IT’S ANDYS ALL THE WAY DOWN

Andy KaufmanIn 2006, we discovered and reported the truth about Andy Kaufman‘s survival in a groundbreaking investigational piece: We Are All Andy Now.

Reviewing in 2011, we investigated further and found disturbing evidence that the Andys were multiplying incestually. This was published as There Are Certain Things That Enter The Minds Of People Even Without One. Although mainstream media ignored the story, those in the know confirmed the truth, some in public.

For a while, things were quiet. We began to wonder if the phenomenon had slowed down. Perhaps something in the genetic material was faulty? Or did they just get tired?

Nope.

We have found another Andy. This one has an australian accent, very large glasses, and a suboptimal solution to male pattern baldness. The definitive evidence is in his style. Nobody else can combine deliberately bad critical thinking, delusions of grandeur, and almost-plausible manipulation like a full-blooded certifiable Andy.

Clearly the Andys are still spawning. We can’t wait for the next election.

 

Workplace Stories: The Screaming Hole

screaming woman

For two years I had the honor of managing a group of medical transcriptionists at a good hospital.

It was a diverse group in every way. Most of them were post-menopausal women, who are the main battle tanks of the American workforce. These people did difficult clerical work quickly and accurately. They did not take sick days, nor were they late. They were polite, pleasant, and serious about their jobs.

They were also very strange people. Medical transcription requires analytical intelligence, reading comprehension, fast good typing, and patience. It’s for obsessives who love medicine and science, can spell perfectly, and feel personally and emotionally attached to good grammar and the formatting of reports. Most of them have inadequate educations for their talent. People like this are not normal in any way, thank goodness.

My responsibility was to shield these productive eccentrics from the management, and vice versa. This was largely a success and the short management career went very well.

One of the low points was set of new silly rules about lots of things, from an insulting and ambiguous dress code to bad pay changes. People who had been paid by the line for typing reports were to get hourly pay, for example, which wasn’t helpful to the most productive ones. The changes were resented. In the middle of this, the management coughed out another chunk of stupidity. A note was sent out asking us all to let management know what they could do to help us be better at our jobs! And happier, too!

People who are underpaid, and know where the hyphen goes in “salpingo-oophorectomy”, and type 100 wpm with zero errors, and know that the ilium and ileum are very importantly different, are not the ones you want to taunt this way.

The only real answer is “more money.” We all know what they want, though: pointless crap. A special lunch for employee of the month, ice cream socials with the executives, customer service training with cake.

Here are the requests I got:

  • Helmet-like popcorn makers attached to our heads so that popcorn would occasionally roll down into our mouths through a tube
  • Prozac-coated keyboards that would make us less crazy as we typed more, because in general the reverse was happening
  • A hole cut in the wall from our office to the unoccupied central courtyard, so that we could stick our heads through and scream when things were too much
  • Uniforms so that women wouldn’t have to make difficult postmodern decisions in order to comply with the new dress code.

I sent these along as requested to my boss, who was the CFO and a vice president. She was smart and gave a damn. She was also very conventional. She called me up and said “JESUS CHRIST, who are these maniacs you work with?”

“The best in the business and the most productive people here,” I said.

That year I got 15% more money than we’d been promised to give out as raises.

I still want a screaming hole, though.

The End of System Administration: “What would you say you do here?”

I have been a full-time Linux system administrator for more than a decade. This week, I lost my job because I am a full-time Linux system administrator. What happened?

For those outside my world, this is what a system administrator does: We manage server computer and networks. This means Internet sites, your computer system at work, and similar setups. The job dates back to the first time more than one person used a computer and someone needed to manage that.

That’s still the case, and there are many jobs for sysadmins. If you want to get one of those jobs, don’t worry.

