Friday, December 22, 2006

"The God Delusion" makes a swell Christmas gift

If you are a fence sitter on the issue of the existence of god, do yourself a huge favour and pick up Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion", the best non-fiction book I've read in years. (Okay, that last statement is actually pretty meaningless, because it's the only non-fiction book I've read in years... because, let's be honest, non-fiction is generally pretty boring.) Presumably, I don't have to recommend this book to the atheists out there, as most of you should have already picked up a copy.

I'm no fence sitter, so the book was preaching to the choir with me, but there was still a ton of material and ideas that were new to me. I loved Dawkins' quick overview of evolution (he has written plenty of other books that tackle evolution in more detail), and his brilliant discussions of morality and the (im)probabilities of god. There are also numerous interesting case studies and quotations, and Dawkins even takes some time to tackle all the classic arguments for god.

My favourite chapter, by a small margin, is seven: "The 'Good' Book and the Changing Moral Zeitgeist." This material isn't new, but Dawkins summarizes it so nicely that I couldn't help but grin throughout. Also very noteworthy, especially in this day and age of religions flexing their political muscles, is chapter eight: "What's Wrong With Religion? Why Be So Hostile?" The whole book is excellent, building Dawkins' case brilliantly throughout (this book must be read cover to cover), but chapters seven and eight are the big payoff. And the concluding chapter, "A Much Needed Gap?" definitely closes the book out on a high note.

(You can spoil a lot of the book for yourself if you read the Wikipedia entry, but I strongly recommend reading the entire thing--a summary just doesn't cut it.)

Dawkins is an extremely skilled wordsmith, with always interesting phrasing and splashes of wit throughout. And he is surprisingly delicate in tackling the irrational beliefs of religious folk--far more delicate than I had any reason to suspect from the book's title.

Dawkins hopes this book will change the world. It's unlikely to have any affect on the staunch believers out there whose world views would fall apart without their loving god (and the chance of any of these people actually reading a book titled "The God Delusion" is zilch). But those people out there who don't really believe, but pretend to believe, because they are are under the mistaken impression that it's culturally wrong to not follow the majority religious crowd--those people need to read this book. Now.

It's okay to be an atheist. It's okay to not believe. "The God Delusion" will give you the evidence you need to step away from religion for good. And it will feel so good. Trust me. I've been there.

And, since this is the holiday season, I must remind you that you can embrace your latent atheism and still celebrate Christmas with your family. Atheists celebrate Christmas, too. We just don't buy into the whole baby Jesus thing... which has been an insignificant part of most Christmas gatherings I've ever attended, anyway.

This will in all likelihood be my last post of 2006. So, merry Christmas, everyone! And have a happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Blasphemy Challenge

For a good laugh, check out the following link:

Now we know how to make the IDists dance in their petticoats: blaspheme

If you haven't been following Pharyngula and/or Richard Dawkins, some of the names in this story may be unfamiliar, but take some time to peruse the comments and you'll quickly be brought up to date. (Or do some Wikipedia searches.)

Don't forget to visit the site that started all of this: The Blasphemy Challenge. (Also note that Richard Dawkins has no association with this site whatsoever.)

An Atheist Christmas

This may shock some people, but atheists celebrate Christmas, too.

I've had the idea for this post in my head for quite some time, but PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins stole my thunder last week, and I put it off...

Damn you, Richard Dawkins, for phrasing exactly what I wanted to say in an even better way than I could have ever managed!

Oh, well, now I don't need this blog post...

Oh, one last thing: all atheists should do themselves a favour and familiarize themselves with the history and mythos of Christmas. Start with the Wikipedia entry on Christmas. And don't miss the Urban Legends Reference Pages on Christmas. Jesus' birth, my ass!

Same-sex marriage vote--that was easy.

I'm three weeks late on this post, but after mentioning Canada's same-sex marriage laws in my Manifesto, I had to do a follow-up on the issue eventually.

Did you know that Parliament already had their second vote on this issue? I don't blame you for not knowing, because it sure wasn't well publicized. Yep, the same-sex marriage issue was quietly reopened on December 7th. (Okay, technically, the December 7th vote was about whether the issue should be reopened or not, so the issue wasn't really reopened... Confused yet?) And it was quickly slammed back shut with a 175-123 vote against discrimination.

I guess we might have heard more about this vote had the results gone the other way...

Sadly, I'm sure this isn't the last we'll hear of this issue. The Religious Right doesn't back down easily.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Sorry, I couldn't resist the terrible title to this post. I was originally going to title it "Extreme Measures for Lucky Seventeen," but made a last minute change.

Now, I know that in my last post, I promised to not blog about the Wii for a while. Well, it's been a while. It just so happens that it has been such a busy while that there hasn't been any intermediate posts! My bad.

(I am going to put up a significant post regarding Richard Dawkin's excellent "The God Delusion" very soon. I have 50 pages left to read.)

In a previous post, I mentioned how I was going to be out of town on December 8th and miss the big third Best Buy Wii release day. But then my plans changed--somewhat. I was still out of town. But I didn't miss the third Best Buy shipment release.

I gots one!

My wife and I drove 8 hours Thursday night so I could be in line by 5AM or so at the Best Buy in a certain big city. As it turns out, we were early, arriving shortly after 3:30AM. And that was a damn good thing, as I was already 28th in line at this time. Luckily, 11 people in front of me were in line for PS3s, so I picked up lucky Wii 17. By 4AM, the 24 Wiis were spoken for, but that didn't stop another 50 plus people from lining up for disappointment, until Best Buy handed out tickets at 8AM.

Standing / sitting in line for over 6 hours in total (including an hour after the tickets were handed out) was quite the experience. It wasn't a terrible morning, weather-wise, but it sure started to feel cold after a few minutes. And I didn't come prepared at all, as I underestimated how long I was going to have to be in line and how cold it would be before the sun came up. The people in line were pretty good--Nintendo fanboys all around. (In fact, the line was dominated by people seeking the 24 Wiis, rather than the 14 PS3s that were available--the Wiis actually sold out first.)

I certainly would never want to do anything like that ever again. But it was so very much worth it this time! Because of this change of plans, I had my new Wii with me as we visited our out of town family, and we had some great times playing Wii Sports and creating Miis.

I set up my Wii at home this morning before work and finally played some Zelda. Ah, bliss! I have another 50-some hours of Zelda fun ahead of me in the next few months.

I also already spent 1900 Wii points on some classic NES and Sega games for the Virtual Console. I can't wait until some of my favourites are available (Super Mario Kart!). The Wiimote works surprisingly well as an NES controller when turned on its side.

So, anyway, enough about the Wii... back to reading "The God Delusion."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

My last Wii post for a while... I promise

This blog has been Wii-loaded for the last while. It must seem like I'm obsessed. Well, I kinda am...

But last night I had the opportunity to finally play a Wii, thanks to a friend that was luckier than I was on November 19th. And it was awesome.

Wii Sports Bowling and Golf were great fun. Boxing is tricky, but I was starting to catch on by the end. Baseball is hard as hell. We forgot about Tennis.

We also played a little two-player Golden Axe (Sega Genesis) on the Virtual Console. And some Rayman Raving Rabbids, which was actually really fun.

All in all, I was extremely impressed by the controls, and the ease of targetting on the screen. I expected to have problems with an unsteady hand, but I was moving the pointer around with ease as soon as I picked the Wiimote up. And the all-important motion detection worked like a charm, especially in Bowling, Golf, and Rayman.

