Friday, April 29, 2005

It's a Man's World

...But we need women to tell us what to do.

How is everyone enjoying poet's day? Nope I'm not talking about some arty holiday you've never heard of. More precisely it's P.O.E.T.S day, or in other words, Piss Off Early Tommorrow's Saturday. That great tradition of the working man.

Speaking of the working man, I tackled a very simple job today, well at least I thought it would be simple, I repaired the broken front window I told you about a few posts ago.

There's the easy way to do things and the hard way. The difference between the two being that the hard way works. Most of us, however, will still choose the easy way, knowing deep down in our souls that the easy way will suddenly become the tear your hair out and scream method.

The biggest problem is once you get married or move in with your girlfriend, becoming a handyman comes with the territory. Despite the fact you've never so much as held a screwdriver before, you suddenly suddenly see yourself as a master electrician, plumber, mechanic and all round Fix-It God. The saddest thing is, guys, we actually believe our own hype.

For all the women out there, this can be confusing. Why in the blue hell is your man attempting to fix the washing machine himself, when you know by the time you've paid for the parts, tools, inevitable medical bills and called an expert to fix the now ten times worse washing machine, you could have saved a lot of time, money and aggrivation by calling an expert to begin with.

In order for the ladies to understand how our minds work, I'm going to talk you through my thought processes in fixing the window. This is also "The Man's Guide to Home Repair"

1) Through my own stupidity, I break the window.

2) I call around the hardware stores to get a price on plexiglass. Listen to the sales clerk talk about the differences between brands, including reflective index, tensile strength etc. Of course I have no clue what he's talking about, but obviously I don't want to admit that, so I 'hmm' and say things like 'Of course', deftly giving the impression I know what the hell he's blathering on about.

The Sales clerk knows I have no clue of course, but pretends he doesn't. He tells me I need lots of stuff I don't need, and laughs about it with the other sales clerks when I hang up

3) I arrive at the hardware store, despite the fact I have no clue what most of this stuff is or what it does, I feel happy and have a sense of homecoming. The same feeling you used to get in Toys 'R' Us when you were twelve. I ask the sales clerk where the plexiglass is and he shows me, I pull out two sheets (I need two, my window is sectional, I broke two). The salesman points out that I also need a cutter for it, I was planning on using a craft knife, but don't want to seem stupid so I put everything the salesman recommends in my cart and say "I was just going to ask you where to get that."

I needed two sheets of plexiglass and some silicone. I leave with Plexiglass, silicone, caulk gun, deluxe steel rule (no idea what's so deluxe about it, maybe it's because it has both inches AND metric), special plastic cutter (which is essentially a craft knife with a non-replaceable blade, something less effective than my craft knife, but I have to use it to justify the expense to the wife)

4) Arrive home. Re-measure the window before I cut the plexiglass. I've heard the old saying "Measure twice, cut once" hundreds of times. I don't know how it's supposed to work when you measure 5 times, and get 5 different measurements. I shrug and take an average, after all it doesn't have to be exact, does it? I figure if it's wrong I can blame it one being English, everything here is in yards and inches, I'm used to millimeters and centimeters

5) Main Man-Rule #1 Never Read Instructions. I did, however, because I had no clue what I was doing (not that that usually stops me)...but I was screwed if I was going to let the wife see me do it.

I lay out my plexiglass, lay my ruler across it, and according to the instructions, score it 5 times. Dissapointed to see I have not managed a textbook perfectly straight deep score. Instead I find 5 different, and very shallow score lines.

6) Swear Loudly.

7) Finally manage to get the glass scored nearly right. Now comes the part where I snap it off. Expecting whole sheet to shatter in my hands, I'm surprised to get a satisfying 'snick' sound and a nice straight edge.

8) Smugly test fit the window. With a sinking feeling see that it's about 2/8ths of an inch too big. Realise that now there is not enough 'waste' to score and snap like I did first time round, it's just not possible to get enough leverage with a 2/8ths section.

9) Swear loudly. Notice the cat has taken an interest in the proceedings, she perches on the front step with an interested look on her face. I'm swearing, usually something interesting is about to happen.

10) Take rotary tool (God bless Dremmel) and attempt to sand down edge. End up with something that looks like it's been chewed by rats rather than sanded.

11) Test fit again...repeat step 10...five times.

