Saturday, October 27, 2007

August delivers the final verdict on the "Calculus Cheer"

Yesterday, as 5:00 on Friday drew near and business meetings began to tend toward the festive, I mentioned the "Calculus Cheer" to a few of the guys at work, including my friend August. They weren't familiar with it -- it's the sort of cheer that is chanted by a student body that (a) goes to a school (such as Rice) well-known for its high SAT scores and (b) is presently engaged in getting a football whupping from a college (such as any of Rice's old Southwest Conference foes back in the day) with somewhat lower academic standards but very much larger offensive linemen. There are several such cheers, e.g.:

That's alright, that's okay,
You're gonna work for us someday,

or, if the margin of smackdown is approaching the half-century mark,

S-T-U, P-I-D, what didja get on your SAT,
You're stupid!
Yeah, yeah, you're stupid!

But these show no real superiority of intelligence, merely superfluity of, um, some sort of envy. However, an anonymous engineer (or committee thereof), long ago when the world was young, actually crafted a cheer whose use requires a level of education higher than elementary school. This is the "Calculus Cheer." My co-workers had never heard it, and so we temporarily tabled the ostensible subject of discussion long enough for me to chant the cheer for them, at the end of which August pronounced a verdict we all had to admit was pretty much the last word on the subject.

So, here's the cheer (warning: it turns a bit non-Baptist at the end):

E-to-the-x! E-to-the-x!
E-to-the-x, dy, dx!
Cosine, secant, tangent, sine,
Three point one four one five nine,
Label the axes y and x,
To hell with football, we want sex!

To which August instantly and firmly responded, "Well, you're not gonna get it chanting that."

What I like about the internet is...

...the opportunity to be an amused spectator of the harmlessly Hobby-Horsed. Such as this guy, who has an entire blog devoted to collecting pictures of moustaches, but who blogs with a tongue-in-cheek persona that actually manages to make the whole thing entertaining. (One pities, by willing suspension of disbelief, the hapless manservant Joseph.) It's very much in the vein pioneered by The Manolo, which provides information of genuine value to the 1% of Americans who actually care about shoe fashion, but is read by a far wider audience just for the sake of the giggles.

As for the question of why a person would fritter away his time on such an obsession, I give you the musings of noted English gentleman Tristam Shandy:

Nay, if you come to that, Sir, have not the wisest of men in all ages, not excepting Solomon himself, -- have they not had their HOBBY-HORSES ; -- their running horses, -- their coins and their cockle-shells, their drums and their trumpets, their fiddles, their pallets, ---- their maggots and their butterflies ? -- and so long as a man rides his HOBBY-HORSE peaceably and quietly along the King's highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him, ---- pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?

-- De gustibus non est disputandum; -- that is, there is no disputing against HOBBY-HORSES ; and, for my part, I seldom do; nor could I with any sort of grace, had I been an enemy to them at the bottom; for happening, at certain intervals and changes of the Moon, to be both fiddler and painter, according as the fly stings : -- Be it known to you, that I keep a couple of pads myself, upon which, in their turns, (nor do I care who knows it) I frequently ride out and take the air ; -- tho' sometimes, to my shame be it spoken, I take somewhat longer journies than what a wise man would think altogether right. ---- But the truth is, -- I am not a wise man ; ---- and besides am a mortal of so little consequence in the world, it is not much matter what I do ; so I seldom fret or fume at all about it : Nor does it much disturb my rest when I see such great Lords and tall Personages as hereafter follow ; -- such, for instance, as my Lord A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, Q, and so on, all of a row, mounted upon their several horses ; -- some with large stirrups, getting on in a more grave and sober pace ; ---- others on the contrary, tuck'd up to their very chins, with whips across their mouths, scouring and scampering it away like so many little party-colour'd devils astride a mortgage, ---- and as if some of them were resolved to break their necks. -- So much the better -- say I to myself ; -- for in case the worst should happen, the world will make a shift to do excellently well without them ; -- and for the rest, ---- why, ---- God speed them, ---- e'en let them ride on without any opposition from me ; for were their lordships unhorsed this very night, ---- 'tis ten to one but that many of them would be worse mounted by one half before tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Gotta clean that presentation up

There's an effort on at my office to get the IT side of the 19th floor up to speed with what the trading side of the 19th floor does, and as part of that effort my boss Randy's peer Julie Boehl has been bringing speakers with business knowledge in to give "Lunch 'n' Learn" sessions two or three times a month: the head of the power trading desk gave a presentation about BG's power trading strategies, etc. Which I think is a great idea, and I'm absolutely thrilled to see that the IT guys actually want to learn this stuff.

