Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Peeve 0 - Where I Lay Down The Groundwork

verb: peeve; 3rd person present: peeves; past tense: peeved; past participle: peeved; gerund or present participle: peeving
  1. 1.
    annoy; irritate.
    "he was peeved at being left out of the cabinet"
    synonyms:irritateannoyvexangerexasperateirkgallpiquenettle, put out,get on someone's nerves, try someone's patience, ruffle someone's feathers; More
noun: peeve; plural noun: peeves
  1. 1.
    a cause of annoyance.
    "his pet peeve is not having answers for questions from players"

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Google Cardboard

This is only the 2nd time I mention a cardboard or paper based concept in this blog, and I'm already convinced this will become a thing.

Google Cardboard: g.co/cardboard 
(or: common man's Occulus Rift)

The accompanying Android app can be found here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.samples.apps.cardboarddemo

EDIT: Deal Extreme offers kits for both a cardboard and a sturdier plastic version of this project, for those interested.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ashdown Travel Blog

April 30

Apparently, my cab driver is a telepath and knows I’m not a morning person, speaking only when necessary. I leave him almost 20$ tip, just because.

Lineup at US customs at the airport is long, but I expected that and woke up at 4am to make sure to make it for my 8h45 flight. Others in the queue obviously did not, and more than a few actually leave the lineup as they become aware that there is no way they’re going to make their flight in time. 

I meet up with my coworker Raymond, as we're travelling together to share some insight on Easy Vista (incident management software) with our fellow IT guys and gals in Ashdown, Arkansas. We grab breakfast at the Montreal airport's Houston restaurant where a server gracefully takes our order and caters to us with a most cultivated aloofness bordering on disdain. 

Flight is bumpy, which I did not expect from a 737, but I blame it on the storm front that the US has been dealing with these days. Aisle seat. Nice. Almost next to washroom in the back. Less nice. In flight movie was Frozen, so opted to not hear about wanting to build snowmen in song form and just occasionally watched the pretty colors on the screen as I napped and read books / comics from my Note 3. Note to self: avoid comics with violent or sexual imagery, like the Preacher series, when in public. Awkward when you don't expect it.

Lunch / snack in Dallas at TGI Friday’s as Raymond and I await our regional flight to Texarkana. I almost don’t make it on the flight as my name does not appear on their list, despite me having the boarding pass right in my hand. I forfeit my awesome solo seat on the left side of the plane for one reassigned to me: the last one in the back right next to the washroom again. Seat can’t recline. My back is starting to really hate me now. Good thing the flight is only about 45 minutes (which means an hour and a half in plane language).

Off the plane in Texarkana, greeted thankfully by Raymond’s luggage. We celebrate by meeting up with Martin (a telecom specialist from our office already on site) by heading out to the Texas Roadhouse, after a short visit to the hotel first. He's been raving about the place and we're invading it tonight.

Randy (IT supervisor in Ashdown) joins us a little later and we “steak it up”. Easily one of the best steaks I have ever eaten in my life, and I’ve eaten a few. This place must be visited if you’re in the area. Must. I could not finish my plate. Seriously.

We briefly stop at Target’s drugstore section afterwards for some necessities, then back to hotel, where I’m enjoying the sweet suite size of the room (alliteration ftw).

Ignore discarded pants in this picture, like they themselves were ignored .5 seconds after locking the hotel room door.

Shower, chat with wifey a bit but I’m interrupting either Arrow or CSI so only the bare minimum is exchanged. I watch a little History or Discovery channel - I can't tell which is which since they both feature reenactments of events that have only a tangential connection to their channel names - before finally dozing off.

Day 1

…and then waking up abruptly at 4am again. I double check my alarm (set for 5h30 am, because in Ashdown they like to start working in the middle of the night – also known as 7am). I’m awakened again and this time am much less aware of my surroundings. I start getting dressed, then head out to brush my teeth, make sure my laptop bag is complete with the essentials, then start the cycle over again as I realize I’m still not dressed. I’m late meeting up with the guys downstairs and grab a coffee on the way out. I can’t really handle more food anyhow. Martin Goudreau is showing us the way to the Ashdown mill.

The scenery is still gorgeous and the ride only takes about 20-25 minutes.

Sun appearing over the horizon, or as I call it the “ass crack of dawn”

Speeding by a field of pillow fluff, escaped from my too short sleep, I'm guessing

We get acquainted with some of the IT staff here who, I’m guessing, sleep on site given the hour at which they greet us. There is also coffee here, so no one needs to get hurt.

I connect to a local printer and start reviewing the training info, having chatted with Randy the night before start re-establishing the basics for what I’ll present. Offering training isn't part of my normal job description, but creating a rapport with the Ashdown IT staff is also part of my presence there and will benefit my department greatly.

Since one staff member is on vacation this week and another has asked for Friday off, we agree to postpone the actual training until the following week, which suits everyone just fine. I’ll have time to target the training better, and Raymond will have had 2 full days to spend with Melissa, who will be considered a remote worker in his Service Desk department, so she can even start filling in some tickets for us to use in the real world.

