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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fear of Blogosphere

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People ask me why I blog. Actually, nobody's asked me that, but I could see them thinking it. Or at least I thought they could be thinking it. Or maybe they're thinking about going to the Bahamas and I'm just misreading them. In any event, in writer's parlance, I blog because it's painful not to. But then if it becomes painful to blog, that could be interesting. So I'm going to experiment with a tug-of-war and see what happens. I'm going to see whether it's more painful to blog or not to blog. It's something Shakespeare would have asked if he'd had an internet connection. He knew a few things about vernacular.

Our four-year-old was explaining to the two-year-old about dragons. He said, "Dragons are not on the earth." I chimed in, "Dragons are only pretend." To which the four-year-old concurred, by echoing the sentiment to his brother, "Yeah, dragons are only on Ben 10." Well, close enough. I'm just hoping that all involved are able to make the distinction between reality and a cartoon program, and we'll be doing peachy. This same child was in church a while back, and I was trying to teach him about reverence. I told him, "When you talk, you have to whisper." He seemed to get the message fine, and I was happy I'd communicated an important lesson to him. So a few minutes later, his younger brother was being noisy, and the older one said to him, "Hey, when you talk, you have to whistle." If the two-year-old wasn't confused, I'm sure he will be at some point.

What this means is that I'll be taking a hiatus. You missed the connection because I didn't make it obvious. Use your gift for metaphor and figure out an application to the concept. I'm setting you free so you can think on your own whilst I'm not blogging. Which reminds me of another anecdote...

I was driving along one day in town, and a car came from out of nowhere right into my lane and almost stopped. So just to play along, I almost stopped too. I figured why the heck not, you know. Plus, I wasn’t too keen on us sharing paint. After applying the brake, my next impulse was to engage the bullhorn, but I decided to let it pass. I allowed the other car be free and move on to greener pastures, and it fluttered away like a dove of the morning. I figured the best thing I could do would be to just separate myself from the situation and put that driver out of my mind. Which I did, and it turned out to be very liberating. C.S. Lewis said that people who resist temptation are more familiar with its inner workings than those who don’t. So I was happy to be moving on. I was at peace with the road again, and I had a new set of roadmates all around me who were happy to accommodate me. I waved at them to acknowledge their politeness and ability to stay in their own lane.

And then just a mile later, like in a bad Twilight Zone episode, from out of nowhere it happened again. A car darted in front of me in moving traffic, and practically stopped right in the middle of the lane — and it was the same car as before! I couldn’t believe it. When something like that happens, you know other forces are at work. As serendipity strikes, all you can do is marvel at it and not complain, because you’re being played like a banjo. At this point, the utter irony of life became funny to me that I had to break out in laughter. And yes, I did pay closer attention to which direction that car was headed, and I went the opposite way. Even if it meant a 2-mile detour to get home.

What this means is that things happen, but unlike on the road, we often have control over them. You can't not drive on the road, but in real life you can take other paths. In our road test, that wouldn't be a solution to avoiding stray cars, because it would create more profound problems. People with yards would be very averse to someone using their lawns for navigational purposes. So we'd say the streets cannot be ignored. Although in real life they can.

You need to be confused yet. Life isn't analogies. Metaphors can be whatever you want them to be, even a reverse metaphor, where you paint a scenario, and then proceed to indicate that that's not how it is in real life. So I'm not sure what utility these things called metaphors and analogies have, other than just to make a yet unfounded concept more understandable.

So the moral of the story is that people who live in glass houses can't hang things on the wall. That sums up what I've learned so far. I'll let you know as soon as I learn more.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tidbits Anonymous

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I’d like to correct any mistakes that might be found in this post. They are mere oversights in the grand scheme of things and should not be taken seriously. I regret their presence and dearly wish along with the rest of you that they would go away.

Are you ever completely satisfied with a food product that you purchase? I return everything. Never had to pay for any food my whole life. Hey, if I were completely satisfied, as they guarantee, I’d be in a state of nirvana.

It could be that I’m in denial to a certain extent, but even when I spill something on my shirt, I like to ask for a recount. My reaction typically is to say to myself, “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen!” It's too surreal to imagine having liquidation on a piece of clothing. And I’d imagine it’s somewhat healthy to be philosophical about such things. If you can pretend that something didn’t happen, then it can soften the effect for later when reality finally hits you in the face.

