Getting Slimed At Work

After coming back from lunch at my non-writing tech job, I noticed a pair of heavy-duty hoses running from the men restroom, up a ladder in the hallway and into the plenum space above the dropped ceiling. I carefully stepped past the hoses and warily watched the ceiling tiles as I made my way back to my desk. I remembered the last time the AC units got worked on and rubber hoses ran through the plenum space at a different company, where someone almost got slimed at work.

While working as a video game tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises) in the late 1990’s, I became the intermediary between the Q.A. and I.T. departments when the company was still called Accolade at the Stevens Creek Boulevard office in San Jose. A long-running love/hate relationship had developed between the testers and the techs over the years. The biggest complaint then was that the techs ran a Diablo game server that slowed down the entire network during the lunch hour. The testers can’t read Blues News if the network crawled like molasses.

Management decided to upgrade the network infrastructure by replacing the network operating system (NOS), Netware (which didn’t allow more than 254 computers) with Windows NT Server (which was surprisingly stable for a Microsoft operating system), and changing the physical network from 10Base100 (10Mb over thin coaxial cable) to 100BaseT (100Mb over twisted pair cable) to increase the available bandwidth.

Since the techs weren’t welcome in the Q.A. department, my job was to upgrade all the computers with the new network cards and plug them into the wall. If a network issue went beyond the wall, I had to walk over to the I.T. department and try to convince them that the problem was on their end.

One day I was talking to the I.T. manager about something. His work area in the corner of a narrow room had a Viewsonic 21″ monitor. A very big, very nice and very expensive monitor. CRT monitors like that cost about $2,000 USD in 1998. A few years later, I would get a Viewsonic 19″ monitor for $400 USD. Since I wasn’t welcome to stand inside the tech room, I stood outside the doorway to talk him.

We were, in fact, talking about his new monitor when something started banging around in the plenum space to violently shake the ceiling tile. He pushed himself away from his desk to roll back in his chair. The ceiling tile broke into big chunks that gave away as green goo slimed his new monitor. We both got out of there. I left him alone as he had a complete meltdown over his ruined monitor.

The maintenance crew transferred coolant fluid between AC units on the roof by using an ordinary garden hose that had a weak spot that ballooned with green goo before exploding. Not sure why the hose through the plenum space and not on the rooftop. As for the I.T. manager, he went back to his old 17″ monitor.

Crashing Into The Ground At LaGuardia Airport

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After the airplane crash landed in San Francisco, my roommate reassured me that I had nothing to worry about for my first airplane trip that I’m taking on my birthday next month. Southwest Airlines flies the older Boeing 737 airplanes that are more reliable than the newer Boeing 777 airplane that crashed. And then a Southwest Airlines 737 crash landed at LaGuardia Airport after the nose gear collapsed and the airplane skidded to a halt on the runway.

Nothing to worry about.

As a child growing up in the 1970’s, it seemed like an airplane either crashing or being hijacked by terrorists every other week. Flying on an airplane got added to a long list of things that I would never do. Something I avoided for many years by never going anywhere far enough from Silicon Valley that couldn’t be reached by car.

As I got older in life, the list of things that I would never do got shorter. If I could get my driver license at the tender young age of 37, perhaps I could take an airplane to Las Vegas on my 44th birthday. That the Las Vegas Star Trek convention is taking place the same week I’ll be there is purely coincidental. Considering how much I paid for this trip over the last six months, not going isn’t an option.

I still need to get used to the idea of hurling through the sky in a cigar-shaped coffin, but these crashes aren’t helping that much. I’ll probably end up like William Shatner in The Twilight Zone TV episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” being carried out on a stretcher after losing it on the airplane.

Driving While Black In My Apartment Complex

Justice For TrayvonWhile the Trayvon Martin protests took place in a hundred cities over the weekend, I listened to Brian Copeland on KGO Radio. (Sign his MoveOn petition to boycott the state Florida until the “stand your ground” law is repealed.) Like President Barack Obama sharing his experiences of being a young black man in America, he shared of his own experiences from living in the East Bay during the 1970’s.

He dropped his car off at Jiffy Lube and walked over to Tower Records when a van cut him off at the gas station in San Leandro. A white undercover police officer jumped out with a gun, told him get down on the ground, frisked him while pointing the gun at the back of his head, called in his driver license on the radio, and let him go because he had no outstanding warrants.

On another occasion, he helped a white woman moved out of her dorm room. After they got on to the 580 in Oakland, a CHP officer pulled over the van that she drove and asked for his identification. When the officer returned from calling in his driver license info and founding no outstanding warrants, he asked the woman if she was okay and wasn’t under any duress from being with a black man.

An Oakland woman called in with a story about her eight-year-old nephew that also happened in the 1970’s. A neighbor around the corner called over to say that she had a batch of cookies fresh out of the oven. She told her nephew to walk over to pick up the cookies. Of course, he didn’t. A moment later she heard police sirens, ran out of the house and found her nephew in a chokehold by a white police officer. The poor kid pissed his pants from being terrified. She called a police officer she knew to come over to rescue her nephew from being booked in jail for running through the neighborhood.