I chose not to sample Zelda. That can wait until I have my own Wii.

In non-Wii-gaming news, Guitar Hero II for the Playstation 2 is pretty awesome as well. My friend has all the cool stuff...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

No more Wiis until December 8th?

That's what Best Buy is telling its customers in this week's e-newsletter. I won't have to bother lining up on Friday morning this week, because there won't be any Wiis available.

Frustratingly, I have family obligations out of town on December 8th that will both keep me away from the Best Buy online site and any retail locations. It's looking more and more like I'll be buying my Wii in the new year, sadly...

Amusingly, my component video cable shipped today from Nintendo. The component video cables are pretty much essential for HDTV owners, but they have been sold out and backordered since before the Wii launch day. I never thought I'd get the cable before I got the Wii...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Gah! Part 2

I'll still Wii-less, and it's driving me crazy. I've never had such a hard time buying something that I wanted...

Rumours were circulating all week that many retailers were hanging onto the Nintendo Wii systems they had received after launch day to put them all out this morning ("Black Friday" in the US). Best Buy soon confirmed this rumour as fact in their case.

Thinking that Walmart would follow suit, I got up early this morning and made it to Walmart a half hour before their 7:00AM opening. The fact that nobody else was around clued me in early to the fact that I was likely out of luck. I sat in my car and played some DS until 7, and then confirmed my fears inside the store. They had nothing. A greeter informed me that they have been putting the Wiis on the shelves as they were received, and "they have been selling like hot cakes," so the chance of getting a Wii from Walmart is nearly nil.

I had spoken to a Zellers clerk on Thursday, so I knew they didn't have anything today, so my only hope was Best Buy. Knowing that they planned to put 100+ Wiis for sale online at 9AM, I went to work and awaited my chance.

And this is where IT fucked me. Because I had to use Internet Explorer. And it crashed. had 124 Wiis this morning, and there was available stock for 4 minutes, but I missed out due to Internet Explorer. Having practiced speed purchasing on Best Buy's site every hour on launch day (see Gah! Part 1), I know that even with extreme server load, I was taking about a minute and a half to get to the end of the checkout process with Firefox. With only 20 Wiis available each hour, this was about 30 seconds too long to get one on launch day. But it would have been plenty fast with the 124 Wiis today. But on the second page of the checkout, Internet Explorer decided to choke entirely. By the time I got back onto the site, the inventory was at 0.

At 10AM, I decided to visit Best Buy's retail location and see if anything remained of the 20+ promised Wiis. I had seen a few people lining up at the store when I was at Walmart, so I didn't feel I had any hope of getting a system, but I was curious. It was quickly apparent when I arrived that Best Buy had already given out tickets to those in line. All 27 Wiis (and 10 PS3s) were sold. But apparently the last few Wiis had sold only 30 minutes earlier, so it wasn't as hopeless as I had originally thought. There were a lot of late comers like myself, and we were all told the same thing: try again next Friday for round 3...

Ebay is tempting me, especially now that the prices are getting more reasonable... if $400 is reasonable for a $280 console. But I'll try to resist. I haven't given up on getting one from Walmart or Zellers either. I'll probably pop in randomly at both stores throughout the next week--and hope to get lucky.

If I continue to come up empty, I have an appointment with Best Buy on next Friday morning.

Monday, November 20, 2006


It was a simple plan: show up at Zellers before they opened on Sunday morning and be one of their first Wii customers. I had cashed out AirMiles for HBC gift cards, so I was relying on Zellers for my Wii fix. Little did I know they had sold all of their Wiis by pre-order...

So I have no Wii. It sold out very quickly at every store in town, and I failed in my attempts to pick one up online from Best Buy (every hour, on the hour, 20 Wiis were made available--but they went fast, too). I have Zelda, because Zellers did have a few copies left of the game at least, but I have no idea when I will have a system to play it on...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Are you ready for the Wii-kend?

The last few posts have been pretty serious, so it's time for something a lot more lighthearted... video gaming!

Today was the release date of the Playstation 3. But who cares? The date I am waiting for is Sunday, November 19. That is the day that the Nintendo Wii is released!

(Okay, so apparently a lot of other people cared that the Playstation 3 was released today.)

The Wii is a Nintendo fanboy's dream come true. The controls promise to incredibly intuitive and very unique, and Nintendo can always be relied upon to create amazing games.

The big launch title for the Wii is The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess, which I know will be completely awesome. And the Wii comes bundled with Wii Sports, which will effectively show off the full capabilities of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.

I'll be up early on Sunday morning and getting in line for one of the first Wiis available. Sunday will be a complete write-off of a day, as I know that once I start playing Zelda, I will not be able to stop...

Atheism and me, part 2

Continuing my story from part 1, I want to begin by addressing what the following key words mean to me: atheism, agnosticism, irreligion, and anti-religion.

Although I haven't believed in a god for a very long time, I only recently started calling myself an atheist. Why? I don't know, but I think the word "atheist" has been unfairly used for so many years by religious folk, that the negativity around the word frightened me away from it. And I had the completely mistaken impression that atheism was as much of a religion as Christianity. Why? Because that's what Christians claim: atheism is a religion established on the faith that there is no god. But this is 100% wrong. There is no faith involved in atheism. Atheists require scientific proof. It's nonsense to claim that it requires faith to not believe in something for which there is no proof.

If a god showed itself (ignoring the obvious questions of what a god would have to do to show itself), I would have no problem changing my stance on this issue. I don't hate god. I just don't think there is a god. Prove me wrong, god! Come on! Do it! What are you scared of?

When I was seeking alternatives to atheism, I settled on anti-religion for many years. Anti-religion is far more arrogant than atheism, but I wasn't concerned about arrogance. I was against religion, and I wanted people to know that.

As I grew older and graduated from university, I pulled back from the anti-religion and settled on being non-religious (or irreligious). This is a grey area that can encompass many different spiritual beliefs. All you are saying is that you are not into the rituals of religion. You can believe in a god and still be non-religious. And this is why I eventually had to acknowledge that I was in fact an atheist. I don't believe a god. Why not accept that I am not only non-religious but also an atheist?

There was a very brief period where I considered myself to be agnostic. Agnostics take the position of unknowing on the issue of god. They are basically weak atheists. They don't believe in god, but aren't prepared to come out and say that.

One of the formative classes for my atheism was Philosophy 110 in university. Arguing the existence of god was a significant percentage of the course material. It became clear that most theists were actually arguing about the existence of a prime mover, some significant force that set the universe in motion, but there was no reasonable argument for the all-knowing, benevolent Christian god. That god can not exist. It is absurd. But maybe there was some force out in the universe that set this world in motion.

I am not a scientist. I can not begin to understand the complexities of the Big Bang. Does the beginning of the universe require a prime mover? Where did the prime mover come from? Where did time and space come from?

I can't answer that. Science can't fully answer that. Yet. But science continues looking. Religion stopped looking thousands of years ago. This is why science should trump religion always. But I digress.

And so, with some feelings of uncertainty about the beginning of time, I decided that maybe I was agnostic. Which was just me being silly, really. I don't mean to offend agnostics, but come on!--you know you are really atheists at heart. When religion argues for god, they are not arguing for the beginning of time, they are arguing for a god that affects us here and now. Even agnostics can admit that that is bullshit.