I’ve never understood why there are study manuals for aptitude tests. How can you study for an aptitude? It may be indicative of something, but it would be more along the lines of introspection. Are we rewarding college entrants on how well in touch they are with their aptitudes? I’m going to need to think that one over some more. Something’s rotten in Liechtenstein.

We erroneously reported in last month’s issue that the cause of the French Revolution was the cataclysmic bankrupt state of the public treasury, when in fact the real cause was Louis XVI getting miffed at the noblemen for spilling beer on his pool table. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.

When you twist off the cap of a drink to see if you've won, they're not satisfied with only telling you you've lost. They have to rub it in by saying "try again", which basically means "keep losing some more." You thought that they were being encouraging, but they’re basically mocking you. “Lose again, loser!” “Twist off another cap so we can keep laughing at you! Bwaa-ha-haa-ha!”

I’ve been feeling a little winsome a lot lately. I think that’s possible, too. What winsome means is being consigned to the notion that you winsome and you losesome. It’s a very philosophical approach that countries take just prior to being invaded.

Why don't people say "bless you" when you cough? Is a sneeze all that better than a cough? I mean, think about it... I’d say we’ve got a lot of cough snobs who assume that someone who has a cough has only themself to blame, whereas we somehow bend over backwards to take pity on someone who experiences ailments of the sinuses. You can’t go anywhere in the industrialized world any more and get away sneezing without receiving a cacophony of bless-you’s from the masses. You can’t avoid it even if you try to muffle your sneeze. The bless-you patrol is always on the alert. They’re actively searching for people to bless. I think they go around sprinkling powder in the air just to sate themselves. Anyway, I’m here to support the cause of people with throat issues. Let your voice be heard... Well, there’s your problem…

I used the word ‘themself’ earlier, which technically isn’t an actual word, but since it should be, I’m not waiting around. As a card-carrying speaker of the English language, I take the liberty of making improvements to it. Also, combining “they” with “someone” doesn’t appear to fit grammatically, but it’s actually less awkward than the proper form. I’m not twiddling my thumbs until some stodgy linguists sort these things out over brimming tea, because it can take them generations just to modify a blasted single word form. They go so slow that I could make a whole new language in the time it takes them to update an existing one. Do I really want to get my VCR repaired or just get a new one?

Free hot dogs and Pepsi always makes me want to buy a car, doesn’t it you? I saw a new tactic last week: hula-hoops hanging from the side mirrors. These are truly desperate times. I think car dealers really need to take a long vacation, maybe check into an asylum, get a new wardrobe, reinvent themselves, and then possibly at that point come back and give it another shot.

I went to a Hall & Oates reunion concert and it was pretty good, even though none of them were the original members. But they played all the favorites. It reminded me of my college years, and such is the value of nostalgia. I hope those guys go on playing for decades to come.

In a blog post last week, I incorrectly stated that there are 61 islands in the archipelago off the tip of Alaska, when in fact there are 61.

Why do newscasts always have at least one male and one female? Are they going to raise a newscast family and have newscast kids? What is the plan here? Did they try having a newscast with either just males or just females and it didn’t work out? Did the all-male group not clean up afterward, was that the problem? Did the all-female group use up all the makeup in the makeup room? I like when somebody fills in for a sick newscaster, because the writing’s on the wall. And they always have a hard to pronounce last name, which is also why they’ve never gotten anywhere. “Hi, I’m Pete Hergenschnickelmeistersonabulist, and Stan Payday has the night off. I’m only here because someone who’s more talented than me is in a catatonic state in intensive care, otherwise I’d be out on the sidewalk panhandling.” A viewer turns to his wife and says, “Hey, didn’t I give that guy a quarter yesterday?” (And I can’t believe spell-checker didn’t like Hergenschnickelmeistersonabulist)

Later in this post, I inadvertently misquoted the president of the Purina Petfood Company. Instead of saying, as I reported, “I’d be surprised if even a tenth of all dogs go to heaven,” Mr. Maxwell Gugenheimer actually said, “This whole ‘unplugged’ thing has really gone too far.” Sorry for any emotional stress this may have placed on you. It will never happen again.