Some white callers gave Copeland grief for “whining” about being a black man, provoking hatred between the races, and complaining about a problem that wouldn’t exist if black people stopped talking about it. If a black man could be elected President of the United States, most white people think we must live in a post-racial society. The real world doesn’t work that way—at least, not in my neighborhood.

One summer afternoon a few years ago I heard a commotion coming from the parking lot outside and walked out on to my balcony to see what was going on. An older black man stood with his wallet in hand next to his big car in the fire lane, and five San Jose police officers—three whites and two Hispanics—with hands on their holstered guns stood behind three police cars in the parking lot. A traffic stop being made this far back into the apartment complex was unusual. A black man screaming at the cops about driving while black for a half-hour was something else.

Although the SJPD has long denied committing any racial profiling, officers will have to record the race of any person they stop for any reason by the end of the year.

As a white man in California, I can’t ever relate to being a black man. Race isn’t something I think about at all. The only racism I run into as a “minority” technician among Indian engineers is finding only vegetarian pizzas for the catered meetings and special events at my tech job. No pepperoni and sausage for this fat white boy.

Kickstarter: The MegaTokyo Visual Novel Game

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My favorite webcomic, Megatokyo, has a Kickstarter project to create a Megatokyo visual novel game for the PC, Mac and Linux. A visual novel game is the Japanese version of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, where you interact with the characters and decide what happens next in the story.

Megatokyo is about two American fanboys of manga, anime and video games, who are stuck in Tokyo after flying to Japan on a whim and can’t afford to go home. Piro is the normal guy looking for love in all the wrong places. Largo is the weird guy battling giant monsters and being a substitute teacher at a local school. A typical day for them can be quite strange, especially if an unscheduled zombie hoard is trashing Tokyo.

The response from fans was phenomenal. With an initial funding goal of $20,000 USD and stretch goals to $75,000 USD, the project has $250,000+ USD in pledges. I’ve pledged at the $35 USD level to receive all the digital downloads when they become available. If you’re interested in being the first to get this game, there’s still time left to make a pledge. The expected release date for the first part of the game is February 2014.

Updated 21 July 2013 @ 10:15PM Update: After all was said and done, almost 5,000 fans gave slightly under $300,000 USD. Check out the post on my writing blog.

The Finer Point Of Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Cover

Bloomberg BusinessWeek Cover 07152013Bad enough that Bloomberg BusinessWeek got Silicon Valley’s history wrong, they took that wrongness to their recent magazine cover. If a hedge fund manager un-zipped his pants, either a manly green arrow shoots up to the heavens or something plops out to flop around like a dead fish. Erectile dysfunction at its best.

Interestingly, the video introducing the cover design in the magazine iPad app states that this cover wasn’t in reference to any particular article inside the current issue.

The feature article is about the former hedge fund manager who bought Sears, organized the retail chain into 30 business units to fight over limited resources, and the stores are battle grounds for wary customers. Maybe readers need to draw their own conclusion from the cover that the former hedge fund manager is something of a (failing) prick.

Back in the 1990’s, The Economist ran a cover with a pair of fornicating camels for a feature story on troublesome mergers. I think Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s new cover has managed to top that one off (pun intended).

The Nickel-&-Dime Business For “Other” Utilities

Upside Down Piggy BankWhen I first moved into my apartment almost eight years ago, I didn’t have to pay for the water, sewage and garbage. As the Great Recession lingered on, the new residents had to pay for those services and existing residents were “grandfathered” from paying. That changed last year. I wasn’t happy to pay an extra $60 USD per month, especially with a nickel-and-dime utility billing company (i.e., a $2.50 USD “convenience” fee for paying by credit/debit card).

I mailed a check immediately after receiving the bill in the mail because that was FREE. On the few occasions that my check was “late” (it wasn’t) and my account was hit with a $15 USD late charge, I talked the leasing office into rescinding the late charge. After the paper bill failed to show up in the mail for two months in a row, I sent off letters to start the document chain to file a complaint with the department of consumer affairs. I eventually gave in to paying the damn the convenience fee to avoid the monthly hassles I was going through with the leasing office.

These utility billing companies fall into a legal gray area where they aren’t regulated by the state and local laws, can nickel-and-dime consumers every which way, and use the threat of eviction to encourage prompt payment. The first time I saw the notice that I was behind on the utilities (the paper bill went “missing” in the mail) that threatened eviction taped on the door for everyone to read, I was pissed me off. The leasing manager promised to change the language of the notice since an eviction wouldn’t happen until after the second or third warning for non-payment. The notice was never changed.

I found a new notice on my door that the leasing office was changing utility billing companies. Tenants will no longer have to pay a convenience fee for using their credit/debit card, and can pay the utility bill with their rent at the leasing office. The new billing company wasn’t in the nickel-and-dime business. That was a good change for everyone at the complex. And then I read the next to last paragraph on the notice.