When did I stop fence sitting and admit to myself that I was an atheist, and that atheism is not a religion nor a bad word? Only about two years ago.

After I graduated university, I started online dating. I don't want to get into a long rant on online dating, but the relevant information here is that most of the women that were looking for men online were Christian. This isn't really surprising, since most people in this country are Christian.

So, I had to phrase my profile carefully to avoid scaring off the Christian women, because if I did that, I would not be meeting very many people, thus defeating the whole purpose. I settled on describing myself as the vague non-religious. And then I wrote that I had "Christian morals."

As I wrote in point 3 of my Manifesto, morals existed long before Christianity, but many people today honestly believe that without the reward / punishment aspect of Christianity, no one would be moral. Which is patently ridiculous. But I was trying to meet women here, so I had to go with the flow and pretend that my morality is the Christian morality, even though it's really just the morality of a good person. I just wanted to make the point to the Christian women out there that even though I wasn't Christian didn't mean that I wasn't a moral person, and I had to phrase it so they would understand.

Even with these compromises in my profile, online dating was extremely unsuccessful for me for three years. I didn't move beyond e-mail with most of the women, and the few that I met in person were good people but not serious candidates for a relationship. The non-religious thing became an issue with one, who made it her mission for over a year to try to convert me. Her mission failed, obviously, but my will to continue trying to meet people that way was also failing.

And then I met my wife-to-be that way. And she was also non-religious. And it was a release. I didn't have to hide anymore. I could be an atheist, without worrying about how that was going to impact my relationship. I have never been happier with my atheist world view.

In the last couple of years, this feeling of freedom has led me to really explore atheism. Blogs like Pharyngula remind me that there are many like-minded people out there, even if I don't know many of them personally (excluding my wife and a couple of friends). Shows like Penn & Teller: Bullshit! exposed me to more of the skeptical community, helping me find James Randi and Richard Dawkins, two men that I greatly respect now that I have read about them endlessly.

And so I am in a good place now. I am comfortable with being an atheist. I am open about it, without being arrogant about it.

I was selected for jury duty late last year. I can't discuss the case, but I can discuss what happened on the day of selection. For those that don't know, even in this day and age of diversity and multiple religions, when you are approved by both the prosecutor and defender to be on the jury, you then have to swear on the bible. When I was approved, I was really shocked--all of the young people that had been picked before me were rejected... and then the bible was brought forward. I'm surprised that my head was clear enough to realize what was happening, but I managed to croak out, "I won't swear on a bible." I didn't know what the alternative was, but it turned out to be pretty reasonable: raise your hand, instead of laying it on the bible. And the last part of the swearing, something with god somewhere in there, was just left unsaid for me.

I was the only member of the jury to choose not to swear on the bible. And after I turned the bible down, they actually asked each person if he or she would swear on the bible before it was brought forth. Obviously, my refusal was a rarity.

In the jury room, at the end of the deliberations, three weeks later, I was asked why I didn't swear on the bible. I replied, "I don't believe in that stuff." Pretty weak answer, I know. If I could go back, I would have said, "I'm an atheist." Why didn't I then? Because I still struggle with using the word "atheist" when talking to Christians.

Many Christians still have a terrible perception of atheism. It's a threatening idea to them, that someone could not believe in the being that gives them meaning. So they demonize us. They write ridiculous rants about atheism that are gobbled up eagerly by their followers. It is much easier to believe that atheists are immoral agents of the devil than reasonable human beings with a self-enforced morality based on simple principles of evolution and survival.

But atheism is picking up steam. It's becoming higher profile. More and more people are openly admitting that they see the world differently than the majority. At the same time, the fundamentalist movements are becoming louder and more frightening. Interesting times are surely ahead.

Thus ends "Atheism and me." Thank you and good night.

Atheism and me, part 1

A couple of recent Pharyngula posts have had me thinking the last couple of days about how I define "atheism" and how I came to consider myself to be an atheist. Long story short: I always was an atheist, even if I didn't always call myself that. But the full story will take a couple of posts to tell...

First, the links to those two posts I mentioned:
I keep being told what I believe
Freethought tag-team wrestling match

I grew up in a home that was not strongly religious. My parents weren't atheists--non-practicing Christians is probably accurate--but we also didn't pay many visits to the church. My brothers and I were all baptized, and I believe that we all attended some manner of Sunday school, but none of it ever stuck with me. By the time I was old enough to question Santa Claus, I was also not feeling the god love. But as a kid, you don't really think much about these things. I didn't grow up in a religious community, so religion simply didn't play much of a role in my life.

So I have no conversion story. I never was religious. I may have been Christian in name from the baptism on, but it never played any role in my development. I couldn't tell you the first time I realized I was actually unique in not believing in god. It's just kind of always been there in the back of my head. And it wasn't until I was a teenager that I started noticing how much of the world around me was into this whole Jebus thing.

For many of my public school years, the Lord's Prayer and God Save the Queen were rituals of every morning. The only thing I can remember about this daily ritual is the day that my friend got me into a giggling fit right in the middle of it, and we were both sent out into the hall for a stern talking to. I may have recited the words every day, but they meant nothing to me. (I am glad that they have removed this type of ritual from most public schools. Even though most kids don't give a shit about this kind of thing, it just has no place in public schools.)

I can't say when I was first exposed to the idea of atheism. Maybe when I was introduced to the internet in 1995, maybe there was some tv show I saw earlier... I really can't say. But I know that religion only started bothering me in my later high school years, and this carried through to the peak of my anti-religious furor in my early years of university.

My high school years were when I really started noticing how many of the small rituals we do every day had their basis in religion. I honestly hadn't noticed nor cared before, but suddenly someone saying grace was a piss-off. Everyone has some rebellious urges in their late teen years, and my rebellion was about religion. Not god per say. Just religion.

But it was a quiet rebellion. I just refused to partake in any of the rituals anymore. I wouldn't bow my head during prayer, nor during grace. I would be the only person still sitting in church during a wedding's devotion. I liked the minor attention that I earned with this type of behaviour. More and more, I considered myself to be anti-religious--specifically anti-Christian, because Christianity was the only religion with any visibility at the time.

University only strengthened my resolve. Campus Crusade for Christ advertised everywhere, which annoyed me--but whatever, that's their right. Much worse was their visit to my dorm room on an annual basis. These were my first actual encounters with Evangelical Christians, and they left a mark.

I am a hobby musician. I play guitar, sing, etc. I started writing my own songs in my late teens. Most of the early songs were heavily influenced by the alternative music of the time--especially the depressing lyrics. It wasn't me speaking for myself, it was me trying to capture the magic of my influences with forced artificiality. But after my third visit from Campus Crusade, I wrote one of my most personal and passionately angry songs, "Campus Crusade for Christ."

This is my last stand
I am who I am
You cannot change me
It's not your right to judge me

I can't believe your audacity
Knock on my door to tell me
He will save me
You see, I don't believe in your Heaven or Hell
Is your God good or evil? Sometimes I just can't tell

This is my last stand
I am who I am
You cannot change me
It's not your place to judge me

It's pretty simple, actually
The Bible is a work of fantasy
And it makes no sense to me
You see, I don't believe the stories about your Jesus
If you think about it, it's pretty damn ridiculous

This is my last stand
I am who I am
You cannot change me
You have no right to judge me
I've always been this way

So stop saying I'm boarding a speeding Chariot to Hell
If Heaven's for jerks like you, I guess it's just as well

This is my last stand
I am who I am
You cannot change me
You have no right to judge me
I've always been this way

This was the beginning of a string of religion-themed songs. Religion frequently made me angry, and music is an excellent way to vent. I also started venting by moving beyond the quiet rebellion into full-on asshole territory. I became arrogant in my anti-religion, and started saying anti-religious things just to draw attention to the fact that I didn't believe the same things that most people do. I angered a lot of people that way, because for them, religion is a serious part of their life and to have someone completely disrespect it is to have someone completely disrespecting them. But I felt like this religious society was disrespecting me, so it was fair.