Why don't they have air bags that come out of the floors in elevators? That’s where they’d come in really handy. Falling twelve floors would seem to constitute to me the need for some kind of cushion. And it would be fun once in a while if they went off accidentally, just to keep us all entertained. You’re waiting for the elevator to get to your floor, and when the doors open, you see seven stunned people pushed up against the ceiling, mumbling some indecipherable verbiage.

Why do they ask in job interviews if you work better by yourself or in groups? Everybody works better by themselves — you never see two people sitting at the same desk, using the same phone, and the same computer at the same time. If they tried using any of these things in a group setting, it would be quite inefficient. “Yes, I work much better with another employee sitting in my lap. And if we type together, we have a combined 130 words per minute.”

The correction earlier in this post is incorrect. It shouldn’t have been corrected, since the original version was not incorrect. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused.

Is the opposite of same's opposite the same as the same of opposite's same? This has always confused me, and the minute I think I’ve got it, I realize that I don’t. Think about it, now… are those two conditions the same? These are the kinds of questions that if we’re not equipped to answer, we can give up on trying to solve the whole beginning of time thing. Let’s do first things first and not get ahead of ourselves. Sure, the Big Bang is appealing and all, but it will have to wait.

I never know quite what to do between 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm each weekday. You’re just leaving work, you’re on your way home, and you’re just getting home. The whole transition is so undefined. If I get home at 5:20, then I’m thinking, “Now what am I supposed to do for the next 40 minutes? I’m just hanging here. Somebody… please… rescue me…” I went back and checked the manual. Sure enough, it reads: “Between the hours of 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm, you’re basically on your own, so, um, good luck there.” You’d think they could show just a little more sympathy. Like the online customer service I went to last night for a web host. They said things like “I deeply apologize” and “our sincerest regrets.” I could tell that those wordtracks were genuinely concerned about ME. I mattered to them, on a highly cosmic level. Next time, we’re going to exchange photos of our kids. Me and Dave C. are best buds now. I can’t wait till the next computer glitch so I can contact them again.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Plain and Simple

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Sometimes a teacher shows up for class with a lesson plan. And other times the teacher goes with the ebb and flow of the class and improvises. The thing about a class is that it generally has themes to keep it from wandering too much. I'm no teacher, but if I play one on my blog, that's good enough for tax purposes.

There's a sneaking suspicion of mine that I'm not the only one here. The idea that others could potentially join in this thought process at any moment, whether actively or passively, is an inviting one. I show up for the party first, set out the h'ors doeuvres, do some vacuuming around the site, get it all ready, and all of you can show up any time you like. You come in the door unannounced, and I could be off in the other room dozing for all you know. But everybody's welcome, providing you wipe your feet and shut the door behind you.

So today I’m wondering if plain is a flavor. It could be if you wanted it to. Some may say that it's the lack of a flavor. Some might say that it's a neutral flavor. Who's to say? It could all be a matter of how you look at it. If you're consistent in how you apply definitions, you could make a case either way. And on a good day, you might get the jury to side with you. But then the jury could still be wrong. Who checks the jury for accuracy? Maybe they don't have to be right, but just decisive. After all, their only requirement is to reach some verdict.

We always like to be right, though in a lot of things there are likely multiple right answers. One right answer doesn't necessarily negate another answer. Some things could be more similar than they are different. I like looking at different areas of knowledge in terms of degrees. Some would say all areas must have absolutes, but do we know that's an absolute? I could argue that objects don't possess either a color or no color, but possess degrees (or shades) of color. Or if black is the absense of color, how can we paint with it then? These are the very profound philosophical questions that can be continually explored, until we get tired of them and realize we're just redefining our prejudices. But in the meantime, it's still a lot of fun, and it keeps us off the streets. And I stay away from streets, because they tend to have negative connotations attached to them. I don't know what it is about streets, but that seems to be where the negativity gravitates to.

I just realized that police dispatchers on the scanner talk in a matter-of-fact way a lot like Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man... "Suspect is definitely threatening to throw water balloons at the victim... yeah. Suspect is definitely pole vaulting over buildings at an alarming rate, but it doesn't faze me a bit... over. I eat rocks for breakfast... over." We could be having Armageddon, and these people would still be calm and collected. "We have a report of the earth's atmosphere collapsing, with objects falling from the sky the size of large pachyderms... temperatures rising by 40° Fahrenheit and entire continents falling into the sea. Requesting general advisory..."