12) Repeat steps 5 -11 for other pane. Yes, managing to make all same mistakes, including having to sand down the edge 5 times.

13) Hard part over, just need to remove broken glass, spread silicone around frame, press in plexiglass, done. Oh how naive I was.

14) Attempt to remove broken glass.

15) Go back inside for band aids and some work gloves. Swear so loudly, cat runs and hides...however, I get the sneaking suspicion I hear her laugh at me.

16) Glass removed, Snip end of silicone tube, put into caulk gun. Press trigger, nothing happens. Don't bother to read instructions, this is a gun, and therefore I know all about it. Rather than take apart to see problem, pull trigger as hard as I can. Trip over cat on the way back into the house. Definately hear her laugh at me this time.

17) Realise I forgot to pierce the foil inside the tube. Have managed to press trigger so hard, the arm will not move forward, and cannot move backwards. Completely stuck. Wrack brains for solution, while being quietly proud of my own strength in managing to jam caulk gun.

18) Marvel at my own brilliance, If I cut the end of the nozzle back even more, I can fit a screwdriver inside and pierce the foil! Genius, sheer bloody genius!

19) Realise with sinking feeling in my stomach that I now have to try and accurately place silicone around the frame with a nozzle that now has a half inch hole where a 1/16th inch hole should be. reminds me of trying to put toothpaste on a GI Joe sized brush with a tube of toothpaste the size of my arm. End up with silicone looking like it would have been tidier to simply take handful of silicone and fling it in the general direction of the window. Cat sits on car hood and watches. Swear loudly. Hear cat snigger.

20) Press plexiglass into frame, attempt to remove excess with my fingers, find 5 minutes later I'm glued to the caulk gun. tell wife I covered my hands with silicone on purpose so I didn't have to go outside to check to see if it's cured.

21) Stand back and admire handywork. Looks like it's been done by a group of hung over monkeys with Attention Deficit disorder. Feel proud. Cat claws leg. Consider using left over silicone to glue cat to the wall.

22) Spend rest of day picking silicone off fingers. By some amazing stroke of luck new panes have not fallen out and appear waterproof and secure. Notice cat trying to remove blob of silicone from fur. Laugh at cat. Find out an hour later cat has pooped in my shoe. Cat, however, nowhere to be seen.

See what I mean ladies? That's how we work. Of course to another guy I'd say "Yeah, spent an hour on friday throwing some new glass into the front window, easy."

So why do we do it? If I had to draw a comparison, I'd put it this way. If you suggest to your husband that he should hire an expert, it's a grave blow to his manhood. For an idea of how it feels, imagine your husband or boyfriend saying "Your clothes and makeup look crappy, let's get one of those pretty girl in here to do it for you and buy some clothes for you. Obviously you can't manage it on your own." Then imagine the cat sniggering at you.

Of course, this phenomenon of lying to yourself works for females too. Ie women who insist they can cook when they can't, claim to have an eye for decorating (they do, but that eye is colourblind), or my personal favourite, the women who say women in magazines on TV are too skinny, are anorexic sluts, but would sell their own grandmother to look like them.

Anyway, the next time your man takes on a project, let him do it, but have a profesional on standby and alert the emergency room.

Sorry ladies but it's an instinctual, in-the-bone thing that you will never train out of your man. Don't even try to.

Anyway, I have to go now and finish removing the window sealant from my hands.

It's That Time Again Folks!

Yep, it's tax time!

The tax system in the USA simply baffles me. You see, in England we have a simple pay as you earn system. Every payday, depending on how much you earn, a percentage is taken out of your paypacket. Unless you're self employed, you don't have to file a return. Once a year, you either get a refund or a bill. Simple!

Things this year have got really convoluted. You see, I came to the USA on a Fiance visa. After a 2 year process and a hell of a lot of cash spent, I finally got my visa. I thought that would be the end of the process...not so. Now I have to register for a work permit and a status change (and the wheels of government turn slowly, something that is the same the world over), I've been here for a year, and still don't have my permit.

So my wife files her taxes, as we're married I have to be included on it. Now of course, I don't have a work permit, so I've not worked since I've been here. Apparently, however, on top of the other 60,000 forms I've currently got out there for my Status change, I now have to apply for a Tax identification number.

How do these people's minds work?

Here's their thinking:

This person doesn't have a social security number, therefore he can't work, therefore he won't be paying any taxes, therefore he isn't in the system.

