Back to the office — sorta — with beard intact.

My employer is easing back into having folks coming into the office starting this week. We’ve had some people coming in during the entire work-at-home period because when you’re an engineer making brake and suspension systems for cars there’s just some stuff that can’t be done at home, but it’s been maybe a dozen or so folks. However, now there’s enough people showing up that the I.T. department feels some on-site presence by us is warranted. So, for the immediate future, I’m working from home on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and I’ll be in the office for at least a half-day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My counterpart is in on Mondays and Wednesdays. If things are busy then I’ll stay the whole day, otherwise I head home at lunch and finish out the day remotely. This also gives me an opportunity to work on things that can’t be handled remotely as well such as the new laptop I’m staging for one of the groups this morning. They’ve armed me with Purell, Clorox disinfecting wipes for wiping down equipment that comes in, and rubber gloves so I should be good to go.

The one thing I wasn’t happy about with this is the fact that I’d probably have to shave my beard as the standard face masks don’t work well if you, like me, have a full beard. My mother-in-law made us a bunch of cloth face masks to use, but she had to use rubber hair bands for the ear loops because all the shops were sold out of elastic straps. The face masks are just small enough that the hair bands won’t stay on my ears. My ear folds over under the stress of the bands and off it comes. Additionally, they also wouldn’t work properly unless I shaved my beard.

My cubemate ended up coming to my rescue by not only finding a pattern for a face mask that includes a beard pouch to stuff my beard into, but someone to actually make one for me. Here it is in all its glory:

Les models a patriotic looking beard pouch face mask.
You patriotic looking bastard, you!

It’s going to take some practice before I can put it on quickly as I’m still figuring out how to stuff my beard into the pouch. It has some elastic around the top of the pouch to help hold it to my face and that’s a little itchy and I’m not quite able to get ALL of my beard behind it (as you can see) but this covers more than any of the other masks I’ve tried and fits pretty well. It even has a sleeve inside for putting in replaceable filters for some extra protection.

Interior detail of beard pouch face mask.
An inside view. You can see the insert sleeve in the pic above along with the elastic band around the pouch.

I don’t know the name of my beard savior, but I want to thank them all the same so I’ll make sure to pass it along via my cubemate. I’ll have to take this home every night and wash it, but that’s a small price to pay to keep my beard. If the whole coronavirus thing continues on for as long as some folks are thinking it will then I may have to hunt her down and pay her to make me four or five more. Maybe get some with patterns from Hawaiian shirts on them! Yeah!

Once you’ve eliminated all other possibilities…

I just had one of the oddest tech problems I’ve ever encountered come across my desk. One of the folks here at the office who just got a brand new, out-of-the-box Lenovo laptop with a fresh image on it was having an issue where it would go into sleep mode randomly every few minutes for no apparent reason. This was happening even though Windows was configured to never go into sleep mode whether on battery or plugged in. When she’d bring the laptop to me to try and fix it would stabilize and work just fine. When she took it back to her desk it would start doing it again.

I poked around through system settings, looked to see if there was any obvious malware, updated drivers, installed some Windows updates, ran a troubleshooter, did all the standard stuff. Nothing changed. When she used it it would randomly go to sleep. When I used it it ran just fine.

Time to turn to Google. Typed in “windows 10 goes into sleep mode when typing” and started poring through the results. First few pages all offered the same troubleshooting tips I’d already tried. Kept digging through Microsoft’s answers forum and various tech blogs and everyone kept suggesting the same solutions. Then I came across a post on Quora about the problem which had the following comment by a Max Ddos on it:

This is an older post but I’l like do add some new information as I had the same problem and maybe it would help other people.

I had a brand new Dell Laptop and it also went into the standby mode while I was typing. After several attempts to solve the problem, I bought a new one (or rather, my company).

But the new laptop had the same problem.

Now I found the solution: I was wearing a bracelet with a magnetic closure, and this magnet was causing the problem.