The leasing office reserved the right to apply payment to any unpaid utility bill balance first and the rent balance second. If your check doesn’t cover everything, the utility bill will get paid first, the remainder towards rent and a $150 USD fee for failure to pay the rent in full. This is the same tactic that the banks used to generate overdraft fees by paying the checks first and applying deposits last before Congress put an end to such abusive practices.

Unlike these utility billing companies, the leasing office does fall under state and local laws. I’ll see how this situation plays out before I start writing letters to elected officials and government agencies. This nickel-and-dime business to generate extra income at someone else’s expense has to come to an end.

San Jose Arena Renamed As The “S-A-P” Center

SAP CenterThe renaming of the San Jose Arena was made official as the HP Pavilion became the SAP Center. That’s pronounced as S-A-P (not “sappy”) Center. However, if the San Jose Sharks have a bad season, the informal nickname might be the Crappy Center. The sad reality is that the name for the arena doesn’t matter. I can’t recall ever telling someone I was going to the HP Pavilion for an event. It was always the San Jose Arena. I doubt I’ll be pronouncing the arena as “S-A-P” on a regular basis.

Crashing At SFO With Carryon Luggage In Hand

SFO Plane CrashThe Fourth of July weekend was relatively quiet in Silicon Valley. With the downtown San Jose fireworks show cancelled this year, no air cannons thumped the ground a few miles away to launch fireworks. No idiots shot fireworks from their balcony, and, despite a few M-80s going off, the apartment complex didn’t burn to the ground. The only major fireworks was an airplane crash landing at SFO on Saturday, especially this picture showing people exiting the burning airliner with luggage in hand.

I have never taken an airplane trip. That will change next month when I go to Las Vegas for my birthday. My roommate reassured that me that the 737’s that Southwest Airlines flies are older than the 777’s flown by Asiana Airlines. That’s reassuring (I think). If the airplane I’m on does a crash landing on the tarmac, the last thing I’ll do is haul out my carryon luggage from the overhead bin, blocked everyone else in the aisle from getting out, go down the emergency slide and drag it across the tarmac.

From the various reports that I read, first class passengers were able to grab their carryon luggage and head for the slides, business class passengers got stuck as the slides didn’t deploy, and coach passengers got screwed as the tail section hit the seawall and broke off. The more I read about this crash, the more I’m reminded of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912: first class passengers got into the lifeboats, business passengers grabbed whatever else that floated, and everyone else went down with the ship.

The stupidity of some people never ceases to amaze me.

I have to wonder what was so important in their carryon luggage that they couldn’t leave it behind. With airport security being the way it is, I doubt they were trying to smuggle anything valuable through customs like a pouch of diamonds, a stash of weed, or a flock of parrots. One pair stood next to two boxes of duty-free alcohol while watching the airplane burn, raising questions whether the boxes got smuggled on board or stolen from the kitchen area. Since a gaggle of Silicon Valley executives was on this flight, their most valuable possession was probably data on a smartphone in their pants pocket.

Do You Know The Way To Alviso?

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One of my pet peeves is how the national news media represents California in general and Silicon Valley in particular. When Los Angeles had a sharp four-point-something earthquake a few years ago, CNN carried on as if California slid into the ocean and ran a video clip from a grocery store surveillance camera that showed very little shaking going on. As for stories filmed in Silicon Valley, San Francisco is a convenient backdrop despite being 50 miles away.

While browsing Bloomberg BusinessWeek, I came across a video feature called “Welcome To The Ghost Town of Silicon Valley” about Alviso, a small town abandoned to the marshes and the residential area annexed by San Jose in the 1960’s. As I watched the video, I started moaning at the factual errors being made by the reporter.

Alviso is nowhere near Mountain View (Google) or Palo Alto (Facebook). What’s over there is the Shoreline Amphitheater built on top of a landfill. The early rock concerts literally went up in smoke as the grassy viewing area behind the seating caught on fire from the methane gas bubbling up from the landfill underneath. Pumping stations pump out the methane gas to make the grassy area safe. The only grass that goes up in smoke is the joints that concertgoers bring themselves.

The train tracks that passes through Alviso and the marshes doesn’t go to San Francisco. The northeast tracks follow the coastline of the east bay and the delta into Sacramento. After my parents retired to Sacramento in the 1990’s, I took the Amtrak Capitol Corridor to visit them because the fare was half the cost of gas for a car but took twice as long to get there. I didn’t mind since I didn’t have a car and loved to travel by train. This is the best way to view the ruined houses and boats left in the marshes.

If you want to travel through Mountain View and Palo Alto on the way to San Francisco, you take Caltrain on the northwest tracks. Board either train at the downtown San Jose train station. The tracks split into different directions in after the San Jose/Santa Clara border.

You would think that Bloomberg BusinessWeek could afford a few fact checkers—or consult an amateur historian who could correct their mistaken reporter.