Another Christmas Upon Us

Some 30 years ago, had you told me that some 30 years later I would have absolutely no desire to do anything “special” at Christmas, I would have protested that there’s no way on earth I would feel that way. I remember how I looked upon a friend of the family as an alien with two heads when he declared that Christmas was “just another day on the calendar” for him.

I couldn’t imagine anyone feeling that way. For me as a kid, Christmas was a time of warmth. More than the gifts, the colourful lights, the special treats and Grand-papa‘s annual visit were the things I looked forward to. There was never any horrific Yuletide drama in my family, so why I would come to care so little about Christmas is a bit of a mystery.

This year, I plan to treat Christmas like an ordinary Sunday, albeit a Sunday when nothing is opened except the movie theatres. I haven’t a single Christmas ornament in the apartment again this year, and I don’t feel the least bit sad or sorry for myself about it. I’ll make the expected calls to family and friends tomorrow and have dinner at BeeGoddessM and Stephanie’s, but that’s it. What’s more, unlike recent years when I would rent a bunch of movies, this year I feel like getting a bit of work done, and I won’t be the least bit sentimental or resentful about it.

I think I’m feeling anti-social in good part because of my day job. I spend about 90 percent of my day speaking with strangers/clients on the phone, which is an exercise that requires a lot of patience. Hence I’m out of patience. I just figured out that I completed over 270 “conversions” since I started my job, so when you consider that a single conversion can take anywhere between 30 minutes and 10 hours, not counting the time it takes to get clients to commit to an appointment, you can perhaps better understand why I just want to isolate myself.

In short, I just don’t have it in me to be sociable only because we’re expected to be so on this day. It’s not even that I’m being the Grinch: he cared enough to be annoyed by Christmas, whereas I don’t even care. The only idle thought the arrival of Christmas has aroused in me is that it feels as though it was only a month ago that I was able to go to the beach and maybe two months ago that I started the day job. In other words, what’s remarkable to me is that time seems to be flying by faster than ever.

This Time M$ Goes Too Far

…and to add insult to injury, my daytime employer doesn’t go far enough. The end result is that I’m one hell of a frustrated guy these days. The latest problem is relatively simple and, until this week, easily avoidable. But not anymore.

After nearly five years of not substantially changing its ubiquitous browser, Internet Explorer (IE), Microsoft finally released IE7 with much fanfare in October. I read a lot of reviews and concluded that it might be a big improvement over IE6 even though its major improvements are that IE7 now compares favorably with the technically better and more standards-compliant relative newcomer, Firefox. However, because the online software I support at my day job is (overly, exclusively and unwisely) optimized for IE6 with Java JRE 1.4.2_11, not to mention that my SSL VPN connection to work is confirmed to be stable only with IE6, I decided that I would not open a can of worms by upgrading to IE7. While I did find from my readings that I could revert to IE6 if for any reason I didn’t like IE7, I went on the assumption that the reversal might not be perfect and I would experience nothing but grief afterwards. Therefore, given that I am more interested in keeping my day-to-day productivity high at my day job than fighting with my machine while trying to provide client support and training, I decided to wait a while before upgrading.

Meanwhile, one feature that made me nervous when I adopted Windows XP in 2003 was the automatic updates that come up periodically. Frankly, it felt a little “big brotherish” to me, plus it’s not like Microsoft has a great track record for releasing flawless software. However, I was told at the time that I should trust those updates since, for the most part, they are designed to fix those very flaws for which Microsoft is famous. Besides, it is possible not only to get a warning before those updates are installed, but also to pick-and-choose updates, as seen below (click image to enlarge).

In other words, one can ignore Big Brother’s “recommendation” to proceed with an “Express” installation. So, for the longest time, I would choose “Custom” each time an update came along. However, lately I noticed that after going through the list of updates, I didn’t bother unchecking any. Indeed, over time, I had found that the updates were a good thing and that my initial worries were unfounded. In short, I had to admit that I had gain some trust in Microsoft, and given that bashing the software giant is an old and tired sport, I wasn’t disappointed to drop my defenses.

Recently, JR, one of my day-job colleagues who also works from home, opted to turn in his company-supplied laptop and connect to work like I do via SSL VPN. He has been very pleased with the switch, in good part because the applications we use every day run much faster, which is ironic but besides the point. Anyway, early this week, JR turned to me for advice on IE7, to which he had upgraded over the weekend but had turned into a major headache, especially with respect to his SSL VPN which would crash without warning several times a day. So I advised that he do what we’ve been instructed to tell our clients: switch back to IE6 for a little while longer. He did and everything is back to normal.