If I had a conversion story, and I've already said that I don't, it would probably start like this: in 1996, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she passed away in 1997. If I had still believed in a god at this time, this would have been where I would have started hating it. But there was no god for me to hate. (Ironically, this event brought my father back to god.)

In response to this loss, I sat down and wrote some of my most devastating lyrics to date. It was a five part suite titled "The Whispering," and part three of the suite, "Monday," is the most relevant to this discussion. Warning!--this song does not hold back on the language!

Sure I'd like to blame Him, say it's all His fucking fault!
And it would be nice to know that my mom's in a better place
But I can't believe in Him
I won't believe in Him!

As appealing as it may be
I won't... sacrifice... my beliefs for anything

Sure I'd like to blame Him, say fuck God and fuck you all!
And it would be reassuring to know that one day we'll be reunited
But I can't believe in Him
I won't believe in Him!

What has He done for me?
I won't... sacrifice... my beliefs for anything

At my mother's funeral on the "Monday" referenced in the song title, I finally found someone to hate: the preacher that delivered the ceremony. I understand that it is the preacher's job to comfort the family. And this is hard, because death is hard. However, how is this comforting?--my mother was taken from us at a young age because she was such a good person that god wanted her by its side early. Yes, this is what he said. Was I the only person in the room that realized how inherently offensive that statement is? I know he didn't mean to slam everyone else that didn't die, but by trying to place meaning on a meaningless death, he inadvertently suggested that the rest of us weren't good enough to die yet. God didn't want us.

This is why religion pisses me off. There is no meaning in life. People die for unfair reasons all the time, and once they die, they are gone, except for the mark they left on the people they leave behind. But this doesn't mean that life is not worth living, because it is. You have to enjoy it now for what it is, not hold out for what it could be in an imaginary immortal heaven. That mark that you leave behind--that is your immortality.

To be continued...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

All quiet on the IT front

I've been a good boy. For one full week now!

And I haven't heard a peep from IT since October 31st, which is certainly a good thing, because I'm pretty sure my boss will flip out on me if he gets another IT call anytime soon.

The only remnant on my computer of the Firefox war is a quicklaunch icon on my desktop that points to my USB drive (the one my boss gave me--the one with no programs on it). I named it "I feel like a star!" with the shortcut comment "Thanks for watching!"

My apology letter was shockingly sent to IT without modification at the end of last week. I was pretty confident that my boss was going to edit it--because he told me he was going to edit it--but in the end, he felt it was good enough. I'm a little disappointed I didn't put more effort into it now...

So, what now? My Manifesto established a number of subjects that I could blog about at length, but that would be somewhat redundant. Not that redundancy will stop me, as it doesn't hurt to lend my voice to the cause of rationality.

But why keep a blog when nobody is reading? And do I want people reading anyway? It's one thing for family and friends to stop by because I told them about this blog, but what if someone from the IT department came upon this blog by chance? I have not shared this blog with anyone at work, since I really don't want the URL showing up in any of our IT internet reports, even though it is my co-workers that would enjoy the subject matter of my inaugural story the most.

What would happen if IT found this blog, anyway? I'm sure they'd be angry and file a complaint with my boss, who would in turn become angry and confront me about it, but I don't exactly work for a company that is known for disciplining employees. And it's not like I have done anything wrong. No breaches of security or confidentiality--although I'm certain I'd have to argue the latter point. No discussions of the work we do. No badmouthing of particular employees (well... except for my old boss). No mention whatsoever of the company that I work for. I just told a true story about IT silliness. On my personal time. What's so bad about that?

Well, I hope I don't have to find out the answer to that last question. For now, I will carry on doing what I'm doing. I didn't start this blog because I hope to have hundreds of readers visiting every day to see my latest posts on atheism or politics or Battlestar Galactica--I created (and maintain) this blog because it's a great way to vent at the end of a frustrating day at work...

("Why not vent in a less public manner?" is a fair question that I can't really provide a good answer to.)

If there is actually anyone out there reading this, please feel free to stop by again soon... maybe there will actually be something worth reading the next time.

Oh, before I log off for the day, PZ Myers at Pharyngula has put out the call to all freethinkers to help choose a symbol for the freethought movement:

Freethought Symbology

My vote is for Affinity:

PayPal thinks George R.R. Martin is a terrorist

George R.R. Martin, author of my favourite fantasy fiction series of all time, A Song of Ice and Fire, has an interesting tale of PayPal misery in an entry from Sunday on his blog, "Not a Blog":

"PayPal Thinks I'm a Terrorist"

I've personally found PayPal to be a very useful internet service, overall, and haven't had any problems in the two years I've been a member. But I've mostly used it to process credit card payments for Ebay auctions, and I don't keep money in the account. If PayPal decided I was a terrorist and locked my account, it would have minimal effect on me.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Miltiades' Manifesto

Although this blog was created to vent about my company’s frustrating IT department, I feel that it’s time to expand the canvas and establish the future path of this public journal.

So this is what I believe.

1. There is no god.

I don’t need proof of this. There is no proof otherwise, and that is all that matters. I don't need proof that there is no such thing as the Flying Spaghetti Monster--praise Him, ramen!--and the Christian god is just as (un)likely to exist. Atheism is not a religion. It is not faith. It is rationality.

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, has a good line: "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."

2. Evolution is fact.

Evolution is a widely supported scientific theory. "Theory" in scientific circles does not mean the same thing as "guess." It's as good as fact, even though we are still learning how all of the pieces fit together. But that's the key to science--always developing.

3. Morality is not a religious construct.

Why do I do good? No, it's not because I'm frightened of god's retribution and an eternity in hell. It's because of empathy and enlightened self-interest. I "do unto others..." Contrary to what many Christians believe, morality existed long before the bible brought us the ten commandments, and it will exist long after the Christian faith has faded into history.

4. Fundamentalist Christians need a good knock upside the head.

The bible is not the true word of god. The earth is much, much older than 6,000 years. Humans were not created in the image of god. I could go on and on. I generally have nothing against moderate Christians (ie. 90% of Christians), but Fundamentalist Christians are a loud bunch, and seemingly getting louder...

5. Politics and religion must not mix.

The Conservative Party. Republicans. The parties in power in both Canada and the US owe a lot of their success to the religious right. And both parties have an obvious religious agenda. Whether the debate is about stem cell research, abortion, or gay marriage, religion--specifically the Christian religion--is playing a huge role in the decision making of these governments, and it is only getting worse.

6. Life does not begin at conception.

I am pro-choice. If a woman wants to have an abortion, I support that right. It's her body. And there is a big difference between a fetus and a baby.

7. Heterosexual marriage... gay marriage... it's all the same.

Everyone in this country has the right to get married. Deal with it. The "traditional definition of marriage" is dead, as is the "traditional family." There is no debate to reopen here.

