compatibility patches was about to be released.

Some days I'm Jackie Lemanczyk, others I'm Evert Luftkin.

Regina is one of those kindergarteners I deal with. Regina knows some big words, like "escalation", a process she kicked off by complaining that she wasn't getting correct or useful information from me. My team manager looked through the ticket and agreed Regina's a tard.

Every time I told her that the 918899 update would break her system and explained how it would do so, she'd come back with, "What I still don't understand is why should $YourBigApp not work if it gets patched with 4.c.2 after the August IE patch," and repeatedly asking me if the August update maybe did have a compatibility patch after all despite telling her no four times already.


On August 3rd I explained that you need to apply Patch 11 BEFORE you allow the August security roll-up to be installed on XP SP2 workstations.

On August 4th I explained that there is no further compatibility patch and reiterated my response from the previous day.

That same day I responded again that there was no August compatibility patch and again confirmed my answer from the previous day.

Later that afternoon I clearly stated AGAIN that none of your Windows XP SP2 clients will work correctly with the August Microsoft security update in a 4.c.2 environment.

I wrote the same thing again on August 7.

Later that same day I explained it once again in further detail.

On August 8th I explained it again.

I have so far explained that XP SP2 with the August 918899 patch will not work correctly on any version 4.c environment prior to 4.c.11 seven times. The answer is not going to change. There is no point in asking me if you should also test against 4.c.1 because it won't work correctly.



I am closing this ticket.



You must be a fuckwit, fuckwit, fuckwit.

I want my Root Cause: 17! I deserve to have it. I need it!
x-posted to HuSi with a poll.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Singing the Same Old Song

There are a few benefits to consolidating all your servers in a couple locations rather than having them spread out all over the world in each major center. Administration is centralised and only a couple of people have to spend their days babysitting them. Patching is centralised. And... that's about it.

A short list of consolidation suckage:
  • Loss of power kills all centers
  • Loss of communications kills all centers
  • Inability to work with the base hardware
  • Bureaucracy
  • Admin ego
The guy who used to be my partner of sorts prior to consolidation is now my nemesis. He plays the part well.

No longer are we forced to make hard images of full drive arrays to back up a crash-and-burn environment or base installation image. $MegaCorp likes server virtualisation and spends a lot of money for the licenses because we use the good virtual server software, not the crappy one. VMWare rocks my world.

Because of this system it's a lot easier to make all sorts of test images. We can automatically load up a base copy of, say, Windows 2003 (with or without $database), install $OurBigApp version, then get the admin to save that "pristine" copy so that no one else ever again has to install this particular configuration.


But what about operating system base images? That's where it gets tricky. Only the admins have access to get VMWare to point the "CD drive" to an ISO image in order to install a new OS. Rusty knows not of Red Hat or SuSE and with gentle prodding can be convinced to accept a new, latest-and-greatest ISO from, but he does know Windows. He knows that Vista is beta and that we don't support beta.

Windows XP was once beta, too, as was Windows 2003. We still loaded them up and tested throughout the beta period, not in any official capacity (that's a job for QA and Engineering) but to get a feel for it and find out where the pitfalls are. Playing with betas lets us find out where the hell Microsoft stuck all the menus after shuffling everything around again, allowing us to rewrite our boilerplate explanations about which menus to use to perform certain tasks.

We also find out if there's a way to tweak the system and rewrite scripts or configurations so that $OurBigApp will run on these new versions. This allows fuckwit customers who migrate immediately upon release of some new OS an unsupported but workable method and saves Engineering resources; QA can just test our fix and approve it, making it "supported".

But up until a couple years ago, the labs were local and loading a new OS only required people to be nice to me. By "nice" I mean "send me a mail telling me what you need and then let me finish what I'm in the middle of before pissing and moaning that your image isn't ready."

It's different now. It's all Rusty's baby. Rusty doesn't think we should be wasting his time and ours on unsupported beta software. Rusty refuses to load a Vista ISO image. He demands line manager approval. He demands team manager approval. He demands general management approval. He demands I show the software license despite our having a full MSDN worldwide subscription. There is no license. It's fucking beta software that Microsoft is offering to the entire fucking world which will expire in a few months!

We need to be ready for the eventual release of IE7 and Vista but Rusty doesn't care. He knows it's beta and he's in charge. The separation of labs from the general management organisation -- once such a a relief -- is now preventing me from preparation.

I'm not asking for Vista to be installed as a base OS; it's not a server OS anyway. I only want to install a fucking VMWare image. He doesn't need to do the actual configuration. He doesn't need to administer the software. He only has to click three buttons, a filename, and "OK". Nevertheless, he's fighting back.

I have to fight with Rusty.
To install basic software.
On a virtual machine.
Software we will soon have to support.

x-posted from HuSi where there's a poll.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Survey Says...

From: $MegaCorp HR Department
Sent: ____tag, xx. Oktober 2006 12:34
To: $everybody
Subject: Employee Satisfaction Survey

Ummm... no.

blah blah blah The survey is completely confidential*.


Even if the survey is anonymous, it wouldn't be once I sent in my answers. Even Ripa could figure out whose paws had banged out the appropriate response:
Dear HR,

Consider the following:
* My ticket load was more than double the average this past year.
* I wrote half a dozen public documents and edited four times that many for others.
* My survey scores were some of the highest company-wide.
* I got customers using Citrix to stop bitching at us and redirect their hatred to where it belongs.
* I was congratulated by upper management for my handling of certain touchy problems affecting multi-million-dollar contracts.
* I ended up taking a pay cut while the slackers got a pay increase.
* I was passed over for promotion.
* I didn't receive a cost-of-living pay adjustment.

How fucking satisfied do you think I am?

x-posted to HuSi with a poll

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Yeah, yeah. I know, I know.

It's not that I'm lazy, just busy as hell. And on top of that there was Oktoberfest along with a lot of shit no reader of this blog gives a damn about. That emo post a couple of weeks ago really took the wind out of my sails. Rest assured I was ranting away this morning and have three or four more kindergarten stories alone to tell, not to mention the latest with Shitrix.

Jebus on a fucking crossbeam those people and their Defamation Server are pissing me off! I have three fucking conf calls next week as a result of their incompetence, although I can't help wondering if I have a RottenFuckingMutt counterpart working for them. Glub knows I'd probably be trying to weasel my way out of the noose in which they find their collective necks, and in pretty much the same way. It's one red herring after another.

Anyway, here's a taste of today's fucking idiots:
17: We're experiencing $SeriousProblem with lost files.
REC: We know. We're working on it. Already documented and we're working on a fix. Tell your users not to press the A button but use the B instead.
17: It'll take a lot of time to train the users. Instead I want to use your work-around that I read about but can't find anymore.
REC: Don't bother. It doesn't work. That's why you can't find it anymore. I invented the work-around and later proved it doesn't work so I removed the information about it.
17: But the work-around has to work.
REC: That's what I thought but as it turns out, it doesn't. Here are some logs to prove it. [I love FileMon.]
17: Well our users will need time to stop pressing the A button so we're going to use the work-around.
REC: IT DOESN'T WORK! Send your users an E-Mail: "Do not use the A button! Only use the B button or you will lose all your work!"
17: I don't know if users will read the mail so we're going to use the work-around.
You fuckwit.

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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:

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.