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June 30, 2008

Filed under: random»personal

Misery & Company

Everyone has an employer-from-hell story, but I think mine ranks pretty highly. Right out of college, I took a job with an AV contractor in Chantilly, VA. At the time I had just started getting into sound as a hobby with my band. I figured this was a cool opportunity to learn more about audio tech.

The company, Custom Fit, was run by a guy named Steve. I didn't know it at the time, but this was apparently Steve's third company or so. He had a habit of starting new ventures, which he would then run into the ground, ruining the credit of whoever he'd conned into providing funding. Originally Custom Fit had been a beige-box computer builder for people who couldn't spell "dell.com" (hence the inexplicable domain standardparts.com), but Steve soon figured out that there was more money in bilking local government organizations for publicly-bidded contracts. So that's what we did.

Working at the World Bank could be ethically ambiguous at times, but for me it never compared with dealing with Custom Fit's clients: building managers for town meeting halls and government facilities laboring under the mistaken assumption that they were going to get a pristine new sound system or video projection setup. As far as I could tell, Steve had no interest in doing that. Instead, a significant portion of his business simply combed government sites for contracts, then figured out the bare minimum that he could possibly bid in order to undercut the competition, while using cheap parts and substandard design to ensure profitability. Of course, I was the one who had to break the bad news to the client when things inevitably started to go wrong. I should have stood up for myself sooner, but I have to admit: I was totally unprepared for the possibility that my boss was a borderline con man.

Oh, the stories I could tell: the accountant that I once inadvertently caught browsing porn (I whistled when I walked around his part of the office after that). The time I tried to order supplies for a job only to be turned down because we hadn't paid our bills on previous orders. Having to constantly go back for more training on the company's home-grown inventory database because Steve (perhaps believing that humiliation builds character) refused to teach anything in sessions longer than five minutes ("Come back when you think you've got that under control," he'd say after showing me how to work a single menu option).

In retrospect, it should have been a warning sign when one of the interview questions concerned XLR cabling, and Steve said that my answer was "wrong, but a good try." I looked it up later. Everything I had said was basically correct.

I learned a lot about how (not) to manage people at Custom Fit. And I learned it well. After two weeks, I gave my two weeks notice (at which point my employment experience actually improved significantly). My parents probably freaked out in private, but they were very supportive of me, and I soon found a new job at the Bank. I got lucky: about a month later, the IRS raided the company and Steve was forced to close shop.

Here's the funny part, and the reason I'm writing about it today: the experience at Custom Fit was so traumatic for employees that many of them have kept in touch to this day. It was a bonding experience, like being taking hostage by terrorists or having Comcast as your cable company (ba-zing!). There was a mailing list for Custom Fit refugees. People hosted reunion picnics. Today I got an invitation to the "Survivors of Custom Fit Inc." group on Facebook.

Let this be a lesson to employers large and small: thanks to the Internet, you will be remembered by an organized group of people, possibly with axes to grind. When Steve tried to relaunch the Custom Fit webpage, word went around quickly, and someone (not me) quickly wrote a script to send his page-counter skyrocketing, just to mess with his head. Don't be like Steve. Treat your people well. Misery may love company in general, but it doesn't have to love yours.

June 2, 2008

Filed under: random»comedy_and_tragedy

A List of Things I Would Not Expect To Find in The Breakroom With A Note Offering Them To Employees, But Have Nevertheless Found There

  1. Ribs.

May 20, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

Link Tank

No kidding, it's a heck of a pancake.

  • Flash Player 10 adds support for PCM sound generation. The bad news is that the latency is bad, partially because Actionscript isn't threaded and so audio must be buffered. In a bit of a strong-arm move, Adobe's keeping people from pushing the limits of the buffer by randomly determining its length (anywhere from .2 to .5 seconds) at the player's launch. So, no realtime instruments in Flash yet, in other words.
  • Naomi Klein's article on Chinese privacy monitoring is more than a little chilling. Whether it's an argument for Little Brother-style vigilantism or David Brin's transparent society, I'm not sure.
  • If at first your ill-concieved techno-educational project doesn't succeed, try, try again.
  • Campaign ads are generally pretty stupid anyway, but this McCain ad is just unbelievable. As Crooked Timber says, you almost expect it to promise free ponies and perpetual motion machines.
  • The "snare" on our Rock Band drums went out a while back. You can still play by pressing the regular-sized gamepad buttons in the center of the unit, but obviously that lacks the mad joy of using the sticks. We've been waiting a week and a half now, I think, just for the box to ship it back to EA for replacement. Not impressed, guys.
  • Someone stole my car radio the other day. Seriously, who does that anymore? And what's up with the lack of standard wiring on the backs of car radios? I blew two fuses in the car when the caps came off my wire splices. I realize that people don't upgrade the radios often, but there's no good reason that anyone should be rewiring parts of an expensive item like a car by hand.
  • Since loading up VMWare to run Ubuntu, I've also found a copy of OS X (10.4.7) on Bittorrent to mess with. It doesn't include iLife, but I wouldn't have any use for that anyway, so I've ignored it. Instead, what I've been trying to do is figure out the big deal with Mac shareware, which seems to get an incredible amount of praise: take, for example, this fawning review of Delicious Library, a program that (as far as I can tell) is neat but not particularly mind-blowing. In fact, that seems to describe most of the "must-have" apps I've tried. Perhaps I simply have no joy in my heart.
  • I really dig this Lifehacker post on using a cameraphone as a to-do list. It reminds me of one of my favorite travel strategies: when entering a new city, make a point to immediately take a good, high-res picture of any subway/bus maps you run across. It's definitely worked for me in New York, Chicago, and Brussels.

