The dark side of Microsoft support...

So, the university I work for just bought a whole bunch of licenses for Microsoft Operations Manager 2005. This software promises to make a good portion of my job easier. A lot of my time is spent monitoring about fifty servers, and tracking down any errors they report and trying to correct them. MOM 2005 promises to alleviate, or at the very least expedite this process. I was psyched about getting the software setup, as I've had it running in our test lab for a while, and it seemed to be running well, and delivering on what it promises to do.

I started to install the software in our production (that means "real") environment yesterday and immediately hit a snag: the service wouldn't start after install. I tracked down some KB articles (the Knowledge base, or "KB" is where Microsoft pastes relevant support information) that seemed to fix that specific problem. I moved on to the next phase, which is to deploy the agents to the client servers (the ones reporting back their status).

This phase failed as well, and I decided to call Microsoft support, which we have a contract through. Now, please keep in mind that this chronology took the better part of two days. I did other stuff, too, so don't think I'm slow, but enterprise level software issues are more complex than "I can't print." So, I dialed up 1.800.MICROSOFT and had a lovely chat with a fellow in New Delhi called Ambros, or maybe it was Annbro, I'm not really sure. He then put me in the hold queue to talk to a support engineer - Annboy didn't know a thing about MOM, he just wanted my name, phone number and e-mail address. Maybe he'll call me for a date later... I need to figure out how to decline politely.

I was on hold for about 25 minutes, when I got through to Dennis, who sounded like he was in Texas, or at least grew up in Texas. "Hello, this is Dennis. Can I get your case number please?"

"SRX576189247832," I replied.

"I'm sorry, that's not a valid case number," underneath the deep San Antonio accent, I'm pretty sure I detected a hit of annoyance.

"Well, I'm pretty sure that's what Annasoy gave me at the call center. Let me read it back to you." I re-read the number to him, and it turned out to be identical.

"Nope. Sorry. Thank you for calling Microsoft, have a great day," on the surface it was polite, but it reeked of sinister intent.

"Wait!! Wait... Can't you just look it up or something? I was on hold for 25 minutes, and you're just going to hang up on me?"

"Sir, that's very difficult for me to do, and we have a lot of customers calling. We're busy."

"But I'm a customer too. I'm sorry I wrote it down wrong," why was I apologizing? I was the injured party here.

"Fine.. hold on.. what's your e-mail address?" I gave him my e-mail address, and heard some clicking. "Okay, here it is. Your case number is SRX576189247823." He said the last two digits like a frustrated sheep farmer scolding his livestock - he knows the sheep doesn't understand, but scolding it makes him feel better. It made me feel like investigating Red Hat. "Make sure you write that down correctly this time. It'll save all of us a lot of headaches, okay?" I didn't reply. I was secretly hoping a satellite would fall on his building or something.

"Okay, I see you have a problem with MOM 2005," he was starting to sound cheery. Maybe the script he was working from said [SOUND CHEERY HERE], or something. We went back and forth on the problem for a good hour or so, during which time he insulted me every way you could insult a systems engineer. From the mundane "did you check the documentation," to "I've never seen an AD environment so totally screwed up. You must be an idiot," I tried to take it all in stride.

In the end, it turned out that the problem was a DLL file that had been corrupted and was messing up the authentication mechanism for network login. A perfectly legitimate problem to call support about, and one that very few people could have solved without intervention from Microsoft.

"Okay," Dennis paused for dramatic effect, "it looks like we solved your problem. Try not to screw it up again, you mentally incapable plebeian." Dennis' conclusion was terse at best. "Thank you for calling Microsoft and have a great day."

"You, too." Why was I saying that? I didn't want this guy to have a great day. I wanted him to get the intestinal flu. We hung up, and I just sat there stunned for a minute. The rest of my day passed uneventfully, but I was emotionally scarred pretty deeply.

I'll never forget Dennis, my gracious Microsoft techie who helped me realize that the answer to "Where do you want to go today?" is "To your office to beat you within an inch of your pathetic life, you condescending jerk."


ह ह! थिस इस सिल्ली...

ई हवे अब्सोलुतेल्य नो आईडिया वहत थिस सय्स!


No officer, I didn't see that...

