I know enough about myself to admit my weaknesses and know the boundaries on my abilities. For example, I have very little patience with people. I already know I have this flaw, and I do my best to accommodate for it by avoiding situations where it may require I have a lot of patience in regards to socializing with others. I try to spare myself - and everyone else - the pain of having to deal with me once my patience wears out.

See, for me, patience is sort of like a bank account: You have a certain amount of patience, you spend it on different situations, and when you’re out, you’re out - time to back off and build up some more patience in the old account.

Teaching people is like going on a patience spending spree. I get spending long before I even get to the teaching part. I start thinking about all the different stupid shit the person I will eventually be teaching will want to know, then I get thinking about how I’m going to answer the questions - particularly technical questions from a non-technical person - and pretty soon I’m already stressed out and pissed off.

Putting this into perspective, I just got off a very, very long project at work that pretty much kept my patience bank at a low level. I got by, but barely, and I look back on it now as a trial that I successfully overcame; I’m happy with the end product, I’m happy with the team I worked with, and I’m happy that we were able to succeed. That said, I need a little time before jumping right back into the fire so I can build my patience account back up. I’m fresh out. Plus, now that I’m working on a different project, I’d like to actually make some headway on the new project, not continually context-switch back to the old project.

I got word today that we’ve got a non-technical guy who needs to be educated on how to do some reasonably technical stuff to customize the output of my last project. To that end, I’ve been tasked to train this guy on how to do the changes, then potentially have a meeting where I train a room full of these people.

Asking for this is akin to saying “We have a whole bunch of people who don’t know how the web works; in two hours or less, you need to teach them how to make web pages using cascading style sheets.” At the very best, my patience bank just got robbed for whatever was left; more likely, I’m going to end up shooting all these people and then shooting myself.

You might ask yourself what the big deal is. The problem is in the way I work. My mind moves very quickly and not necessarily in a straight line from point A to point B. In fact, there are usually about 20 different points in between that I stop at on the way. This doesn’t translate well in a training environment for things where there’s not actually a process to follow. In many cases, I don’t even know how I got from point A to point B - there was a path, there was some method to the madness, but articulating that is beyond my abilities. This trait became problematic in college math classes where I’d write out the problem then the solution right after; you’re supposed to show your work but I don’t know how I got the answer, I just knew what the answer was.

It’s the articulation of the path that blasts away my patience. If I slow down enough to explain the exact thought process going on, I lose track of where I am and don’t actually accomplish anything. Ever start to say something and then forget what you were going to say right as you were going to say it? It’s like that. I’m like, “Okay, first you do this, then… uh… what were we working on?”

Note that this is different if I have a curriculum to teach and there’s a process to be followed. When it’s not “train this entirely non-technical person on a totally unstructured technical topic,” I do reasonably well. I can answer questions, follow a curriculum, and all is well. It’s when I have to get into defining a process for how to do something at the same time I’m trying to teach the person how to do it that really gets me… the impromptu requests for training on topics that have no curriculum, process, or structure. That’s where we have issues.

Anyway, I’m doing my best to make my displeasure at this training idea known without overtly pissing too many people off. I’m quickly coming upon the time where I won’t care about who I piss off, though, and that could be career limiting. Here’s hoping I don’t end up getting fired, eh?

downloads, media, music comments edit

I’ve seen a few ways to do this out there, usually involving a Perl script of some nature, but why go to the hassle? When iTunes exports the XML, just transform it using an XSL style sheet to convert to HTML. This might not be as easy for the lay user, but it is certainly better than manually scripting it.

First, download itunes2html.xsl and put it in the same folder as the exported library XML file.

That’s it. If you open the document in a browser that knows XML (like IE6), the XML will automatically be displayed after being transformed to HTML. Copy and paste the results into Excel, if you want. Works pretty well. Note that to actually get HTML source out of the thing, you’ll have to use a command line transform utility like MSXSL.

personal, dotnet, sql comments edit

The end of a long, long journey has finally arrived.

I took my last test today, MS070-228: Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, and passed. I got a score of 854 (passing was 700) and from the look of the results sheet, I think I only missed one question (they don’t actually tell you how many you got right or wrong, but you can sort of tell by looking at these little graphs they give you that show your strengths and weaknesses based on the questions you got right).

That makes me a Microsoft Certified Database Administrator, which, alongside my existing Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer for .NET certification, is pretty cool. It’s been over a year in the making, and it’s finally come to fruition.

Yay, me!

I like a good customer service experience. I don’t normally ask for assistance from customer service at a company - I’m a big fan of self-service - but when I do need help, it’s not like I’m making up some imaginary need.