They must practice those voices at home, too. The lady's husband asks what's for dinner, and she responds, "T-49, we have an intoxicated male in the living room requesting sustinence. Patrol cars are en route... over."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Adventures in Technology

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Humbled Beginning
The Spectra Systems technology department traces its roots to a very inauspicious start, dating back to the ‘70s, originating in a humble treehouse located on the placid banks of Idaho’s Salmon River. Back then, they used tin cans connected by a thin string, provided by NoaThread. Our story begins with the unassuming Virgil Winston as the WAN (Wide Area Neurosurgical) manager, in charge of strings going to other trees. He would often get perturbed if someone tried to use them like the vines of Tarzan. One time an unsuspecting intern named Rufus was in a big rush, and he swung down on one of the strings, causing the network connection to snap, putting the entire system down for six weeks. Rufus was promoted to damage control.

From there it was determined that Spectra Systems would need a thicker string to secure the network, but after purchasing premium grade twine, it was discovered that the twine wasn’t compatible with the holes in the tin cans, and so the company had to wait another three months for Windows Tin Can 2.0 to come out. Thus were the early days of the Spectra Systems IT Dept., working out the complexities of an integrated computer network.

After living amongst the trees, the IT Dept. resided in the basement of the old Endicott building, camped under huge pipes and sharing their digs with rats that Virgil claimed squealed with a French accent. The IT Dept. felt privileged, however, since Human Resources was located on the stairway, and Finance was in the janitor’s closet. Engineering alternated between the north end of the hallway, the south end of the hallway, up in the ceiling, under the street, in a window display, on one of the horizontal flag poles, and another favorite — in post office boxes at the downtown station. And since back then there were no available panels to arrange cubicles, Engineering simply knocked out walls and rebuilt them. The resulting 14 blueprints of the building showed configurations representing every imaginable layout — sometimes the inspiration came from EKG readouts or Spirograph drawings. Subsequent estimations put the lifespan of the downstairs of Endicott at six years tops, thanks only to the liberal use of duct tape. That it is still standing today is a testament to Spectra Systems' ingenuity.

Around this time over in Silicon Valley, Greg Tresher was being born, and he began his career by networking his crib with the other babies in his neighborhood. But he and Spectra were still in their infancy, so we won’t hear from him for a few more years.

In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Squirrel
The inimitable Rufus Frandsen, who had long ago joined the group as a lowly temp, eventually worked his way up the ladder with his personable style and very strategic groveling. Rufus has since taught his methods at seminars throughout the U.S., entitled "How to Win Friends and Turn Them in for Bigger Prizes."

Rufus grew up in the suburbs of Nome, Alaska, where he quickly found his niche as the playground marbles administrator. With a little practice, he became an expert tournament player, and advanced to the nationals in the five-and-under age group, where he placed 2nd behind a kid from Brooklyn, who to this day Rufus insists was using illegal painted steelies. Rufus later created computer video games about playing marbles, where the winner gets to shoot the loser with rubber darts and then tie him to a stake. No one really ever understood that part of the game.

Rufus makes his home in Schoni, which is a lot like Area 51, because while we’ve all heard of it, we’re not really sure if it exists, or where it is if it does. And most people don’t realize that Schoni stands for "Security Code Homeland Operational National Intelligence." Rufus would have told you himself, but he’s not at liberty to do so because it would blow his cover.

In Like a Tse Tse Fly, Out Like a Tree Sloth
The IT group was joined by Peter Emerson, who took over as manager. Peter and Rufus often grew their whiskers out at the same time to see who could get the first real beard. When they stopped counting, Peter had won six out of eight competitions. Rufus accused Peter of having cheated by painting shoe polish on his face on one occasion, and took several videos to document his findings, which he has since put on DVD and sold on his web site.

Peter knew how to sniff out good deals for Spectra Systems. He once bought a desk at Staples for 50¢. It had been incorrectly marked in the clearance section, and was actually valued at a few hundred dollars. And luckily, he had just enough in his pocket, otherwise he said he wouldn’t have bought it. They now have wanted posters of Peter at Staples, and he’s also not allowed in several casinos for related reasons.

