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20101003

Dymocracy (True Story VI)

Entry 1718

Resistance is futile I can be such a prick sometimes and I wouldn't like to be one of my own colleagues.

Because Dell delivered a truckload of computers at the place I pretend to work I found it a pretty neat idea to stick some labels on the machines. I knew there had been a Dymo label maker in our company before but it had disappeared in the mist of time.

Time to call the office equipment department. The office equipment department (OED), in our company, is regarded as the earthly equivalent of a black hole. It is a mysterious place known for sucking in things, like paper, tape or pencils, with almost no chance for the paper, tape or pencil in question to ever appear again. It is a constant fight for our people trying to balance on the office equipment department's event horizon hoping that something might fall out.

One sunny day, a few years ago, I had purchased some laptops but because I would be away for a couple of days I wanted to secure these. So I strolled over to the OED and asked one of the wayward witches if I could put the laptops in their safe. "No way.", was the answer, "There is no place in the safe because we keep our staplers in there." I immediately believed them as it is easier in our organisation to get a new company car than a stapler.

You need to know there have been several stapler wars going on for the past decades in the company I work for. In one of these battles I emerged as a freedom fighter although the OED general staff probably will define me as an Al Qaeda inspired terrorist. One day a stapler squad team, lead by one of the witches, sealed off the building to do a physical inventory. They entered my office and saw my stapler on the desk. "Aha! A stapler!", they triumphantly sneered. Before I could make any move they produced a paper. "Sign this!" I laughingly asked what the paper was for and was explained, in the same tone US marines use when they unexpectedly break into an Afghan hut and ask the owner what he has been doing at his own place, that I had to agree that I was in the possession of a company stapler and that I would be physically and economically responsible if this piece of equipment ever went missing.

I refused. This was clearly a reaction they didn't expect. I took the stapler that had been serving me for the past decade, caressed it for a while, and handed it over to the squad leader. "Here.", I said with a sob in my voice, "I don't need it anymore." I haven't had a stapler since. (Although you probably won't believe me, I assure you this is a true story.)

But, like I have written some paragraphs ago, I now urgently wanted an embosser to stick some labels on some computers. Sweet memories encompassed my mind from decades ago when I was still a young boy and one could conquer the world with a Dymo embosser in one hand and a View-Master in the other.

To my amazement it was immediately agreed on that I was worthy of getting this and, probably a record in the history of our company, a carton box with D-Y-M-O written all over it was brought to my office a couple of hours later. I had hoped for something I could squeeze inside my pockets but the box didn't exactly predict good news.

The apparatus that came out of the box could be easily described as a secret doomsday weapon from a Star Wars movie with more buttons than an average jet fighter. It also came with a USB-cable and a message on the box proudly proclaimed that you could type (and obviously print) your labels using your computer keyboard, making the zillion of buttons on the machine somewhat redundant.

I was willing to boldly go where no man had went before and although the Dymo doomsday machine looked pretty ridiculous next to my slick laptop, a bit like hanging a trailer behind a Porsche, I opened the typical white envelop that contained the software cd and inserted it. The installation went smoothly, but something in the EULA bothered me. The first sentence of the End user License Agreement read:

BY OPENING THE SEALED DISK ENVELOPE OR USING THE SOFTWARE YOU ARE AGREEING TO THE TERMS OF THIS SOFTWARE LICENSE AGREEMENT AND LIMITED WARRANTY (collectively, the "Agreement").

What I found pretty weird was that some obviously overpaid and overzealous lawyers of the law firm representing Dymo had decided that shredding some paper to pieces in order to grab a CD already was enough to limit their warranty. Probably they had suffered from a million dollar lawsuit in the past by someone who had cut a finger by opening the envelop. I found the first sentence so intriguing that I read the second one as well, that went:

IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO THE TERMS OF THIS AGREEMENT, DO NOT BREAK OPEN ANY SEALS OR USE THE SOFTWARE. PROMPTLY RETURN THE UNUSED SOFTWARE ALONG WITH THE REST OF THE PACKAGE CONTENTS TO YOUR SUPPLIER FOR A FULL REFUND.

That one made me laugh out loud and several people from the office hid under their desks because they thought there was a hyena on the loose.

Because: in order to read the agreement one has to open the sealed envelop and insert the CD in a computer.
But: if you do not agree with the agreement you are not allowed to break the seal, but that knowledge is only given after you have opened the envelop.
That is what I call a contradiction.

I am aware that Superman with his X-ray vision can read letters through envelopes, but I doubt that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster gave him the ability to read texts from a CD, bit by bit, as CD-ROM technology was pretty rare in 1932, so I wrote a letter to Dymo explaining my dilemma.

And guess what. They answered. Dymo told me there was indeed a contradiction in their EULA and added they will ask their legal department to come up with a better version. The rain stopped raining, the grey clouds suddenly disappeared from the sky and a giant golden sun painted a rainbow in the skies.

Just a small step for Felix Atagong, but what a giant leap for the world. And I don't even ask a fee for it.


Other True Stories on this blog:
True Story
True Story (the sequel)
True Story (part 3, the horror returns) 
When in shit, call IT (True Story IV) 
True Story V, Atagong's continuing struggle with helpdesks... 

20100723

True Story V, Atagong's continuing struggle with helpdesks...

Entry 1706

Exceeded quota One of my daily jobs as an IT monkey, next to changing printer toner that for some members of the company I work for seems to be a task of gargantuan proportions, is to take care of the safety of our network.

