In keeping with a recent train of thought, WordPress tells me that Someone ‘found’ me by going to a search engine and entering the string
curling delivery practice machine
That’s really weird.
In keeping with a recent train of thought, WordPress tells me that Someone ‘found’ me by going to a search engine and entering the string
curling delivery practice machine
That’s really weird.
In case I didn’t make it clear, I’ll come right out and state it: curling is a sport with a very strong social component. (That’s far from unique — many sports are like that but I would make the claim that it’s more prominent in curling than many others.) Every game starts and finishes with handshakes, people can and do socialize during a game (even with the opposition) and winners buy the first round at the bar. Many (most?) places, the opposing teams sit together after a game.
It’s all very civilised.
A couple of weeks ago, ‘my’ team (more on that later) had a very close game against the team next to us in the standings. Both teams played pretty well but we had a slight edge; we were ‘coming home’ up one point with last rock. They played very well in the final end, though, and eventually had a rock sitting in position to give them the tying point. For the opposing skip’s final shot he had several options — he elected to guard his stone and play for the tie. His guard was good but not great — the rock he was trying to protect was still partially visible; I could ‘see’ a bit of it (just less than half if I remember correctly). Could I see enough to hit it, remove it from play and win the game? Maybe. I decided to try — it was a hard shot but it was probably the easiest available to me. I thought back to the events of ‘Missing‘ and hoped nobody would remind me that ‘This is for the game, eh?’
Fortunately, no one did.
So we won the game, shook hands, took drink orders and hit the locker room to change. Five minutes later we were sitting in the lounge doing the inevitable game postmortem. (“We should have thrown our last shot in six with less weight.” “I should have played the bump instead of the draw.” Stuff like that — I’ll spare you the details.) After the game had been dissected to everyone’s satisfaction, it was introductions all ’round.
Not introductions, exactly. This team has only been in our league for a couple of years. We had never played them before and no one really knew any of them. (And vice versa of course.) It was more, um, ‘Tell me your life story in two minutes or less.’ You know what it’s like when you meet someone new and you’ve exhausted the conversational possibilities of ‘the weather’ or ‘the news’ or ‘the recent sporting event.’ It was like that — only multiplied by four.
This is where I change the subject and introduce ‘my’ team. (It’s not really ‘mine’ but a common tradition in curling is to name teams after the person that skips them so on the schedule we’re listed as ‘Team Rose.’ So it’s mine, but only sort of.) Three of us have played together for something more than a decade; the fourth is new this year so I don’t know him all that well yet. Collectively they’re reliable, talented and incredibly patient with the mercurial and wildly inconsistent houseplant jumping up and down at the other end of the ice. Let’s call them B, C and D.
Mr. B is one of the hardworking grandfathers mentioned in ‘Teaming.’ In addition to ‘hardworking’, he’s consistent and incredibly knowledgeable – he’s curled for, well, a long time and has a tremendous understanding of the game. Heck, he taught Ms. Rose many of the subtleties of the game years ago — before I ever touched a rock. (A rock with a handle, anyway.) Mr. C is an expert in field-programmable gate arrays. (I told you I don’t know him all that well yet.) Mr. D Is slightly younger than I am and also significantly more consistent, more reliable and rather less, um, ‘erratic.’
So we were doing the ‘getting to know one another’ thing. We talked about the usual things people talk about. We talked about how long we had curled. We talked about what we did. We talked about how we knew one another. We talked about South Porcupine. You know, the obvious stuff.
As the evening wore on the conversation ranged farther afield and we talked about…other things. I don’t really want to go into details, but at one point I happened to start a rant about an unpleasant sort of thing that happened to me a couple of years ago.
“That’s an unfortunate sort of thing” said one of their players. “Why did it happen?”
As it happens, I have/had a theory on that subject. I’ve mentioned before that I occasionally dabble in conspiracy theories so when he asked, I… dabbled. At some length. I explained my theory. (In order to sound less irrational I did it without mentioning grassy knolls, the Illuminati or orbiting mind control lasers.) I rambled. I speculated. I went off on irrelevant tangents . (Now that I think of it, it was a lot like one of my blog postings. Only, you know, with even less editorial control.)