About this same time, Jeremiah Martin came from Seattle, where he had driven ferries across the sound. He left there after repeated unsuccessful attempts by transit authorities to get him to turn the radio down on the ferry sound system, as it was disorienting to patrons to hear "joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea" blasted at 140 decibels. He contended that he was just trying to communicate with the subterranean life in the area so that they wouldn’t mind so much having a large craft going over them day after day.

As a youth, Jeremiah liked frogs, and although people never understood a single word he said, they did like the wine he had. It was indeed an interesting upbringing. At age 7, he joined the bubblegum metal group “Scraped Knees,” where they toured all the elementary schools, playing to packed houses. They didn’t have lighters, so all the kids held up lollipops.

In Like a Butterfly, Out Like a Bee
Jolbert Coureu came on board as a temp, and was involved in converting files from WordPerfect into WordImperfect, and from QuattroPro into CincoPro. He was given a makeshift desk which was actually the end of a 2½-foot wide tabletop. There was just enough room for a keyboard, a mouse pad and a shot glass, but only if he inhaled.

Jolbert lived in 23 different states and four countries by age 17 — all east of the Rockies except for Guatemala, Oregon, The Philippines, Borneo, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and Samoa. His parents were in the shoehorn business, and their work was conducive to a great deal of traveling and relocating. While the move wasn’t always a perfect fit, eventually they’d nudge their way into whatever community they were in. The family went on to build shoehorn factories across the northern hemisphere, although the ones in Holland were curiously not as successful. This marketing snafu was nearly the downfall of the corporation, but it was revived before long with the institution of cowboy boot horns, which caught on like wildfire in both Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

After he dropped out of high school, Jolbert started up his own car dealership. The part he liked about it best was all the balloons and banners everywhere. It made him feel like he was at the carnival. He decided to turn the showroom into a bumper car ride, and he let people take test drives on it with new cars to see how well they’d hold up. After that venture fell apart, Jolbert went on to join the commission for the renaming of all the national landmarks in Vermont. Eventually they determined that the best course was to use only prime numbers.

Adding to his resume’, Jolbert toured with a nomadic troupe through northern Africa, where he met Virgil, who was in Morocco scouting for IT talent as well as looking for that ever-elusive perfect fishing hole. As soon as Virgil met Jolbert, he knew he’d found what he’d come for, except for the fish part. Jolbert could write in three different Hermanic languages, and had translated COBOL into Sanskrit.

Back at the ranch, Spectra was undergoing many changes. Well, even more than the usual cubicle moves in Engineering. There were software upgrades, hardware upgrades, Tupperware upgrades, you name it... The IT Dept. was hopping like fleas on a skillet. And that was just the 1900s.

In Like a Gerbil, Out Like a Siberian Bush Gnat
Doomsayers throughout the industry were saying that a Y2K bug was going to be the collapse of many network systems. But luckily the Spectra team solved that problem for administrators worldwide by detecting a microscopic parasite on their Molasys drive. This was discovered from an intensive amalgamated microsearch check procedure by Virgil on Spectra’s network, using spare parts from a telescope he had in his back yard, along with a wad of bubblegum and three toothpicks. Virgil was awarded the Nobel Prize in Computer Science for this incredible feat, as well as for his uncanny ability to solve Minesweeper in six seconds. Rufus had captured the latter event on DVD, which revealed Virgil's technique in slow motion, that of utilizing the triple-click function which triggered a pre-defined script to run. Virgil said this was just a coincidence, and he didn’t know how the code got there, citing that he may have also discovered artificial intelligence in the process.

Around this time, Virgil and Rufus would get into deep philosophical discussions about which one of them had been hypnotized the most, the relevancy of greased pigs with the role they played at rodeos, the grooming benefits of WD-40, influential Green Party candidates, whether John Wayne would accept either one of them as his stunt double, the pros and cons of velcro, which superheroes were really the strongest, how to fish while asleep, prehistoric pets, high school chemistry experiments gone awry, military infiltration at the supermarket, creative brownie recipes, how those birds clean the teeth of hippos, which of the two of them had been Santa Claus the most, whether Jim Nabors was still alive or not, the origin of the word 'hootis', how many different non-metallic items each of them had in their pockets, famous quotes from Mel Brooks movies, and — last but not least — their own personal theories on Murphy’s Law of Thermodynamics. And then, of course, the next day they would move on to other exciting topics.

