Damn fucking blank screen

I should have something to say.  I do have something to say.  But it’s not coming to mind.  Maybe it’s the lack of sleep lately.  Well, if the term lately can encompass the past 25 years.  Maybe it’s the alcohol this evening fuzzing my brain.  There’s just not a whole lot tumbling around up there except a nice fog.  Maybe it’s the Godsmack playing on the Echo.  I’m not sure but my head just wants to nod with the beat and sing along.  But nothing fills my mind.  It’s blank.  Nothing to spew forth. No hatred, no anger, no diatribes of indignation at the world.  My spitfire is turned to lukewarm drool.  How’s that for a visual?

Ok, how’s this?  Strongly vs loosely typed languages?  Which do you prefer?  In my younger days I was filled with the conviction that the only true languages were strongly typed ones, like C, C++, and Java.  Damn it, if it’s a number, what kind? Is that integer signed or unsigned?  It fucking matters!  Why would you want to store a string in the same variable type as a double or a float?  Sheer lunacy!!! I had my reasons.  I was 100% confident in my convictions truthiness.  20+ years and a plethora of languages later, I realize it just doesn’t matter so much to me anymore.  In fact, now I find strongly typed languages annoying.  I mean, I still know how to use them. I know how to cast and such but it’s just a pain.  Give me a loosely typed language any day of the week.  Granted, I’d still rather use Java or C++ or even C over something like Ruby or Node but I’ll definitely pick PHP or even Python over a strongly typed language.  Maybe I’m just lazy in my old age? Nah, I’ve been lazy my whole life…

Hostility in the work place

I had a co-worker in another department come up to me today with a question about whether or not he could do something. See, we have about 20 computers on campus with a specific type of software and correlating hardware installed on them. Due to the nature of the programs, the regular campus technicians aren’t allowed to service the external hardware nor the connections to the computer. Frankly, it pisses this guy off something fierce. I’ve heard at least five times “It’s just a couple of USB cables! Why can’t I remove them or set them up?” Honestly, if I had my druthers I’d let him but I can’t. Anyhoo, one of the offices with these computers installed is getting new machines so we have to re-install all the software and hardware on the new machines. No big deal. It’ll probably take me an hour or two. Well, this guy, let’s call him Smithers comes up to me this morning while I’m putting stuff in the fridge and says “Hello.” I assume he’s just being friendly and start to leave when he says my name. When I turn around I find a visibly nervous Smithers. So nervous in fact he’s practically out of breath. Wants to know if he can make an image with the software and drivers already on it to save some hassle. We go back and forth on it for a while because he’s not being clear AND he’s being an arrogant ass. When I finally get the giste (he wants to make an image to use for the 20 machines with the software on it and then throw it out when the new machines are done) I tell him he needs to talk to the project manager for the overarching project. At this point he gets huffy about the whole thing. Says he’s just trying to make things easier for everyone. I’m not sure why he’s so concerned about this software other than he’s not allowed to touch it. In all honesty, it probably wouldn’t matter if they put it on an image but I’m not willing to let it happen. In the end, if something goes wrong, I need to know with 100% surety that the software is installed correctly. I just can’t be if those jokers get to monkey with it. Anyway,? what really caught my attention about the whole thing today was how downright scared Smithers was to talk to me about his idea. I don’t believe I’ve ever given him reason to fear me. I’ve certainly never yelled at him or threatened him. Maybe he knew I’d say no but was hoping I wouldn’t. Anyway, I have no idea what his damage is or why he’s so intimidated by me. Probably just that low self esteem kicking in. Poor Smithers…

Getting old?