However, I’ve been working in the world of leading edge startup technology companies, who write software themselves and also manage its use on the Internet. The trend here is toward something called DevOps (wikipedia article: DevOps). The short version of DevOps is:  Software engineers take on the tasks traditionally done by “Ops” (system administrators) and largely automate them. It’s part of a general trend towards very fast product creation, quick response to change, and cost-cutting. (Look up “Lean startup” for more on this.)

Here’s how the whole setup works: You hire some young, energetic people. Make sure that they can pass technology skills tests. Even more so, make sure they are socially and ideologically suited to the environment. The engineers have to get along with each other and help each other out, and since most of them haven’t worked at normal jobs before, this isn’t a given. And most of all, they have to buy the local ideology, whether it’s “lean,” or “DevOps,” or “Agile.”

The work environment for these people is fast-moving and very disciplined. There are daily short meetings in the morning. Programmers almost always work in mutually accountable pairs. Everything is tracked: accomplishments, stumbling blocks, opinions. There’s a heavy emphasis on making new things and getting them “out the door” as quickly as possible. Dreaming at the desk, absent-minded professoring alone at the whiteboard? None of that.

Meanwhile, the job of the system administrator shrinks. Monitoring, software deployment, scaling the size of the systems up and down, a load of tasks are automated after a quick initial assessment. This is done by software engineers. New tools have accumulated decades of knowledge built into them. Other roles have been taken by services; there’s an entire ecosystem of companies who take away one piece of system administration and replace it with an easy-to-use service that attaches to your other easy-to-use services.

Aside from some holes in this fabric, the role of the system administrator in an organization like this has been reduced to high-level technical support. When engineers need to know something serious about the way operating systems work, or what a database server can do, the local unix subject matter expert is useful. Just not useful enough. It has become the Willy Loman profession.

Most of this is an extension of what system administrators have always done themselves. If you do something three times, automate it. Part of it is the result of the dot-com boom and the terrible laziness of its self-identified geniuses. If engineers are forced to work in an assembly-line environment while watching each other, people can’t horse around all day. None of that is unexpected.

The tiresome part for me is that the interesting jobs are going this way. This last gig was the best job I’d ever had. Everyone was smart, interesting things happened all day, and the company was accomplishing things I was personally proud of. There was a real team spirit and a feeling of involvement in something bigger.

Until I found out I wasn’t seen as useful, which is never a good time.

So my advice to you is: if you want to go into cool startups, you should either be a very rich founder, or a software engineer. Don’t go into operations.

And most of all, be young, very young, and inexpensive, and energetic. The startup world is necessarily cruel because it is built on the need of great returns on investment. If you are comfortable in a very interesting assembly line job that could be lucrative, this is your world. If you are someone with a store of knowledge, beware. You will be abstracted, automated, and discarded.

Well, how did they get here?

Here are some of the searches that led people to this blog since I started paying attention to that.

  1. Pigurines (#1!)
  2. medieval terms of endearment for children
  3. “mail order alien bride”
  4. what kind of chickens have a afro
  5. innsmouth community college¹
  6. pictures of philippine contemporary literature
  7. philadelphia phillies sex toy
  8. sexy german ladies
  9. beelzebub hunks
  10. selling smoke damaged furniture²

That’s all part of our world tonight.

¹Go Sea Devils!
²Change your life, change into a nine year old Hindu boy, get rid of your wife.

PURCHASE MY AMATEURISH CRAP RIGHT THIS INSTANT

I have had a Zazzle Store for quite a while and never really promoted it, but I have a total of TWO products.

1. The “Bob is Love” U.S. postal stamps, in a variety of denominations, featuring a touching and artistical black & white photo of Mr. Bob Trout, my best friend and an icon of the greater Newport-Mesa area:

 

2. The tiresome “nerd freedom” Software is Speech shirt, featuring said slogan on the front and what I am pretty sure is the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America in binary on the back. You see, it’s cool because it’s nerdy and also because you can stand up for an abstract idea of freedom without any risk simply by purchasing an inexpensive consumer item:

The back of the shirt

 

Go buy lots of both now.