May 9, 2008

Filed under: random»comedy_and_tragedy

The LOLCats of Congress

My office in-jokes, let me show you them.

True story: during a game of Taboo at a party the other week, I actually got Belle to correctly guess a word using "My blanks, let me show you them." We are dorks.

April 28, 2008

Filed under: random»personal»memes

Doves Cry

Should have put this up a long time ago: The Song Chart Meme.


By flickr user xianjessen.

February 12, 2008

Filed under: random»linky

We Don't Link to Ravenholm...

It never fails: the undead show up, and invariably the property values plummet.

  • I have a short article in The Escapist this week: Anomalous Materials: Half-Life and Science. It's pretty nerdy. But it was fun to write.
  • Josh's slow-loading link section today includes this Wired editorial on Ron Paul (with the amusing slug "st_ronpaul"). It's the usual lament: why does it have to be the fringe candidate who understands the Internet? But personally, I think he's got it backwards. Ron Paul's campaign didn't understand the Internet. In fact, it showed repeatedly that it saw the Web only as a vague, magical fundraising force. It would be more accurate to say that the Internet understood Ron Paul, with supporters crawling out of the online woodwork to put together flickr accounts and Youtube campaigns. It was a great example of self-organization--but note that none of it translated into on-the-ground machinery, which is the actual domain of an effective political campaign. If you want to see someone who really used the Internet effectively in combination with traditional political savvy, I think you'd have to look more toward Obama, not Ron Paul.
  • I picked up a Yahoo! mail account a while back when I needed access to some discussion groups. For kicks, I got a Yahoo! Canada address. But I started using the account to handle my webhost transition, and to follow Warren Ellis's Bad Signal. Then I noticed that the whole thing is in British English. What's up with that, Canada? There's no U in color, eh!
  • The Upside-down-ternet is a pretty neat hack. I forget where I saw this link--from an XKCD comic, I think. If I had a lot more time and a spare functional router, I'd have to give it a shot. As it is, I'm more likely to just change the name of our wireless network to something obscene.
  • Music Thing has the details on the Anarchy Cowbell: the cowbell that fights The Man! There's not nearly enough cowbell-related news out there.
  • Unfortunately, I didn't get to attend the Anonymous protest against Scientology in DC. The Scientologist headquarters for the city is up near Dupont Circle, in a building labeled the "Hubbard Dianetics Foundation." Flickr user MynameisAnonymous seems to have gotten some good snaps here. If you missed it before, the Anonymous video guide to protesting can be found here. It's quite sensible. I wish Bank protestors had been that smart.
  • Harlan Ellison hates writers who work for free. So please don't tell him that I donated a post to Rain Recording's upcoming Pro section.
  • I realized a long time ago that I was not cut out to be a good programmer--that, in fact, I was a very bad programmer. Not because I couldn't understand the logic or the frameworks. I was a bad programmer because I didn't care, and I just wanted to get whatever it was done. To my surprise, Flash is a pretty good fit for that.

January 14, 2008

Filed under: random»comedy_and_tragedy

Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty

The category "comedy_and_tragedy" has never seemed so perfect as it does now: presenting the Despair.com DIY Demotivator.

December 17, 2007

Filed under: random»linky

We Link What We Must

...because we can.