I noticed the other day I’m starting to feel old. Not that I am, mind you. I’m only 34 but I’m starting to feel old. It could be the gray hair in my beard and on my chest or the fact that my oldest child is now ten that makes me feel old. It could be because the legal drinking age signs now all read “You must have been born after 1987 to buy alcohol” and I was in 7th grade then. It could even be because I’ve started saying things like “I can remember when gas only cost $0.79 a gallon!” But if I told you that’s why I feel old it’d be a lie. The main reason I feel old has to do with where I work. I work at a community college. No, I’m not a teacher (though I used to be part time). I’m a computer programmer. When I first started working at the college I was 25. I still felt connected to the student body at the time. Sure, most of the students were five or six years younger than me but we were doing the same stuff. I actually fit in better with the students than most of my co-workers. Now when I look down the hall at all the students I see a group of people that I am no longer connected to. I wonder what they could possibly thinking in wearing what they have on. I shake my head at the sheer absurdity of some of their actions. I find myself thinking things like “My friends and I couldn’t have possibly been this stupid at that age!” And that’s generally where I stop and shake my head. I shake my head because I know I’m lying to myself when I say that. My friends and I were complete morons at that age. It’s a wonder we made it out of high school, let alone college. When I think of the absurd things we did; the crazy stuff we said; how we believed we were the end-all-be-all. It makes me laugh! It also makes me smile fondly for those days gone by. But I also am thankful I’ve moved on and grown up. It makes me appreciate what I have, where I’ve been and where I’m going. We all go through the stupidity and some of us actually make it to the other side. I try to remember that as I look around at school feeling old and grumpy at all these half naked children. If I don’t remember that, I’m afraid I’ll turn into just another grumpy old man who no one but other grumpy old men want to talk to. And let me tell you, having to talk to people like me in my old age would be a severe punishment. So, enjoy being stupid all you young whipper-snappers. Your gray hairs are coming…

Second Grade Fisticuffs

When I was in the? second grade I was an ornery little shit. Okay, I’m still an ornery shit. I’ve just gotten bigger. Anyway, a certain event taught me a valuable lesson when I was in the? second grade and it started with a sand pit and three? third graders.

On the far side of the playground of my elementary school was a large sand pit. I’m not really sure why it was there as the teachers always told us to stay out of it. Of course no one listened but I digress. One day, there were three? third graders playing in the pit. They had drawn a line in the sand and were seeing who could jump the farthest past it. Very simple game but it looked like a great deal of fun. I asked if I could play and they adamantly refused. Being the little shit that I was, I said “Fine!” and sauntered through the sand pit, making sure to scrub out their line as I did so. No big deal but obviously meant to antagonize. Well, it worked. I made it about 100? feet away when I was jumped from behind and forced to the ground. The fat kid sat on top of me and started pummeling away while the two smaller boys got in pokes and prods however the could. Well, being the fight to kill type of person, the first chance I got I sank my teeth into one of the little fuck’s hands and boy did he start howling. He startled the fat kid so much that Fatboy? stood up just enough for me to slam my leg between his legs. It didn’t hit very hard but it was hard enough and he fell on his side out of commission for the rest of the rumble. I quickly stood up and punched the only one left standing right as a teacher started frantically blowing her whistle. We all scattered as she came running over. Unfortunately, she recognized me.

As a second grader, having the principal come down to visit you outside your class is a humbling thing. Actually, I was just afraid my mother would find out. Anyway, the first thing he did was admonish me about biting. Evidently the teacher had seen the bite. Then he asked who the boys I’d been fighting with were and I told him. He went and got them out of class as well and had a chat with us all about the incident. That was pretty much the end of it as far as school was concerned. The only thing I felt horrendously wronged about was that the third grades claimed I destroyed something they’d been building in the sand box and the principal wouldn’t let me counter it. I was furious!

So, the valuable lesson. When I got home from school that day my father was outside mowing the lawn. As I approached he shut off the mower and said “Mike, I don’t want you fighting at school no more! You hear me?” I nodded meekly and headed into the house. What he said sunk in on a subconscious level and I didn’t recognize it for what it was til years later. Do you see the important part of that statement? “Mike, I don’t want you fighting at school no more!” No? How about “Mike, I don’t want you fighting at school no more!” See it now? He wasn’t telling me not to fight. He wasn’t angry at me for that at all. It was because I did it at school that he was mad. What’s even worse is that just as I was about to go in the house, he shouted after me “Did you win?” My answering “Yes!” got me a grin and “That’s my boy!”

Did I stop fighting in school? More or less. Sometimes you just can’t help it but mostly I kept it out of school. The best part of the whole thing is that Dad never told Mom. It ended with him. I think he understood that sometimes you have to defend yourself. Besides, Mom would have just made a big deal out of nothing. After all, it was just schoolyard brawl.