Well, Paul Williams, BG Group's global CIO (for my kids: that stands for "Chief Information Officer" and it basically means the highest ranking computer guy in all of BG Group worldwide), anyway, Mr. Williams is due to come into town next week, and my boss's boss John wants him to see some of the stuff we're doing. In particular, John has decided that Mr. Williams needs to attend a Lunch 'n' Learn...only, there isn't one scheduled for next week.

I should say, there wasn't one scheduled for next week. But there was one scheduled for tomorrow -- as it happens, I had agreed to teach twenty-five or so IT folks some basic information about hedging instruments...what a swap is, what kinds of swaps BG's gas traders use, what makes a financial option a "swaption," etc. So day before yesterday everybody who was planning to attend that presentation got a notice of a schedule change informing them that my presentation was being moved back a week so that Paul Williams could attend. Thus it happens that (a) there now is, in fact, a Lunch 'n' Learn scheduled during Mr. Williams's visit, (b) I'm giving it, and (c) I am getting teased from all directions about how nervous I should be careful to be. But I figure it's John who should be nervous -- he's the one who is dragging Mr. Williams into the presentation, not me.

Actually, on the way home Duane brought the subject up to yank my chain a little, and I told him, "Yeah, I know the CIO's gonna be here from the London office, and now I'm gonna have to go through that whole bloody presentation and make sure all the jokes are appropriate -- they almost certainly don't have enough profanity in them."

(If you ever haven't worked in an English office environment then that probably didn't seem funny to you; so in that case just take my word for it, it's a great line.)

So, um, I guess maybe I better get a haircut this weekend...more importantly, I need to be careful not to watch any episodes of "The Office" between now and then. The last thing I need is to inadvertently channel Michael Scott during the presentation.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Just so you know...

...the video in the post about my kids in England is working now.

I think I'm in love...

...with Anna Netrebko.

Okay, I'll be a bit more serious...her voice won me over a long time ago, but today for the first time I got my hands on the DVD of the 2006 Salzburg Festival performance of Le Nozze di Figaro, in which she sings the role of Susanna. Now, two things:

(1) When I go to see an opera, I expect really first-rate music and really atrocious acting. (Thus I habitually think of singers as "singing" a role rather than "playing" a role.)

(2) The character of Susanna, from the original Beaumarchais play that Mozart turned into his opera, is one of the few characters in literature who can give Elizabeth Bennett a run for my money.

So you can imagine my delight to discover that Anna Yurievna (which is the polite way to refer to her) is not only just as good at singing her way through a DVD as she is at singing her way through a CD, but she also has the personality and joie de vivre necessary to bring Susanna fully and believably to life. Bravissima!

And since the rest of the performers were also first rate, I recommend that DVD to anybody who loves opera.

Only, to be fair, I didn't think much of the conductor. I was not very happy at the beginning because the overture, which is one of my favorite pieces, was actually draggy. How do you do that overture too slowly? But the singing I liked.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A look back at my kids, six years ago

Many years ago my family got to go to England with me on an extended business trip that lasted three months. One weekend we went, along with a friend of ours who (though it didn't really impinge upon my conscious notice at the time) was armed with a video camera, to Stonehenge and then (after a period of deliberation in the Stonehenge parking lot about what we could do given the weather that had turned out far colder than we had expected) on to Tintagel on the Cornish coast. A couple of weeks later, to my astonishment and inexpressible delight, Alden handed over a CD with this five-minute video of my kids from back before they went into the psychologically destructive house of horrors that is American public school, and therefore were a constant bubbling source of irrepressible joy.

Not that I have anything against public schools or anything...

Anyway, here are Kasia (with a noticably Anglicised accent), Sean (usually in yellow), Kegan (usually in red), and Merry (than whom you are unlikely ever to have seen a cuter kid), making their way around southwestern England and Cornwall, along with their mom and a father who notoriously was constantly explaining things (hence all the pompous gesticulation).

I think my favorite part, by the way, is how excited Sean gets when he thinks he has finally, after a month of trying and being ignored, successfully hailed a black cab.

UPDATE: Okay, this doesn't seem to work. Very disappointing; it was my first try at using Blogger's purported facility for uploading videos to one's blog. I'll see if I can figure out what's wrong and try again later.

