Survivor

My wife loves Survivor. She loves it so much she tells people we love Survivor. This particular usage must be the Royal We, because I do not love Survivor. I will watch it with her, but I actually prefer the Amazing Race, where contestants have some control over their own destiny. Survivor actually distresses me, although I couldn’t really articulate why.

Last night was the conclusion of another riveting season. Actually, all the players were returning contestants, so it was better than most seasons. Some guy who had been in the back most of the time managed to build a large enough alliance to get into the final three, pleaded that he was there to win for his family, and won a million dollars. He won one challenge.

I was incensed that he won, as he had minimal accomplishments. I thought the whole “for my family” speech was pandering to the jury. My wife was very pleased he won, since she liked him.

It’s today’s Corporate America in a nutshell, and that’s my problem with Survivor – it’s just too close to my work life to be enjoyable.

I’m hoping the producers originally envisioned a true contest of strength and endurance, where the cream would rise to the top, and the most powerful would be rewarded with riches. Assuming that a TV producer had ever read Darwin (a leap of faith on my part), the strong would survive, by natural selection. This is a good theory.

Here’s what actually happens each season on Survivor:

A bunch of random people are placed in a relatively high-stress situation somewhere in a remote location. They are not truly random, since the producers choose them ahead of time, and there always seem to be patterns. It’s almost like there were quotas to fill. There will be a big tough guy, an pretty boy,  a nerd, a slightly crazy woman, a proud ethnic woman, an overly-sensitive guy, an old guy, a Mother Earth woman, someone with a secret, and a few others. The “random” people are placed on teams.

After a couple of days of assessing each other, some of the rather weak performers start to band together and methodically wipe out the stronger performers, simply because that’s the only way they will remain in the game. They swear loyalty to each other, but will switch allegiances whenever necessary, just to stay alive. If their friends are sacrificed, so be it. There are always one or two incompetents who manage to stick around week after week, just because they are no threat to anyone, even if they are an incredible annoyance to the people who actually know what is going on. Someone thinks he is in charge, but everyone is actually working behind his back to destroy him.

The truly weak are kept around because at the end, in theory, the best player of the few left will be crowned the winner. So, rather than surrounding yourself with strong players, you select weak players, since that makes you look stronger.

Each week, all of the contestants are required to complete a task which has no apparent actual value other than it was the task assigned. One of the teams will get rewarded based on how quickly they can do the task. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t master the task (except for losing the reward), since you will never have to do the task again. If you win, you get a reward and the other team gets told “I got nothin’ for you.”

After that, there is another random task, but this time, if your team loses, your team has to send someone home. There are hidden trinkets that you can find that can prevent you from going home, but only if you display the trinket at the proper time. In the end, some of the last ones who were vanquished are allowed to pick the winner out of the losers that are left.

It’s natural selection on acid.

It is also, my friends, the past thirty or so years of my life, except that on Survivor, nobody has to do annual performance reviews, mainly because they’re not out there that long. I’m constantly amazed I’m still here. I guess I’m just not a threat to anyone.

Holidaze

The end of another year. Christmas. Hanukkah. Year-end close at the office. Budget deadlines for next year at the office. Family in town. Leaving for vacation.

Stress.

Wow. There is approximately 43% more crap going on right now that I can process.

I was promoted to manager this year. This is the major reason I haven’t posted in a while – I’ve been too busy trying to identify and put out fires. I got promoted just in time for all the budgeting and arguing for next year. What fun it is! I don’t understand the numbers yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to defend them. It’s also the time of year that you get questions which demonstrate nobody is actually reading the contracts they are signing. This scares me. I read them and I correct the typos, because I assume my job is on the line. If that is a bad assumption, that is what is wrong with the company.

The other thing wrong with the company is that everyone expects 24×7 access to everyone else and instantaneous replies to requests, no matter how trivial – even though manager’s training specifically tells you not to do that. So, while on vacation, I’ll still be checking email at cruise line Internet prices. If my Internet bill is higher than my bar tab (again), it’s not a great vacation. It’s an office with sand and rum. At least there’s rum.