Lunch is spent at Big Jake’s Bar-b-que, despite hunger not being entirely present. I may die down here. I take a “junior” plate which I struggle with, but is very tasty.

“Free gas when you dine in”

Early afternoon is spent fighting a coma, and meeting with the IT staff that is available to introduce ourselves, explain our purpose there and exchange ideas on how the Service Desk and PC Support will be able to assist them in their daily operations – even after hours. There is an interest in trying new things which is very encouraging for us.

I retreat back to the office Martin is sharing with me while Raymond heads back to Melissa’s desk. I track down a few pieces of information I’ll be able to share with the Ashdown crew, answering some of their questions concerning the software.

This blog entry gets created, while I affectionately consider our evening meal which will be a little easier on everyone – while also being a throwback to my own childhood before they all disappeared from Québec years ago – with a visit to Red Lobster.

No one being particularly hungry, we opt to go sightseeing a bit as Martin wants to snap some pictures of the post office where the Texas and Arkansas lines meet. On the way over to said location, he takes a detour to show us the Arkansas “Domtar house”, where we could have been staying.

Huge grill. Multiple deck levels. Artificial lake. Superb location for just popping a few cold ones looking out over the water as the sun sets. If there is a next time, we’ll know to mention that this actually exists.
If this doesn’t scream out “pants optional”, I don’t know what does.

The post office itself is a historical location:
Sign in front displays the exact location of the intersection between Texas and Arkansas

After a brief stop in a local camera shop where Martin showed the shopkeeper a thing or two about photography, we head out to Red Lobster.

My recollection of this franchise was almost perfect, save for the fact that the menu had probably been improved multiple times over the course of the years. Clam chowder (excellent, with a creamy texture perfectly balanced in thickness) followed by Chesapeake Shrimp: Tender shrimp, andouille sausage and red potatoes with sweet roasted bell peppers, onions and corn on the cob, baked in our signature Chesapeake butter sauce. Not overly heavy, but enough that I skipped dessert.

Martin opted to go spend the evening in a nearby park, possibly snap some shots, while Raymond and I pursued another goal: to find adult libations the respectable gentlemen we are deserve to imbibe.

So of course, our first stop was Walmart.

Tourist Trivia: Texas is comprised of a mixture of “dry” and “wet” counties. Since we are residing in a dry county, we have to “cross the street” known as State Line Drive to purchase alcohol.

We scour the Walmart for a bit, evaluating the potency of a caisse of 30 Miller Genuine Drafts and establish it to be akin to that of a Canadian 6-pack. We’ll split that one over the weekend, most likely. I also pick up a selection of 6 different Shiner brews, for giggles. I also get some scissors.

We head out, after shopping for a few souvenir t-shirts, to the liquor store nearby. Aptly named “Tom’s Jug House”, a veritable shack located in the middle of a parking lot. No regrets.

I find the elusive “something” I’ll be taking back home with me; a 350ml bottle of moonshine-that-can’t-be-called-moonshine named Arkansas Lightning. I was to learn later that this 125 proof blindness inducer actually won gold medals and is considered one of the best around. Yay. Also, a Fat Tire and a Dogzilla Black IPA manage to sneak into my bags.

Retiring to our rooms, I use my brand new scissors to carefully cut along the dotted lines of the replacement Dr. School’s insoles for my work boots, and not-so-carefully use them again to pop open the Fat Tire Amber Belgian Ale. I can’t take them back with me anyhow, so I care about their condition about as much as I care for hip hop, which is to say I’m developing a strong dislike to them.

Pleasantries are exchanged with my wife over Google Hangouts, a shower is taken, some reality show about recovering fugitives captures my attention for long enough for me to start asking myself just what the heck I think I’m doing, and bedtime comes around.

Day 2

I wake up a few times during the night again, but I’m coming around to thinking it may be because I didn’t bring my CPAP machine. Don’t tell my wife. She was nagging for me to take it along and I refused with all the virility I could muster. I don’t think she could handle learning she was right on this point.

With adequate awareness of my surroundings I make my way downstairs to meet up with Raymond and have a little breakfast. I opt for a Texas omelet and a Texas shaped waffle I cook myself in the appropriately shaped griddle, because why the hell not.

Ah reckon’ this here waffle dun’ did deserve what it got, which is eaten

Onwards to Ashdown for a day of printing out copies of Easy Vista documentation and prepping it up for the IT staff. The day is rather calm and uneventful in my case, but I offer moral support when Raymond discovers that the Service Desk phone is not functioning as expected, and Martin is double-checking everything on this side. It turns out that they do get one system working, at least partially, but there are other issues left to be resolved.

Lunch is had at Herp’s today: fried chicken, white gravy, corn. I immediately feel the aftereffects, and again a few times more during the afternoon.

Still feeling a little queasy from that lunch, Martin proposes to try Copeland’s for dinner, and I make the newbie mistake of assuming that their pre-dinner cocktails will be sized for humans. Ha.