Although our (rented) mail server has a sophisticated anti-virus and spam removal system (if I may believe the blurb), the firewall has a daily updated spam and anti-virus protection (if I may believe the expensive maintenance contract) and the individual workstations have a top-notch anti-virus suite there is always the odd chance that a Trojan or backdoor (real good old-fashioned viruses are so seldom, these days) slips through the system.

And that is what happened last Friday. As most of the users only have limited rights on their machines usually no harm is done. On top of that these virus-loaded mails can be spotted from a 10 miles distance, because they invariably use old tricks nobody falls for anymore, except when… but that is for later.

Sales car caviar

So when suddenly a machine started spitting out 900 mails in half an hour, using the infamous relay port 25, I had a pretty clear idea where shit had hit the fan. I didn’t need to consult Sherlock Holmes to figure out that this sudden burst of activity could only come from the division that, by definition, is the least active but has the most expensive cars, the most modern laptops, the highest expense accounts but the least discipline. I am of course speaking of the sales department.

For historical reasons sales people in our company must have the nec plus ultra without fully understanding the nec nor the ultra. Sometimes this can be interpreted more literally than you think. I was once present at a sales meeting where the managing director was giving a blurry motivational speech about how sales figures and the company’s future existence where going hand in hand. For about 20 minutes the MD spit out phrases like:
no sales figures ergo no turnover,
no turnover ergo no profit,
no profit ergo no jobs…
At the end he asked if there were any questions, the sales director raised her hand and asked: who is this new client Ergo you have been going on about? (I swear on both my testicles that this really happened.)

The sales division is the one that asked for the latest Microsoft Office Suite, because the 65536 lines limit of older Excel versions was really not enough to make 15 line offers and then, very seriously, phoned me to ask how to they had to calculate a sum. My answer, making my dodgy reputation as a grumpy IT manager only bigger, is invariably the same: you can use exactly the same formulae you used in Excel XP, Excel 2000, Excel 98 or Excel 95 for that matter. Not wanting to probe deeper into my dark cynical brain the person at the other end said ‘thank you’ and is probably still busy typing =A1+A2+A3+A4+A5+A6+A7+A8… Lets hope the columns he needed to add really didn’t hold 65536 plus one cells…

Somewhere last month I got a call from sales asking how they could find out if a certain name (in an Excel list) was present on a long list of names. So I told them, trying not to put an overt sarcastic tone in my voice, that perhaps the function to FIND a certain piece of information inside others pieces of information was the FIND function, just like the function to calculate a SUM in Excel is mysteriously called SUM.

Pie in the sky

And you will probably not believe me if I tell you that one of my side-jobs as an IT-manager is to receive the weekly turnover list of the sales people and turn it into a pie chart. Making a pie chart in Excel for them is what brain surgery looks like for me, apparently. (Don't dare interpreting the last sentence the wrong way!)

Last week I found out to my amusement that not one single person of our sales team was able to calculate a percentage, and after a 30 minutes discussion they decided to send a 10 lines Excel sheet over to me. I changed the wrong total for the good one (I wasn't bluffing when I told you they don't know how to make a sum) and suddenly it all added to 100%. It’s nice to be known as a computer genius.

Google wants you

But the bottom line was that one of our sales laptops was spitting out a backdoor, a Trojan or whatever you call these things nowadays, at an incredible speed. I located the PC in a jiffy and found out that the mail in question had been send (apparently) from Google containing a job offer. Obviously the sender's address had been spoofed and the attachment contained not an application form but a malicious program.

For my own intellectual sanity, and because it is rather hard to believe anyway, let me rephrase the previous paragraph. One of our sales persons saw a mail from the Google headquarters coming in, genuinely believing that, out of the billions of persons on this Earth, she had been chosen personally by Eric E. Schmidt to work for them, unzipped the attached messages and ran the exe file that was hiding inside. If creationists need proof that Darwin's evolutionary theory is humbug they just need to come and visit the company I work for.

It really didn’t take me a lot of time to neutralise the backdoor, although the sales person in question was constantly nagging that she had loads of work to do and that she was missing the sale of the century due to my intervention, but then there was still the matter that my anti-virus providers, all 3 of them, had failed me.

Helpdesk Blues #1

I started with the mail server guys. I sent a mail to the anti-virus mailbox but antivirus@belbone.be replied that it didn’t exist anymore. Fair enough, I don't use this address very often and it might have changed since a couple of years ago.

Time to call the Belgacom helpdesk, Belgium’s biggest telecom operator.

“I would like to point out that your professional spam and anti-virus filter, that I actually pay for, let through a harmful mail last Friday, and that today, on Monday these mails are still slipping through the maze.”

As usual the voice at the other side was very friendly and very professional:
“Please send a mail to abuse@belgacom.be and they will look into the matter.”

I like it when helpdesk people are efficient like that. So I did what they asked. Not five minutes later I got a return message and it read something along these lines:

This mailbox has exceeded its quota.
The exchange server will not attempt to send it again.
Thanks for your comprehension.

It was very reassuring realising that the biggest telecom provider of Belgium hadn't been checking its abuse mailbox for the last couple of weeks.

Helpdesk Blues #2

Time for Plan B. I knew where the original mail, containing the worm, had come from (not from Google, obviously) and I send a mail to abuse@versatel.be, but that mail address also was invalid. A WHOIS lookup showed me that Versatel was now in the hands of KPN.

Time to call the KPN helpdesk. To my amazement the KPN helpdesk lead me to Mobistar, Belgium’s second biggest telecom operator. A very friendly and professional man tried to help me.