It’s funny – when I made the vacation plans, being out for two weeks was going to have very little consequence, since not much was going on in my old department at this time of year. Apparently, now the world will end prematurely if all my emails aren’t answered quickly and completely.

One of my goals before I die is to teach the people above me that not every problem is a severity one problem. This may be an impossible task.

My son is a PhD now. His family all came down for graduation, so the three grandkids are in residence. Every time my wife and I try to corral the two boys – even without watching their baby sister – I have more and more doubt on the sanity of people my age trying to have kids. We’re watching the kids because their parents are tired – and they’re in their twenties. There’s a reason old folks don’t have kids – kids are active and inquisitive and fearless. Sure, it sounds like good exercise, but a heart attack really doesn’t help you lose much weight, unless you count only getting fed what fits down a tube while you’re in the ICU.

At least we now know that nothing in our house or my Mom’s house is actually child-proof. Oops. On the other hand, I’ve virtually given up drinking Diet Dr Pepper at home, because I can’t get into the cabinet where the soda is kept. I guess I’ll have to get one of the grandkids to open it for me before they leave.

It’s sad that I have to stop and think if sending a “Merry Christmas” note to my team is going to offend anyone. It’s Christmas, whether you celebrate it or not. There are enough people who either are Christian or believe in the secular values of Christmas, that companies close for the day. It’s Christmas vacation whether you honor the day or not. It’s still vodka, even if you don’t drink. Call Christmas vacation what it is.

One more meeting to go.

Funding Experiments

I’m the President of the Board of Directors of Agape Broadcasting Foundation, Inc – which most people around here would know as KNON 89.3 FM – the Voice of the People. You can listen online at www.knon.org if you’re not in the DFW area. (You can also pledge online, and we’re in the middle of pledge drive. Yes, again.)

However, we’ve pretty much tapped out our core listener base, and we love them, and they are quite generous, but we need new pledgers. This is very difficult to accomplish – especially when there are two PBS stations down the dial with a lot more money to chase money.

It pains me that we have to have a budget to raise money. In the perfect world, people would simply fund us because they believe in the mission of the station (The mission of KNON is to be the Voice of The People in the Dallas area. We provide unique programming to reflect the diversity of the entire Metroplex community.), or they like one of our formats or DJs, or they’re just good people.

This is not a perfect world. 

So, this pledge drive, we’re trying two new ideas.

[polldaddy poll=8236365]

 

First, we need the de-icers on our tower replaced – when the tower froze last winter (yes, it gets cold in Dallas), we were off the air – our power was so limited, our transmission area was severely compromised. So, I’m running a campaign outside pledge drive to raise money for that specific project – http://www.gofundme.com/warm-tower – and we’re trying to see if people will actually donate just because it sounds like a good cause.

So far, almost all the donations have been from our volunteers. So, the concept of raising hundreds or thousands of dollars instantly may be overblown, or it may be people care about strangers who need a new kidney or a special night out but they don’t really care about a community radio station.

The irony of that campaign – which hit me after I created it – is that people outside Dallas who contribute could listen over the Internet and so they wouldn’t be impacted if the tower froze over. So it goes. Still, we’re a small operation, we’ll take anyone’s money.

The other new technology is Pledge By Text – since everyone has a cell phone these days (it seems), let them pledge with it.

Text “KNON” to 56512 from your mobile phone, and you’ll get a link back to let you pledge. Choose your favorite show, your favorite DJ or just send it to the general fund. 

We appreciate your support!

How to build a community

A lot of companies spend lots of money trying to get people to join their online community. To some, a community is a Facebook page (“Like us!”), or a Twitter feed (“Follow us!”) or an Instagram account (“Look at us!”)

When I moved demobox.org (an old domain I’ve had forever) off my Domino server at home and onto GoDaddy’s hosting, I put WordPress up so I could play with it. (I love wordpress.com but it’s not like you are in charge.)