I can’t be sure but I think that the gentlemen of the opposition thought that I was a crank. (Possibly harmless, but definitely a crank.) I could also tell that they found my theory, if nothing else, kind of long-winded. So I added a coda (without the obligatory drum solo): “Well, that and I’m annoying.” (So they had a choice between circuitous, prolix and turgid and concise, pithy and somewhat abusive.)
You could tell that, as explanations go, this was quickly absorbed but one of the members of their team wasn’t happy. Had he found one of the many flaws in my ‘theory’? Not really, no. He had a disagreement with the coda: “You don’t seem that annoying to me.”
Mr. B took a large mouthful of his mollusk-flavoured beverage.
“Give it time” he said.
When I used the word ‘civilised’ I may have exaggerated — just a teeny bit.
The other day, in a radical break from my usual practice, I arrived at the arena for hockey early. In fact, I was the first person there.
It felt weird.
Since I was early I couldn’t just look for an occupied dressing room so I checked out the clipboard hanging by the door. As usual, it appeared that no room had been assigned to us. (The expensive HD display was no help either — it was busy displaying the seasonal rates for the water park outside. Definitely something I needed to know IN NOVEMBER). With no direction I went to the same dressing room as last week; it looked promising because it was clean (ish) and the door was wide open. (Of course, since the door was wide open it was also damned cold.) While I was sitting there alone, trying to work up the nerve to, um, get undressed so I could get dressed I mused a bit about the differences between the two ice sports I play — hockey and curling. Besides the obvious ones, I mean.
One of them is that there doesn’t seem to be a significant number of people that play both sports. (At least, not in my circle of acquaintances; I only know two. One of them didn’t show up, probably because he recently took a puck to the, um, er, ‘package’. That’s another difference, I suppose.) But the main difference that I mused about is the difference in venues.
Hockey — at least the kind I play — is ‘mostly’ played at publicly owned and operated arenas — the current ratio of public-to-non-public arenas around here is about 8:1. (There used to be two, not one — there was one at each university until they tore one down and then discovered a two hundred million dollar cost overrun. Now they rent ice in a city-owned arena.) Curling, on the other hand, is ‘usually’ played in curling clubs. Curling clubs can be standalone facilities or ‘attached’ to something else (often, but not always, a golf club). They also vary wildly in size — from one sheet on up. (Back in the day, there was a 48 sheet facility in Calgary.) (A sheet of ice is, more or less, 45 meters long by five meters wide.) Locally there are three clubs — a six sheet standalone club and two more (a six and a four) that are associated with golf clubs. Of course, whenever you have more than one of anything, rivalries often form. The local curling clubs are no exception.
In particular, at the end of the curling season there’s a city championship where the various league champions from the three clubs play off for bragging rights. A few years ago, some of the mixed league champions from our club had vacation time booked on the same day as the city championship. Their skip asked me to spare.
So, for a weekend, ‘his’ team became ‘my’ team. Let’s call the players on his team G, H and I. The lead (G) was a quiet, competent and consistent woman from Saskatchewan. The third (H) was a somewhat excitable (but very competent) woman in a kilt. The second (I) was a fellow with a quirky sense of humour who was recovering from surgery.
How quirky? Well…
The curling delivery involves a lot of bending and crouching. Because of this it’s entirely likely that before or during a delivery some of one’s clothing may be thrown into… disarray. When this happens, how do I put this delicately, there may be, um, ‘cleavage‘ — usually without benefit of felines to hide it.
I was playing in a bonspiel once with Mr. I. We entered the ice area to play our (I think) second game and there was this guy, crouched right in front of the door. Being a guy, he wasn’t that concerned with what he was showing. Mr. I picked up a pencil from the nearest stack of scorecards and dropped it… well, you can guess where.
As I said, Mr. I had a somewhat quirky sense of humour.
Back to the city championship.
Through a series of events that aren’t worth explaining (which means that I can’t remember them — I’ve never been shy about rambling on about not-really relevant-at-all things), we made it to the final in our category. In the championship game we all played pretty well. Ms. G was steady and reliable, Mr. I made lots of shots and swept like a demon (given his surgery I was worried but he held up fine) and Ms. H did a darned good job of everything I asked of her. Me? I called a decent game, ‘read’ the opposition fairly well and made the odd shot. The upshot is that we were playing the last end (this is often referred to as ‘coming home’) up in the score by three points. The other team had the advantage of throwing the last rock, but they needed to score three points just to tie the game.