I’m trying to troubleshoot an issue where a user on our intranet gets prompted to log in when they visit the intranet home page. Internet Explorer should automatically log them in, but it’s not doing it. I found that they have some Segue Software products installed, so thought I’d search the knowledge base over there to see if there are any known issues.

First, they make you register to read the knowledge base. Normally I don’t have a problem with this, but they do it in a sneaky way: They show you a form where you enter your email address, desired username, and desired password, then you click a register button… just so you can fill out a second, longer form with more personal information. Fill that out, click the register button again, and you get told that they have to “confirm” your account, so you can’t access the site until you get an email from them with a confirmation link.

That wouldn’t be too bad if the email showed up quickly, but it takes half an hour to get to you. Once you click the registration link, it validates your account, but you still have to log in.

So you log in, go to the knowledge base, and enter your search terms. Clicking search gets you nowhere, though, because you have to select a product name to search articles about that product. Here’s what you see for the list of products: Where's the

At this point, I’m pretty irate. I decide to contact the support people directly to tell them there’s a problem with their knowledge base and it needs to be rectified:


I’m trying to search your knowledge base but it tells me to “select a product from the dropdown box.” Problem is, it doesn’t POPULATE the dropdown box with any product names, so I CAN’T.

Please either fix the selection box or remove the requirement that I select a product.

Thanks, -T

Pretty reasonable request, right? Here’s what I get back:

Hi Travis,

Thank you for contacting us with your request. Please provide your customer ID so that we may open a technical support call for this issue.

Please also include your customer ID in any future correspondence with the support department as it allows us to track your issues more efficiently.

What? You want my customer ID and all that because your site is broken? I don’t want you to open a call, I just want your fucking site to work so I can do my job. I’ve been fighting this thing for a while now, and I’m fresh out of patience.

God forbid you just fix your site and make it usable without opening a tech support call and asking for all the serial numbers. I’m not the end user of the product; the guys in the QA department are. I want to find out if you have any KB articles on effects that your products might have on [insert long technical problem description here]. I don’t have the actual customer ID number or product serial info, I’m just an IT guy trying to troubleshoot a potentially related item.

Thanks for the lack of help, I’ll see if I can get the QA guys to log me in on the site with their accounts or something.

I figured it was over at that point. One of the QA guys logged me in and, wonder of wonders, the product selection box populates, things seem to magically work. But their tech folks aren’t letting up.

When you contact technical support you will always be asked for your customer id number so that we can confirm your entitlement to support whether that be information or more in depth technical help.

With regards to access to information on the support website you should note the following.

In order to log into our site you must first create your own user profile. During the registration process we must validate your entitlement to create that profile. One of the ways we do so is by confirming your customer id number, and that, that number is tied to a customer with valid maintenance.

Further if you are not listed on our customer database as a bona fide contact for that customer id, then you will not be able access any of the secure areas of the support website. (from your correspondence it appears that this is the problem you experienced).

Since when has the knowledge base been a “secure area?” An even better question: How come I can get to the “secure area” but have some broken form so it looks like a technical malfunction in the site as opposed to a conscious decision to deny access? God damn, these people stepped on my last nerve.

I find it fascinating that accessing a knowledge base, granting access to which costs you nothing and would actually probably SAVE you in support costs, is considered support that I might have to qualify to be “entitled” to. You might take a page from Microsoft or IBM, reasonably successful companies, and provide online, self-help style support without qualification. I can see denying access to forums or other interactive support, charging for personal attention from a technician, but the knowledge base? What if I download an evaluation product and want to search the KB? Looks to me like I’d STILL be denied, and I wouldn’t have a customer number to provide you.

Assuming that you don’t provide support without qualification, you might want to either actively disable the knowledge base search form or put something on the site somewhere so it doesn’t just look like you guys messed up when a non-qualified user logs in and tries to search. If I’m not allowed to search the KB, I shouldn’t even be given the option. Instead, I get taunted with a form and end up in a ridiculous email chain like this.

Consider me unimpressed. I have since gotten a QA guy to “loan” me an account so I can actually search the knowledge base, so I suppose the point is moot. I know what recommendation I’ll be making if and when they ask me about what software company to go with, though.

And that’s where it stands. Here’s a message to all those companies out there who require people jump through ridiculous hoops to get self-service support from your web site: You’re turning away potential and, in many cases, existing customers.