  • Angry Asian Man links to 9500 Liberty's guest editorials in the Washington Post, plus a video essay that they've put together. Parts of the "interactive documentary" project are fascinating, and parts of it become tedious. It will be interesting to see what emerges when (if?) they take a more editorial approach to this footage and package it all together.
  • In the 1950's, information theorist Claude Shannon builds a robot mouse capable of learning its way through a maze. He used what he learned from this to build more intelligent telephone switching devices. The details make it sound very "steampunk," in a way.
  • Buy Strike Swag! Support the Writer's Guild!
  • I don't have a piece for Corvus's Round Table on gender yet (I'd like to do one on Tomb Raiders Legend and Anniversary, respectively, but would have to finish a game and a half before I could do so), but I'd like to toss this out there: here's a rule about movies and feminism that asks whether a film has two women in it whose conversation does not involve talking about a man. I like it because it expresses a problem of sexism in a pithy way. But to what extent is this useful for gaming? It certainly says something about Half-Life's Alyx Vance, who's a tremendously positive character in terms of being a smart and reasonably realistic female, but who still exists primarily to praise the player and flirt with Gordon Freeman.
  • We had our router go out on us this week. It started to repeatedly crash, and we'd have to pull the plug and reload it. Also, it wouldn't let us change any of the settings. So we went out and got the new Linksys model, for lack of better immediate options, and then I sat down with the old one and looked at replacement firmwares for a little while. See, you can load a new operating system on these things, due to some crazy GPL licensing reason. Which is great and all, but I couldn't get it to work--and more importantly, I couldn't think of a single good reason why I would want my router to do anything other than route, which is after all the reason that I bought it.
  • Line 6 has a new Pod out now: Pod X3. I didn't see a lot of fanfare about this when it was first released, but it's got some nice features. USB 2.0 is a plus (although the direct monitoring on the Pod tends to make that less important), but I think there are two more interesting draws. First, they've added an XLR port and models for vocal preamps, so you could theoretically record just with a Pod as your main interface. And second, they've added a dual-pathway signal chain, so that you can route two separate amps and sets of effects and mix between the two. That's a big deal for bassists, and the extra flexibility in routing is a welcome addition to the Pod. It's not enough for me to replace my Pod XT Live (at least until they add a looper), but it definitely addresses the weak spots of the last version.

October 10, 2007

Filed under: random»personal»filthy_beasts

It's a good thing she's cute

...because we don't keep this cat around for her brains.

Yesterday I got a package, wrapped in those little sticky pull-tabs, which I removed and left on the table while I opened up the rest. From what I can tell, Neko must have wandered up onto the table, explored the remains of the packaging, and then sat on the tabs. Stupidity ensued.

My favorite part comes at around 1:16 in, when she runs under the stepladder and becomes startled all over again at this invisible thing that has clamped onto her haunches.

September 6, 2007

Filed under: random»linky

Linky brunettes with wicked jaws

I've had that line from The Thin Man going through my head for days. Great movie.

  • SoS reports that Korg has recently sold its 20 millionth electronic tuner. Doesn't surprise me a bit. Every musician I know has at least one Korg tuner, usually something like the CA-30. They're small and cheap, they work well, and they last forever on a pair of AAAs. Cockroaches of the music world.
  • This is probably one of those things that you should never bring up on the Internet, plus it's very old, but author David Brin's commentary on the fascism of Star Wars is pretty great, in a very nerdy kind of way.
  • Also from Salon, but much more recent, I thought that this article on Guitar Hero as a gateway drug to real instruments was interesting. In my limited experience, musicians react in all kinds of ways to the game--some with disdain, others with amusement. I think it's a fantastic stress reliever, myself, and one that does (to some extent) use the same reflexes as the real thing. I'm sure that much of my GH skills are owed to my real-life bass playing. And I do think that it can serve as a goad toward learning to play the real instrument--as well as a buffer against frustration, because learning to play a real guitar can be a slow and painful process.
  • In other musical news, the Tenori-On was released a couple of days ago. Designed by Toshio Iwai, the man behind Electroplankton, and manufactured by Yamaha, it's a pretty cool little groovebox. CDM put up a great set of pictures, videos and impressions. In turn, I have a journal post up at Ars about it here.
  • Television site TiFaux has been doing profiles of their most personable commenters. One of them is John Walker, whom gamers probably know better from Eurogamer and the newly-launched Rock, Paper, Shotgun. I am really uncomfortable with different parts of my blogroll mingling this way. What's next? Music Thing contributes political commentary to First Draft? Brad Delong starts leaving troll comments about the Wii on Joystiq? Members of the bass forum appear in Warren Ellis's infamous don't-look-my-eyes-they-bleed links? If the latter, I may weep openly.
  • For the last week or so, I've been reading from Raymond Chen's blog The Old New Thing. Chen is a programmer for Microsoft who specializes in backwards-compatibility. It's really kind of fascinating. Very few companies do as much as the Redmond giant to make old software work on new hardware. New software on old hardware, not always so much. But it's a start.

Future - Present - Past