A day after he switched, I called a client for an appointment and he announced that he had just upgraded to IE7. I gave him the usual line: we do not yet support IE7 and my experience so far has shown that our online software may or may not work, but if we proceed with IE7 because the client refuses to revert to IE6, then I can offer no guarantee of success and the client is waiving any expectation of receiving support from us until at least early in the new year. In this case, however, unlike a previous I had with IE7, this client didn’t mind going back to IE6 when we found that merely trying to load our application’s sign in page caused his IE7 to shut down, plus, he added, “I just upgraded to it 20 minutes ago so it’s not like I’m used to it already.” He then confided that the upgrade from 6 to 7 had been part of the Windows automatic update that he’s come to always accept when they arrive.

“You’re kidding,” I said. “You’re telling me that Microsoft is pushing IE7 as an automatic update?” And he confirmed that it is. Later, after that call, I was speaking with JR and he confirmed that’s how he got fooled into upgrading to IE7. “I always tell my mom to accept those updates because they can be trusted and are a good thing,” he explained. Indeed, we’ve been trained to view these updates as such. Still, I couldn’t believe that Microsoft would reach the point of abusing that trust which was so hard to get from heavy computer users like us …until I saw it with my own eyes when my notification of updates came up (click image to enlarge).

For your benefit and mine, I clicked on the –/+ to see what Microsoft had to say about this upgrade (click image to enlarge).

In other words, Microsoft is telling people that upgrading to IE7 is for your own good, for who, after all, doesn’t want “enhanced security” in view of its horrible reputation in that regard. But I was still stunned to see them trying to sneak in a version UPGRADE of their own software for reasons other than true security fixes, like say a service patch. Nonetheless, I unchecked not only the “update” but also checked the box instructing Microsoft “not to tell me about this update again” (click image to enlarge).

Doing so earned me what I consider this truly evil “important” warning to which I’m not sure less confident computer users wouldn’t succumb (click image to enlarge):

I shared my discovery with all my colleagues and supervisors, for it’s clear that our job is going to become a lot more complicated in the coming weeks. But one of my supervisors clearly got irked: she resent her memo of November 24 that states not only that we are not able to support IE7 at this time, but also that we are NOT to provide support for it. And I just cringed.

People like myself are on the front line. We deal directly with clients, and telling them that they have to downgrade because one of Canada’s largest employers tells them so is absolutely propostrous. Not only that: we were told that “it’s hard to believe” that there’s no way for people to opt out of the upgrade to IE7. But that’s coming from people who’ve been in a controlled box for so long that they have no idea what it’s like in the real world, plus as the above screen shots demonstrate, Microsoft is resorting to complications and guilt to get people to do exactly what it wants them to do. What’s more, almost since I started my job, I’ve made some noise — although not too much since I’m very low on the totem poll — about the advent of IE7 and the need to prepare for it, but I gave up around late September when I was shut down with a remark to the effect that “we can’t be running tests on every beta version that comes out.” Confronted with that kind of logic, I knew I had to cease and desist immediately, and carry the peace of mind stemming from knowing I had done all I could to warn of the imminent train crash.

That, of course, is not the only problem we’re having to face. There’s the fact that, unlike other browsers, it’s impossible to run more than one version of IE on the same computer, and like it or not, we’re heading into what I expect will be a long period of transition between IE6 and IE7. My employer has benefitted from Microsoft’s decision not to touch significantly its IE software for five years; this inaction provided a constant in an environment that’s usually void of constants. But starting in the new year when supposedly we will be “allowed” to support IE7, the significant interface differences between IE6 and IE7 and the inability to run both at once is going to force us to find ways of de facto supporting more than one browser, which is something I think we should have been doing all along.

Enters the fact that my main computer, TextStyle1, is slated for replacement. By yesterday, I decided that I need to have access to two computers for my day job — one with IE6 and one with IE7 — and if my contract does end in a few months, it won’t be as though I bought another computer expressly for the day job. This initiative on my part is a damn sweet deal for my employer, and I don’t know what my colleagues will do. But all of this does bring to the fore the folly of believing that putting all your eggs in the Microsoft basket is an assurance of smooth sailing. Had my employer been adapting to all major operating systems and browser platforms as we’ve been going along, even though that would have made providing support a lot more complicated, we wouldn’t be in this mess …at least, not as deeply.

So, resigned to the fact I had to do what I had to do, I enacted my plan of attack and this happened

All Within Two Hours

This has not been a good week. It’s been so bad, in fact, that it’ll require at least two posts to categorize the events logically, although there is some correlation among the events.