There would be room enough for 4-5 goldfish to live comfortably in there

Since the occasion may never arise again, I try an appetizer of alligator meat served with a sweet chili dipping sauce. Tasted like chicken. No, really.

The rest of the evening is spent saying our goodbyes to Martin, who is heading out to Dallas in the morning, and we retire to our rooms for some intense relaxation.


Breakfast at Denny’s, and then road trip.  We decide to XXXXXXXXXXXX in Shreveport, Louisiana, if only to brag about having been in in 3 different states in one day.

The drive up is smooth and uneventful. The scenery is more rural, and Raymond catches a glimpse of a herd of buffaloes.

Abandoned motel on 71 south. We didn’t hear any screams coming from it and you can't make us say otherwise.


Private oil drill in a field. One of many.

We find our way to Shreveport’s Boardwalk, where we fully intended to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXX ourselves in the XXXX and start looking for XXXXXXXX to purchase, because reasons. After a few times around the Boardwalk, we are a little disappointed at not being able to find any. Opting for a break, we XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX for a XXXXXXXXXXXX Hooters. We don’t get kicked out.



We’re not particularly hungry, and wondering if the XXXXXXXXXXXX can be traced back to us, so we decide to split out of there. Those XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX will never know who really XXXXXXXXXX dead, and we’re not XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX jail. XXXX that!



On the way back, we stopped for a quick bite at Popeye’s Louisiana style Fried Chicken, like everything was normal.

Normal. Everything’s extremely normal. Except that biscuit. Shady as hell, that one.

The following day, Sunday, nothing happened and if you heard anything about us being in Oklahoma, it isn’t true.

We had excellent service at the Olive Garden that night. Raymond used the uneaten part of the pizza he had left to bribe the hotel receptionist in advance, as he’s had WIFI connection trouble and might have need of her assistance later on. Apparently accepting food from random strangers is an acceptable behavior here.

*Redacted to protect the not-so-innocent

Day 3

It’s hot here.

Sunday temps reached 32c. Today is 29c.

The only thing that saved us from a heatstroke yesterday was a cool breeze of unknown origin, and Miller Genuine Draft. There is a serious lack of one, or more, of those items today.

Breakfast at hotel, then head out to Ashdown.

Raymond continues his training of his new department recruit, despite the setbacks with the phones and the bugs he’s discovering in our ticketing software's new version while I try to catch up on some due reports – only to discover that the BES 5 server is acting up. I submit a ticket and keep reviewing my training notes.

Lunch at Subway, with Melissa, Pam and Randy. We reminisce about sad end user anecdotes we have had in the past. We stop before alcohol becomes mandatory.

Randy accompanies me to the training room they have: projector, about a dozen workstations for training.
Perfect. I’ll be in at 7am again to prep the room and get set up to start for 7:30.

Afternoon concludes. Ray and I retire to the hotel for a bit before going out for dinner. Besides the Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse is also within easy walking distance of the hotel so it’s our target for tonight. Great atmosphere, great service, great food. I scarf down a pork porterhouse while Raymond feasts on the prime rib. Magnifique. I even manage to pack down a slice of their cheesecake.

Corvette reunion outside Outback Steakhouse. Also known as “We can’t park between lines and doubt our manliness” reunion. 
Still, I’m a little jealous. Our hotel is visible in the background.

Day 4

I forgot to mention the approx. 45oz (1.35l) of beer that accompanied the aforementioned porterhouse.  It doesn’t forget me though, and I spend the night alternating between the bed and the washroom. I never would have guessed that converting beer into urine just about quadrupled the output quantity. I’ve quite definitely had better mornings, in terms of quality. This actually feels like 2 mornings are ganging up on me.

Neither Ray nor I have much of an appetite right now, so we take a few bites, down coffee and next thing you know we’re in Ashdown.

Training goes well. Nothing overly dramatic or spectacular but I do try to zone in on the weak spots FSTs (Field Service Technicians) encounter most often: poorly documented worklogs when transferring tickets or assigning actions, and overly complex resolutions intended for the requesting user.

The training concludes just before 10am and I note a few requests / questions that have come up for later analysis. I leave them with our one-page cheat sheets, and my coordinates in case they need assistance before Ray and I return to Montreal, and afterwards as well.

Lunch is taken at McDonald’s, because what happens in Ashdown, stays in Ashdown, and we've just given up now. Also: effective, tasty comfort food.

I write up a little more of this blog, and keep an eye out on the ticket queue.  

The combination of warm weather and burger digestion launches a desperate attack against my wakefulness this afternoon, which I am proud to say I win by pushing it back with coffee and Coca-Cola, despite the relative gaseous side effect the combination of these weapons leaves behind.

Day 5

Stuff happened, then we eventually found our way back to Montreal.

It's a blur where one can't quite taste the numbers nor see the shapes of the colors properly, so we won't mention it.

Except the breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Chicken fried steak?! Sign me up.

I'll just skip on the biscuits though.