Mind Numbed by the Evil Empire

What a week.

2010 is starting off slow, travel wise. The beginning of the year typically most companies are starting to ramp up for the new year so usually if I do anything huge in January it was in the planning stages a month or two before. This year there was none of that. Matter of fact, in the new year our (My boss and I) department was put under Marketing, ostensibly to work on a few new initiatives. No clue. What that all means has yet to drift down to me. I’m guessing it’ll all gel up by the end of this month.

So this week I’m local, taking in a class on Microsoft’s new mail server – Exchange 2010. Not that I have any in production, but I do have like three or four older versions running in my little world so it’s nice to get a handle on how it works. Not only that, but our product has to talk to these things and they compete with us on some level.

The class is on the border of downtown Dallas, where I haven’t had to commute to in five years. I don’t miss it whatsoever. The trip alone is like twenty two miles each way, and to make matters worse it’s been raining most of the week. No matter what they tell you, Texans don’t drive any better in the rain than anyone anywhere else. I’ve seen them run into each other in the left lane of a highway in sunny weather with no traffic so you can guess what it’s been like this week.

The class is at a huge colossus of a dot-com white elephant called “the infomart”. It’s an imposing place to be sure, but it seems nearly empty. My guess is that they broke three major rules in real estate that’s no biggie in fat times. In lean times, it’s a killer – Location Location Location. This turkey is at the intersection of two secondary roads and two highways. Little background – in Texas, most interstates have frontage roads. So you can get there from downtown going i-35 north, or weave through one of the secondaries, but you can only access it from  a tiny spit of road or the interstate. You can see downtown from it, just can’t get there. It’s also nowhere near the rail line, so you’d have to go downtown then take a bus to get there. Not a bad thing, except going home, you have to hit a bus on the other side of the interstate would be my guess. All the hassles of going into the city and none of the good stuff.

There is nothing around it that would resemble a restaurant worth getting your car out of the pay parking lot – a handful of diners and a denny’s. They have two restaurants inside, one closed at lunch leaving with the other that I dubbed “the captive cafe”. Unreal service.

Day one I went for a sandwich. “Can I help someone?” the sandwich lady asked, staring past me. I was the only soul in a twenty foot radius. So I ordered. Keep it simple – ham and cheese. What could go wrong?

Apparently, this was a huge inconvenience. The sandwich came undone as it was plopped unceremoniously in front of me. Nice. I should have known. Of course it’s my fault she has to stand there making sandwiches. I thought I’d apologize for the outrage I caused, but discretion was the better part of valor here. She was, after all, a formidable woman.

At checkout the cashier sized up my lunch and muttered “umumumum”.
So I hand her my card.
Excuse me?
Why yes! Yes I would like a receipt!. Thanks. Awesome.

The class was mind numbing. I picked up a few things each day that were pretty useful. Probably the most important is how not to teach a class. Comparatively speaking, my classes (I’ve dubbed “the Pat Show”) are like the tonight show, only when it was funny.

Sixteen powerpoint presentations, each better than sixty slides of nearly all bullet points meticulously read by the instructor. Really, there was like a dozen slides on hard drives and storage that basically said – “you have a lot of cool choices for storage and the new software uses them much more efficiently”. Halfway through the second day I reached my attention span limit and devolved into mischief. The wall between the hallway and the suite was forty feet of frosted glass. One the way back from a break I ran my nails along to length of it to see if it would sound like a chalk board. Whaddaya know, it does! Completely freaked out their receptionist.

I also entertained myself filling the mail queues with fictitious messages from the fake users. Not that anyone would ever read them, but let’s just say my example company “contoso.com” is fraught with drama, pettiness, and some very crass personalities. Can spencer@contoso.com really get into trouble for asking holly@contoso.com to pour something sticky all over him? Probably.

Did you know you could replace your company email disclaimer with “It tastes like, STINKY!” in big green letters? You can.

I also wound up messing up my Unified Communications (including my fake phone sets). Who would think my brand new gateway “gougingmyeyesoutwithapen.contoso.com”  would have an issue with a dialplan called “homersimpson.ech01.conotoso.com”. Naming conventions are important and somewhere along the line I forgot the names I used. This stuff is indecipherable as ancient runes compared to our product.

Such is the fun when you don’t have to administer these things for real. I learned a ton of what I needed to know. I just don’t need the minutia; drive seek rates, 101 redirection scenarios, etc. Only how it’ll affect our customers and our product.

I couldn’t let the instructor leave without twisting his skull, at least a little. Poor guy, I’ve had weeks like that. You’re tired from days of talking. All you want to do is flee to the airport, and some smart-ass has to pipe up when you’re already late.

Still, I couldn’t resist since he was claiming how wonderful their speech recognition with Unified Messaging was – all the time staring at me. So I had to lay it on him.

“What would happen if this user here – Holly Holt” I ask, “gets married and wants callers to be able to say “Holly Holt”, “Holly Holt-Smythe”, or “Holly Smythe” but pronounced smith?”

Got the look I wanted to see – mouth open, eyes blinking. A student piped up “tell her tough.” Apparently, it doesn’t like that.

For the record, our software will let Holly be called anything she wants to be called. Even if there’s another Holly it’ll ask which one you want. It also understands what to do with all holly’s phones and can tell anyone in the company that “holly holt” left a message as opposed to her many phone numbers. So there.

In my class, I give myself a nickname. When asked who I want to connect to I croon “pooookeeeeeee!” and it sends the call to my phone.

Geek Humor and Pride all in one post.