Not too long ago, I told you about how TextStyle1 shat the bed. When that happened, I told you that I wasn’t “going to run off this weekend and replace it.” Plus, given that it has been very stable since its recovery from its Windows Blue Screen of Death, I was still only toying with the idea of a replacement. But then about two weeks ago, I noticed that both TextStyle1’s CD drives were on the fritz, and then something happened at work this week — more in the next post — that brought me to decide to take the plunge soon. I reasoned that it would be better to start weening off TextStyle1 and gradually migrate it to a “TextStyle1B” well before TextStyle1 reached its last lag.

BeeGoddessM and Stephanie invited me over for supper tonight, and because of the crap that I’ll talk about in the next post, I suggested that we go to FutureShop so that I could get a new computer. They agreed and we went in their new car. I ended up walking out of the store with a computer that was $200 more than I had planned because the one I was eyeing was out of stock, but “What the heck!” I rationalized. “This one is much better, and I might as well buy it while I can afford to.” I also got a switch so that TextStyle2 and TextStyle1B could share the same monitor, as well as another wireless networking card.

We got back to BeeGoddessM and Stephanie’s, and because I still have two winter tires in the trunk, I threw the box with the computer on the back seat. I wanted to see Mister Boy-Boy Himself (a.k.a. Jackson) before heading home, and frankly I didn’t think much of the box since there’s next to no traffic in that neighbourhood, although I can see all of you shaking your head as you tell me that’s worse than a super-busy neighbourhood. Be that as it is, though, 20 minutes later, I was back by Junior’s side.

And, yes, you’ve guessed it already.

I could swear that Junior was a shade redder than usual because he thought I would be angry: the poor thing thought I’d be mad at him because he wasn’t able to defend himself when some thief(s) came along and busted his driver’s side rear window in order to grab the loot. But all I could do at that point was to stand there like an idiot. “Fucking great,” I thought to myself. “When all of this is done and over with, that’ll be $2,000 in the toilet.”

I returned to BGM & Steph’s to tell them what had happened, and immediately BGM called the police. My report is filed; I even have a file number for insurance purposes. While the officer who took my report didn’t disagree that this had not been my best idea, he very quickly added, “‘Tis the season, though.” What happened to me in a nearly deserted neighbourhood happens all the time in busy mall parking lots at this time of year. But perhaps what is the most disturbing about what happened is that, judging by Junior’s injuries, there are people walking the streets of Halifax with freakin’ crowbars, always ready to jump on someone’s admittedly very stupid but momentary lapse of judgement.

I’m completely pissed off, but there are a few bright sides, or as my mother would say, “I was lucky in my stroke of bad luck.” The best part is that I had put the receipt in my wallet rather than in the bag of accessories, which was also taken. As a result, I could tell the police that the stuff was purchased at 9:04; the incident took place between 9:40 and 10:00; I had the serial number of all the material I purchased right on the receipt, and by 11:05, my insurance company also had my report on file. And let’s not forget I can afford good insurance, which I haven’t used in more than 15 years.

Of course, at 9:04 when I was signing the VISA slip at FutureShop, I didn’t think I would be where I ended up by 11:05. It stinks, and I didn’t get the benefit of a Friday night Good Samaritan. Despite that, I can see so many ways in which it could have been worse, and because this situation stinks so much, it only strengthens my resolve to do the right thing again should I witness it happening to someone else.

Do Not Unto Others

As of this evening, this blog is coming to you from a new server. Oh no, same hosting company; just a different server. After five-and-a-half years of incredibly excellent service at my Web host, I wouldn’t leave. In fact, I was thinking the other day about how I haven’t had to worry if my night-job’s websites are up, because they simply always are. My Web host really redefines “peace of mind” for me.

However, because of how I’ve encrypted my CMS, some of my client’s sites right now are inaccessible. After about six hours of this, I broke down and submitted a trouble ticket. I hated doing it, but I know that at least two of my clients are likely to go apeshit tomorrow if the problem persists and will be making my phone ring off the hook when I won’t be able to answer their calls because I’ll be preoccupied by my day job.

I’ve always hated submitting trouble tickets to service providers, but especially this one because I go on the assumption — a good one, I think — that there’s a method to their madness. 🙂 I know how it feels when clients (from either of my jobs) expect me to drop everything to solve their problem: it breaks the flow of the work you’re trying to get done. Plus, since I don’t know what that flow is for what my Web host is currently doing, I feel that I’m just getting in the way by asking.