"The IP range you gave me is not one of ours.", he said. "We have indeed taken over the professional branch of the KPN business, but the home consumer market has been taken over by Base. I’ll give you the helpdesk number of Base Consumer Market."

Helpdesk Blues #3

Time to call the Base helpdesk, Belgium’s third biggest telecom operator. The phone guy was very professional and very friendly.

"I can see it is one of our routers", he said, "but as the IP addresses are dynamically given whenever someone connects we will need the exact headers of the mail in question."

"I can give you all that.", I replied, "But what are you going to do, as the person probably is not even aware he or she is sending Trojans around?"

"After locating the router in question we will monitor it and if this person is still sending viruses around we will contact him or her and in the worst possible case switch off the router from a distance until the problem has been solved."

"Sounds fine to me, were do you want me to send the mail headers?"

"Support@base.be, sir. We will immediately take care of it, glad to be of assistance to you."

Minutes after I send the information I heard a reassuring ping. It was a message from Base. It read:

We are sorry we can’t deliver your mail, as this mailbox no longer exists.

The world is in safe hands, I can assure you that.


Other helpdesk stories on this blog:
True Story
True Story (the sequel)
True Story (part 3, the horror returns) 
When in shit, call IT (True Story IV) 

20100307

When in shit, call IT (True Story IV)

Entry 1673

actually this gizmo does exist: http://www.atechflash.com This is a true story.
Again.
I work for the Belgian branch of a company that has a few thousand employees and this week it was big chief powwow day, meaning that the meeting room would be constantly visited by people of slowly descending picking order until the bosses would find someone they could blame for whatever reason they would like to blame him (or her) for.

The CEO invaded the meeting room, with in his slipstream the three vice-CEO-s (we like to call them the holy trinity) representing sales and marketing, bookkeeping and the third who likes calling herself the caca-manager in lack of a proper job description. A coffee machine was hauled in with a select choice of espressos, mild long coffees, strong long coffees and the obligate brown liquid of the decaffeinated kind. All they missed now was George Clooney to make a funny comment.

From my desk I heard how somebody’s - anybody's - telephone rang, the person in question would hastily leave, with a face red as Heinz tomato ketchup, towards the meeting room and several minutes later he / she would reappear, with a face grey as ash, trying to keep that certain air of je ne sais quoi although we all knew that he / she would go sobbing later on in the toilets.

We were looking at each other every time a telephone rang. Then a happy sigh when it didn’t come from the staff but just from a complaining customer.

Then my telephone rang. Everybody was looking at me. It’s the meeting room, I whispered. Eyes big as saucers were looking into my direction. I cleared my throat. And said: Felix Atagong, IT department.

Yeah Felix, said the big chief, sorry to disturb you, but do you happen to know where the toilet paper is?

I had to confess that I didn’t know the present state of our current toilet paper stock. There was howling laughter in the background.

When in shit, call the IT department.


Other True stories on this blog:
True Story
True Story (the sequel)
True Story (part 3, the horror returns) 

20091120

True Story (part 3, the horror returns)

Entry 1615

I duly want to apologize to the person of the Isabel helpdesk for shouting at him, on Monday morning, that he could fuck himself just before I smashed down the phone.

I only wanted to know if the Isabel utility was compatible with Windows 7 - that's all - but getting an actual answer on that simple question was something else.

Isabel is, or better was, the ingenious software that was devised by a conglomeration of Belgian banks to help the industry automate their bank movements. In the past when a company had to make payments they had to send over the bookkeeper or someone else who had the authority to sign legal papers over to the bank where he, not many female bookkeepers around in those days, had to stand in the queue with all those other bookkeepers from other companies wanting to do exactly the same thing. Basically all that was physically done was handing over some signed papers and receiving some stamped papers in return.

For once the Belgian banks did something smart. They created a company that devised software to send over bank movements by phone and that worked for all major bank accounts. It was safe, reliable and fast although most bookkeepers regarded the software as the devil's work because they used to have three hours long lunch breaks by claiming the queue at the bank had been very long and slow.

Of course you had to pay, quite a lot actually, for the program installation and there were, still are, monthly fees to pay for every add-on you desired to install. That is a bit silly as the software actually makes the banks save time and people so they should actually reward the companies for using it but the day a bank gives something away for free will also be the day that chicken get teeth and women will address their spouses with the sentence: headache who moi? When I bought a house and had to take a loan at a ridiculous interest rate all I got from my bank was a plastic pen.

Over the years something called the Internet, first by phone, then DSL, later cable, was invented but Isabel pretended this revolution had never happened and still claimed that only regular telephone connections were safe enough to transmit financial data. The developers were probably right, not because the Internet wasn't safe but because they were too old school to program the changes.

When all the banks individually started to give Internet accounts to their clients this was a situation that Isabel couldn't hold anymore. Try selling the story to a multinational that the janitor can do his personal banking affairs for free on the web, but the financial director, using an expensive professional tool not.

A couple of years ago Isabel finally managed to offer a secured Internet access provided that you paid that little monthly extra of course, noblesse oblige. The software still cripples a couple of years behind and anno 2009 it is impossible to share the software over a local network (at least without hacking into it) and although the website promotes version 6.0 nobody is entitled to install it.

The company I work for has several independent entities and so it is funny to see how every morning different bookkeepers are queuing behind the only Isabel machine we have got. A positive side effect of this is that you always get to know the latest gossip that floats around, Bernadette from 3D is now screwing Patrick from 2C, but an undesired result is that everyone leaves his personal Isabel logon card lying on the desk and that the different passwords can be found on post-it notes stuck to the screen. (This is also done out of necessity, the janitor from the example above can do all his bank payments from the beach on the Bahamas but if the bookkeeper goes on holiday for three weeks all payments will automatically stop until he gets back.) This is simple proof of how a fail-safe secure system will degrade into its opposite thanks to the über-silliness of its programmers.

