Tell 'em what I took, man!

Reflections of a repatriated ex-patriot

Monday, December 05, 2011

They see me trollin’, they hatin’

I’m sure it wouldn’t take but a few clicks from a google search to be off to the races finding a whole hell of a lot more than I ever needed to know about the psychology of trolling. The more I see it though, the more fascinating it becomes. I mean really what would compel someone to spend so much time and energy just for the single purpose of pissing people off? Is it really just the ability to bring out the negativity in others that would cause a person, like a junkie, to return again and again spewing vitriol to raise the ire of a group of people they probably don’t even really dislike that much? Is there some endorphin rush that happens in the brain when you see a bunch of pissed off replies to a post? Why are so many people so intent on being assholes?

I can’t speak for other types of forums, but I spend a good deal of time on college football message boards trying to get as much information as I can on my beloved University of Houston Cougars. They had a pretty incredible year—12 and 0, in fact, and even prior to their jaw-dropping, mind numbing loss for the conference championship that cost them not only the trophy but a shot at a BCS game, the trolls were out in full force. All year long, win after win I came across post after post of the most vile, terrible, wretched crap imaginable-- I mean seriously, an unhealthy amount of hate--and not just on one site, mind you. Some of these folks would look for every single scrap of internet news or conversation piece they could find, and feel a mad rush to foment their hatred:

Your team sucks. If they ever even play anyone halfway decent, they’ll get blown out. They shouldn’t even have a team. The only reason your quarterback has broken so many records is because he’s been at the school for 12 years, and plays against high school teams. Hahaha, you don’t have a chance of winning this next game.

The one phrase that came up over and over again, which I found interesting and a bit counter-intuitive, though, was ‘no one cares.’ No one cares about your crappy high-school stadium or your shitty high school team. If the troll didn’t care so much, then why in the hell would he take the time to comment or reply to every single mention of the team he can possibly find on the fucking internet? And what type of rhetorical sway would he expect have, really? Would he expect a few denigrating lines would be a compelling enough argument for a true die hard fan just to say, 'you know what, you're right our team does suck, and I've been wasting all of my time and energy buying tickets, going to games, giving money back to the school, and generally hoping they do well. I think I'll just get a new hobby or just be one of those front-runner assholes. Thanks dude. Now I see the light.'

If there’s one particular nefarious skid mark in the underpants of humanity that any UH person thinks about it when he hears the word ‘troll’—it would have to be the incomparable MDAstro. This guy is the Heisman Trophy Winner of Trolls. A self-proclaimed fan of LSU (speaking of front-runner assholes), I have seen this guy on every single article or conversation ESPN has put out about the UH. You would think, since LSU has a pretty good shot at winning the MNC (that’s mythical national championship for those of you who don't watch NCAA football—coined since there is no playoff in college) all MDAstro’s time would have been spent lauding and defending his team. Certainly there was no shortage of news and conversation he could have picked up on if he really even were a fan of anything.

Yet somehow, during game time, especially earlier in the season before UH was even ranked or talked about-- when the game conversation posts were mostly gamblers asking if they should take the over, taking about their parlays for the weekend, and posting up websites that had worked for them in making their picks the week before-- one person was always there to dissuade any uncertain bettor from calling his bookie to put some money on UH: MD Astro. Ah, don’t take the over, it’s a sucker bet. Everyone knows Cougar High is gonna’ lose. Hahaha!

Not only that, but he seemed to make it a habit to try and be the first one to post some derogatory tripe on every single game conversation about the school as soon as the forum was posted. I noticed that towards the end of the season though, when the cougars started receiving a lot of national attention due to their winning ways, the trolls were out in flocks. A lot of them, unbelievably, were Boise State fans! You'd think, for a team that took so much abuse for so long as being the most consistent BCS busting team, that they would have had our back a bit. Maybe trolling is like zombie-ism. You get exposed to it too much, and you become one of them!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

If you’re gonna do it, you might as well do it right.

Went and saw the IMAX 3-D version of Avatar on Saturday. It had been a long time since I’d seen anything filmed in IMAX, much less anything in 3-D. But I have to say it was well worth it. There wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t completely enthralled with what was taking place on screen. The depth of expression on the Navi’s faces, the seamless integration between animation and live action, the cool symbiotic bonding thing, all the impossible jumps, the decadent proliferation of colors on the screen—all were mesmerizing.