Okay, I’m weird. And a wuss. But moreover, I think it’s that, as a bit of a workaholic myself who has more than enough work on his plate, I find it difficult to ask people to do more work.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m so very Canadian.

Speaking of how I encrypt my CMS, that reminds me that I never resolved the issue of my license for the software I use to do that. It came up for renewal just as I began my day job, and despite following all the necessary steps to renew it, it hasn’t worked since. Pursuing the matter is just another one of those things that has fallen on the wayside since mid-March. And now that I’ve let it go for so long, it’s almost too embarrassing to pursue it again.

Heck! I’m not just very Canadian. I’m just plain hopeless.

And P.S.: Less than 30 minutes after I submitted my ticket, my Web host is already on it…

Just When I Had Lost Hope…

Okay, I admit it: I’m one cranky sonofabitch who hates noise. In fact, I think my tolerance for noise is a lot lower than most people’s. I generally don’t like loud music; I hate crowds in crammed quarters; even the sound of loud wind gets on my nerves. Maybe, in that sense, I’m the quintessential bachelor (and, some might say, prematurely old fart).

Back in August, the building super at the time mentioned that my neighbour upstairs was planning to move out in December. The news gave me reason to hope: by then I had had it up to my eyeballs with the man — a term I use loosely — that my neighbour married this summer. While he seemed rather drop-dead gorgeous as a humanoid, his behaviour and demeanour was more that of an out-of-control gorilla on speed. I can’t count the times I nearly jumped out of my skin when huge heavy objects would come crashing on their floor (hence my ceiling). And in addition to having the booming voice of dumbfuck and the tendency of playing the same music way too loud, it seems it never occurred to him that it’s not a good idea to walk on hardwood floors with shoes when there are people living below. Once I even had to knock on their door in the daytime to ask them to turn down the music because one of my clients remarked that she could hear music over the phone. I can’t be calling clients all over Canada and have that. Funnily enough, Godzilla didn’t answer the door but he must have seen through the peephole that it was me, and the music got turned down, then off.

Aside from that one time, and ever since the super told me that the guys upstairs were on their way out, I refrained from complaining. I just had to endure three more months, two more months, one more month… I feared that if I complained, they — especially Godzilla — would make sure to make the remaining time a pure hell for me. So I didn’t risk it. In addition to being my neighbour, he also shares a double garage with me and consistently Buddy always parks as if he was renting the entire garage to himself, leaving me to manoeuver so close to the wall that no passenger could get out if I had a passenger. It was clear to me that Buddy and his husband Godzilla were the kind of people who have to be told to be considerate of others, and to me that’s a sign that telling them could work fine for a short time or go very, very badly.

The last weekend of November came, and I was hoping to hear some noise — moving noises, that is. But it never came. There was plenty of noise, but not the kind I had hoped for. Nor did it come on the eve of the first of December. Nor the first full weekend of month. In fact, instead, the downstairs neighbour starting having custody of his two little rugrats kids. Whiny kids. Inside marathoning kids. Crying kids. Crying at midnight kids. So now the racket was coming from upstairs and downstairs. I didn’t know if I should shoot myself or go bowling. What the super had told me about the upstairs neighbours wasn’t panning out. Plus, in early November, the new super told me she had no note saying that they were moving out in December.

Yesterday was particularly bad. Even my next door neighbour, who’s a really sweet guy with an unfortunately high-pitched voice and an even more unfortunate laugh, was at it yesterday. But that’s when I resigned myself to the fact that as long as have to or choose to live in an apartment, I’m always going to have to deal with noisy neighbours.

Between 8:30 and 9:00 this morning — a Sunday when I wanted to sleep in until at least 10:00 — I was roused out of my slumber by banging around and people walking with shoes on upstairs. It was so bad that the oval antique mirror on my dresser tilted forward. So I laid in bed thinking, “Maybe I should get dressed and ask them to be more quiet.” But if I were to do that, I had to calm down first for fear of screaming at them and lose any chance of reaching an amicable conclusion.

And that’s when I heard the sweetest noise. From outside. The sound of a truck starting its engine.

I bounced out of bed and over to the window, and there it was: a truck. A movers’ truck. To be precise, a movers’ truck from “Two Small Men with Big Hearts Co. Ltd.” And I can vouch for their big hearts for delivering me from Godzilla.

So it’s one down, and one to go. And in fact, I think the guy downstairs only has part-time custody, so the kids’ current extended stay could very well only be temporary. Now let’s just hope the super, when she rents out the upstairs apartment, makes a point of saying that the guy who lives downstairs is a sonofabitch who works at home and can’t stand noise.