Source: Quora

There was no way this could be the problem, I thought to myself. I can’t even begin to imagine what a magnet could be interfering with to cause this issue. However, I was at a loss as to explain why it was happening for the user and not me because she even filmed it happening with her phone to prove she wasn’t crazy and I’d been working on it for at least 20 minutes without it so much as slowing down.

So when she came back around to see if I’d made any progress I just had to ask, “You don’t happen to have any jewelry on your wrists or hands that uses a magnetic closure, do you?”

Turns out that she did. Her watch band had one. I explained that, as crazy as this theory sounded, it was the only thing that appeared to match her situation. I told her to go back to her desk and try working on it again with her watch on. If it started going into sleep mode again then I wanted her to take her watch off and place it on the other side of her cube and try it again.

Fuck me. That was actually the problem. Almost immediately it went into sleep mode when she started working on it. She took her watch off and it’s been stable since. I have no freaking clue why this is a problem. The best guess I can come up with, and I’m sure it’s wrong, is that maybe the magnet is strong enough to cause the system’s fan to stop and it’s overheating the laptop enough to force it into sleep mode. This is the first time in my 30 plus years as a tech support guy that I’ve had to tell someone to take their watch off to fix the problem they were having.

An actual chat I had at work today.

You are the master.

No, I'm just pretty competent. I try to keep expectations low for those days when I inevitably fail.

Good plan.
Click to embiggen.

Coffee tribulations.

We have three different blends of coffee in the break room here at work. I am fine with drinking two of the three (dark roast is blech). So you’d think, given that I’m fine with two-thirds of the offerings, that more often than not I’d be able to waltz in and grab a cup without needing to start a new pot. You would be wrong. For the second day in a row I walk in to find that only the dark roast is made and the other two carafes are bone dry.

A photo of a cup of coffee.
A cup of coffee. Pic by Julius Schorzman.

If I were the superstitious type I’d consider this a bad portent for the year to come, but instead I just think I have shitty coworkers who NEVER MAKE A POT OF COFFEE AFTER TAKING THE LAST DAMN CUP.

I realize that with Donald Trump starting a war with Iran in the headlines that this is probably the epitome of First World Problems, but I am so fatigued by the Trump administration at this point that I find it hard to muster enough outrage to say much about it. Instead, I am complaining about having to make coffee at work because that’s about all the irritation I can manage this morning. Probably doesn’t help that I’m running on about four hours sleep (interrupted in the middle) so I could really use several cups of coffee this morning.

Bah! Humbug!

Why you should never tell your co-workers that you hate Christmas decorations.
Yes, this is from my place of work. Click to see it in its full sized glory.

I think the men’s room air freshener at work is trying to kill me.

I have an enemy at work in the form of a small plastic box that sits high on a wall in the men’s bathroom and I’m pretty sure it’s trying to kill me.

Behold! The form of your eventual downfall!

Behold the form of your eventual lavatory room death!

Every time I walk into the men’s room this little fucker shoots out a stinging cloud of “air freshener” that always immediately flies into my eyes causing them to sting and burn and leaving me to stumble around blindly risking death by accidental swirly. Every. Damned. Time.

OK, not really every time, but often enough that it certainly feels like every damned time. Definitely often enough that I’ve contemplated smashing it with whatever happened to be handy. Which, being I’m in a men’s room when this happens, isn’t much. Suppose I could use my fists, but I’m not keen on banging up my knuckles. Instead I curse silently under my breath (yeah, silently, sure thing) and hope there’s no one in the stall I’m about to fall into.

You win this round, men’s room air freshener, but watch your back! Someday I will have my revenge!

My employer wants me to drink more water.

Like many companies the one I work for has a vested interest in healthy employees. Too many people, myself included, are overweight and inactive and we contribute to the higher rates all of us pay for healthcare. As a result our HR department has been trying to motivate folks to be healthier.