UPDATED UPDATE: Okay, got it onto YouTube, and here we go...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good commercials

One thing I love about watching football is the commercials, which are apt to be as good as -- for guys, at least -- commercials come in the U.S. As a guy who has season tickets to the Houston Grand Opera, I liked this one:

But for those of us who (even if mostly for the sake of our kids) play World of Warcraft enough to recognize the theme music and to know what it means to "equip an epic axe," it's hard to beat Da Lawgivah:

Meanwhile, with reference to the previous post, I have tracked down this classic (but never actually aired, for obvious reasons) Bud Light commercial (you're warned that you should prepare yourself for it by either working on a trade floor, working in England, or at the very least reading the aforementioned previous post):

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"F*** Yeah!" Dept

We will not inquire too deeply into the motives of the co-worker who e-mailed me this link...

How to Improve Workplace Morale

Friday, October 12, 2007

"A Safety Moment for Those Who Deal with Blondes" Dept

Q. What do you do if a blonde throws a pin at you?
A. Dive for cover -- she has a grenade in her mouth.

Q. What do you do if a blonde throws a grenade at you?
A. Pull out the pin and throw it back.

"The Mom Version of the William Tell Overture" Dept

Very impressive indeed:

Monday, October 08, 2007

Office Heroes Dept

If you're a big fan of "The Office" (as am I), this should be funny (since most of the comic effect comes from knowing what was really going on in the episode from which each little cut is taken, it's probably not funny if you're not an avid fan). If you're a big fan of "The Office" AND of "Heroes" (as are my children), this should be REALLY funny. If you don't watch either show then don't bother.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Recognize This Office? Dept

Fellow adoptive parent CiaoMyLove provides us with some visual commentary on office life.

On the quenching of thirst

In the first place, why doesn't my office have one of these guys on staff?

And if I can't get the office managers to hire a one-man Starbucks shop, then the least they should do is provide an upgrade to the water cooler:

On the unreliability of modern technology

What Randy (Guidry) doesn't know is that these next two fetching ladies are actually in the middle of User Acceptance Testing (this is an inside joke for his and Edgar Castro's benefit):

On safety drills
For purposes of workplace safety, it's always important to know whether you're in a real situation, or just doing a practice drill:

On providing service to those dudes who are proverbially always right

Personally, I prefer the passive-aggressive approach, but if you want to set realistic expectations for your customers right up front, you could always take this tack:

On whether customers of IT support departments are in fact always right

I've always thought most software products need to include the following error message:

On what certain people who call meetings are really using their meetings for

Instead of writing a snide introductory remark to this last image, I'll use the image itself as an introductory to a story that is, alas, all too true.

Years ago, for my sins, I spent a considerable amount of time as a consultant getting paid to flatter the ego of a gentleman who was a spectacularly incompetent software architect (one of those people who uses all the current buzzwords, because he reads all the currently faddish books, but who uses said buzzwords wrongly because he doesn't actually understand the books he's reading...we all know the type, right?). But this guy -- we'll call him "Babe" -- was a very good politician and good at flattery and empire-building, and he had gained control of the in-house software product that the consulting firm for which I worked had been hired to help enhance. So I, who was leading a team of about six developers from our firm's side, had to deal with this guy.

Now, a real leader who's seriously interested in getting things accomplished and doing so efficiently, always makes sure that meetings include only the people who need to be there in order to make contributions, and that people who are only needed for five minutes don't sit there for an hour after making their contribution -- especially when his company is paying $150 per hour to the people who are sitting in the meeting. But for Babe, the more people there were in his meetings (which were interminable), the more like a big-shot he felt. So pretty much the whole world was required to attend his weekly meetings -- I mean, seriously, we're talking thirty-five people or so for an hour of people taking turns giving Babe their two-minute individual status reports, pretty much.

Now I had a tight deadline and a team that was having to try to do a bunch of stuff they didn't have any experience doing, and I didn't have any time to waste. So for a long time I refused to have my team attend the meetings: I would dial in (I was in Austin and the client was in a somewhat more northerly clime), sit resignedly through the tedium until my time to report came up, give my two-minute report, and then go back to waiting for deliverance. And after the meeting I would get a call from Babe.

"Kenny, you're the only one from your team attending the meeting, right?"