This is/was a darned good situation — one that would make almost anyone happy and confident. It certainly put all the pressure on the other team — they knew they had to put rocks in play, they had to think hard about just where they should be put and then they had to make their shots Just So. All we had to do is hit everything in sight.
And, as luck would have it, we made ‘enough’ shots so that, when I went to throw my first rock, they had one stone in scoring position but it was wide open — easy to hit. That meant that if I could remove it from play we would win — it would be mathematically impossible for them to score three points. So the plan? Hit it and win the game.
Normally being in this position brings pressure, but I felt fairly confident. After all, I was only a spare, it wasn’t my team. A victory — if there was one — wouldn’t be my victory. It would be their victory. I’d feel good about it, but it wouldn’t be a big deal. When you’re a spare, you have a significantly reduced emotional involvement in the game — perhaps no emotional involvement whatsoever.
So I was crouched in the hack (the curling equivalent of a starting block, more or less), not displaying a pencil holder, thinking about all this. Mr. I waited until I was just about to throw then bent over and said to me “This is for the game, eh?”
My target — the opponent’s stone — was about a foot wide. I missed it by slightly less than half a football field.
Like I said, quirky.
There’s this illustration. I won’t say that ‘everyone’ has seen it, I won’t say that ‘you’ have seen it but a lot of people have; it’s moderately famous. (Probably because it was used as the cover art for an issue of The New Yorker some years back.) It illustrates a couple of points, but I’m mainly thinking of one:
People tend to think of things that are farther away than some critical distance are just ‘far away’; the details don’t necessarily matter all that much.
(Oh, all right — from a certain point of view, Manhattan is the center of the world. Or, to phrase it differently, people have different perspectives on what’s important.)
This ‘telescoping’ effect of people’s perception is temporal as well as spatial. What does that mean? It means that I’m kind of a pompous twit, but it also means that (for example) things from twenty years ago don’t necessarily ‘feel’ twice as ‘remote’ as things that happened ten years ago. Both are, first and foremost, ‘a long time ago’, just as, in the illustration, California and Japan are both ‘a long way away’. One is farther, but it doesn’t ‘feel’ all that different.
Where am I going with all this? Well, this morning, Facebook presented me with a music recommendation. Why? Well, once upon a time I had momentary lapse of reason (not the album, although I might have that around here somewhere) and ‘told’ it about some of the music that I like. As a result, every so often it presents me with recommendations based on exhaustive analysis of my music collection combined with a thorough scrutiny of reputable music reviews. (Or maybe it just goes “you have music by this band or something vaguely like it so you might like this.”)
These recommendations just ‘show up.’ I’ve never asked for them and they scroll off my news feed fairly quickly so mostly I don’t give them much attention. There are exceptions, though. I’ll mention two of those here.
As I said, this morning Facebook presented me with a recommendation. On my newsfeed it said “Recently Released Albums”; under that was a picture and the name of an artist that I like. “Cool” I thought, “I didn’t know he had a new album.” Turns out he doesn’t, the ‘recent’ album in question is from 2008 — FIVE YEARS AGO. Now, I understand that one’s perception of past events can get distorted — I used the word ‘telescope’ up there — but 2008 isn’t ‘recent’ by any reasonable definition of the word. (If you’re talking about geological events, sure. Popular music, no.)
The other recommendation that I remember was given to me a few months ago. (I don’t remember how many months (telescoping, remember) but it was more than one, less than six. The exact number isn’t all that important in this context.) A recommendation for a ‘Recently Released album’ appeared and, again, I went “I didn’t know they had a new album.” Again, though, they didn’t: the picture showed an album from 2010 — three years previously. Recent? Umm, perhaps not.
Of course, there was a small complication. They got the cover art correct but the name of the album wrong. (And not ‘that’s obviously just a typo’ wrong — they got it completely wrong.) I thought for a moment that they just slapped the wrong picture on the right name. Nope — the artist in question has never released an album with the name Facebook claimed. Not in 2010, not ever. Perhaps when I used words like ‘exhaustive analysis’ I was being… optimistic. Charitable. (Ironic, even, but it might just be Alanis irony.)