8. Psychics are either lying scumbags or self-deluded morons.

Skepticism goes hand in hand with being an atheist. Rationality in all areas is important. James Randi has been seeking proof of supernatural ability for longer than I have been alive, and--surprise, surprise!--there is none. But that isn't stopping the so-called psychics from raking in the cash.

9. If "Alternative Medicine" worked, it would be just "medicine."

Alternative medicine is a huge scam. If you could make millions with an untested product just by using scientific sounding words in non-scientific ways, appealing to people's frustration with impersonal care by the under-funded and under-staffed medical industry, relying on questionable anecdotal evidence, confirmation bias, and the all-important placebo effect... but no, that's not what they are doing! Because obviously a teacher knows more about colds than a doctor, right? And rubbing a stick of wax on your forehead will surely cure that headache, right? Yeah.

And because I want to end this manifesto with something light-hearted and a little less contentious...

10. Battlestar Galactica is the best show on TV.

If you are a science fiction fan and haven't started watching BSG, what the hell are you waiting for? But you had better start at the beginning with the miniseries. To start watching now, in the middle of season three, would be stupid. So go buy the DVDs or something!

And that's what I believe.

My USB drive must leave the building

The hammer has come down. Wielded by my boss this time. I have been given a clean USB drive for work purposes, and I am to use it for portability of documents only. I am not permitted to have any executables on the drive whatsoever--to avoid temptation, I guess.

My personal USB drive has been kicked off the premises. I tried to clean it up to make it more acceptable, but that didn't make the cut with my boss. He never wants to hear about my personal drive ever again, and wants to assure IT that it will never touch my computer again (ha!).

This is okay. No big deal. But also a bit of a piss-off. I recently picked up an awesome high speed 2GB drive, and my new work drive is an old 512MB clunker. But that’s a big enough size for my files, and speed isn't a huge issue when executables aren't being launched, so I guess I'll survive. Ultimately the portability of my files was the reason I got into this whole game. I have important spreadsheets that I use at home and work, and keeping them synced was a problem until I decided to always use the same files on the same portable drive. Portable Apps and Portable Firefox came later. So I’m back to where I started.

I have mostly stuck to the rules so far, with the exception of YadaDisk, an encryption program for my files. IT is aware of this program, and they haven’t forbid its use yet, so I will continue to use it until they say stop.

My personal USB drive will also still make periodic (and secret) reappearances in my office, generally first thing in the morning, to deliver last night’s episode of whatever TV show I am watching that day at lunch (like Veronica Mars on Wednesday--or Thursday, depending on the download speed of the Tuesday night torrent). And then it will hide in my bag, a lonely USB drive, waiting to go home and run Firefox, because I have continued to run Portable Firefox at home.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

An insincere apology

My boss reminded me about writing the apology letter this morning, so I sat down at my computer and banged this out:

Dear [IT department],

Please accept my apology for my activities of the past couple of months. At no point were any of my activities malicious, nor meant to offend. I simply wanted to run the secure freeware program Mozilla Firefox for my internet browsing, and making that work in the corporate environment involved bypassing some corporate policies. I have now made a commitment to [the IT Security supervisor] to halt these activities, and I grudgingly plan to stick to it.

First, I'’d like to explain the reasoning behind these activities. Mozilla Firefox has proven to be a useful web browsing tool for me at home and at work, much more so than the antiquated Internet Explorer 6 could ever be, so having it suddenly restricted was a frustrating experience. Note that I ran Firefox off my USB drive for over six months without any difficulties or complaints. I responded (vented) in a way that I felt would be inconsequential by renaming an icon on my desktop for my amusement. I apologize that some employees in [the IT department] found this offensive.

I will not hide the fact that I have been deleting the Tally Systems usage logs off and on for over two years on various corporate computer systems. I have even uninstalled the program at times, just for fun, because I knew it would always come back. The fact that no one ever noticed nor complained led me--—mistakenly, obviously--to believe that it wasn'’t a critical program, or that it wasn'’t the primary monitoring tool that is used. I also shared the location of the usage logs with many other employees over the past two years, and despite the fact that some of these employees deleted the logs as well, no one ever got in trouble for this activity. So, when my co-worker suggested that we kill the program with a script, I did not think it was going to be a big deal. It was also not a big deal for us to stop this activity entirely, and we have done so.

So, once again, I apologize. I trust that we can leave these matters in the past and get back to real work. I'’m sure you'll continue to monitor me closely, but you'’ll find little to complain about. However, as [control systems] engineers, we do frequently run a lot of new engineering software, so if you have any questions about unknown executables that are being logged, feel free to call. And I hope that the upcoming corporate launch of Internet Explorer 7 will ease my transition away from Mozilla Firefox.

Yours sincerely,

I didn't bother putting too much work into it, like sneaking in a hidden message, since my boss fully intends to modify it to his liking. I doubt the final version will end up looking much like version 1.0.

And in other "I always feel like somebody's watching me" news, I got caught again yesterday running something off my USB drive. This time it was IE Privacy Keeper, a freeware utility that cleans up browser and document histories. I used it instead of spending five minutes doing all the clean-up manually. Should be no big deal, right? Maybe if I wasn't so high on the IT shitlist, and maybe if I hadn't run it off the USB drive...

The obvious question is, "What were you trying to hide by doing the clean-up?" The answer: nothing of consequence. I just like regularly purging the shit that Internet Explorer maintains under Documents and Settings, such as cookies and temporary files. I'm used to Portable Firefox, which purges everything upon every exit.

Anyway, I was caught using unauthorized software, an e-mail was sent today from IT security to my boss, my boss got justifiably angry again, and I had to explain my actions again. Goddamn, IT is obsessing over me!--and it is really pissing me off. I'm honestly trying to be good, but it's really not going well so far...

How I became "a hothead and a rebel," part 2

I spent a few minutes today digging through my computer and found the e-mails that I briefly described in this story. They are as good as I remembered. Maybe even better. I think the reason they made such a strong impression on my first boss is that they are 100% honest with no apologies. I did not hold back even a little bit. I felt my boss and my manager were making a stupid and arbitrary decision, and I told them that.

Here’s how it all began, with IT’s announcement e-mail:

New Feature in Notes 6.5: Instant Messaging
05/30/2005 09:42 AM

Instant Messaging is a new feature in Notes 6.5. It will enable you to converse in real-time with other [corporate] users.

I installed the IM client within a few minutes of receiving this announcement e-mail, and quickly started IMing a co-worker that also installed the client. And then in the afternoon, everyone got this e-mail from our boss:

Fw: New Feature in Notes 6.5: Instant Messaging
05/30/2005 02:35 PM

Please do not activate this option.

[Our department] does not wish to have this feature, based on conversations with [our manager] and [another supervisor].

If you have questions, please see me.

Taken aback by this pronouncement, I quickly responded with a good bit of outrage in my tone...

Re: Fw: New Feature in Notes 6.5: Instant Messaging
05/30/2005 02:47 PM

Do we get any say in this matter?

Instant Messaging is a useful feature and if you require justification for its usage, I can provide it. [My co-worker] and I have already made effective use of the feature in the few hours we've had it running. It is silly to not take full advantage of the software that has been provided to us. As [IT liaison], I was partly responsible for Instant Messaging being implemented, and I (apparently naively) expected [our department] to embrace the feature.