Greg Dangerfield (no relation to Lawrence Olivier) came on as a temp, and stayed in that capacity for almost a year. He eventually realized that he would have more leverage if he found a competing employer who wanted to hire him for his services. So he went and got hired by Nike, Hewlett-Packard and Intel — at which point Spectra posted his duties as a full-time position and asked him to come back. Two weeks later, he was back in the saddle, and the rest is history.

Greg has worked as the database coordinator and resident psychiatrist. If he can’t solve your problem, he’ll hypnotize you and make you think that it’s taken care of. He’s tried to train the rest of the IT staff on these techniques, but it only worked on two of them, partially because the others were already operating under a suspended state of hypnosis themselves.

In Like a Flock of Seagulls, Out Like Livestock
Network security was beefed up after an anonymous temporary employee named Tom Smothers infiltrated the system with clever techniques he learned reading Spy vs. Spy comics. When no one was watching, Tom subverted the system unilaterally in an attempt to mimic the structure and thereby provide sensitive information to a competitor who also wanted to become Spectra Systems. Smothers gave the alibi that he was merely trying to test the limits of the system in order to know what level of security Spectra had and prevent a real attack by hackers, and thereby had to destroy the network to see if his theory worked or not. This story impressed no one — except an employee in Engineering who was also an avid reader of Spy vs. Spy — and Smothers was carted off to jail, where he spent two years in minimum security, but he was soon able to help them get it up to maximum security with a few tweaks.

Virgil's biggest gag played on Rufus was when he put a 'Kick Me' sign on his back, and Rufus didn’t notice it till the end of the day. He couldn’t figure out why people kept snickering around him. Rufus tried several times to get back at Virgil, but it only caused to backfire. Virgil has a subscription to Soldier of Fortune and keeps up on all the latest techniques for warding off infiltrators. At home he has booby traps set up at all entrances, barbed-wire fencing around his bed, and he keeps an Uzi under his pillow, just in case.

In Like a Swarm of Bats, Out Like a Horde of Lemmings
The year 2004 brought many changes and new hopes. With it came Bobby Richardson, the new director and a transplant from Medicine Hat, Alberta. Bobby previously worked in Medicine Hat with the Department of Exterior, and decided it was time to leave there when their computer systems started intercepting musical tones reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. "It was a sign to me that my work there was done, and that it was the best time to get the living daylights out of there," he says wistfully.

Bobby's roots were in Iowa, where he farmed in overalls for 13 years until he decided it was time to wash them and move on to something else. He had made guest appearances on Hee Haw, and even got to sing the pitchfork routine, which garnered him national attention and a tax audit. After it was discovered that he had unpaid back taxes for three years, he officially changed his name to "Spongebobby".

After gaining technical experience working at various universities throughout the northwest, Bobby was able to secure a position with Al Gore’s internet creation task force and worked on the How To Make Language (HTML) lexicon. From there, Bobby found success in a myriad of technological pursuits, including in 1988 with the ACME Computer Co. of Tempe, Arizona, where he developed software devices for the tracking of ambulatory birds. Bobby was later contacted by Spectra Systems after Virgil had been watching a Looney Tunes episode and was extremely impressed by the production in one of the scenes.

Rufus has made a DVD which encompasses the history of IT Dept., showing the meaning behind each item in its glossary, where it originated, and how the Library of Congress has commemorated each one. This is available in Spanish, German and Pig Latin as well.

In Like a Paramecium, Out Like a Rhesus Monkey
Spectra upgraded to Windows Vista, thus paving the way for Bill Gates to market it across the rest of the world. Gates had stated at one time that Spectra had been a fertile testing ground for working out the kinks in his programs and seeing what could go wrong. Also, this may have been attributed in the ‘70s, but that’s still unconfirmed.