I have four members.

WTF?

I’m still trying to determine how a backwater site with no apparent value or content has managed to get four members. So far.

I can’t wait to see if they try to post.

Maybe I should change my title to “Marketing Consultant.”

Sad Update (9 August 2014)

Well, it’s very easy to get multiple members, apparently. They’re all spam members. So, I’ve turned membership off on all my WordPress sites until I can get better protection from idiots. This may be impossible.

Oops

Apologies in advance for the technical speak after all the travelogue rambling, but this is what happened in the workshop this week. If you’re in tech support or you’ve ever tried to run a technical workshop, you will find much of this hilarious. For anyone else, just believe me – it’s funny now that it’s over.

The best thing about having a problem occur again is that you can instantly recognize it. Of course, if you didn’t find a decent solution the first time, then you’re stuck again, but at least you know why you’re stuck. You just don’t know how to fix it. Again.

So, we’re in lab in KL this week, getting ready to do some (very) basic exercises with SoftLayer. The students will log in to the portal, update their accounts and then create a virtual computer image in the cloud. All very high tech – all very cool technology, and all pretty simple to do. All the students have temporary accounts that I created in a guest cube or hotel or Admirals Club last week – I’m not really sure when I created them. I just know they were there before I arrived here. All the temporary accounts have the same password, since the way SoftLayer’s Customer Portal works, once you’ve created a user, you can just update the changed fields (like name and userid) and leave everything else the same to create an almost duplicate userid. So, if you’re setting up a workshop with a bunch of test users, it’s really easy to generate dozens of userids in a relatively short time.

Here’s the issue – and it’s a rather considerable issue – SoftLayer has what I think of as rather retarded password rules: a password must contain capital letters, lower-case letters, numbers and special characters. In other words, you have to generate a password you will never remember, and it’s one that will also be brutally difficult to type.

Apparently, when I created the first (of forty) userids last week, I spelled my own demo password wrong – and I spelled it wrong the same way twice because it got accepted. So, we found out today (after I tried to change the password – but I’m getting ahead of myself) that I had managed to put in the exact same wrong password for forty users, since once I created the first user, I never changed the password field again. So, now I had forty userids with an unknown password, so none of them could log in.

This would normally not be a big problem – you would just change the passwords. However, since you can’t change the password without knowing the old password, that gets difficult. So, in order to change the password, you would have to find the wrong original password once, and then change it forty times. Still, this is just an annoyance.

Here’s how we discovered that I had spelled the passwords incorrectly, and it wasn’t just that a couple of students couldn’t type. This is also where the problem that happened once, happened again.

A problem that occurred last week in the Chicago workshop occurred again today. If the SoftLayer Customer Portal detects five incorrect password attempts in a row, it locks your computer (well, your computer’s IP address) out for a half-hour. This is really good security, unless you’re in a workshop experimenting and not doing real work – but good security dictates everyone is treated the same way. There really is no such thing as a “demo” SoftLayer account.

Here’s the fun part.

If you’re on a local area network that uses network address translation, say, I don’t know, in a university computer lab that you’re using to hold a workshop, then all of the computers in the classroom look like they’re the same IP address. So, as soon as the fifth student gets the password wrong (and I had given all of them the wrong password!), the whole classroom is locked out. Boom! goes the dynamite.

So, we had just started the first lab forty-eight seconds ago, and now we all had to sit and wait a half-hour for anyone to try again.

Lunchtime, people!

This is why you should always schedule labs around lunch or breaks – so when something goes south, and it will, you just send everyone for a smoke or a Coke or a pee, and you fix it without them knowing while they’re gone.

Of course, if you tell them “Forget the userids and passwords we gave you this morning – use these instead”, they might suspect something has gone awry. Seeing the support team in the back snickering while the instructor is sweating is another giveaway.

There wasn’t a way to change the passwords, so while the students had lunch, I deleted forty accounts and created new ones, with a simpler password that still met all the requirements. We also tested the first one to make sure it worked before I created the rest. Not that I didn’t trust my typing. Hmm. Why didn’t I think of that the first time?