What? Oh right, the valuable lesson. It’s okay to fight. Just don’t get caught.

Tools for the work place

For the past 2 years, the “team” I’m on at work has been doing a “team building” exercise with the DISC assessment. What’s the DISC assessment? Well, it’s basically a personality test that helps to define how you act in your work environment. The idea is that everyone takes the test, finds out what category they fit in (Dominant, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness), and then works with the whole team to figure out how to work better together. The first time we did this we found out what we are (I’m a D) and how we relate to the other types in our group. This time we learned about how the other types work and what behaviors we need to change to work better with those other types. It was a very interesting few hours and the main thing I took away from it was not what was intended. I think it may have been the reverse.

Basically, we were handed sheets of info about each of the types. These sheets explained how each of the types functioned and how to best deal with them. It also listed the weaknesses of each of the types and what to watch out for when dealing with the particular types. Now, I quickly put 2 and 2 together and realized I’d just been handed a gold mine of information. Can you see it yet? Let me stress the part that’s important: it listed their weaknesses!? Essentially, we were given four sheets of paper with explicit information about how to manipulate and control members of all the other types. Let me give some examples:

  1. One type dislikes conflict and agression in the extreme. So much so that when forced into a confrontation, they will generally cave to your demands to get out of the situation. The sheet actually outlined this. So, I couldn’t help thinking, from now on, when I really want something from that group of individuals over there, I just need to come off really agressive and they’ll cave right away!
  2. Another group is more concerned about group harmony and emotions than the facts involved. They’d rather make everyone happy than do it the right way the first time. So to exploit this person I just need to come off as extremely emotional and lead the individual on a rioutous roller coaster of feelings until they give me what I want.

Obviously these techniques won’t work on everyone who falls with the definition of the types but I find it very interesting how closely my own assessment fit me.

So, I have a feeling that the team building exercise failed this year. Why? Obviously the intent was good but all the half day of DISCing did was supply new information on how to better control and manipulate your colleagues. Maybe that was the intent but I highly doubt it.

Code of Conduct

So, some background. There are currently two divisions of Information Services where I work. Soon there will be three. Currently, we’re all located in different areas on the campus and there’s no love lost between us all. Now, for almost two years, a new building has been under construction on campus for IS, as well as a whole slew of other areas. So far so good. Except it’s not good. Come August first, all three divisions of IS, which is over 80 people, will be crammed into one massive cube farm. The first issue we saw was the noise. Thankfully, that has been addressed with noise generators that will supposedly take care of that issue. What’s come to light recently though is somewhat amusing and dismaying at the same time. Our director sent an email out to her staff this week about a new committee the CIO has formed. The entire purpose of this committee is to develop a code of conduct for what is appropriate in our new distopia of a cube farm. I find it pathetic that we have to have a committee to talk about what is appropriate and what is not. Some of the issues are reasonable (burnt pop-corn, music, etc) but some are not (language, yelling for co-workers instead of calling, etc). Has our society really degenerated to the point that we need someone to tell us what is approrpiate in a work environment? Are people really so stupid as to think that calling someone a bitch or cunt in the work place is actually acceptable? Unfortunately, they are. Now, I’ll be the first to say that I am highly inappropriate at times but I’m very careful about what I say and to whom. I know what the limits are and I know that some co-workers will grin when I make a raunchy joke and some will not. Based on that knowledge I guard the things I say carefully. Some individuals don’t. I’m hoping that once we get moved into the new area, we’ll get to see some hefty fireworks when some of those individuals start in on their normal routine. I honestly can’t wait.

Politically Correct

I love words. I always have. I discovered very early on that words, when chosen with forethought and care, have tremendous power. Power to heal and power to hurt; it’s up to you, Grasshopper, to use them wisely.