I have to register with them and get a special number to prove I'm not known to the tax system.

In other words I have to register the fact that I'm not registered.

I can't wait for this to spread around the rest of the country. I'm looking forward to applying for my "Licence to not have a drivers licence" my "Title deed to no property" and I'm definately looking forward to my "licence to not own a hunting licence."

Seriously though folks, I don't want any people to think I'm America bashing. The simple truth is I love this country, if I didn't I wouldn't be living here. I actually used to work for the British Government, which isn't as grand as it sounds, I was one of those awful people that deal in unemployment.

That brings me to my point. I've seen both sides in the People-Government situation, and I have to say, when you're dealing with a low level official (In other words the person who answers the phone, or the person you deal with in the office), bear in mind that they think the system is just as needlessly complicated as you, had no hand in designing it and most of the time are just as baffled by it as you. They need a job just like anyone else, and are in the job for the paycheck...It's like the person who works in lost luggage at the airport. Do you think any five years old thinks: "I want to work in lost luggage and get screamed at by an endless stream of irritable, jet lagged people every day for little pay. That's the career for me!"? Of course not.

Back to my point. As an example from my own country. Someone in management had the great idea of 'Tax Credits", in other words, more free money for people who need it. However, they launched a full TV campaign publicizing it, and gave out benefit office numbers on their website saying the people who deal with your unemployment check can also give you all the information you need and can even process your claim over the phone.

Seems sensible doesn't it? The same people you're used to dealing with can help you with this new benefit and by not employing new people to process the claims, they're saving the taxpayer money. It seems like a wonderful system, doesn't it?

Of course, with Government, nothing is ever that simple. For one, they forgot that benefit paying officers are ridiculously overworked, and can barely keep up with their regular duties. (Why do you think everything takes so long? No one enjoys getting screamed at over the phone or threatened with physical violence, if they could pay you and make you happy, it is in everyone's best interest.) I've personally been accused of racism and being anti-muslim because someone's claim was wrapped up in red tape, despite the fact I'd only dealt with that person over the phone and had no clue what colour, religion or creed he was. I didn't enjoy it, and would have been a lot happier if I could have paid that guy right away. It's wasn't my fault I needed 3 extra forms and a copy of his visa because that person wasn't a british citizen.

That's something else people don't know, if a government worker dealing in taxes or benefits knowingly lets something slide for speed's sake, they can actually be imprisoned for fraud.

Here's the real clincher though. Remember that big advertising campaign I was telling you about? That started up a full 6 months before any admin staff in the benefits agency was told about it or given any training. Most people who called in that first 6 months got the answer "Tax credits? What the hell are tax credits?"

In other words, the biggest problem with government and big business is the people in charge come up with ideas that work on paper, seem sensible, but are completely impractical in the real world. For example, the idea instituted in the Netherlands:

The Dutch government bought a few hundred bikes, painted them green and left them around the city centres, The idea was people could use them to get around, and when finished leave them outside for someone else, solving pollution, traffic congestion and transporation problems at a stroke!

48 hours later, not a single bike was left, every single one stolen.

Here's my idea. Right now, all the top level 'decision makers" in government and business (The ones who use words like 'synergy', 'streamlining' and 'global profitability'), should all be made to work for a year in the lowest level of their organisation, you know, the people like you and me who do the actual work. Rather than them waking up in the middle of the night, scribbling "save money with X, Y and Z - Admin staff can do it", hugging themselves and then going to the boardmeeting the next day for backslaps and pay raises, they can actually see the carnage their great ideas cause.

I'll finish today with a joke that I think sums everything up.

An executive is walking around an office and gets lost, he walks into and room and shouts "You there! Tell me where I am!"

The office worker says simply "You're in an office."

The executive says "You must be admin."

"How do you know?" the admin replies

"I asked a question, the answer you gave me was perfectly accurate, but didn't give me any new information or help me one bit."

"Ah!" Says the admin. "You must be an executive."

"How do you know?"

"You have a problem, you're in exactly the same situation you were before you ever met me, but now it's my fault."

People, whether you're dealing with your taxes, buying a pair of jeans, trying to get an unemployment check or simply ordering food, when it goes wrong, don't shout at the guy giving you the bad news...ask to see the manager, and let them have it!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Pity Me...

Pity me...Please!