Wow. We're lucky to be alive. Danielle and I went to Jared - "The Galleria of Jewelry" to look at wedding bands. The store was decent enough, and the staff was pretty helpful, which is nice, especially since everything in a jewelry store costs a hundred billion dollars. They offered us a tour around the joint when we first got there, which was kind of awkward because the store is decently sized, but it's not THAT big. I mean, you can see from one end to the other and recognize people across the room. They didn't bring us over to the free cookies and coffee during the tour, which was minus points in my book. We didn't see that until the officer sat us down to debrief us.

Anyways, so we spent some time (and by some time, I mean over an hour) looking at rings for Danielle. We tried channel set, prong set, plain, pretty, ugly, large and small rings, and even one that looked kind of like a Buick hood ornament. We eventually got it down to two - both channel set. We decided to take a break from that and head over and look at men's rings. I was even more finicky than Danielle, and ended up trying on about 25 rings. I had it decided down to two white gold jobs when the front doors slammed open and the first shot rang out. I think the bullet lodged itself somewhere in the ceiling above me.

"Everyone get the [expletive deleted] on the floor!" I grabbed Danielle and pulled her down to the floor with me. Ironically enough we'd been through this once before - in a Stop and Shop of all places. I had a lot of thoughts at that moment, and as much as I'd like to say they were focused on how I could be a better person if I got out of this, I really only thought about two things - "this wicked sucks", and "I hope we don't get held up too late to get to dinner." I was really hungry, cut me some slack, okay?

The security guard was a lot of help, because he laid down about 10 feet from us, and tossed his gun on the floor away from him. A model of bravery and valor, that guy was. Anyways, there were two quite stereotypical robbers in the store, both dressed in black with ski masks on. I'll refer to them as Bossman and Lackey, because one of them was clearly in charge, and the other reminded me of Teller from Penn and Teller. Bossman shouted "hurry up," and pointed towards the luxury watch case. I didn't have a good view of Bossman after that, but I assume he went to try and take some diamonds and other assorted gemstones. Lackey hurried over to the watches, where I had a good view of him, and dutifully shoved the handle his pistol into the case to break it open. Unfortunately for him, the case isn't made of glass, so the gun popped out of his hand and slid onto the floor.

It didn't go far, so he picked it up - looking more awkward than frightening - and tried again. The case gave way with an unpleasant snapping sound, and then he was hunched over the case, presumably taking some Tag Heuer watches, and other assorted fine timepieces.

"Time to go - now!" Something must have set Bossman off, because he had a panicked tone in his voice. Bossman left the store quickly, but with more grace than you'd expect a masked robber to have. Lackey on the other hand, stumbled out of the store and tripped right at the door. Someone snorted, like they were trying to hold back a laugh. Lackey must not have liked that, because he shot someone towards his left and then walked out. Bummer for that guy on the left.

The next half hour was as uninteresting as the parts of Law and Order that they don't show you. We answered questions about what we saw - or didn't see - multiple times. All in all, it was a pretty deflating experience. When a jewelry store gets robbed, isn't the SWAT team supposed to drop through the ceiling lights and secure the perimeter with snipers and canine units? Did Hollywood lead me down a false path? Is life really this procedural? Man, next they're going to tell me that you really can feed a mogwai after midnight.

Well, after that we paid for our rings and their lifetime service plans and left the store. It was hard to get out of the parking lot with all the police cars and the coroner van and stuff, but one nice officer moved his car so we could get through. Then we went down the street to Cactus Jack's and had some barbecue chicken.

All in all, not a very eventful evening. But we did get free cornbread, which is sweet.


He never saw it coming...

So, my car is living a double life. Some days it thinks that it is a mild-mannered family sedan. Other days, it thinks that it is a sports coupe. The truth is that it's a capable family sedan that has enough zip in it to be fun to drive when you find that oh-so-very-rare piece of road that is both twisty and devoid of traffic enough to be able to actually drive, instead of just plod along like I spend 40 minutes of each day going to and from work.

Today, I got out of work right on time, but because it was still fully light outside, instead of an evening twilight, it felt like I had gotten out early. I'm potentially in the market for a small printer stand or table for my new printer, because it's a bit larger than my old one (it has a scanner built-in.) I wanted to see what Furniture World was offering, because they've been hiring people to stand around Salem for the past month with signs that say "NEGOTIATE" and "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS". I thought it would be worth looking at some tables, but found out that their "INSANE DEALS" weren't even remotely a good value. For instance, one end table that I liked was "discounted" to $150. No thanks, I'll just use the box the printer came in.