The machine that is running Isabel is getting a bit old and so I wanted to replace it, but I wanted to know if the software would work under Windows 7. The Isabel website is typical for big companies, it contains hundreds of FAQ pages, but will – by default – never show the page you are looking for. There is also absolutely no possibility to ask support a question by mail and the mail I send to info@isabel.be returned saying that the box did exist but had exceeded its volume.

I had already lost over 45 minutes and finally I decided to contact the helpdesk that we can call because we pay a small but substantial monthly fee for that. The Isabel helpdesk computer started with a series of menus that I had to run through: the first time I must have pressed the wrong button somewhere because the machine advised me to consult the FAQ on their website and abruptly ended the communication.

I called helpdesk again, now paying close attention to the questions asked and even repeating the questions if I thought I had misunderstand something.

I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 1.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 2.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 3.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 4.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 5.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 6.
I ran successfully through the different questions of menu 7.

We will now pass you through to one of our helpdesk people, the machine said after 8 minutes of button pressing extravaganza. Yes, I thought, yes! At last a living soul, I felt like Robinson Crusoe who finally saw a ship after 36 years of misery on a desert island.

The phone rang. A man robotically said: "Subscription number."

He did not say: "Good Morning. This is the Isabel helpdesk, how can we be of service to you?" All he said was: "subscription number", and he didn’t even bother to put a please at the end, fearing that every instance of that word would cost him five years of his life.

I answered using my sweetest Jack Nicholson voice: "Good morning. I would like to know if Isabel 5.0 is compatible with Windows 7."

He replied as robotically as before: "Subscription number."

Suddenly I snapped. The sweet Jack Nicholson in me turned into the axe-carrying Jack Nicholson killer of The Shining. "GO FUCK YOURSELF!", I shouted, and then I smashed down the phone.

It was a very irresponsible, immature and very stupid thing to do but the bookkeepers that were waiting in front of the Isabel machine have now got a new story to spread all over the company.


Other helpdesk stories on this blog:
True Story
True Story (the sequel)

20090827

Saint Cecilia

Entry 1593

you're breaking my heart My brain is like a sieve, did sing the very underrated Thomas Dolby on a sunny day once, but today Felix suddenly had a heroine-like-flash of memories from, what he thought were, his anarchic student days. Try to visualise young Felix Atagong, pimple faced jam jarred glassed weirdo who was frenetically trying to belong somewhere, anywhere, but has always been too afraid to do so.

Caught in a crossfire of childhood and boredom, brought up in the deep-rooted Flemish catholic tradition that it is not done to get up, stand up for your rights, Felix’s small-town boy thoughts were a maelstrom from the baroque and the bizarre.

Felix lost his religious beliefs somewhere between the age of twelve and fourteen, as this was the time when he had finally realised that magic didn’t have a place in the real world, and this included Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas, the European version of Santa Claus), the mystery of transubstantiation and the miracle of the loaves and fish. In first grade that last miracle had been explained as something that had really happened, but the progressive priests in second grade tried to explain that the story had a symbolical meaning and that no wizardry had taken place in order to multiply 5 loaves and 2 fish into a giant barbecue.

Felix’s mild condition of the ailment that is defined by torturers of the human language as ‘pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified’ has made him classify the outside in small wooden boxes where Schrödinger’s cat doesn’t fit in. In Felix’s world the cat is either alive or dead and not both simultaneously like Schrödinger maintained. To continue this train of thought and liaise it to the story of the 5 loaves and 2 fish; either this is a miracle or either it is an allegory, but not both. As there was obviously a lack of consensus regarding the loaves and fish problem the only logical thing to do for Felix was to abandon catholicism. The fewer boxes there are the better. Leaving catholicism behind wasn’t such a big step, Felix thought, he had never been too found of men in drag throwing smoke curtains around in church.

If catholicism imprinted something into little Felix’s little brain it was a nagging sense of honesty and morality. Strangely enough the people who openly adhered catholicism didn’t seem to behave ethical at all, another paradox that didn’t fit into one of Felix’s small wooden boxes.

Leaving religion behind left a void into Felix’s brain although he didn’t always realize this. So he went looking for something else, and every time when he thought he had found something this would be investigated very thoroughly and rather maniacally. One day it was Erich Von Däniken’s UFO theories, another day it could be a would-be groupie-fashion-model whose picture he had found on a record sleeve.

Europe in the seventies was a battlefield between conservatives and progressives, left and right (paradoxically the USA were situated on the left and the communist block on the right side of Europe). American readers will perhaps fail to understand this, but as Europe was literally sandwiched between capitalism and communism, we tried to obtain the benefits of both worlds (although some countries didn’t really have a choice). In Europe communism (or its softer counterpart socialism) wasn’t always frowned on as in the USA, where even the term liberalism was (and still is) suspicious. In Europe a liberal defaults to a right-winged-conservative although some left-liberal parties do exist or co-exist.

Students in the Seventies didn’t take la démocratie à l’Américaine for granted. Once too often our western capitalistic regime ignored the democratic voice of the masses in favour of NATO’s (read America’s) nuclear strategy. Even today our prime minister may neither confirm nor deny the fact that about 20 nuclear missiles are present in Belgium and members of parliament have got no right to ask questions about these. Master and servants.