On the bright side, with the right spin, you can claim that you were just demonstrating SoftLayer’s intrinsic security and how your data must be safe in a system where an entire classroom can get locked out a half-hour at a time because some idiot creating userids while sleep-deprived can’t spell.

My new demo password will have to be “40UsersLockedOut!”. Then, I could remember it. It would still be difficult to type. Mainly, because I would be weeping.

Flashback

So, I’ve heard a lot of stories about my childhood from my Mom lately. I’ve been thinking about growing up and a lot of the activities of a young man. I even redid the Stagecoach 7 website yesterday evening.

But, I never thought I would flash back to the early 60’s this afternoon.

I did. I took a nap.

It’s been said that you become a grownup the day you start wondering why you didn’t want to take naps when you were younger. Sometimes, it’s just circumstance.

Last night, Murphy the Cocker Spaniel threw up. Four times. So, off to the vet. Luckily, Hillside Veterinary Clinic is open 24×7, and it’s just down the street, so we didn’t have to contend with the emergency clinic. There were a surprising number of people there for 10:30 PM on a Monday evening, but Murphy was whisked off to the back for tests, we talked to the vet, got him some meds, and were back home by just after midnight.

Midnight.

Well, at least I’m working at home today, so I don’t have to contend with traffic.

Did I mention I had a six-hour web conference call that started at 7:30 AM this morning?

So, I was going to double up on the coffee, and hope for the best. Maybe this would be an interesting meeting. You know, the exception to prove the rule.

Finally got to sleep about a quarter to one, because it takes extra time to fall asleep when you’re counting the minutes you have to actually sleep. So, I should have had a good six hours of sleep. Who needs more than that? No problems.

Four AM, the phone rings. I manage to answer it, and hear “This is ADT Security. We have an alarm.” Well, my house was quiet, so it was the Spousal Unit’s problem. We had an alarm going off in one of her late Aunt’s houses in Florida.

This is one of the stupid parts about naming an executor more than one State away – how are you going to get there if there’s a crisis?

Who could possibly be trying to get into a dead woman’s house? Oh, of course. The inheritor aka the new owner. Oops.

The Spousal Unit had given her cousin the code to the alarm. It just wasn’t the code to that alarm. Oops.

So, after finally getting him on the phone (via Facebook message) and talking politely to the police officer who had arrived, everything was back to normal.

At 5:20 AM.

So, not a lot of sleep.

It actually was a good conference call – a very good discussion. I managed to stay awake the whole time, and I only had three cups of coffee.

After the call ended, I crashed for an hour. Well, an hour and a half. The stuffed animals of my childhood were replaced by live dogs trying to push me out of the way, but it was still a nap. A glorious nap.

So, I’ll work late tonight to cover the missed time. At least, I’ll stay online until everyone on my team leaves.

We should all take naps.

Home Again

One day next week, I’m changing jobs. I’ll be moving back to Developer Relations from my current technical sales job.

I was never meant to be in sales. In a way, I’m surprised I survived as long in technical sales as I did. I took the job because two people I trust recommended that I do so, but I really didn’t get what I expected.

I’m a geek. I admit it. I keep score at baseball games. My favorite part of a cruise is mapping the captured GPS coordinates when I get home. I love computers because they will do something repeatedly if you take the time to teach them to do it once. I love programming – I always have. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more pure programming jobs I could apply to do – without relocating, anyway.

I finally realized today why I would never fit well into a sales organization – this story happened a long time ago, back when I was a real programmer. I’m surprised I didn’t recall it until today, although my brain may have been trying to protect me from the knowledge. It’s a warning to anyone in a technical field that thinks sales looks like fun – not a warning to never do it, just a warning that the mindset is completely different, so be prepared.

I was working for a company that sold a Lotus Notes-based customer relationship management system – my job title was “consultant”, and my actual job was to customize the system for each specific customer. In this case, our customer was a heavy equipment manufacturer. We went to one of their largest dealers to ask the staff what features they required in a CRM system, besides what we already had.