As far as story-line goes, though: meh. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Dances with Wolves. It was almost the same exact plot-line:

  • White man reaches deep into the frontier of a natural, savage territory.
  • Natives dislike white man.
  • Gradually white man wins trust and respect of locals.
  • White man starts stroking inner Gaia, goes native, and decides to switch sides.
  • Other white folks find out white man went native, and look at him with derision.
  • War ensues.
  • We get close ups of the devastation and pain wrought upon the natives by the now "other" evil, greedy white folks.
  • And everyone in the audience gets to feel guilty.
  • OK, movie is over, we’ve had our cathartic moment of collective guilt, but we don’t have to feel bad anymore, so let’s hop into the SUV and go get some ice cream.

The only real difference in this case is that in place of "white man," it should read, "lanky blue weird-looking alien dude mentally controlled by crippled white man in special bio-link tube."

As one of the inevitable extensions of the virtual reality craze from way back in the nineties, I'm surprised this concept hadn't been tried before in a major motion picture. There's a sci-fi series of books I read which took the idea to a severe extreme: Otherland by Tad Williams. The last three of the tetralogy are pretty much devoted to what's going on with the major characters while they're "in the tube." And, like Avatar, one of the main characters lives much more completely in his virtual life than in his real one because of a physical defect. Whereas Jake in Avatar doesn't have the use of his legs, the Otherland dude has progeria, the weird aging disease where a seven-year-old has the body of an eighty or ninety-year-old. Man, those books were intense! If James Cameron made a series of movies based on those using the same budget and technology used in Avatar- now that would be awesome!!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Maybe what I do really ain’t so bad.

My last entry, posted so many eons ago, was written for the purpose of justifying to myself what I do now. My conscience made me write it really—that blubbery little wuss! As I had just been reeled into the debate by agreeing to work in the industry, I was trying to discern whose side I was really on. Was I a tool benefitting the evil mega-corporations? Was I making it easier for the insurance corporations, HMOs, and pharmaceutical companies to enslave us all into monetary submission? Was I in some small, cog-like way making it harder for the impoverished to receive health care? Was I in effect, indirectly killing people, in fact? Or was I doing something noble? Was I promoting the saving of lives?

It’s an important question to ask, I think. Some people will go their whole lives and never even bother to attempt to justify what they do. A paycheck is a paycheck is a paycheck to them is the refrain. But as I have this overactive hyper-sensitive wussy conscience, it was necessary to go through this dilemma, and I think I’ve finally found something that will quiet that silly, annoying little voice. Here’s a breakdown of how the conversation went:

“Certainly,” I told it, “we can at least agree on one thing: that I could be doing something far, far worse. It’s not like I’m making tobacco or junk food or heroin. I’m not polluting the atmosphere with choking smoke. I’m not making little remote control death machines or evil robots, or sharks with frickin’ laser beams, or any of that crap. I mean, really, Erin Brockovich doesn’t have shit on me!"

The reply from that snotty little crybaby was, “Maybe so, but “don’t get all smug and sermonize to people that you’re doing the right thing. You didn’t take this job because you thought it would give you the chance to become some kind of martyr. You did it for the money and the security it provided, and that’s it!”

“And judging by the latest quarterly earnings report you just read, don’t try and fool yourself that you’re working for some charity organization!

“So what?” I replied to that obnoxious little turd. “Just because something is profitable doesn’t mean that somehow it’s inherently evil. Can’t a company make money AND help people at the same time? I mean really, what the hell is so wrong with that?”

And before that little punk could open its mouth again, I showed it this:

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius

In going over the user guide documentation for the Computer-Aided Dispatch software which is the cornerstone of the company for which I now work, I came across an image which represents a symbolic metaphor for the dissonance of current medical practice in the United States-- two symbols, in fact, embedded with all the potent intrigue of a Dan Brown novel. In studying the software's map module, which can be used to locate an organization’s vehicle posts, medical facilities, and patient pick-up and drop-off locations I was presented with an idea that made me pause and reflect.

When an emergency call taker gets a call from an injured, wounded, or sick individual, she must find out, among other things, where the incident is taking place—the ambulance’s pick-up location—and enter that information into the application’s user interface. If the call taker maps the location, and sends it to a dispatcher, the dispatcher will see the pick-up location marked on a map in the symbol of a "Caduceus." I noticed that the symbol looked slightly different than what I had seen on the sides of ambulances when doing general research about Emergency Medical Services—the six pointed "Star of Life." In the center of the Star of Life exists the Rod of Asclepius—what I had thought to be the ancient Greek symbol for medicine. I came to ask myself the question: what’s the difference-- other than the presence of an extra snake and pair of wings in the Caduceus and their absence in the Rod of Asclepius—between the two symbols? Naturally, I looked them up in Wikipedia and came to find a symbolic inconsistency representative of perhaps the greatest controversy in the medical profession today:

The rod of Asclepius (sometimes also spelled Asklepios or Aesculapius), also known as the asklepian, is an ancient symbol associated with astrology, the Greek god Asclepius and with healing. It consists of a serpent entwined around a staff. The name of the symbol derives from its early and widespread association with Asclepius, the son of Apollo, who was a practitioner of medicine in ancient Greek mythology. His attributes, the snake and the staff, sometimes depicted separately in antiquity, are combined in this symbol.