It was no wonder that the young Felix listened eagerly to the progressive voices that were omnipresent in the university of Louvain. Although catholic in name the university mothered dozens of progressive clubs whose saviours were not named Jesus Christ but Mikhail Bakunin, Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin and mass-murderers Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, although in those days his name was still known as Mao Tse-Tung, a dictator famous for his poems and for his musings in the little red book. Felix has to retrospectively confess that the progressive movement was quite overenthusiastic regarding the Marxist model. Western progressives were often bragging how excellent the communist crumbles were, but they deliberately ignored the fact that the bread was bad, the oven broken and the baker corrupt.

Anarchy Day (Louvain, Belgium) Then

Poor Felix didn’t quite fit in. He sneaked in at a symposium that was organised by the anarchist collective La Cecilia (it was not hard to spot the Belgian secret service, the suits were the only middle aged men drinking Fanta at the bar downstairs) but was taken aback when he found out that the participants were merely discussing the Belgian anarchist interbellum movement or the ideological differences between Henry David Thoreau and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Organiser was Luc Vanheerentals, who wrote the definitive Belgian anarchist bible, and now an independent journalist whose latest article, a hagiographic piece about the effectiveness of the Belgian Federal Agency for Nuclear Control, is sponsored by KBC and CERA banks. That is how Children of the Revolution become Grannies of the Restoration.

Felix soon discovered that intellectual left didn’t allow labourers (nor their children) in their caste, although they kept on pretending that the power had to be given to the masses. The left elite was as paternalistic as the catholic priests had been and if revolution came they would – obviously – fill the seats that mattered and do the thinking for the proletarians. Felix still remembers the gorgeous girl in the designer jeans who turned her back to him when she found out that he wasn’t studying politics at the free (free as independent from church and state) Brussels University. When she walked away he saw Lenin's picture stitched on the back of her jacket. Felix now pities her daughter who still has to explain why she has been named Ulrike.

In 2007 Johan Vande Lanotte, presiding the Flemish socialist party SPA, begged the socialist movement to get the labourers back in Parliament, as there weren’t (and still aren’t) any. Vande Lanotte, whose political career started within extreme-left, is now a master in law and professor at the Ghent University, and was swiftly put aside after the elections from this year as being to radical. Labourers in parliament, the insult!

An encounter with Peter, the anarchist squatter, wasn’t really fruitful either. Full of radical ideas Peter was a prominent follower of proletarian shopping and was mostly seen in pubs, where he developed his theories as long as someone else was paying for his beer. In Felix’s wooden box proletarian shopping was regarded as stealing, even if the stealing was done in big super-capitalistic supermarkets getting super-profits. He simply didn’t grasp the concept how borrowing a cheap bottle of wine from the mall would help the masses to brake their ideological chains.

Thus the only radical action done by Felix was driving through the city of Antwerp, on a stolen bike, without any lights on, in the opposite direction of a one-way street, and being caught by the police. The pigs didn’t torture him, they didn’t put him into jail, they even didn’t give him a fine but just a kind warning to fix the light. Doesn’t add up much on the revolutionary scale, does it?

Now

Nearly 3 decades later Felix has become salonfähig, which is quite an expensive German word for couch potatoe, but he still can’t help having some revolutionary thoughts from time to time, mostly when the brown fog of Guinness has entered his brain.

Felix has always wondered how it comes that a terrorist attack on American soil could lead to an invasion of a country that had nothing to do with the attacks in the first place and how this event made the greatest democracy on Earth evolve into a cheap pastiche of the Soviet Union, including its own infamous Gulag. America’s anti-terrorist actions reached a surrealistic zenith with the unintelligible boycott of French fries. As if throwing a potato-stick in a 190° oily bath is an act of freedom.

More serious is the fact that since 2001 775 human beings have been kidnapped and deported to Guantanamo Bay. It is believed that eventually 60 to 80 of them will be put on trial, the rest will have to be set free. Guantanamo prisoners have testified that they have been repeatedly tortured with pepper spray, broken glass, barbed wire and burning cigarettes, they have been chained to the floor. They were sexually degraded and assaulted, drugged and religiously persecuted. In Iraq, in violation with the United Nations Security Council Resolutions, 14000, that is fourteen thousand, people were imprisoned by the US authorities at the Abu Ghraib prison. So far the humane and democratic actions of the land of the free.

The above stands in shrill contrast with the recent economical crisis that didn’t come from an Afghan grotto but from offices at Wall Street and the American monetary policy (or non-policy, if you will). Predictions go that over 50 million jobs will be lost in 2009 alone. However, and here comes Felix’s anarchic streak again, how many bankers have had their homes raided by US soldiers and how many have been shot? How many have been abducted from their houses and put in economic prison camps? How many have been waterboarded, raped or sodomised by security contractors? How many had to stand nude in public so that hordes of newly unemployed could have a laugh at them?

No future, did sing The Sex Pistols once, but Felix still carries some hope. After all if history repeats itself and if America is really turning Soviet, we may never forget that the USSR reformed its regime through a democratic process, although that, so told us the American propaganda machine in the Seventies, was inexistent.


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Giordano Kazemi

20090306

True Story (the sequel)

Entry 1145

One of the latest buzzwords is efficiency. Companies are streamlining their products and services in such a way that customer service, productivity and expenses are optimized although result wise it mostly is in reverse order and with limited success.

There comes a time that the different concepts clash. Last week I had 3 encounters with different helpdesks and all of them guided me, in name of efficiency, wrong.