Jimmy Valenti, the younger brother and namesake of the ubiquitous and more famous Dominic, worked for the IT Dept. for a few months. In that short time, Jimmy accomplished many unforeseen projects, such as the coding for animated wallpaper graphics and their connection to the CIA. He provided IT with manuals on the binary structure of integrated circuits, methods for having phone conversations via web beacons, the telepathic capabilities of toasters, and situational ethics in Alaskan tundra beetles. After determining that Jimmy was overqualified for the position, IT outsourced him to various agencies where he has since conducted experiments to reduce the mercury level in printer toner and make motherboards out of pasta, among other things. Jimmy is the one person who Virgil sees as his biggest threat to taking over his future Nobel Prize nominations.

In Like a Tortoise, Out Like a Turtle
Max Hinton was hired, and everyone soon agreed he was a cut above the rest. Max made an immediate impression in the first week, in the palm of his hand, by slicing it with a knife and requiring immediate medical attention. Max was then sent to a seven-week training course in New Mexico on how to properly use sharp tools and why they are not our friends.

Max's resemblance to B.J. Hunnycutt on the TV program M*A*S*H prompted him to shave his mustache shortly after arriving — that, and the fact that his wife made him camp out on the front porch for a week. Max has vowed the return of the mustache at a key strategic point in time, strangely enough in conjunction with his affiliation on the witness protection program for fugitive network administrators. If it ever seems that he is gone for a duration, there will be clues as to why.

Max grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where he learned the trade of dealing blackjack. At an early age, he could swindle his friends out of their allowances before you could say “hit me.” At age 16, he stowed away in a tanker bound for the states, and wound up in Las Vegas. The mustache made him look 21, and so he was able to get a job at the Sands. One night after he took over $5000 from Virgil at his table, Virgil asked him if he’d be interested in coming to work for him in Idaho, to bale hay and work at his supermarket handing out food samples. Max liked the idea of food samples, and for two years he lived exclusively on mini sausages and Cheez-Its. Soon after the supermarket went belly up, Max followed Virgil to his IT job. When Virgil eventually got tired of Max hanging out under his desk, he recommended him for an IT Technician position. Max's recent experience being under desks was the final clincher, and he was an instant hit. When asked in his interview why he would hire himself, Max impressed the panel by saying it would have to be nepotism.

Spectra went to a new e-mail address format, utilizing There was some disagreement on the structure. Some legitimately contended that the dot in between the first and last name was unnecessary and, over the years, would cause about 3 million extra instances of people typing a "." and approximately 800,000 extra instances of dots printed out on paper, accounting for gallons of wasted toner. Also figured into the mix was the additional syllable used when speaking the address, estimating that the "dot" in between would be uttered an incredible 13 million times, resulting in several cases of laryngitis and other throat conditions. These were viewed as incidental by the oversight committee, but there were still protestors outside Spectra Systems carrying signs saying "Don’t dot my com" and "Today a toner cartridge, tomorrow the Exxon Valdez."

In Like Novocain, Out Like a Bad Molar
Dominic Valenti was hired after being a temp for all those years. Way back when the company's current president first came to Spectra, Dominic was temping for the Park & Relaxation Division (note they were over just one park then and they were a little less motivated at that time). Over the course of Dominic's time here, he has been in such high demand that he has had to turn down offers from the State Department, Time/Warner, McDonald’s, and the Russian Ballet.

On many occasions, Dominic was the glue that kept Spectra Systems' computer network together — sometimes Elmer’s, sometimes Super, sometimes Crazy, as well as other various bonding compounds and adhesive agents. Dominic can do all the things that nobody else can. He’s Mr. Everything, absorbing information like a sieve. In junior high, he learned Java from reading the back of a matchbox, and was developing online merchant portals that same afternoon. The downside was that he had customers buying things without their knowledge … though that was just a minor glitch that was eventually ironed out.