That was pretty much what I had expected. Why then was a Caduceus used instead of the Rod of Asclepius in the map module of the software I now support? I did some more research on Wikipedia and came across the following:

The caduceus is sometimes used as a symbol for medicine or doctors (instead of the rod of Asclepius) even though the symbol has no connection with Hippocrates and any association with healing arts is something of a stretch; as the symbol of the god Hermes, its singularly inappropriate connotations of theft, deception, and death, as well as the confusion of commerce and medicine in a single symbol, have provided fodder for academic humor.

“The confusion of commerce and medicine:” how very appropriate to the ongoing war between patients, insurance companies, HMOs and government. All of the connotations embedded by the two symbols were evoked in my thoughts in a sudden flash: The insistence of putting a monetary value on medical care to the detriment of the patient; the alarming number of bankruptcies in this country as a result of the inability of individuals to pay their medical bills; the election campaign discussions about the government’s role in health care and health care as an economic industry; Michael Moore’s Sicko; the ambivalence in the role I provide at this new job: am I promoting the saving of lives by helping to ensure that dispatchers are able to use the software efficiently in getting ambulances out on scene to help patients, or am I making life worse for the sick by providing an arsenal of data which can be used by the organizations to justify billing the sick into oblivion—all of these thoughts represented themselves in those two symbols.

Even though I’m now far removed from the analysis of literary symbolism during my days as an English major, the weight of the connotations carried by those two symbols just makes me say "WOW!”

Monday, March 23, 2009

I saw the original of this a while back.  I almost peed my pants it was so damn funny.  The sequel is equally as hilarious:

And just in case you haven't seen the original:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thirty-Four Days and counting. . .

. . . of being unemployed.  I will say I have been doing what I can about getting re-emplyed within all these free moments.  I’ve had six interviews so far, three of which have been over the phone, with none yet yielding any fruit.  A temporary position seems to be on the horizon, but then again the staffing agencies have a penchant for sugar coating situations in which they know the position is already filled because the client has decided to choose someone internally for the job or the agency have another candidate in mind for the position and are only considering you as an alternate should said candidate become unavailable. 

I went through the process of looking up staffing agencies in the yellow pages, and making an exhaustive list.  I called each of them asking what type of industries they specialized in and put my resume forth for any that were related to IT or clerical/administrative work.  I’ve been pretty good about checking Monster, Career Builder, Hotjobs, the local newspaper, Dice, and yes, Craigslist on a daily basis for any new positions that may have become available.  Two of the positions for which I was interviewed were straight off of Craigslist, whereas the other job search sites just got me calls from some of the same staffing agencies I had already been soliciting directly.  I have another interview tomorrow.  Wish me luck.

As frustrating as the job search always seems to be, I’ve come away a huge realization that I should just accept regardless of the economic situation we happen to be in at the time.  I guess I've always had a kind of naivete in thinking it still possible to get into a business on the ground floor and reap the benefits of company loyalty and hard work as you gradually climb your way up.  This notion is well dispelled by Martin Yate in Knock 'em Dead: The Ultimate Job Search Guide:

The job security and professional growth our parents were raised to expect as the norm is a thing of the past.  [O]ver the course of a fifty-year work life, you can typically expect to change jobs about every four years, and you may well have three or more distinct and different careers in what will probably be a half-century work life.  

Gone are the days in which you could get your foot in the door of a company and simply work your way up within, not even thinking for a moment that you can be kicked out at any time because of mergers, recessions, restructuring, or obsolescence.  The reality of our great new age is that company loyalty is important to maintain your position only insomuch as your position is maintainable.  The bottom right-hand corner of the quarterly balance sheet has far more sway as to whether or not you become promoted or redundant than anything you can possibly do within your time at the company.  I don’t write this to sound bitter or resentful.  I merely mention it as an unquestionable fact.  For a business to stay in business it has to create a profit.  The less directly you are tied to bringing in that profit, the thinner the sheet of ice on which you tread. 