HTC

On Monday I received a HTC smartphone that had been lying in an empty desk at work. I tried to bring it back to the living, visited the HTC website and was impressed with the fact that it had faultless French, German and Dutch versions of their (support) pages, although the country Belgium was somewhat missing in their overview.

I read that there had been a free Windows Mobile 6.0 upgrade for my phone, but alas, for some unintelligible reason the download file had been removed from their servers…

Now the use of the term ‘free’, especially in combination with ‘beer’, ‘pussy’ or ‘upgrade’ has the same effect upon Felix Atagong as the term ‘new Ikea catalogue’ upon the average woman. Somewhere on this world, so I thought, must be a good soul who still has this download and who is willing to share it with others. I was right.

I had the choice over several downloads and picked a decent one for me. The phone upgraded nicely, Windows Mobile 5.0 was gone and was neatly replaced with version number 6.0.

Shit hit the fan when I tried to send my first SMS. For one reason or another my phone had upgraded to QWERTY and not the AZERTY keyboard we Belgians are so proud of. Windows Mobile is Windows in name alone; nowhere I could find a file to change the keyboard settings: no system.ini, no win.ini, no autoexec.bat or config.sys (like in the good old DOS days). I even tried fiddling the settings in regedit, but apparently the keyboard setting registry keys for portable phones are phoney.

Time to contact the HTC helpdesk. Actually, I asked the same question twice, first in Dutch (at the Dutch support site), but after I had realized that Holland is using qwerty keyboards as well I switched over to the French website where I asked in fluent French if they could guide me through the right steps and if that was impossible, to send me a copy of Windows Mobile 5.0 so that I could bring back the phone to its original state (I had checked the cd that came with the phone but there was no utility to do a restore).

A minute after my mails had left the outbox I received an automatic reply that my question was taken care of and, indeed, in the hour I received a nice and friendly answer. It read:

We are sorry but the helpdesk can only reply to questions asked in English.

So why do they create support web forms in 40 different languages if no one is able to help you?

ORANGE

But my phone still had some other problems. I could send nor receive MMS or mail. As usual the Mobistar (Orange) self-help website was absolutely crap so I decided to pick up the phone and ask them. At least they’re a telephone company, right?

The chap at the other side was or in a bad mood or just someone the telephone company had hired to take the piss out of customers.

"I can’t find your model in our database.", he said, "So I can’t send you the details you are asking for."

To my amazement I stayed polite and told him that I already knew that, probably he was consulting exactly the same webpage I had been consulting before.

"All I want...", I told him very slow, very clear and very loud, "...is an overview of the technical geeky stuff you need in Windows Mobile 6.0 to send and receive multimedia content over the phone waves. Those things are all the same regardless of the type or brand you are using and by the way, have you ever heard of Windows before?" I calmed down and continued: “I have made a list. Perhaps we can check if I haven’t forgot something. For MMS the Mobile settings should look something like..."

APN: mms.be
Username: mobistar
Password: mobistar
Server name: MMS
Gateway: 212.065.063.143
Port: 8080
Server address: http://mmsc.mobistar.be
Version: WAP2.0

"...and for mail one just needs to add…"

Incoming mailserver: pop.mobistar.be
Outgoing server (SMTP): gprsmail.mobistar.be

“Hardly Chinese, isn’t it?”
“Nope.”, he said. “Can’t do. Never heard of it. You will have to contact HTC or the dealer who sold you the thing. Goodbye.”

I tell you, Jean-Claude Van Damme has viciously mutilated people for less than that.

EPSON

Frankly I had all forgotten about this, but this Friday I had a problem with a professional Epson matrix printer that had gone berserk. The support part of the (Belgian – Dutch language) website could not help me, as they always seem to do whenever I have a problem.

So I logged in to open a support ticket, another company that will send me spam messages till the day I die, and was presented with a webform that asked about 3 dozen of utterly silly questions. After I had given my name, my address, my phone number, my mail address, my mail address (yep, they asked it twice), the 24 numbers that make the serial number, I finally came to a ridiculously small box to put my incredibly complicated technical question in writing. I pushed the send button and received sincere felicitations for making it that far. Probably all the others just give up somewhere in the middle.

Within minutes the ping of an incoming mail woke me up from my nightmares. The message from the Epson helpdesk read:
The mailbox you were trying to reach does not exist.

I suddenly believe there is a god. She hates me.

PS: I managed to get azerty working on the phone by hacking into the system, although hacking is too strong a word. Its keyboard configuration is hidden in; believe it or not, a simple text file that tells which key is which. Needless to say I got this solution from a HTC user forum and not from the company itself.


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: True Story 

20081214

The Cross and the Maiden

Entry 1094

Celtic Warriors Yesterday I went to a biannual charity meeting in my village after my LA-girl had chained my hands and feet and dragged me over. I am not and will never be a social person and to enter a sport complex filled with 200 people I have never met is rather close to a living nightmare. If Tartarus exists my eternal punishment will be exactly that. But in the end it turned out to be not that bad because actually we knew about a dozen of good doers and after we had said hello to them all the event was almost over.

A couple of years ago one of the inhabitants of the small village I am living in entered a TV song test competition. He was already a known soap actor, but as I have the build-in ability to avoid soaps when they appear on television, I had never heard of the guy. Our locals went berserk and started petitions to get our boy elected as TV personality of the year. We were asked to put posters of him at our front windows and, of course, to vote for him whenever he had his contest on TV. I still remember me saying that I was not going to act like a fool, certainly not for average soap actors with average singing abilities. I don’t need to say what the effect of this act of insubordination did for my popularity in the neighbourhood.