Two of the interviews stand out – the parts manager who ran the depot and the senior sales manager. I talked to the parts manager, and his suggestion was to add an inventory of all the equipment that the customer owned, so when he looked at a customer’s record, he could easily find what they had, which told him what parts they might need. This sounded like a reasonable request to me – in fact, once I heard it, I was surprised I hadn’t thought of it before.

The sales manager said that would be nice, but what he really needed was a section for the customer’s secretary’s name, her birthday and what type of flowers she liked.

That’s the key difference between technical and sales. Technical is concerned with the problems that may need to be solved and how to solve them. Sales is concerned about accessing the right person and schmoozing them.

I can schmooze with the best of them when absolutely required, but I really don’t want it to be the centerpiece of my job.

I’d rather talk to machines than people. They talk back less.

A Strange and Disturbing Relationship

Full disclosure – I’m divorced and have alienated any number of people over the years, so I’m certainly not an expert at relationships (even though my second marriage has lasted four times longer than my first so far – although it may end when someone special reads this post.)

That said, there is one relationship I simply don’t understand at all – that of a woman and her cleaning lady. First of all, I hope “cleaning lady” is PC, I think they used to be called maids and before that, they were servants.

First, cleaning ladies strike fear in women’s hearts. Ask yourself this – do men snake all the pipes and replace washers before the plumber arrives? Do men replace fuses and make sure all the wiring is straight before the electrician arrives? Of course not – that’s why you hire a professional. So, why is it mandatory to pre-clean the house before the cleaning lady arrives?

Contrary to their ability to strike fear, cleaning ladies also seem to be confidantes. I do not know any male who has invited their plumber or electrician to their wedding, but I can think of at least one woman who invited her cleaning lady, and I know one woman who hosted her cleaning lady’s wedding.

Every time I hear about the relationship between a woman and her cleaning lady, I flash back to an old Seinfeld episode, where Jerry starts sleeping with his maid, and it turns out she’s really a hooker. She also starts doing less and less work, which may be a more critical point from the male perspective. Sex is fine, but those curtain rods aren’t going to dust themselves.

When men complain about the costs of a cleaning lady, the counter argument is usually that the current one is worth the money and a cleaning service (e.g. an anonymous cleaning lady with no connection to the woman of the house) would be much more expensive. The secondary argument is that if someone were paid to actually clean the entire house, then the woman of the house would have to pre-clean properly in advance. (“I admit it. The house is cluttered. How could someone possibly clean it?”) What?

My one theory is that a man should just cancel the cleaning lady and then tell his Spousal Unit that the cleaning lady has been rescheduled to the next day. Then, the Spousal Unit will frantically pre-clean the house in preparation.

The other issue – where I am not alone – is that the cleaning lady puts things where she thinks they belong, even if it should be intuitively obvious where they belong. “Let’s see, I have a clean glass. Here is a cabinet with 337 glasses in it. So, I guess this glass belongs in the cabinet on the other side of the kitchen with the plates. Also, all the husband’s shaving equipment is lined up neatly by the bathroom sink. It must belong in the drawer under the other side of the sink beneath the tampons, or perhaps in the closet in the other bathroom.”

As a man wiser than I once said, “The cleaning lady comes every two weeks and it takes me two weeks to find the stuff she put away.” (I would quote him directly, but I’m protecting the innocent.)

I am not friends with my plumber or my mechanic. There is a part of me that would like to discuss my Spousal Unit’s failure to get excited about my new blog (and my inability to tell her why this really hurts) while my mechanic is watching the oil drain from my car, but I don’t think he  likes being distracted. Also, I have no idea what his name is, which makes it harder to confide my true feelings in him.

If I had one of my friends helping me with work around the house, I would be paying in beer and pizza, not cash. They probably wouldn’t expect a clean area to work in, either. Mainly because they live alone, and they don’t have cleaning ladies.