It took a full day for my boss to manage a response, and it was written in his typical stilted one sentence paragraphs. And it was completely ridiculous in its content, as far as I was concerned…

Re: Fw: New Feature in Notes 6.5: Instant Messaging
05/31/2005 02:01 PM

In a discussion among [our manager], [another supervisor] and I it was seen as a possible additional consumer of work time.

We already have email and a telephone.

Why do we need another device which is like the MSN chat room type of set up.

It is thought of as a chat room type of service and it was not seen as needed and just another thing to occupy work time.

What can you provide to show that this is needed over and above the telephone and regular email?

I have to admit, I'm not that familiar with it and do not know of any benefits to having it over the above mentioned methods to communicate.

I am checking further with [our manager] and [the other supervisor]. We should try to be consistent on this matter if possible.

It didn’t take me long to generate a response. I knew it wasn’t going to be warmly received, but it was honest--and honesty is the best policy, right? I like that I even acknowledged my own snark. What a bastard I am...

Re: Fw: New Feature in Notes 6.5: Instant Messaging
2005-05-31 02:35 PM

How would the addition of a new communication feature consume additional work time? It is used to replace other communication methods. If people are chatting on Instant Messaging (IM), it is no more time consuming than those same people chatting on the phone or in person.

Yes, it would be hard to justify that we "need" IM, but why wouldn't we give it a try? It's not costing us anything to experiment with a tool that's included with the software we use. IM is real time text communication, bridging e-mail and the telephone. I find (and I am not alone) that many things are easier to explain in text, rather than over the phone. (As an admittedly snarky side note, wasn't the introduction of e-mail met with similar scepticism, as why would you need e-mail when you have regular mail and the telephone?)

I can point to hundreds of e-mails in my Lotus Notes that would have been better delivered as IM messages. (IM messages can even be saved, if there is important information communicated in them.)

On the [corporate website] today is a nice concise description of the benefits of IM. You may have seen it already, but I have attached it here for your reference.

As a closing note, no matter what is decided by [our Manager] et al, IM will continue to run on my computer. As [IT liaison], it is my role to embrace and experiment with new technology.

And so I was marked as a bad seed for the rest of my time in that department, which luckily was only until January 2006.

And it wasn’t until my 2005 performance review, which was on my last day of work in the department (and also served as an exit interview), that my boss confronted me about the e-mail. I knew it hadn’t gone over well, because he had vented to my co-worker about me (the source of the "a hothead and a rebel" quote), but he never said a word to me about it until that day. And, to my boss’ chagrin, I was again 100% honest. This yielded one of my favourite moments in my five and a half years in the department when my boss told me that I must not have realized how the e-mail’s tone came across--and I set him straight with, "The tone was deliberate."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Firefox fallout

Time to complete this blog's inaugural IT story... If you haven't done so yet, be sure to start with chapters one, two and three.

After our modifications to Portable Firefox as described in the previous post, my co-worker and I settled back into a routine of Firefox usage for a few weeks. I was reasonably confident that we had done everything we could to avoid detection. If we got caught this time, it would be over.

The first blip came in early fall when I learned that an investigation into port scanning had been launched in my name. When confronted with the accusations of port scanning by my boss, I blanked--I didn't remember doing anything like that... It was a few hours later that I remembered ShieldsUP! and realized what had happened. Hoping it wouldn't end up being a big deal, since it was a simple matter of visiting a web site that caused the port scanning, I just sat back and waited to hear the resolution.

But the port scanning investigation quickly became the least of my worries, when a week or so later, my co-worker and I were both dragged into our boss' office where he angrily confronted us with a completely justified "What the hell have you two been doing under my nose?" voice. He had just received a phone call from the head of IT security.

The powers-that-be in IT were very concerned that we were two hackers trying to bring down their system... or something like that. They had found out everything. "FUCI&T" came up in an offhand way, like it had been mentioned but not explained to my boss, and then he asked about the script we'd been running to kill the usage monitor. And killing SMS, of which I had no idea what he was talking about; my co-worker would explain later. And then utorrent came up, to which I carefully explained had nothing to do with the corporate network (since it was used on a hotel network in Montreal). But all of these things happening in short order was evidence stacking up against our trustworthiness. All because they won't let us run a simple, secure, freeware program called Firefox off our own damn personal USB drives.

We assured our boss that we would remove the batch file and stop using Firefox. That everything was being blown completely out of proportion. We were certainly not up to anything malicious.

I also renamed the infamous shortcut with "Fabled Utopias Challenge Identity & Traditions!" (It also no longer points to Portable Firefox, just to my USB drive.) Yeah, I'm clearly not getting any more mature anytime soon... but again, it made me smile, and really, what can they say about that? I'm just making a political statement, honest!

It was very frustrating that our boss had to be involved in this. Any previous problems I had had with IT had come directly to me to deal with myself. But obviously this was a new approach they were taking, and it is far more effective. Yell at my boss instead of me, let him yell at me, and get me in much more trouble than I would be otherwise.

IT's only threat at this point was to remove our local administration rights. I wasn't going to bring up the fact that losing admin rights does not prevent running executables off a USB drive--but it's true. Anyway, a few weeks later, present day, they still have not gone through with the threat, as they are well aware that we have very strong business reasons to require admin rights. Engineering software almost always requires admin rights for installation.

To resolve the situation somewhat, a meeting was arranged. The head of IT security would sit down with me and I would show him all of the currently unauthorized software we run, as well as explain my actions. Needless to say, I was worried to meet the guy, and the day of the meeting was a nerve-wracker.

And then he showed up. A young guy, friendly, understanding, new to the company, and a Firefox user--at home only, of course. It was a nice surprise. The meeting went well, generally. He explained how the tales of my (and my co-worker's) activities had gone pretty high up in the IT department's chain of command, but he was going to work to resolve the problems as much as he could. He explained that only multiple offenders end up dealing with him, and we were definitely multiple offenders. But he also explained that in the grand scheme of corporate IT, most of our activities were small potatoes. At least we weren't using illegally cracked software programs!

But then "FUCI&T" came up. And this was when I learned the true extent of what I had done. What had IT's panties in a bunch more than anything? The name of my shortcut on my personal desktop quicklaunch bar, of course. Without that, no one would have cared nearly as much. But now some clearly overly sensitive employees of IT were taking it personal. Even the head of IT security acknowledged that it was pretty ridiculous, but it had really hit a nerve, and it too had gone all the way to the top. So, the higher ups in IT certainly know my name and are going to be holding a grudge for a long time. For the stupidest possible reason. WTF?

But by the time the IT security head left, I was feeling pretty relieved. It was likely that any changes to our admin rights would follow a corporate wide policy, and not as a stupidly ineffective punishment. I agreed to use IE6 for my surfing needs from now on. I agreed to be up-front about unauthorized software usage. I agreed to no longer kill processes.

And then I fucked it all up one week later in a few seconds of stupidity. It was October 26th, mortgage payment day. I wanted to check the payment status on my bank's website. Only problem: I don't know the account number off-hand. But it's stored in my Portable Firefox! So I quickly opened Portable Firefox, copied the account number, closed Firefox, and then carried on my online banking with IE6. Big deal, right?

Confirmation of my suspicions that they have been watching me like a hawk came yesterday afternoon. My boss again dragged me into his office for a talk. He had gotten another call. The head of IT security was now accusing me of being a liar for continuing to use Firefox. They had noticed the previous day's launch of the renamed Firefox executable. (Renaming the executable is really only a surface fix, as the process can still be identified as Firefox if you are watching carefully, as they obviously are.) I was understandably shocked at both the fact that they caught me and that they had moved so fast to get me in more trouble.