I finished this gigantic project at work, or at least the first release of it, and by the end of the whole thing I was well beyond burned out on programming. Staring at code all day was killing me, especially that particular set of code. And, trust me, if one more person stopped by to “see if I needed anything” (which, for those in the cheap seats, translates to, “hey, let me interrupt what little concentration you have left for no reason”), I was going to kill them.

I was becoming a little antisocial.

Since then I’ve had a few days of lighter work to recouperate a little and during that time I started a little programming project of my own to do some add-in functionality to Visual Studio .NET 2003. (If you don’t do Microsoft programming, that won’t help you… but for those who spend their whole day in Visual Studio, the stuff I’m working on could speed things up quite a bit. At least, it will for me.) I’m doing some cool automation stuff to speed up some routine tasks.

The thing about this project is that I want to work on it. I want to make it happen. I like the idea and it drives me. And why does that matter? Because it’s been so long since I’ve had any actual desire to work on a program that I’ve forgotten what that’s like.

I’m curious why that is. Not that I would classify myself as one of those die-hard programmers or anything - programming is a job, not a lifestyle, and that is an active choice on my part - but I can get excited about some programming projects and be burned out before I even start on others. Could be a couple of things.

I think that deadlines stress me out. I mean, deadlines are important on a project because if you didn’t have a target date, you’d never finish anything. But the way deadlines are set in most projects is sort of like instilling the Fear of God in you - you must finish or fire and brimstone will rain down upon you, the sea will turn to blood and frogs will fall from the sky. I’m a motivated individual. I work as hard as I can on a project - sometimes ending up with overwork and health issues from it, which I would like to think is only partially my own fault - and I don’t need additional stress from the project owners on the deadline. You don’t have to tell me how far behind we are because I already know. Most likely, I’m the bottleneck (because most likely I’m also the only developer on the team, too). Just get out of my face already, I’m doing the best I can. If you want the project done super fast (which usually implies a lack of quality; something has to suffer to achieve the superhuman speed required), call someone else. If you want it done right, come talk to me.

I think I have communication problems. I work very well on an event-based communication system: if something changes, I’ll let you know; if I need something, I’ll let you know. Just be available to receive that communication and respond when it comes in if it warrants response. Project sponsors, managers, and leaders don’t like that. They want a constant status update. “What’s your status? I need your status! What are you working on? How far along are you? When’s it going to be finished?” Look, man, fuck off. I appreciate that you have a desire to have some sort of magic progress bar on my forehead that you can glance at and update your metrics, but I don’t work like that. If I spend all day updating you on my status, there ain’t no work gonna get done. The event-based model works well because it doesn’t take development time for meetings, it doesn’t break your concentration with micro-pings all day long, and it doesn’t serve as a constant reminder that you’re under an unreasonable deadline. You might not get the granular status you want (“Okay, so an hour ago you were 16% done and now you’re 17% done? Excellent!”), but when actual milestones occur, you’ll know (“Halfway done? Cool.” “Done? Great! On to the next task!”). I should probably learn to work under the constant micro-ping (micro-managing?) model, but I think that would definitely detract from my efficiency.

I have some sort of attention deficit. I can’t work on the same project 40+ hours a week for months on end because I stop caring about the outcome. It becomes less of a project and more of a death march. I need to be able to change things up, do something new and different, or it just gets plain boring. And once the boredom sets in, all is lost.

I like to feel like the product I’m working on is interesting. Working on a document replication service to copy selected files from one place to another might be great for the company and super for the person who’s time I’m saving, but aside from that, it’s a tedious exercise of writing a program that doesn’t really do anything interesting. The project I just finished started out interesting, but I think the deadline and status/communication issues started stomping on the interesting portion of things and it just became a grind. With this Visual Studio automation project, it’s interesting. I’m doing stuff I haven’t done before; I’m learning things about how not only Visual Studio works but how Windows works, too; and I’m seeing that I can actually benefit personally by the outcome (not monetarily, but productivity-wise). It’s cool, and I feel good about it. (Doesn’t hurt that there’s no deadline and no project management on it, either.)

I can hear my boss now: “You can’t always do what you want; sometimes you have to do the stuff you don’t like in the job.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. If that’s you, too, then you’ve missed the point entirely. The point is that there are reasons the crappy stuff in your job is crappy, and if one or two of the issues could be alleviated, then maybe the crappy stuff could be less crappy, and maybe the person doing the job would be a happier camper. (Which is not to say I’m unhappy; I’m speaking in a more general sense.) Plus, this is venting. When someone vents, they don’t want to hear devil’s-fucking-advocate, they just want to vent.

Long story short: I’m unburning from the last project… let’s see how long that can last before they say, “Hey, what are you doing out here? Back into the fire, asshole!”