It’s a good thing that Facebook is free (free. heh.) — you can’t buy that kind of quality.
Sometimes I don’t think things through.
(That’s a sort of sideways way of saying that sometimes I can be pretty dumb.)
When I buy ‘most’ things, I tend to use cash rather than other, um, ‘alternatives.’ (I’ve stated my opinion of things like debit cards before). A consequence of this is that, from time to time, I have to go get more. Last week, for example, I ran out of cash on Friday which meant that a trip to a bank machine was in order — if I didn’t visit the machine, there would be No Ribs For Me.
Before heading out, I wandered around the house, gathering things that I’d need. Things like socks. Shoes. Glasses (the kind you look through, not the kind that hold refreshing beverages. I’m constantly forgetting where I put them.). Outerwear (it’s cold out there, after all). Essential things like that.
During this process I had an idle thought — what were the balances of my various accounts? If I had thought it through, I would have realized that I could ask the machine THAT I WAS PREPARING TO GO TO so I’d know within minutes. But I didn’t think it through — in particular, I decided that I could just look that information up on the bank’s web site (what they call ‘online banking.’) So I took my socks to the back room, sat down, navigated to the ‘online banking’ web site and prepared to log in. I answered one of the security questions, (Why they needed to know Ms. Rose’s middle name before asking me for a userid or password I don’t know.) typed in the sixteen digit number on my bank card and before you know it I was facing the ‘enter your password’ page.
That was when the problems started: I couldn’t remember what it was. This isn’t an uncommon thing — I have a zillion passwords and I’m forever forgetting the ones that I don’t use on a daily basis. I rely heavily on the ‘I’ve forgotten my password’ functionality of, well, pretty much every web site in existence.
In that respect this one was no exception, so I clicked on the ‘I’ve forgotten my password’ link and was immediately asked to type in the same sixteen digit number that I had just typed in. I cursed them (but just a little) and dutifully typed it in. To my surprise, though, I wasn’t presented a link to click on or a box to type in. No, I was presented with a message that said that my bank card couldn’t use the automated password reset procedure. I had to call a phone number and someone would do it for me — they were nice enough to provide the phone number in the message.
I blinked. I didn’t expect that but I did what I was told and phoned the number. It took a while, but eventually I got a voice that took my details, took the sixteen digit number (twice), went ‘Hm’ and told me that she couldn’t do it — I would have to visit my local branch and they would do it. Why? She couldn’t say. That was odd, I thought, I didn’t have to do that to set the account up, but no problem – if you recall, I was going there anyway. At the branch I was directed to a nice lady, I told her my story and she… picked up a phone and called someone. “I don’t know why they tell people to visit us” she said, “we can’t do anything.” She talked on the phone for a while then handed it to me.
I told this voice my story. She seemed scandalized: “They should never have told you that. What number did you call?” I couldn’t remember, of course. She went on “Go home, call the number on the back of your bank card and tell them your story. They’ll fix everything.”
I wasn’t entirely convinced, but I got the cash I needed, checked my account balances, then went home, called the number and asked for the online banking group. I got yet another voice. I told her my story and asked if I could speak to the helpful voice that I had spoken to at the bank. I could not, I was told.
That’s not when I lost it. Heck, I wasn’t even surprised.
“So I’ll just have to ask you some security questions, then we can reset that password of yours. Are you ready?” I was. “What branch were your accounts opened at?”
Umm. That’s a little tricky. Did she mean the branch where the accounts were actually opened, or the branch where they last had gratuitous changes made at the behest of some fat guy in a suit? Either, she said. Oh. “Umm, the accounts were opened at a branch that was closed in the mid 1980s.” “No problem”, she said “What was the street address of that branch?” Pardon? She wanted to know the street address of a branch that closed THIRTY YEARS AGO? (As part of their relentless quest to reduce customer service, but that’s a different rant.)
That’s not when I lost it. I did indicate that I thought the question was perhaps a tad unreasonable. No problem; she was ready to move on. “Let’s talk about the other branch. What was its street address?” That was clearly not as unreasonable — after all it had only closed TWENTY years ago.