You have to constantly ask yourself “How important is what I do here to the life of the company?”  If it’s anything less than absolutely critical, you could very well find yourself on the chopping block the next time that figure on the balance sheet takes a hit.  In a decision to downsize, a higher-up may tell all the department heads that each of them has to choose two people in their department to get rid of.  That some of these may be heart-wrenching choices, which I don’t doubt was the case at my last job, is irrelevant.  The necessary number are going to be gone at the end of the day either way.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Unpleasant Surprise

So I go to work a couple of weeks ago, doing my regular routine.  Answering calls and following up on e-mails-- resolving issues, and trying to make our clients happy.  It's a Friday, so the volume is relatively light.  I spend the majority of the morning with someone trying to install the web application on his "server."  For some reason, the installer keeps quitting midway through, but no errors are written to the Event Viewer.  

I look to make sure that he has IIS installed.  Check.  

I find out if he's an administrator on his machine.  Check.  

I download a fresh installer to his desktop to make sure the one he got wasn't corrupted, and try to run the installer again.  Same result.  The blue installation bar rolls back and you get a message saying the install failed.

I then copy the files created by a successful run of the installation on my computer to his desktop via our FTP site.  I go to set up the web site manually, first attempting to put the necessary file permissions on the folders in question, and I notice something odd.  There's no security tab.  I check what operating system he's running.  It's XP Pro.  Had it been something stupid like XP Home edition, where there are no security tabs, the system wouldn't know how to apply the Network Service account access to the web application files.  Why he isn't installing this to a computer with an actual Server operating system (installing IIS web services on XP limits you to only 10 concurrent connections) I don't ask. 

I go to the folder options to make sure that simple file sharing has not been turned on.  It has not.  What gives?  All the bases are covered, so why doesn't the security tab show up?  For the hell of it, I open up the disk management console and I look at his partitions.  I put the phone on mute, shake my head and chuckle to see that he installed the partitions in the FAT32 file system.  You're not able to apply directory security to folders on a FAT32 partition.  No wonder the installer quit.  Why he wasn't using NTFS like everyone else has been (since like 1995) I will never know.  

I give the user the bad news, telling him he'll either have to find another machine to put the web application on or re-install the operating system with the NTFS file system.  He agrees to re-image the machine using his Norton Ghost application.  

I handle several more issues the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon.  Around 1pm or so, we get an announcement that there's going to be an impromptu meeting in the auditorium in the lower level of the building.  We're told by our manager not to answer any more calls after 1:45pm.  At around 1:30 one of our techs is called to the desk of a consultant to take a look at a computer issue.  A few minutes later the rest of us get up to go to the meeting.  A colleague and I are told to go ahead and head down-- everybody else will be following shortly.  I get to a half-empty room noticing there's a few people from each department.  Then I look down to the first row to see the Vice President looking despondent-- past us and through us, with his head in his hands.  There's a moment of tension and confusion, a few more people trickle in, and then he begins "As you all know the recent economic downturn has had a dramatic effect on our sales over the last few months . . ."

I just stare in shock as he eliminates everything I'd been working for the last twenty months, cancels my health insurance, halts my 401K, suspends my paycheck, destroys any potential for growth in the company, obliterates a well-worn comfortable routine, and injects deep uncertainty into my life.  The revelation engenders feelings of frustration, concern, anger, and even a kind of humility within the twelve other souls who had the misfortune of being told to head down early along with me.  "The rest of us will be down there shortly."  

One of the women in sales angrily demands that she be given commission for a big deal she's been working on, that looked to be in the final stages of completion.  The VP nods yes slowly.  Another breaks down completely, and starts whimpering.  A consultant demands to know how it was that they made their decisions.  "It was a mathematical formula," he states, but doesn't go into any details.  After the HR director goes through our packets, explaining the severance process, what to do to file for unemployment, our options for COBRA, etc., we depart, and go back upstairs, supervised, to an empty office where we're allowed to grab only the essentials-- the rest of our stuff is to be couriered to us the next day.  I feel like I've just been shot, or stabbed, or hit over the head with a blunt object.

I've never been laid off before.  It's a strange mixture of feelings.  On the one hand, there's the expected anger, disbelief, and real concern.  At the same time, however, there's a feeling of release.  Major liberation.  I can do pretty much whatever the hell I want now.  Pursue the same type of career, take a different track, seek more responsibility, less responsibility, just take out some loans and go back to school, go abroad again, or see how long I'll be able to stay on unemployment.  I've filed, and have already had an interview at a staffing agency.  I've got my resume on Monster, Careerbuilder, Dice, and I do searches every morning.  Severance check should be here soon, and that will get me through until the UI checks start coming in, so I won't starve or have to sell my car anytime soon. 

The fact that I'm just one out of about 700,000 in the last two months is both frightening and consoling. There's a lot more competition out there for the same jobs now, but I guess it's good to know I'm not the only one feeling the pinch.  Hey, at least now I've got some time to write some blogs . . .