Anyways, so as I was heading home down Route 28, I was stopped in the first position at a red light. A guy in a Chrysler 300M pulled up next to me, and had this "I drive a better car than you" look on his face. Actually, I think he mouthed the words at me. I usually let this kind of crap go, because I'm a mature adult (most of the time.) This time however I just couldn't take it. Maybe it was because "Ms. Red" (the woman at Furniture World actually called herself this) wouldn't make a good deal on an end table, or maybe it was because UMass Lowell is going to start charging for parking, but all I knew is that I wanted to win at something.

I pulled the shifter to the left and shoved it backwards. First gear. I shifted my gaze to the left and watched the light for the intersecting street - it turned yellow. I put pressure on the gas and held the engine at two thousand revolutions. A quick peek to the right to see Mr. 300M, and he's gearing up, too. I had lost the element of surprise.. this was going to be tougher now. I checked the light again, yellow fading to red. I ticked off two seconds audibly, and pushed the accelerator down. Green.

I didn't squeal off the line, so I gave it more gas and shoved the stick forwards into second gear. I heard an engine pick up noise, and knew it wasn't mine. I pushed the accelerator the last inch it had to the ground and pounded the gearbox up to third. I flashed my eyes right and saw the 300 surge forward and start to get ahead of me. I checked my speed and watched the needle slide effortlessly past fifty....

And then I backed off. I popped the stick to the right back into "D" and let the accelerator spring back up into neutral.

The 300 roared past me as it lurched into a higher gear (apparently the Chryslers don't shift smoothly - they should work on that.) I leaned back in my seat and just watched him keep going. I counted off ten seconds quietly to myself and watched the car pull out behind him. The display of blue strobe lights was immediately impressive. As I drove by, I waved a polite good-bye. The guy in the 300 didn't notice - he was too busy getting his license and registration ready.

I had just come from this direction and passed by as the officer was setting up shop. I turned on my left blinker and waited for a green arrow. When it finally came, I pulled my gentle and unassuming family sedan across the intersection and headed home.


Don't let me fly your plane.

As most of you are aware, I've been getting pretty into Microsoft Flight Simulator X, which is a pretty cool game except for the the fact that it completely overpowers even beefy computers, of which mine still qualifies, if only barely.

I've been getting bored of the simple formulaic missions I've been rehearsing and playing for the past few months. Generally, they go something like this:

1. Take off from airport A.
2. Fly towards airport B.
a. Land at airport B
3b. Crash, and kill lots of virtual people.

I'm tired of it, because 3b isn't happening as often anymore, and since this game doesn't feature planes with guns, landing is pretty boring. I've even gone so far as to tell the simulator to fail an engine (or two) during flight, and have something catch on fire.. all while leaking oil and fuel. Those instances lead to a lot more 3b scenarios.

Anyways, in an effort to make the game more interesting, I decided to make up a game of sorts. I started at Andrews AFB in Maryland (where Air Force One lives) and flew a helicopter to the White House, landed on the south lawn, picked up the President, flew back to Andrews, changed planes into a 747-400 (similar to Air Force One) and then revved up the engines to head towards Crawford, Texas.

Unfortunately, I had forgotten to change the simulator settings, so about 20 minutes into my flight towards Texas (I had just gotten the beast of a 747 level) I lost engine 2.. and 4. Now, this wasn't a big deal, because 747s have 4 engines, and I still had 50% power, which believe it or not, is enough to stay in the air, so I found a nearby airport on the map and went to turn towards it, except nothing happened.. because I had lost hydraulics. I was still trying to get some backup power when the plane blew up. I always forget the fire.

Anyways, now virtual Dick Cheney is in charge.

Good for him, he's earned it.

Uncle Sam always gets his...

So, I decided to do my taxes today. Now, you may not be aware of this, but I absolutely loathe doing my taxes. I find that it's one of life's great injustices that the government not only takes my money, but makes me do poorly documented, confusing and downright tedious paperwork just so that they can take it. You can argue with me and say that we do these things so that we can get a refund, but I usually owe, so forget you and your logic. I think the least they can do is to figure out what I owe for me. With everything going electronic, they could probably do this pretty easily, you know. After all, both my W2 and my 1099-INT were available online. I also e-filed.

