Throw the Underdog into the Kill-Shelter, Part 2

So, while doing my monthly check of the latest statement for my credit card, I noted the small amounts which inevitably create a sum that also doubles as a gestalt of financial disbelief, and I came upon the Microsoft charge from the debacle of last month (i.e., Part 1). After the immediate fit of vitriolic glossolalia had passed, I looked over the statement to find the refund which had been promised to me…and I did not find it. As incredulous as it was, after repeated scans over the statement, after multiple denials of the situation, it became clear that they had failed to do the one act of repentance for their stupidity. Knowing myself, I was not going to let this transgression pass without being challenged. I gritted my teeth as I prepared to face the bureaucratic nightmare that surely awaited me. So, I donned whatever armor that I could find, and it was once more unto the breach (of sanity), dear friends.

I started with the official number for Microsoft support, and I was immediately greeted with another voice recognition system that we have all come to despise. Usually, most systems will provide you with the unspoken, default option of pressing ‘0’ if you wish to bypass the monstrosity. Microsoft, though, will not let you off so easily; there’s less fun and amusement to be had without your active participation. After pressing ‘0’ and immediately being disconnected, I called back and proceeded to navigate the maze of options presented to me, much like a good mouse does in a maze…except, in this case, there is no cheese, but if you’re lucky, you may be returned a small sliver of your dignity. Upon completing the options and waiting for a few minutes, a polite woman greeted me, and she asked how she could help me. I briefly explained what had happened a few weeks ago, and I complained about the lack of the promised refund. She apologized to me, but she said that she could not help me. Instead, I would need to call the Microsoft Developer Network (i.e., MSDN) center. And all that I could think of was “And so it begins…”

So, upon being provided with the number for MSDN by the polite lady, I called them instead, and a “dude” (not “The Dude”, but perhaps a distant cousin) answered the phone, sounding as if he had been just woken from a nap. I again explained the situation and the lack of a promised refund. Sounding as if he had just celebrated the recent legalization measure in Washington, he reported to me that he could not help me either. As it turns out, the new Windows App Store initiative falls under the MSDN “umbrella”…but it actually exists as an autonomous entity. Feeling the bile once again percolating, I asked for the phone number of this mysterious shadow organization. Idiot that I happened to be for expecting one, he relayed that it had no phone number; instead, it only had a web site address. When I asked him to explain what was at this address, he verbally shrugged his shoulders.

Third time is the charm, right? Or it just a multiple of 3? I was prepared for either one, and following the provided URL, I made my way to the site of the Windows App Store, where I finally then found the support page of my quest. Strangely, though, there was no phone number, email address, or other suggested way of directly contacting them. Instead, I was allowed to provide a phone number, with which they would then call you. I realized that I was less at a support page and more at an altar, where I could summon spirits and demons with a phone number instead of a sacrificial dead animal. Placing my phone number on the altar, I prayed to the Gang of Four that they would hear my prayers, and after a few tense seconds, a call did come to me. I had made contact with the other world.

This man sounded like he had recovered well from the celebrations in Seattle, and he spoke to me with better clarity. Again, I explained the entire situation, and finally, he told me that I had found my salvation, for he could exorcise the demon that would not leave my credit card. After the kind spirit removed the financial blight from my card’s soul, I thanked him…but before he went back to his ethereal plane, though, he imparted one revelation: I should never have been charged in any case. It seems that if you already have a MSDN account (which I do), you were supposed to automatically receive a Windows App Store developer account, free of charge, as a benefit of being a MSDN member (which, as it turns out, is absolutely true). For some reason, at this point, I couldn’t stop laughing when he told me. This comedy of errors was something to which even Shakespeare would say “Come on, this shit can’t be real.” Yes, Bill…I’m afraid it is.

After disconnecting from my spiritual guide, I looked over my emails a few minutes later, and I discovered another recruiter email which had been sent via LinkedIn. Ever since joining and creating a profile on the LinkedIn site, I have received (along with undoubtedly many others) a steady stream of inquiries from recruiters, and after discovering that most of them are headhunting hacks (one asked me if “I was in the game”, which of course deserves no answer), I have the default reaction of deleting them. Occasionally, though, I will get one that deserves some attention due to being from a particular company or due to having a particular headline. This one, in particular, had both. It was an email from a Microsoft recruiter, and specifically, it asked if I would be interested in becoming a tech evangelist for the Windows App store. It had to be that my recently disconnected spirit had told some deities about what happened, and they had arranged for such an email of ridiculous timing. What else could explain this except for the intervention of gods who amuse themselves by tormenting mortals? So, I did what anybody with a penchant for passive-aggressive behavior would do: I replied along with the link to my first post here. As of yet, I have not received a response from him…and I would be inclined to believe that I never will.