I’m old school, and in my days, singers would first do thousand of gigs before releasing a single. If you were good there was a one in a million chance to get famous. Nowadays, would be singers join a TV contest and before they have appeared in public their album turns gold. Such is showbiz nowadays.

It turned out that the guy first love was singing but he had turned into a soap actor to get the bills paid. Obviously he won the contest, fingers in the nose, as he was the only stallion in a donkey race. His first (so-and-so) single went straight to number 1. His second, far better if you ask me, failed to enter the top 10, because at that point the hype was already over and a new kiddies star had already been pampered by TV. But I guess he will turn out fine, he acted already in a few movies and a second album is on the way.

Yesterday, at the charity gig in his home village, he played roadie for a local comedy duo because his manager forbids him to do free solo acts unless there is a TV camera present. He brought hit number one as a sound check and came back, with hit number two, for the encore with the singing juggling act. Although his music is not my thing I am very appreciative of the fact that he turned up, against his manager’s instructions, to have an impromptu gig with his old chums from the local pub. Such thing is called loyalty and friendship and is something one doesn’t see very often anymore. Hats off to Stan, the man.

A local choir did the second gig. Although their name suggested some Nordic Saxon roots we weren’t invited to some pagan rituals. This was a church choir bringing us the most gruesome of Christmas songs. The group leader, obviously a man who had missed the vocation of being a priest and thus became a choir conductor in order to mess with young girls and boys, summoned the public to stop applauding in between songs, ordered us to sing along and insulted the ones who were chatting with their neighbours instead of carefully listening to the songs. I hated him immediately.

This man was the living proof that Catholic devotees should be helped as quickly as possible to reach the heaven they believe in and if that involves a hammer and some nails, why not? It also grew my appetite to listen to some Iron Maiden when I got home.


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Franco's Frocks 

20081207

Killer Mum

Entry 1091

Last week my ma came to visit me and the first thing she said after she had entered was: “Comb your hair!” I took the order, because that was what it was, as an insult and retorted that as far as I could remember she was in my house that I had bought with my dough and that after 48 years of living it was about time for me to do what I thought was good for me to do. My father grinned inconspicuously and my LA-girl sighed and told her mother-in-law that she had since long given up trying to mess with my hair. Normally they hate each other guts but this doesn’t apply when there is some Atagong bashing to do.

If Syd Barrett didn’t need to comb his hair why should I, I sulked. This was apparently not the best example I could have given.

What is it with those mothers, anyway? Roger Waters, at 37, couldn’t resist nagging at her on The Wall.

Momma's gonna make all of your nightmares come true.
Momma's gonna put all of her fears into you.
Momma's gonna keep you right here under her wing.
She won't let you fly, but she might let you sing.
…of course Momma's gonna help build a wall.

No wonder that this is a signature album for a lot of people I have met. Personally, my Floydian reference album dates from earlier on and is Wish You Were Here, but also there Waters couldn’t resist adding some maternal references!

You bought a guitar.
To punish your ma.

A while ago, after my LA-girl had returned from a hospital stay, mother-ma appeared radiantly at my doorstep. She had a bottle of champagne in one hand, a bottle of vinegar in the other...

The champagne was to celebrate my LA-girl’s homecoming.
The vinegar was to clean the toilet, because, according to murder-ma, no man can stay unattended at home without making a mess in the bathroom.

The problem is, that she was probably right.


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Don't mention the war  

20081012

Don't mention the war

Entry 1036

Franz Ferdinand German radio- and television-administration, die Gebühreneinzugszentrale (GEZ), send several letters to a Mr. Friedrich Schiller with the urgent question to pay his radio- and television-tax. These arrived at a local primary school in Weigsdorf-Köblitz (Saksen) and its principal replied that the German poet, philosopher, historian and dramatist the administration was looking for had been dead for over 200 years. Schiller is world renowned for his Ode an die Freude that was put to music by a certain Mr. Ludwig van Beethoven in his Ninth symphony and that became the official European anthem in 1972.

But of course one does not mess with administration, especially not the German one. Believing that this was the biggest scam in German television-tax history the GEZ now wanted solid proof that Mr. Friedrich Schiller was indeed dead and not merely acting dead to avoid taxes. The German newspapers do not reveal how this was achieved but finally a spokeswoman from the tax-administration accepted that a database error had been made and that Mr. Friedrich Schiller had died before television and radio had been invented.

At the current annual fee of 200 Euros Friedrich Schiller already owed the German state 40.600 euros.

Nur der Irrtum ist das Leben, und das Wissen ist der Tod.
Only mistakes are alive, and knowledge is dead.
(Friedrich Schiller, Kassandra).

In everyday life I am an IT monkey for a service company and because I used to be the only one around who spoke German I was always the first to be chosen as a volunteer to deal with our neighbours from the East.

One day one of my colleagues had a small problem with a manager of a German Kooperation we had recently joined. She had send the German administrative unit a small note saying that the Belgian partner would not be able to render any service on the 21st of July, because that date happens to be the Belgian national day. It is that day, we Belgians snicker, that working people have a day off and the king has to do something to earn his pay for a change.

The message was not well received by the Head Administrator of the German cooperation. They send a page long official letter, signed, sealed and delivered, that according to the rules of their Arian brotherhood no member could close its offices on any other day than those confirmed by German law, number such and so, paragraph whatever.

The girl was nearly in tears from anger when I came in. She had already tried to explain, by phone, fax and mail to the representative of the Herrenvolk that this was our National day and that there would be no need whatsoever for us to stay vigilant to render service to companies that were closed anyway. Can you do something, she sighted.