That’s not when I lost it either but I did demand to speak to her supervisor.
There was a long wait and a new voice spoke to me. I explained with some, um, ‘enthusiasm’ that I found the security questions ridiculous and stupid and the whole process a deliberate attempt to waste my time. I understood the necessity for security, but thirty year old street addresses? Really?
Eventually I asked him to delete my account — after all, it had been trivial to set up, presumably would be trivial to set up again and besides, deleting it might clear whatever condition was blocking my access to the automated password reset process. He changed the subject, claiming that I had been blocked from the automated reset process because I hadn’t used Internet Explorer to access the website. I told him that I believed that was unlikely and asked him again to delete the account. Again he changed the subject, this time claiming that I had received the error because I had gone to the website via a search engine and not from a bookmark in my browser-that-wasn’t-Internet Explorer. I asked a third and fourth time. Each time his ‘explanations’ got wilder and wilder. After the fifth request, he admitted that he couldn’t delete the account because he wasn’t part of the online banking group.
Wait, what? I had asked for the online banking group, we had talked for half an hour before he got around to mentioning that he wasn’t in the online banking group?
And that’s when I lost it.
It occurred to me the other day that its been a while since I droned on and on (but not like Graham Chapman) about some obscure, trivial and uninteresting aspect of technology. There has been no recent moaning about my crippling envelope phobia (blue or otherwise). There has been no self-righteous whining about IT vendors proving yet again that Schiller was, if anything, an optimist. There have been no squick-laden moments describing inventive (yet still inappropriate) uses of technology.
In short, it’s about damned time.
In ‘Shorting‘. I described in more detail than was absolutely necessary the parade (well, three) of machines that provided a particular set of services to a particular group of people. We had more than one system that provided these services — in fact, we had several (three or four, more or less), each of which ‘served’ a different ‘constituency.’ Most things that were done to one were done to all. In particular, over the years the hardware was replaced on all of them. ‘Shorting’ described three machines; the system I’m thinking of today also occupied three different machines over the years. This meant… upgrades.
Of course, the ominous sound effects aren’t always necessary. If the designer(s) of whatever it is that you’re upgrading had a smattering of common sense (and maybe the tiniest shred of concern for their users-slash-customers) then the upgrade might be easy. If they didn’t or if there was, say, unwanted ‘assistance‘ then it probably isn’t.
For an application I administered some years ago, for example, upgrades were ‘largely’ pain-free, or at least started that way. Installing the application was done by copying the distribution kit to a location on the system then running the installation script. Upgrades were done by copying the distribution kit to a location on the system then running the installation script. Fixing problems was done by… copying the distribution kit to a location on the system then running the installation script. The installation script and the folks who wrote it were both darned clever.
It was inevitable that this state of affairs wouldn’t last. The fat guys in suits (I blame them for everything; I occasionally dabble in conspiracy theories and this is one of those.) decided that this happy combination of cleverness, efficiency and simplicity definitely Had To Go. Their solution? They added overcomplicated, poorly-performing and buggy customer-control software to their application. Installing and upgrading the application was still pain-free, but any upgrade (heck, any change, no matter how trivial) could cause the customer-control software to poot forth thousands of error messages, could cause complete application failure or even a system crash. This helped drive brisk sales in service contracts so could be considered to be a business success — just not a technical one.
There are, of course, other ways to make upgrades painful. Another application that I administered took the ‘overwhelming obfuscation’ approach to upgrades. To upgrade this application it was necessary to remove all customization that you might have performed, remove all patches that you might have applied, apply a special patch that did the upgrade, then look to see if versions of the patches you had previously applied existed for the new version, acquire and apply them, then reapply your customizations. Someone had to work to make it that annoying. (As you might expect, my money was on fat guys in suits. It always is.)
Oh, and good luck.