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Spherical Cows May Want Wires in Their Wazoo, but Leave Me Out of It

For those who have not had any experience with the naivety of some technological creators and/or researchers, you may not have heard of the term “spherical cow”. In that case, I’ll paste the generic form of the joke that you can find on Wikipedia:

“Milk production at a dairy farm was low, so the farmer wrote to the local university, asking for help from academia. A multidisciplinary team of professors was assembled, headed by a theoretical physicist, and two weeks of intensive on-site investigation took place. The scholars then returned to the university, notebooks crammed with data, where the task of writing the report was left to the team leader. Shortly thereafter the physicist returned to the farm, saying to the farmer ‘I have the solution, but it only works in the case of spherical cows in a vacuum.’ ”

If you’ve ever been in the presence of academia or some suit without a clue, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve tried to circumnavigate around all such stupidity, but I haven’t been able to totally escape it. Even when I ensconce myself with dead animal carcasses, it still uses its superior tracking skills, and it finds me. For example, I’ve changed modes of transportation over the years in an effort to find a more efficient one, switching from bus to train to bus…only to have some bureaucratic idiot follow my every step, using his Pollock-like brush stroke to arbitrarily change the implementation of that route (and, consequently, smear the living shit out of my plans).

Recently, it’s come to my attention that I have developed a habit of snoring. In fact, it comes to my attention fairly often, since it usually comes in the form of being hit with a pillow in the middle of the night. Of course, I don’t mind such a gentle reminder; I’m just glad that the pillow has a cushion in it instead of being filled with nails. However, not wanting to be smacked with nocturnal pillows for eternity, I decided to seek assistance from professionals, and in order to help me, they recommended a sleep study. Then, unknowingly climbing into the spherical cow suit, I ventured forth to my own personal form of hell.

The point of a sleep study is to observe and record your sleep, so that a doctor can create a diagnosis for your particular problem while sleeping. Up until this point, everything makes some sense. The implementation, however, is a whole different animal. Now, I don’t know who designed sleep studies, but I would virtually guarantee that they’ve never actually experienced one, since it actually works against an important goal of the study: to sleep. When my doctor first told me about the sleep study, I envisioned a place which was made entirely of pillows. Yes, even the walls were plush! And you would be fed a full meal with a dessert of marshmallow-flavored sedatives…A place built for sleep. I’ll tell you that it’s quite the opposite. You’re placed in a clean room with minimum furnishings and a hard bed. There are cameras and microphones in every corner, recording your moves and sounds. Just before laying down, sensors with attached wires are glued all over your body and head and into your nose (Wireless? When do you think we are, the 21st…oh right), and those sensors are then wired into a harness (with more wires) wrapped around your body. Finally, as you lay down to sleep, the harness is then plugged into a device next to the bed, which gets pushed and pulled if you move around. So, in order to avoid that and unplugging any wires, just lay still and relax. (And, no, we’re not a pharmacy; we can’t give you anything to sleep. Even NyQuil. It’s a legal thing.) Now, go to sleep, you stupid cow.

Sounds tranquil, doesn’t it? I promise you that it’s every bit as much fun as it sounds and more. So, as I tossed and turned (by only several degrees, since I didn’t to unplug anything) the whole night to a morning devoid of any rest, my anger raced towards the question “how”. How could this have passed as the way of doing this? Who in their right mind would have accepted this form of observation? But, more importantly, who had the conscience to design such a horrible form of torture? I thought about it, and it became clear: probably some of the same people who I went to school with. The same people who build things without relating to their creations and/or users. The people who don’t create or innovate solutions; they only implement them. And that’s the problem: it’s just fun to build things. And it’s so much simpler when you don’t have to really care about them. You just build them and walk away.

After “waking up” (Is it waking up when you start counting down until when the alarm clock goes off?) , dressing myself, and then leaving with a hunger for breakfast and the desire to commit arson/defenestration, I began to grok the nature of bad design and to question myself in the process. Do I build things without some form of attachment and/or emotional involvement? I like to think that I never do that…but that’s not true. Sometimes it is fun to simply build something and then to nonchalantly skip away, sometimes with pigtails. Because I like wigs. But that’s beside the point…In the end, I can still curse out the designers of sleep studies; I’m not forgiving them. Are you crazy? What I can say, though, is that I need to use this lesson to remind myself about being vigilant against distraction, to create things with myself and/or my users in mind, and to make my projects a part of myself. I’ve designed and built things which were both fun to create and which were probably of some use to people…but in the end, it was a halfhearted attempt at creation. I should design things that mean something to me, that I would want to use. In fact, it should be something that I DO want to use! I should build something with the idea in mind that I will use this someday…and I look forward to it. So, thanks, designers of the sleep study…you reminded me to be a better person. Now go back to your favorite activity of engineering a better torture chamber for round bovines.