Anyways, I was looking through the 1040A (why they can't call it something friendlier is beyond me) and realized there was a help line 1.800.829.1040 (ha! get their little joke in there?) I actually found this to be very helpful, as I had a question about the deduct-ability of my pension contribution to the MA State Retiree System. I called them, and got someone on the phone that spoke English very well, and lacked any accent whatsoever. I asked if I could deduct that on line 12a.

"Well, no, but you're not likely to get audited, so no one really cares," replied the woman - Linda, I think her name was. Needless to say, I was stunned virtually speechless. I couldn't say anything except mutter a flaccid "excuse me?"

"Well, the difference it will make in your taxes is pretty minute, and our computers won't catch that, because it's not a documented item. It's an unqualified plan, but it probably shouldn't be, so you should be fine."

I think I stammered out a "thank you," but all I really remember is hanging up. I went back to the form and put 0 in line 12a. I finished up my return and wrote a check out to my dear Uncle Sam. Even now, I'm not sure whether I'm more stunned that the IRS has a technical support line, or that the people staffing it are aiding and abetting tax evasion.


Minor flooding

So, I'm sitting in my cube today, and Tony, our resident IT Security expert, who helps me break into other people's offices (a story for another post) hollers over to me and asks if I drive a gold Camry.

Me: "No, I just bought a red one, you know this. I've driven you to lunch in it."

Tony: "Oh, yeah. Well, there's one in the parking lot that's getting pretty flooded."

I walked over to the window behind my cube, and sure enough, there was a ton of water in the parking lot, and it was seemingly rising as we looked at it. The water was up to the midsection of the front tires, and was touching the very bottom of the door.

We looked at it for a while, and just kind of laughed, especially when someone parked further down and got out of their car. What kind of person knowingly parks in a HUGE puddle, and then gets out and steps into it.. with sneakers on?

We were waiting to see if the car would start to wash away (which probably doesn't happen until the water is 3 feet deep or something) so Tony had a bag of popcorn he popped in the microwave and we just kind of sat there and watched it. I should mention that my boss is out for a week, so we really aren't working too hard.

Anyways, so then the police show up (someone must have called them) and start radioing back and forth to headquarters. Eventually, some guy comes out and opens the door, only the find water IN the car. What a bummer for that guy. His reaction was great though, because he totally flipped out on the cop and started yelling that they should have called him sooner. The officer didn't seem impressed and just told him that it wasn't their responsibility.

He was able to drive the car away, but man.. that's going to smell in a few weeks. It probably didn't help his demeanor that his loafers were totally submerged in icy/slushy water.

Well, that was entertaining. I'm going to eat my lunch.

This one's all true...

Okay, so I thought that I might want to start out with some fantastic story about how this came to be, but I decided that just this once, I'll be totally honest on this blog.

During our small Bible study last night, the subject of blogging came up. Don't ask how Jesus and blogging go together - as hard as I try, and I can't make that juxtaposition work. I maintained that my life was too boring to support an actively read blog, and that I'm not intelligent or witty enough to post my musing and observations (read as: temper-tantrum filled rants) online. It was wasn't interesting enough.

Anyways, Ben said something and it tipped me off that there might actually be some merit in creating a blog that was streteched a bit.. or a lot. What if we took our lives as they are, and adapted it for the silver screen? Change whatever parts of the true story you wanted to make it interesting, you know? Hey, most people do this on here anyways, I'm just admitting to it.

So, I suppose that's the point of this blog - to entertain you. There are a a few ground rules. If you're going to read it, please drop me a line now and again. You don't have to do it often, but I'd like to know someone's reading it besides Danielle (my beautiful fiancee who can be found here and here.) Also, parts of each post will actually be true. My goal is to make them moderately believeable here, so I need to have some element of truth. While I expect that you will provide some element of a suspension of disbelief, I'll also try and keep all stories plausible. That is, we won't have aliens coming down to rid the world of the evil sea monsters in here.

So long as we understand each other, I'm proud to present: my completely false, and utterly without merit blog.