This manifested back in the Fall of 2014 with the Fitbit Challenge where the company offered to give us a $99 Fitbit Flex for free if we managed to walk 8,000 steps a day for 20 days in a single month. I took on this challenge in the hopes that at the end of it I’d be well on my way to a habit of walking regularly. I successfully completed the challenge and even kept walking regularly and then winter set in and it all came crashing to a halt. The Fitbit got packed up when we moved last year and I have no idea which of the boxes it’s still stuffed in. Still, it was a valiant effort on the part of my company.

I don’t recall what they they tried last year to get people motivated to be more healthy, I’m not even sure they bothered, but this year they have a new challenge: The Water Challenge!

Are you ready for a new challenge?

Did you know that roughly 70 percent of the body is made of water? Brain 75%, Lungs 90%, Bones 24%, Blood 85%, Skin 80%, Muscle 75%.

Drinking enough H2O has numerous benefits to the body. Are you drinking enough water per day?

Challenge: Drink 64 ounces of water per day for 25 days during the month of July (1 – 31). Only water intake counts, any other beverages such as coffee, juice, sodas do not count!

This is their big idea for this year? Let’s all drink more water? It doesn’t help that the email is written in Comic Sans which makes it impossible to take seriously. I also don’t know what the little factoids at the start have to do with this challenge. Those organs are also made of protein so I guess we need to eat a shitload[1] more protein than we are too?

Don't leave home without it.

I never leave home without it.

My hatred of water is well document on SEB. As is the fact that it’s what I primarily drink these days. I have a mug or two of coffee in the morning and then it’s water from my trusty 32oz Contigo water bottle that I keep with me everywhere I go. I hate every fucking sip of it, but I drink it just the same. On average I go through 3 to 4 full bottles throughout the course of a day and some days it’s even more. So I’m already doubling this challenge on a regular basis. It turns out the recommendation for males is 16 8oz cups of water a day which works out to about 4 of my water bottles. Keep in mind that the average diet includes sources of water other than drinking it straight so you don’t necessarily have to drink 16 8oz cups a day to hit the recommendation.

Needless to say, I’m underwhelmed by this challenge. I fucking hate drinking water and I’m already exceeding the challenge by quite a bit. They want us to track our intake using our Fitbits, smartphones, or just an Excel spreadsheet, but there’s no real way to verify that anyone is actually drinking the amount they’re claiming. Up for grabs are four $100 Dicks Sporting Goods gift certificates which is something I have absolutely no use for being that I don’t exercise and have never set foot inside a Dick’s Sporting Goods store.

To be fair, I have no idea how many glasses of water the average American drinks in a day and it’s entirely possible that most of us are probably relying too much on extracting water from other foods over drinking it straight. I know I’m guilty of that in my youth where most of what I drank was Coca-Cola, which does get you some water along with a whole bunch of stuff that counteracts anything good about the water in it. A quick and dirty Google search provides this CDC article on the National Cancer Institute’s 2007 Food Attitudes and Behaviors Survey:

Overall, 7% of adults reported no daily consumption of drinking water, 36% reported drinking 1 to 3 cups, 35% reported drinking 4 to 7 cups, and 22% reported drinking 8 cups or more. The likelihood of drinking less than 4 cups of water daily was significantly higher among participants aged 55 years or older than among those aged 18 to 34 (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 1.3), among residents of the Northeast than among residents of the South (AOR, 1.4), among participants who consumed 1 cup or less of fruits or vegetables per day than among those who consumed 4.5 cups or more (AOR, 3.0), among participants who did not exercise than among those who exercised 150 minutes or more per week (AOR, 1.7), and among participants who were neither trying to gain nor lose weight than among those trying to lose weight (AOR, 1.3).

So it sounds like there’s more than a few folks who could benefit from drinking more water, but 2007 was a long time ago so it’s possible things are better (or worse) today. Still, maybe this water challenge is just what my coworkers need to be better hydrated. As for me, I’m already running to the bathroom more times in a day than I’d prefer. It’s that use of the Comic Sans font, however, that makes me want to start drinking pop again just out of spite.