You’ll notice the title of this post is politically correct, which is what I’m planning on grumping about this evening and it ties into my opening up there. Essentially, words only have the power we allow them to have. Don’t believe me? Go hang out with a bunch of five and six year olds and you’ll quickly learn what I mean. All it takes is five kids chanting in a sing-song tone “Sally likes green lolly pops!” to bring Sally to tears. Why? Because as a child, she doesn’t realize those words don’t have to hurt her. She just lets them. More to the point, we let ourselves hear the intent behind the words as they are spoken and fly off the handle. So, that kind of contradicts my “Words have power” theme if it’s not really the words that are causing the problem, eh? Not really…

Let’s think about the words mentally retarded. When I was a boy, it was perfectly all right for an adult to say that a child was mentally retarded. It meant the child had developmental issues and that was that. However, some brilliant child took the ed off the end of the word and called someone a retard and a most glorious insult was born. I can’t tell you the joy using that word brought to so many children in my elementary schools! So, suddenly mentally retarded sounds a lot like retard and now that phrase is bad! So, they’re not mentally retarded. Suddenly they’re special. Wait though, I thought all children were special? Okay, so they’re not special. Hmmm…oh wait, I know! They have a developmental disability! Okay, that’s better. Wait, don’t say the developmentally disabled boy! That’s not okay! You’ve just labeled him! He’s a boy with developmental disabilities! What?!?

Do you see the problem yet? No? What are you, retarded? 😀 The point is that every single one of those new phrases means the same thing! No matter what fancy words you wrap around it, they all mean the kid’s not right in the head. Mentally retarded, special, developmentally disabled or shit-for-brains, they all mean the same thing. So, where does being PC get us? It makes everyone feel better about the fact that they’re referring to the retarded kid but being nice about it. Whatever…if it means the same thing, it is the same thing.

So, how does this equate to Words have Power? Political Correctness is all about words having power. Someone along the way realized that if you call someone black or brown or yellow or whatever they might get insulted. So now we have all these different types of Americans. Now you have to know all the right ways to place your words when talking about the next door neighbors Downs Syndrome disaster. Who the fuck cares? I actually spent an hour and a half meeting at work several years ago arguing about how we advertise that we have services for people with disabilities.Everyone wanted to use some other phrase to basically say the same thing. I finally got frustrated, turned to the CIO at the time and said in a nice loud voice, “What’s the big deal? I always thought the word cripple worked just fine. Why’d they go and change it?” The beauty of that one moment will live with me through the rest of my life. The whole room went into an agonized silence. You could literally see people desperately trying not to laugh, others trying to look horrified, and more actually being horrified. Luckily the CIO got the joke and actually did laugh. He also got the point. He picked a phrase and that was the end of it. But it was amazing how much power the word cripple had. And that’s not even one of the bad ones. Don’t believe me? Drop the N-word in a meeting sometime. (Notice that word has so much power even I won’t spell it out). Words have power because people let them. I used to let the phrase White Trash send me into a fury. Why? Because I am White Trash. It’s my heritage and I was horrified by it. Now, I realize they’re just simple words and I laugh when I hear them. I don’t let mere words hold sway over me but I have tremendous power to control others because so many people do.

Mike the Pharaoh

Over the Easter weekend ABC was showing that old time movie favorite, the Ten Commandments with Charleton Heston as Moses. Now, not being big bible movie fans, the wife and I only had it on for back ground noise while we chatted on the sofa. Occasionally we would be drawn into the story but mostly we ignored it. Toward the end of the evening however, I turned to the wife and said, “You know, if I’d been Pharaoh, Moses wouldn’t have had a chance.” I could tell by the look on her face that she desperately did NOT want to ask but just couldn’t help herself. “How’s that?” she asks. I grinned really big. “First time Moses came up and said ‘Let my people go!’ I’d have cut off his head and fed him to the crocodiles. I’m the Pharaoh for cryin’ out loud! You don’t tell me what to do.” The wife just shook her head. “Know what else?” At this point, she has I really don’t want to know written all over her face so I don’t give her a chance to deny me the pleasure of sharing. “If I had been dumb enough to go through all ten plagues, I certainly wouldn’t have let everyone go. At first light, I’d have gathered what was left of my armies, gone down to the Hebrew villages and slaughtered every man, woman and child. Nobody fucks with the Pharaoh’s kid.” My wife just shook her head and replied, “The next time you feel like sharing something like that, don’t.” I couldn’t help grinning.