After getting over my brief shocked silence, I calmly explained what I had done, why I had done it, and that I was honestly not using Firefox for my internet surfing anymore ("I'm suffering with Internet Explorer" was an exact quote). I urged my boss to let me talk to the IT guy, but he insisted on handling it. If there's one thing most frustrating about this whole experience, it's that my boss has been the one handling it the entire time, when it should be my mess to straighten out.

Luckily, I had a busy afternoon to keep my mind off these difficulties. And then my boss came to see me at the end of the day again. Way to lead into the weekend, boss!

The IT security guy had believed me, as the log clearly showed a quick blip of Firefox, and he described me as "unlucky" to have been caught. Great. And then "FUCI&T" came up--again!

And this is the reason for this blog. I left work on Friday afternoon in a state of perpetual WTF, and I needed to get some of this bizarro-world shit off my chest.

Because, you see, I harassed the IT department with the name of the shortcut icon on my own personal desktop quicklaunch bar. Yes, the word "harassment" was used! Harassment! Of a ridiculously sensitive business unit... Wow! And it was so easy. Rename an icon a silly acronym that doesn't actually say a damn thing (who's to say what FU means, really?) and let IT find it and then feel harassed by it. I clearly rock.

So, what was the last thing I agreed to do on Friday afternoon? Well, apparently an apology letter is required. Or so my boss has requested I write. And I will, because he's my boss, and because this situation is so ridiculous but yet frustrating to him, that I have to do my best to get back on his good side. How I will write a genuine apology about all of this is beyond me, but I'll give it my best go. Will it end up being sarcastic as all hell?--likely. Will it resolve this problem?--who knows.

Is this story over?--hell no.

How to run Firefox in a corporate environment

The story of this blog's title begins and ends with Firefox.

If you haven't been using Firefox in the past couple of years (or Opera or anything that's not Internet Explorer, for that matter), you have been missing out. It's no secret that IE6 is the worst browser ever created--well, maybe it was okay around the time it originally came out, but how many years ago was that? Sure, now IE7 is available, and it reportedly fixes the vast majority of my problems with IE6, but my story goes back to the days before IE7 was a blip on the radar. (And, for that matter, IT has made the pronouncement that we can not install IE7 until they do their corporate roll-out, which will take months presumably, based on past performance...)

Anyway, IE6 is unfortunately the official corporate internet browser, as it is for most companies out there. But Firefox is freeware and better, so what harm could come out of using it instead? Well, none, of course, but you will get IT's attention quickly and they will forcefully remove it from your computer. Generally, they call, say "I'm uninstalling Firefox," and then proceed to take remote control of your machine and remove the program. And then they say something about how Firefox is not approved software and you must not install it on your corporate workstation or laptop.

So, what to do? I don't want to use IE6 if there are other options. I use Firefox at home all the time and it's clearly my browser of choice. So, Google to the rescue...

Funny thing--Google. Anyone that's ever used Google extensively is well aware that you can learn anything and everything with a Google search. Yet, IT always seems surprised when we find ways around their rules and measures... do they not know about Google?

And the solution to my problem was quickly found: Portable Apps! Here's a modified version of Firefox that will run entirely off a USB drive. Nice. It was the perfect solution. I could have one copy of Firefox for use at both home and work, with the same bookmarks and extensions, and all I had to do was bring my USB drive to work every day. And Firefox would never actually be installed on my corporate computer, so IT wouldn't find it with their regular drive scans. And it worked like a charm for nearly a full year. I started running Portable Firefox in late 2005, while I was still at my terrible first job, and IT did not catch on until mid-2006. It was such a long period of being left alone, that it was quite a shock when they did finally realize what was happening.

When I moved to my new job, I found that a new co-worker was also a Portable Firefox user. And our boss, also getting annoyed with IT's policy on Firefox, got in on the Portable Firefox game as well. And it was our boss that got the call in summer 2006: IT had long known we were running Firefox somehow, but they had finally figured it out. Apparently, it had been quite the shock to learn that you could run software off USB drives... Google, anyone?

How did IT know we were running Firefox? They monitor everything. Every web site we visit is recorded, every executable we run is logged, every key stroke... well, I don't know about the last one, but I wouldn't be surprised. We apparently agree to this whenever we log in, because there's some bullshit disclaimer that we get each time--but is it really agreement when you have no choice in the matter? Probably yes, but it's still unfair. If I could use my own computer to work, I would, but I'm forced to use an IT-controlled PC by the company--where's my choice again? So, anyway, IT could see that firefox.exe was launched everyday, and they could see Firefox's user agent accessing web sites, but they couldn't find the executable to remove it.

A couple years ago, I stumbled upon the executable logging software while cleaning up my workstation files. It wasn't hidden very well... "C:\Program Files\Tally Systems Corp\TSCensus\Bin\UsageLogs" At the time I discovered the program, the usage logs were also plain text, so I was able to see exactly what they were monitoring. (Tally Systems was eventually purchased by Novell, and the upgraded ZENworks Asset Management software changed the usage logs to an unreadable proprietary format.) I attempted to uninstall the program a few times, but it always came back. So I started simply deleting the usage logs. And I wasn't afraid to share the location of these usage logs with my co-workers, to give them a chance to delete them as well. I did this for a couple of years with no consequences.

But my boss and co-worker that were running Portable Firefox were not deleting their usage logs, so we were eventually caught. And maybe all the deleting of usage logs I did was for naught, anyway, since who knows how often they grabbed the usage logs and stuck them somewhere on the network?

When IT's edict that we no longer run Portable Firefox was delivered by our boss, my co-worker and I got to work on running a stealthier Portable Firefox. We kept our boss out of it, as we knew he wouldn't be happy to find out that we weren't giving up. So, once again, Google to the rescue. We both installed the user agent switcher extension and started running Firefox as the Internet Explorer 6 user agent. We both renamed PortableFirefox.exe to something less conspicuous. And we both renamed firefox.exe on our USB drives to IEXPLORE.EXE. You see, Portable Firefox comes with an .ini file that lets you change the Firefox executable name as well. Brilliant!

And then we started making mistakes. Bad, costly mistakes. IT was already watching us closely, since we had been branded as trouble makers for running Portable Firefox in the first place. The smart thing to do would have been give up the fight and suffer with IE6. But where's the fun in that? We had to find out if our stealthier Firefox would do the trick...

My first mistake was a wrong headed attempt to prove that Firefox was more secure than IE6, despite IT's ridiculous claim otherwise. So I used both browsers to run the ShieldsUP! test. The results were inconclusive. The corporate network failed the security test, not the browsers. Little did I know that port scanning was a grievous offence...

My second mistake was telling my co-worker about the Tally Systems monitoring software. He came up with the idea of killing the software with a batch file on every restart. Great idea? Seemed like it at the time...

(My co-worker didn't help the situation when he started killing IT's SMS--software management system--program when it popped up at inconvenient times. SMS does annoy the hell out of everyone, as it forces restarts to install software upgrades. I would never restart my computer if not for SMS forced restarts.)

My third mistake was running utorrent off my USB drive while in Montreal for a training course. I wanted to download an episode of a TV show. Big deal. But it was my first time running utorrent, and I didn't pay attention to the files it left on my laptop. There's an easy fix to this, but I didn't know it at the time.