The mission statement of Spectra’s IT Dept. is simple, purposeful and ambitious — to develop an application which allows employees to work in their sleep. It taps into their subconscious, and thereby transmits the data to and from Spectra Systems' main data port via a wireless connection. This is purported to be able to revolutionize the workday as we know it. People will get paid to sleep in, and most will only have to show up for work in person to keep the paper from piling up on their desk. It's not clear on whether this technology would apply to some of the more technical aspects of computing, such as gaming and mp3 files. In conjunction with this new development, Microsoft has announced the launch of MS Dreams, allowing the user to select from several different scenarios: go to work, go to the beach, work in the yard, invade Europe, and other interesting pursuits. Microsoft says the best part is that whatever happens in the dream will be compatible to and thereby transferable with reality, or vice versa. Spectra is working on its own deluxe version with enhanced capabilities containing modules for going to the moon, climbing inside an active volcano, overthrowing Microsoft, and visiting Disneyland with no long lines. This is where IT is headed, and like its proponents, the future is limitless, if not bright.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Year in the Life

3 comments (add more here)
Oh goody, a new year. What are the expectations now, I wonder. I think it's just another number, and numbers are interchangeable. So is 2008 really "over"? And did we just "begin" a new year? The weather this week isn't a whole lot different than it was the week before. I'm rather dubious. I think someone's trying to sell us something, a la trends and styles, but that's just me.

I've been in the '08 mode for so long, I'm not quite used to this '09 shtick. I think it takes about six months for it to sink in, but by then it's almost time to change again. David Letterman pointed out one time that with the Chinese New Year changing to the year of the rat, it really messed him up because he'd become so accustomed to writing the year of the tiger on his checks. Ah, the problems we face.

Changing decades is even more momentous. In another year we'll start the '10s, and that will seem like a big jump. We're getting rid of a lump of ten years all at once, and welcoming in another ten. Is that a commitment you'll be ready to take on? All of us here not only had the unique opportunity to change a century eight years ago, but also a whole millennium. From my rough calculations, probably only about 5% of all people get to see a millennium change in their lifetimes. But one year at a time here...

We probably look for excuses to refresh our mental batteries, so we gravitate to occasions on the calendar. We are enamored with the idea of starting over. People say 2008 wasn't that good, so let's throw it out and move past it. We hardly knew ye, '08. And yet back on Dec. 31, 2007, we were celebrating 2008 like it was the best thing since... well, 2007. But now that it's over, we kick it to the curb like a worn-out rag. Take that, 2008, you old, good-for-nothing sorry batch of frothing, fermented four seasons! You're old news. You're past your time and you've worn out your welcome. We've seen plenty like you and we'll see plenty more... So there.

In light of all this, how do you think that makes 2009 feel? It sees how we treated 2008, and it knows that it's next. 2009 is shaking in its boots right now, knowing that if it doesn't perform beyond expectations, it will soon be a has-been. That's a lot of pressure for a year to be operating under. It might panic and make the Cubs the World Series winners. Or it could be like 2008 and cause global warming to make us colder. We need to give these years their space so they don't wig out like that.

If we're to be intellectually honest about how we treat the years, we shouldn't celebrate them ahead of time, but wait until they've had a chance to show what they've got. Let them prove themselves on their own time, without all the build-up. Besides, what is a New Year's celebration about? Is it about great unrealized hopes and getting rid of the past? If that's the case, then it's the most idealistic holiday we have. Our celebration is of wishful thinking, not knowing what it is we're celebrating. Here's to celebrating!

I do like those occasions on the calendar where we remember things that have happened in our memories, and put ourselves back in those situations. I really think that re-living is a part of living. Anniversaries are a chance to reflect, and that gives us a backdrop for increased perspective. But January 1st is nothing special. Just because it got to be the first in line doesn't make it better than the 2nd, or the 22nd. Double-digit numbers have feelings too!

So now I've got this whole empty slate of days over the next 12 months. It's a little too much to consider all at once. What am I supposed to fill all those days up with? Every one of them will have me in it, doing something. What will I be doing on October 13th of this year, for example? Right now, I could schedule anything I wanted on that day. The flexibility is there.

You know, that sure is a lot of control to have. Could we do that for the whole year, perhaps? Can I do whatever I want this year? Can I schedule to reach my dreams on June 24th? Could I become transformed on March 4th? Could I achieve permanent bliss on August 30th? How about if I save the world on April 19th? No, better make it the 18th, so it can be on a Saturday. Anyway, there's nothing scheduled in those days right now. Hmmm.... What could I fill them up with? Like the song says, it makes me wonder.

Here's your year, at your beck and call. Do with it what you may...

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