But I was talking about a hardware upgrade. In this case (if you care) it was an upgrade from a bar fridge to a Big Purple Box. When you do that, you don’t do it all at once — not if you have a cautious bone anywhere in your body. No, what I did was make a list (it was a long one) of everything that ran on the bar fridge, then install the latest and greatest version of everything on the list onto the Big Purple Box. Some software could be completely installed. This was good; it meant that I could check something off the list. (Making lists shorter is generally a good thing.) Some software, though, couldn’t be installed completely so couldn’t be checked off the list — probably because it used data on the bar fridge, probably data that changed with time and that would have to be copied to the Big Purple Box at The Last Minute. The result of this was that the list got a little shorter and gradually evolved into a list of Last Minute Things To Do.
Eventually, though, there was no more that could be done ‘in advance’, the list was pared down as far as it could go and it was time to schedule an outage to do the last minute stuff and finish the whole upgrade. The Big Purple Box would replace the bar fridge, things would be faster and better, birds would sing, elves would barf nutmeg-scented barf and unicorns would poop glitter. Yay.
This happened at approximately this time of year (mid November) so it was decided that a good time to do this would be between Christmas and New Years. After all, people are fairly dormant then (Too much tryptophan? Perhaps, although I think that’s been debunked.) and wouldn’t mind too much if there was an outage. (And besides, since the university would be closed, if they did mind, there would be no one to complain to. Bonus.) December 27th was chosen as Der Tag.
Now, I mentioned that the university would be closed then. A consequence of this is that someone in a suit decided that it would save some money if building temperatures were lowered while no one was there. (A fair decision, all things considered, as long as they didn’t overdo it.) So on December 27th I showed up, nice and early, with an armload of essential equipment:
The first thing I noticed was that it was cold in there. Really cold. Cold enough to see your breath. Colder than the guy in the suit intended. Cold enough to freeze… damn.
Apparently the regular security sweeps hadn’t noticed this, so I phoned the campus security folks: “It’s cold in here. It’s damned cold in here. Maybe someone should look in to that.” Having done the responsible thing, I set to work. First step? A hefty slug of the appropriately caffeinated beverage. Second step? Consult The List — the list that was made when I was awake and thinking clearly. Third step? Shut down the services on the bar fridge so that no one (well, no one but me) could change the data that I was about to copy elsewhere. (Also, make some system changes to ensure that the services wouldn’t start automatically when the system rebooted.) Just in case that wasn’t enough, change the network address of the bar fridge so that people (except me) wouldn’t even be able to find it. Reboot it to make all the changes happen.
Crash? There shouldn’t have been a crash. That was… in the building. Nearby. Perhaps I should investigate — there is, after all, not supposed to be anyone in here.
I investigated. I found… plumbers. Due to the cold in the building — the cold that no one had noticed EXCEPT ME — some of the pipes had frozen. So far, they had found several frozen (and burst) pipes in radiators. (Well, not radiators, exactly, but I don’t know what their official HVAC name is.) The plumbers were there to locate any and all frozen pipes and repair what they could. (And make loud CRASHes at times that would frighten idiot IT guys, but they didn’t have a work order for that.) I returned to my slightly-less-cold-than-the-rest-of-the-building office and drank more caffeine. Now where was I? Oh yah, dump the password database on the bar fridge and copy it to the Big Purple Box.
Warning? That’s an automated voice bellowing somewhere. That sounds like the burglar alarm in the basement…. Perhaps I should investigate — there is, after all, not supposed to be anyone down there.
I investigated. I found… plumbers. As part of their quest for frozen pipes, they had used their master key to enter the server room without disabling the alarm — because they didn’t have a code to do that. And that meant that the campus security folks should be showing up any…
“What’s going on here? And why is it so cold?”
It took a while but I managed to reduce the level of… excitement and went back to work after begging the plumbers to come see me before opening any more doors with alarm notices on them.
Where was I? Oh yah, the password database. Now the mail spool….
Time passed. I had just started copying everyone’s personal files and mail when it suddenly became noisy. Very noisy. It sounded like the fire alarm. It was the fire alarm. Uh-oh. That meant…
The campus security folks were on the scene in a flash, followed closely by several fire trucks. Before long, a rather… animated looking discussion formed with security guys, firemen and plumbers. I contemplated joining in but in the end decided to just go home. I was out of caffeine anyway.
Upgrades can be hell.
Today at the farmer’s market I had a schoolteacher ask me to do something akin to tightening the laces on her corset.
I can honestly say that’s never happened to me before.