My fourth mistake was renaming the PortableFirefox shortcut in my quicklaunch bar. What's bizarre and makes this story worth sharing is that this fourth mistake is the one that's getting me in the most trouble. Yes, renaming a shortcut icon on my personal desktop is the biggest mistake I made in trying to run Firefox in a corporate environment... IT considers it to be a worse offence than regularly killing a corporate software process! It makes zero sense and is completely ridiculous, but it's the truth.

So, the obvious question remains: what was the shortcut icon renamed to? Take a look at the title of this blog and extract the first letter from each word. (Because it won't make sense unless you know this: C I & T is the full acronym for our IT department.) Yeah, that's it... FUCI&T! Oh, how scandalous! How dare I? Yes, it's immature. Yes, it was unnecessary. But it made me smile when I did it. And it apparently made IT's head explode when they discovered it.

The Office and how I became "a hothead and a rebel"

Like most office workers, I can strongly identify with TV and movie comedies focusing on office environments, such as both versions of the hilarious The Office (which I accidentally left off my list of best shows in the last post) and Office Space. I read Dilbert every day and recognize so many characters and events that often it's too true to be funny.

For the first five years of my career, I worked in various cubicles, all rather large in size thankfully, in the main headquarters of my company. The structure of our head office building is very unusual, so you don't see the Dilbert-style cubicle farm when you walk in, but every joke ever made about cubicle dwelling still applies. Luckily, with my transfer earlier this year, I moved out to a regional office and was upgraded to an office of my own, with a door and everything. It's a unique location because of the number of offices available versus the number of staff, so it's a luck thing mostly.

In almost every way, my new job is an upgrade: better work environment, better project tasks, better responsibilities, a laptop instead of a workstation, better co-workers (there was only one co-worker in my previous job that I could even stand, and we became good friends), and a better boss. Not that it was hard to go up from my previous job in most of those areas...

At different times, my first boss took on the characteristics of the PHB, Michael Scott, and/or Bill Lumbergh. He was a nice enough guy, but he was very passive aggressive in his supervision, not as funny as he thought he was, and losing his edge when it came to understanding the work we did. And he didn't like me much, since I had the gall to sometimes tell him he was wrong. When one of my co-workers told me that he had described me to her as "a hothead and a rebel," I was flabbergasted. (He even repeated these words when he got the call to be my reference for my new job--which might have cost me the job if I hadn't been the only qualified candidate.) It's such an inaccurate description of me (most of the time...) as to be completely laughable. However, when it comes to IT issues, I do sometimes fly a little off the handle...

That is because I know computers, and in my corporate environment, I'm treated like the complete idiot that I'm well aware some of the other users are. I have a computer science background to go with my engineering education, I have always built my personal computers from separately purchased components, I tweak settings on my personal PC endlessly, I spend hours and hours on the internet (yes, even at work--although I will not blog at work, since I don't want to get in trouble for blogging about work at work...), and I try out new software all the time. Which, in the world of corporate IT, is a bad thing.

From the beginning of my time at the company, I have always been on IT's radar. A month wouldn't go by without someone calling me or emailing me to tell me to remove some unauthorized software off my workstation. "Security risks" such as Winamp, Netscape Navigator, Quicktime, Real Player, and most recently Firefox. Of course, these programs are not security risks, no matter what IT claims. (Oh, and they were/are all freeware.) The real issue is control. IT would phrase it something like this: it costs lots of money to keep all official software upgraded and patched, and it would cost more money to add more programs to the list. So, why not let their users take care of the upgrades? Oh, because we are all idiots that can't be trusted to look after our own computers? Never mind the fact that I use the same programs at home and always keep them updated on my own... no, IT must control everything in the corporate environment.

Funnily enough, despite my ongoing problems with IT, my first department made me their liaison to IT. I was responsible for attending IT meetings and placing material requests for new IT hardware and software, amongst other minor IT-related tasks. When I transferred, I thought that I had escaped that role (which would have been a good thing because it's far more of a burden than anything), but I was quickly made the alternate liaison because of my past experience. Thankfully, that's not as much of a burden, as I don't have to do anything unless the actual liaison is unavailable.

Anyway, back to my first boss' claim that I'm "a hothead and a rebel." This mostly goes back to a single email written during my five years under his supervision. It obviously made a strong impression...

When IT decided to roll-out an instant messaging client with our terrible corporate email software, the higher-ups in my area decided that they didn't want it. On the day that the e-mail came from IT telling everyone how to install the client, my boss took quick action in sending an e-mail out to everyone and telling us to not install the new client. I had already installed the client and had no intention of uninstalling it, so I sent a quick e-mail asking for the reason for this decision. The response was some amazing bullshit about how we have enough means of communication, and how we would all just end up using IM to waste time chatting. So... I responded. In strong words. About how I was embarrassed to be the department's IT liaison when the department was so unwilling to look forward and embrace new ideas for communication. And I said that I wouldn't uninstall the client on my workstation for any reason. I will admit I was arrogant. I will admit I was angry. And I will admit that it was a damn fine example of an e-mail.

At my next annual review, a full six months later, my boss brought up the e-mail. He wanted me to acknowledge that maybe the tone of the email (which was pretty condescending to him) was a mistake, but when I assured him that the tone of the email was 100% deliberate, that was the last straw, as they say. From that point on, I was eternally "a hothead and a rebel" in his eyes.

And I started my new job not knowing at the time that he had passed that description onto my new boss. It was a few months into this job when a co-worker asked me if I had had a fight with my old boss. Confused, I asked what he meant. He explained that my new boss had talked to him after making the reference call, and that my new boss had been really concerned about my old boss' description of my character. I was shocked, to say the least, that my old boss would basically try to sabotage my transfer over what amounts to such a minor issue in my mind. Luckily, it didn't matter, but I know now that my new boss is watching closely for signs of these so-called character flaws.

And I didn't do myself any favours when I took on IT again...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Late getting in on the blogging game...

First let me introduce myself... not that there is actually going to be anyone reading this post...

I'm an electrical engineer working for a power utility in Canada. I work on control software and hardware for the power system. I started with the company in a different position which I suffered through for five years, but a transfer at the beginning of the year was the best thing I've done for my sanity and career. I generally like my job, my co-workers, etc., so I would never want to do anything to jeopardize this job, but I have a work story that begs to be shared...

I'm going to try to keep things somewhat anonymous to start, since some of the things I'll be saying about my company's IT department are not going to make me any friends. Not that I have any friends in IT now... but that's the long story to come. I don't believe I can actually be fired for telling a true story, even if it makes certain parties look bad (including myself, because I did some pretty dumb things...), but anonymity won't hurt.

So, what else can I say about myself?

I enjoy watching TV (Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars, and Lost are the best shows on TV), watching movies (although I haven't really gotten into a movie since The Lord of the Rings set standards impossibly high--Serenity was awesome, though), surfing the internet, and other boring things that aren't worth repeating.

I visit two blogs daily, both at, and both dealing with skeptical thinking: Pharyngula and Respectful Insolence. I have never posted a comment, just lurked, but I wanted to begin my blog by acknowledging both blogs for their awesomeness.

I don't want to type much more for this first post, but I will quickly address the title of the blog--it doesn't mean anything at all. Just words that kinda form a phrase. But the first letters in each word got me in a ridiculous amount of trouble at work, which is the story that will soon follow...