"Yes, Babe, that's right. The rest of my team has a lot of code to write and I don't want to break their concentration; and I know exactly what each one of them is doing anyway."

"But I think it's important to build a sense of team by having everybody hear what the other groups are doing."

"Oh, I listen for the things they need to know about what the other groups are doing and when I hear something they need to know, I pass it on." This was quite true, only since the work the other groups were doing was pretty much entirely unrelated to what my team was doing, I hadn't yet detected anything of the sort, and thus my team had so far been allowed to work on undisturbed.

"But don't you think it would be better for them to attend the meetings as well?"


The perceptive reader will have noted that tact was not, in my younger days, one of my strengths.

Finally Babe just couldn't stand it any more and he gave me a direct order: everybody on my team had to attend.

So I got my guys together and I told them what was happening, and there was much lamentation because everybody was already working overtime to meet an unrealistic death-march deadline...but I reassured them, "Listen, guys, it's a teleconference, right? And you all have laptops, right? So here's what we do: you bring your laptops in with you, and he'll start the meeting, and he'll ask who's attending, and you'll each say your name so that he can put you on the list of attendees. Then we'll mute the phone and we can all get some work done. And about ten minutes in he'll ask me for our progress report, and we'll stop typing and I'll unmute the phone and tell him, and then we'll mute the phone and go back to work until it's time to say good-bye."

And this worked perfectly for a couple of months: my team members' individual contribution to the one-hour meeting was to say their names.

But then there came a day when disaster struck: somebody up in the client conference room accidentally bumped the phone and cut us off.

Well, I knew how passionately Babe cared about his meetings, but the problem was that ordinarily he called us -- and I didn't know which conference room the main meeting was being held in, much less what its extension was. So I started calling every extension I knew up at the client site looking for somebody who would know where the meeting was being held -- but nobody answered because, of course, they were all in the meeting. (This was before cell phones and BlackBerries were ubiquitous, of course.) Finally, after more than thirty minutes, with only about five minutes left in the meeting, we got patched through and the phone started ringing. We heard the handset get picked up off its rest, and Babe's voice said uncertainly, "Hello?"

"Hey, Babe, this is Kenny in Austin -- sorry we got disconnected there."

"Oh, you guys got disconnected?"

Yes, that's right -- in this meeting where it was so absolutely critical that every last member of my team drop all the real work we were doing and attend, we had been gone for a half hour...and Babe hadn't even noticed we were gone.

Ah, good times, good times...

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Who's Next? Dept

Like an idiot, I failed to find the Lehrer song "Who's Next?" in time to make my previous Lehrer post, because I had it in my head that the name of the song was "Proliferation." So try to stay serene and calm...oh, and if I were you I would close my eyes because the animation is just terrible. But I couldn't manage the music without pulling in the video too.

I have to admit, I thought about hunting up another Lehrer tune that he did in honor of scouting, but decided I wasn't prepared to do so on this occasionally family-friendly blog.

Department of Tact Dept

Or perhaps, as you can see by the timestamp on the post, this should be the Department of Insomnia... [sigh]

Michael Scott line of the week

"I'm not superstitious. But I am a little stitious."

By the way, if anybody reading this happens to talk to Kasia before I do: Season 4, Episode 1. (If you aren't already familiar with The Office, don't start with this episode -- you're expected to know too much about the characters already.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Kenny solves the problem of international Islamofascist terrorism

My three-part punishment program for striking terror into the hearts of misogynistic would-be Islamofascist terrorists:

1. Force them to watch, three times a day for six months, the interminable, doubly-chick Sandra Bullock flick Hope Floats ("doubly-chick" because it allows women to fantasize about being the head cheerleader and getting the handsome Harry Connick Jr. guy, while simultaneously fantasizing about those cheerleader bitches' getting what's coming to them).

2. Give 'em a sex-change operation so that they get to live out the rest of their lives as women.

3. Now that they're women, make 'em watch The Dirty Dozen, three times a day...

"And You Thought the U.S. Senate Was Incompetent" Dept

From Wikipedia's article on Canada's Goods and Services Tax, a sentence explaining how it came about that the GST was reduced from 7% to 6% despite the opposition of political parties sworn to head off the reduction:

When the legislation enacting the budget was brought forward for final passage, it was accidentally passed by unanimous consent due to parliamentary confusion; neither the Liberal Party nor the New Democratic Party had intended to support the budget.
As talented as Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi (and their Republican predecessors) might be, I don't think even they can top that one.