[1.] I wasn’t sure if it’s spelled “shitload” or “shit-load” or “shit load” so I looked it up and was pleasantly surprised to see that Merriam-Webster actually has a definition for it. It’s spelled “shitload.”

The dangers of free promotional crap.

At my job as an IT Jedi one of the responsibilities I’ve been handed is the purchasing of miscellaneous items that are sometimes needed. Replacement hard drives, memory upgrades, adapter cables, that sort of thing. Every week or two I put together a list of requested purchases from our users and, when approved, I place the order with Newegg and/or, on the rare occasion, Amazon. When I look for items I try to find stuff that’s on sale and sometimes those things come with promotional items at no extra charge. For example, we’ve gotten free universal power adapters in the past which I tossed in a drawer and hand out when someone leaves their laptop charger at home.

A recent purchase of a Samsung SSD for one of our users came with a promotional item too. The video game Assassin’s Creed Unity. It’s important to note that I am not dumb enough to try and get away with using a corporate credit card to buy myself a video game, especially one I’ve no particular interest in (I’m way behind on AC games not even having played AC III yet). I noted it was included as a promotional item at no extra charge and didn’t think much of it because Samsung has done stuff like that in the past with the second Batman video game.

As it turns out it wasn’t a promotion by Samsung, but by Newegg themselves so it showed up on the list of items being purchased. I couldn’t see any way to remove it from the order so I let it go through. It ended up showing up on in the cart as an item immediately followed by a credit for the full amount thus costing the company nothing. When the invoices came in, however, the order was split over more than one of them and for some reason the credit for the game shows up on an entirely different invoice than the one the “purchase” shows up on. So it looks like I bought a game on the company card.

When I came into work today I had an email from the fellow who has to justify all the purchases of stuff from Newegg (it’s his company card we use) asking me to refrain from buying game codes on the company card even if it didn’t actually cost the company anything. I explained that I didn’t have a choice as there didn’t appear to be a way to tell Newegg no thanks for the freebie and I didn’t even want the game to begin with, but that I’d try to avoid it in the future if at all possible. I’m not in any real trouble and I can understand how it looks a bit odd to the higher ups so it’d be best to not repeat it.

Here’s the kicker to this little story: I tried the game code — it was free and it’s not like the company is going to use it. The game boots up and gets to the title screen with the PRESS ANY BUTTON TO START message. When you press a button it tries to play the opening cinematic and immediately crashes to the desktop.

This GIF seemed appropriate to this story.

This GIF seemed appropriate to this story.

Hey! Who moved all my crap?

Hey look! It’s my annual clean-the-work-desk-off day. Once a year around about this time I clean up my desks and you can tell that they are, in fact, desks. I’ve had no end of comments from coworkers passing by of the “Hey! You really DO have a desk under there!” variety.


This year’s motivation is the pending arrival of auditors from China next week. I’m not expecting to interact with them directly, but there was some desire expressed to have a more “professional” looking work environment in place. The truth is there was plenty of stuff I’d been meaning to get to sorting through to figure out what needed to be recycled and what needed to be put into the storage room and this was a good excuse to take the time to do it. I also went through all the boxes on top of my cubicle to see what they had in them and they were all empty save for one that held all the old wireless access points we replaced awhile back.

I should be able to keep things relatively clutter free through the holidays (the fact that I’m taking my usual 3 week vacation in December will help) and then in January I’ll get started on junking them back up again so I can clean them off again next November.

Totally bad pun of the day.

I work in a building full of engineers. They are very clever people most of the time. Sometimes they are too clever. Sometimes they engage in puns. Yesterday an engineer walked up to my cube and we had the following exchange:

Engineer: Les, what are you doing under my sink?

Me: Wha…?

Engineer: Your email said you were “at my disposal.” Haha!

punch-myself-face