No, don't worry, this isn't one of those blog sites. I'm not a supposedly suicidal 16 year old using the net to vent my angst.

In fact, I'm 24, got married last year, and moved from England to live in South Carolina (my wife is an American Citizen.)

So why pity me? I'm assuming as a websurfer, you're at least halfway into computers. Well, I'm writing this on a 7 year old system, using dialup, that due to some mystery with the phonelines in this area (bad ice storm a month or so ago), I can only connect at 26,400 bps. That's right, half the speed of dialup. I had to leave my top of the line system in ole blighty (That's England for you american folks), and now have a computer that has trouble running Pong.

Oh well, life aint so bad, despite the fact today I managed to break my living room window trying to climb through it after locking myself out. I also managed to accidentally siphon 3 gallons of water from my aquarium onto the carpet after cleaning any other aquarists out there, that little valve for your airhose might seem of little use, after all it's never going to actually happen is it? Trust me, a couple dollars is a much lower price to pay than explaining why the living room has become a swimming pool to the missus.

Anyway, what's today's topic?

Ah....The bane of every surfers life...Spam!

I never really realised just how annoying spam could be on my old connection. When you're computer is connected at 3mbps, pop-ups are just mildly annoying. When you're on dial up, even just two or three popups really suck up that bandwidth.

I've noticed however, that we as web surfers just accept it, we may install blockers, spyware removers, but we accept and expect them, just like the commercials on TV (note - God I miss British TV, one 3 minute ad break every 35 mins, one channel here actually has a 7 min ad break after 5 minutes of took me over 4 hours to watch 'The Matrix')

Anyway, why do we accept spam? Or the bane of my existence, the Browser Hijack!

To those who don't know (lucky you), a browser hijack is a program that downloads to your computer without your permission, and changes your start page to something you don't want, sex sites, search engines etc. Others even check what you search for in google or Yahoo, and redirect you to a site selling anything even remotely connected to your search. They also bring the dreaded popups every five minutes.

What REALLY p**ses me off about these is a lot of these popups are ads trying to sell you software to remove spyware and adware. Let me put this into perspective.

This is like me breaking into your house, and while you're trying to watch the game, I have a remote which lets me change your channel at will. Every minute, I change the channel, and you have to get up, turn your tv off, unplug it from the wall, wait 5 minutes, plug it back in to get back to the game. Then guess what? A minute later I do the same thing all over again.

Would that annoy you? You betcha! Now imagine this: Every time I change your TV, I bring up an infomercial:

Weird looking guy in a bad suit : "You see Marie. Your TV can get infected with butthole with a remote that changes the channel on you to this infomercial. The only way to combat this is to send us $50 and we can get rid of this for you!"

Marie, the airhead in fake jewellery: "That's amazing Kent, why don't we repeat everything we've just said over and over until the viewer throws their TV out of the window in a rage!"

It's like someone peeing in your pool, and the expanding yellow cloud saying "Someone peed in your pool? For just $50 you can remove it!"...It's like me shooting out your tires, and then offering to repair them for a price, and include a special ingredient that makes it immune to shooting...It's like me throwing your dog in front of a car to sell you a pet enclosure so they won't run into traffic.

To all writers of Browser Hijackers...I would rather wipe my harddrive and lose everything on there than pay you one red cent to remove it.

I'm certain these things have cost relationships too. Picture the scene, it's 5 days after my wedding. I tell my wife not to use the computer, because there's a virus on it, and I need to run the virus checker before it infects anything else. My wife forgets and goes online, what does she see in the favourites? Links to pretty much every sex site on the net, courtesy of the coolsearch browser hijack.

Luckily she knows I used to build computers for a living, and I pointed out if I wanted to store porn on the computer, I could fix it so she'd never know.

I did get my own back once though. I captured the source of the Browser Hijack, and email bombed the office it originated from. They wanna hijack my computer? Lets see them clear a half million 10 meg movie files from their computer...heh heh heh.

Seriously people, if your browser gets hijacked, don't be fooled into paying for a remover. There are plenty of free removers out there that are just as good, if not better than the retail ones. I won't mention any names, in case I get accused of spamming this blog (wouldn't that be ironic?) Check out the tech support forums, lots of free help there!

Anyway, it's nearly 6am now (not been to bed yet), so I'll be off!

Next time : An update on being British in SC. Also, another bane of my existence TELEVANGELISTS!