To gamble or not to gamble…

Sunday morning I will be starting my annual trip to a conference I attend for work. This year’s conference is being held in Las Vegas. Being that this year I am on the committee that helps to plan the conference, I was in Vegas for the first time last November. I didn’t have a whole lot of time during that trip and consequently did not do any gambling. Now, I’m not a fan of gambling except for poker and have never actually done any gambling in casinos. I don’t have any issues with it, I’ve just never done it. This upcoming week I will have the opportunity to try out the slot machines, black jack tables, etc. and am not sure if I will or not. Partially, I don’t want to lose any money. I’m a man with a wife and four kids and it makes me none to happy to give away my hard earned cash. Also, what’s really the point? Sure, I might hit some big pot on a slot machine or get lucky at black jack but I just don’t think so. Anyway, the point of all this is that I may give it a shot this upcoming week. I just don’ t know. I guess it will depend on whether or not I can find someone to go do it with me. I’m fairly sure one of my main work buddies will NOT participate though I might get him to watch. There are a few other people I could probably get to play with me but I’m not sure I want to play with them. Plus, there’s always the giving away my money thing holding me back.

Anyway, boring post, I know. Just thought I’d jaw a bit about gambling. I still don’t know if I will or not. I’ll just have to wait and see.

Don’t get caught

When you think back on your childhood, there’s probably one thing over everything else that you feel your parents taught you. Whether it was brush your teeth or don’t play with yourself, it’s the primary thing you walked out of your childhood with. Mine wasn’t an action, it was a concept and I honestly believe it comes from how we were disciplined as children.

Spankings were the main form of deterent in our household as children. It was something you desperately wanted to avoid because those things hurt like hell. You always watched what you said and you made sure you never got into so much trouble that you warranted a spanking. For my sister and I, the hardest part of that was keeping our mouths shut. If you know us, you know we’re quite outspoken individuals. Not saying what we felt the need to say was almost impossible. In other words, both of us got the slap across the face quite a bit in our childhood. As for the spankings themselves, those didn’t happen very often at all. My sister never did anything so horrible as to warrant a spanking (though there were other incidents that could be considered worse) and I made sure I never got caught.

And how did I do that? Essentially, you weigh the options at hand and weigh the risks. What’s the probability that you’ll get caught in this extremely heinous crime? If it’s above 50% it’s iffy; above 60% you’re feeling pretty brave; above 70% it’s best to walk away. Generally speaking i wouldn’t go beyond 70%. Now, that’s not to say I didn’t get caught at some pretty horrible stuff. I did. But the stuff I got away with far out weighs the stuff I didn’t. Sure, I got caught shoplifting with a buddy but no one ever knew we were the ones that accidentally shattered the sliding glass door of a neighboring duplex the year before. (It really was an accident by the way). Yes, I got caught forging parent signatures on mid-terms but I never got caught sneaking out and spending the night at my girlfriend’s when her parents were out of town.

So, what’s the point of all this? Mainly that, as a child, I didn’t trust my parents. I couldn’t go to them with issues or questions. How that correlates to don’t get caught is pretty simple. I didn’t trust them so I didn’t feel the need to listen. I did however, watch. What I saw taught me that as long as you didn’t get caught, you’d be okay. (I learned a whole bunch else as well. I learned to respect woman, people of color are the same as everyone else, and that if you clean as you go in baking and cooking, the mess is less at the end.) My whole life has been shaped by the don’t get caught motto. I stopped shoplifting because I didn’t want to go to jail. I stopped speeding because I didn’t want to pay the tickets. I stopped stealing in general to avoid jail. In essence, I live my life by what I can get away with, not by what is right and wrong. I certainly know the difference between the two but I don’t make my decisions in life based on those things. Obviously there are some things I don’t do because I find them repulsive, rape for instance, but overall it’s a measure of the risk and the gain. These days, with my wife and children, the risk is never worth the gain.

“Where’s your moral compass?” you ask. I honestly do live my life by a moral code but those morals were influenced tremendously in their shaping by don’t get caught. What’s funny, is that I like who I am. I like my morals and I like my perspective. Does that mean I want my children to grow up like me? Probably not. I’m not sure what I’d want their one thing to remember from me to be but “don’t get caught” certainly isn’t it. The comforting thing is that I’ll probably never know what that one thing is. The scary thing is that I’ve most likely already taught it…