I took the phone. Called the bloke. Explained him that since he had already lost two wars against Belgium we were considering ourselves as an independent country and not a mere province belonging to the German federal republic. It was quiet for a while. For a moment I feared I had done a Franz Ferdinand that would lead to World-War III. But he understood. Sometimes you just have to shout a little bit harder as they do.


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this as well: EUlogy

20080621

EUlogy

Entry 854

I even didn't have a clue what picture to put here What follows is a rather boring post, but I've spent a lot of time writing it, so I'll publish it anyway. Sorry for that.

My country, although you probably won’t believe me, was one of the founding dwarfs of the European Union. Belgium itself is an amalgam of three different nationalities that, due to several historical atrocities, were cut off from their original fatherland, whether they liked it or not. Because Germany, Holland, France (and even England) had better things to do than to quarrel who would take care of that ungrateful lot a job search was done for an unemployed member with royal blood. Because they couldn’t find any they settled for a German duke who would become the first king of Belgium. His son Leopold II, still a hero in our official history books at school, would create his own little playhouse called Congo, where he could rape and murder and become immensely rich (and a while later very poor again).

At the end of the Second World War Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg created an economical entity called the Benelux (a Belgian-Luxembourg treaty already existed in the Twenties). A couple of years later France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux-3 signed a treaty that was known as the European Coal And Steel Community. One thing lead to another and today we have a political and economical community with 27 member states and a population of nearly half a billion. Hurrah!

But there is a strange thing going on: the bigger the EU becomes the less popular it is with the actual inhabitants of the Union. There are a couple of reasons for that. You’re not going to escape from my reasonings!

EU devours money by the quintillions

Because the principal members of the EU couldn’t agree to have a single headquarter they created two. A couple times a year they switch from one headquarter to another, meaning that files and papers have to be physically moved from one place to another. This cost about 200 million Euros a year.

Like any other country Europe has a set of ministries, commissions, workgroups, you name it. As every state likes to have its share these centres are based all over Europe. The EU can be easily be categorized as being Europe’s biggest travel agency.

EU is the perfect scapegoat for local mismanagement

For years local (national and regional) politicians used Europe as the perfect scapegoat to cover up for their own mistakes or to put unpopular laws into place. All over the European Union decision were taken, not because politicians, in their own words, deemed it was necessary, but because it was ‘ordained by the European Union’.

This created the image of the EU as an overzealous police officer, harassing the local neighbourhood, instead of dealing with the real problems (whatever these real problems might be).

EU is more concerned with its democratic appearance than with democracy itself

When the European parliament was founded (in 1979) nobody seemed to care that the institute had less power than their Soviet Russian counterpart. Although big shots from all over Europe wanted a well-paid seat they didn’t bother to show up anymore once the press attention had diminished. Slowly the parliament got more power, real power, but the real decisions are still taken outside the parliament. One of the most important items of the European Union, its budget, is totally out of control, literally and figuratively speaking.

EU loathes real democratic decisions

One of my unfinished projects, and I’ve got this idea for a novel over twenty years now, starts when the communist government of a further unspecified country in the east of Europe wants to inundate a historic site because the great Bozo who is in charge has decided to do so. Then the Berlin wall starts crumbling down and a couple of months later a democratic government is in charge. And guess what? Nothing has changed. The damming project will still go through because the communist decision makers have all turned into democrats and businessmen. Of course a lot of interesting things happen after that, larded with a lot of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. Dan Brown and Stephen King may be happy that I never wrote the novel to begin with.

And I just thought up the following while writing this post. The European Union is the modern equivalent of the Papal States. Although the pope was a ruler of his own independent country (part of it what we now call Italy) his word was also law in the other countries of Europe. If, for instance, the French king wanted to take a decision and the pope said no - it was no. No reasoning with the pope. That is why every papal election was such big fun, with all European countries lobbying to have their pope elected; cardinals eliminating other cardinals to influence their chances and if a pope wasn’t really up to par for a certain party an antipope would be elected as well.

Anno 2000, when the European Union speaks the parliaments of the member countries jump. No questions asked. The main problem arises when some countries start to get difficult and really want to involve the democratic process by ways of a referendum. Then the results tend to differ a bit.

1972 - Norway refuses to enter the EU
1992 - Denmark votes against the Maastricht treaty
1994 - Norway refuses to enter the EU (for the second time)
2000 - Denmark refuses to join the Eurozone
2001 - Ireland votes against the treaty of Nice
2003 - Sweden refuses to join the Eurozone
2005 - France refuses the European constitution
2005 - Netherlands refuses the European constitution
2008 - Ireland votes against the treaty of Lisbon

Instead of finding a way to diminish the democratic deficit of the EU and to make the Union more attractive to its citizens the EU moguls choose the easy way out.

A referendum was negative? Change the treaty in such a way that for a second vote you don’t need a referendum anymore but just a vote in parliament. Satisfaction guaranteed (a few days ago this was proposed as a solution for the Irish problem).

A referendum was negative? If the no-votes only had a slight majority you can always try to organise a second referendum, hoping the weather will be better and the population is in a slightly better mood (Denmark, 1993 and Ireland, 2002). The strange thing is that consecutive referenda are sometimes held to switch the decision from negative to positive, but never the other way around.

So how does it all end? Well in my unfinished novel some committee decides to relocate a historical church to an open-air museum somewhere in America and the vampire that is freed per accident becomes the next president of the United States. Nobody notices the difference. “All’s well that ends well”, to quote Will the Great.


If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Just like Belgium 
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