days like today

At my day job, I write documentation that attempts to describe to programmers how to integrate my company’s software onto mobile devices (primarily cell phones). I mostly like it, although I’ve been doing this same kind of thing for a really long time, so sometimes I get antsy. One irritating thing about doing the same basic job for lots of years at several different places is that you have to solve the same problems over and over. It gets to be a little like Groundhog Day, and I sort of hated that movie. Sometimes, I want to sneak little messages into the boring discussions of function calls and variables: I’m not wearing any panties right now.

Today had its own set of challenges.

I finished up a project early last week and had long since forgotten about it. I used to be able to keep years’ worth of project information in my head, but these days, I’m lucky to remember what I was working on yesterday. My head is now filled with remembering who won America’s Next Top Model last year and the difference between reposado and anejo tequila.

I got an e-mail this morning letting me know that the software I documented — for the project that I was supposed to be finished with nearly two weeks ago — people, that ship has sailed! — is compatible with a newer version of this other software and could I update the documentation? Well, I could if I remembered what I even did with the files, but OK. I went to talk to the developer, since I figured he wrote the software and he’s bound to know something about it. Sometimes I’m so naive.

“This software is compatible with this newer version. Does that mean it can be used with the newer version or it only can be used with the newer version?”

“Huh. I don’t know.”

I just stared at him. I think he knows the look by now. He seemed a little scared.

“Just stay here.”

He started hunting through the code and mumbling. “Well, it might work with… but over here it…”

I sat down. And waited. And listened to the mumbling. And amused myself by staring out the window. Of course, it’s nearly identical to the view out my own window, so it wasn’t really all that amusing.

Another coworker walked in. She looked at me, then followed my gaze to the back of the developer’s head.

“Is he talking to you?”

“Presumably. Welcome to my life.”

I summoned my authoritative voice. Which isn’t very authoritative, but it’s the best I have.

Dude, which is it?” He’s from Japan so I probably should have said “Dude-san, which is it? Arigato!” But I was in a hurry.

He turned back to me with a look of something less than confidence. “Well, it probably still works with the older version, but we haven’t tested it.”

I used my vast expertise to make an executive decision.

“OK, I’m going to say that they have to use the newer version then.”

“Yeah, do that.”

Right.

That problem solved, I went back to what I was working on before the great versioning debacle, which was trying to get long explanations of a difficult-to-explain product to be readable on teeny tiny cell phone screens. Yes, again. Do I structure the HTML as XHTML? WML? What? I found this:

While doing the research for this article, I actually walked away from my computer right in the middle of my umpteenth developer guideline PDF download, hopped in my car, picked up a bottle of wine, three DVDs, returned home, and crawled into bed. That’s how bad it is.

Well, that’s promising.

I hobbled something together and figured I should actually look at it on a tiny screen before I went much farther. Hmm… tiny screen… tiny screen… where can I get a tiny screen? I work for a mobile device software company. Surely, we have plenty of tiny screens around. I went to see a developer. Thankfully, not the mumbler. He had about 10 phones piled on his desk, but none were Internet-enabled. Could I load the files onto the phone? Yes, but I’d need a special USB cable. Did he have one? He looked around his piles of cables dubiously. No. But, he did know of two Internet-enabled phones in the office! I would just have to track one down. Amazingly, I did. This is where my years of experience really pay off. I’ve become extremely efficient at tracking people down. Generally, they’re playing ping pong.

So, I uploaded the test files to my server, opened the browser on the phone, typed in the hella long url, and no page. I asked the developer. Oh, he said. They must have shut off our service for not paying the bill again. The fuck?

I should point out that while I work for a small company, we are owned by a very large one. Huge actually. I’m pretty sure they have the money to pay the cell phone bill. But I was stuck until I had service, so I went to see the admin.

“Oh, which account is that? Cingular? Yeah, Verizon got turned off too. I’m trying to get accounts payable to process the checks.”

I then went back to my desk and found a new e-mail from the head of our larger company telling us that he’d just written a $510 million check to get the Department of Justice and the SEC off his back. And also reminding us not to commit fraud this holiday season! And suddenly the light went on and I realized that those dumb workshops I had to take where we all had to watch little skits and talk about ethics were probably also to get the SEC off his back and not just to annoy me personally. The annoyance thing was just a side benefit.

What bugged me the most was that they had to announce this big settlement today. Which meant the stock went up. Today is the first day of this cycle’s employee stock purchase program. In six months, we buy the stock at 15% below today’s price. If only they had waited just one more frickin’ day, I could maybe make a little money. That, I think, they must have done on purpose. To annoy me personally. Lord knows they’re probably not going to be overflowing with the raises this year what with that $510 million check, so the least they could do is time their stock-influencing announcements to benefit me, right? Oh. There was probably something in that dumb ethics workshop about that. What I recall most from the workshop is that they were really adamant that we put these “standards” stickers on our badges, so at any time, a manager could confront us in the hall and we could pull out our badge and prove we’d been to training. I think hallway manager confrontations are unethical so I am participating in a one-person protest. And anyway, I lost my sticker.

I decided that since my company could not pay its bills, I would just use my own phone for testing. Only, I would have to brave the customer service people who are intent on keeping me from Internet access. I have tried to get Internet access on my own phone before, without much luck. Here’s how it went today:

“All of our agents are busy. Agents are available 24 hours a day so you can call at your convenience.” (As long as your convenience is 3am.)

The guy I talked to was completely out of his league, but in his favor, he knew it, and transferred me to the next tier of support. She thought I was an obvious idiot who was doing something wrong, so she asked me to recount my steps exactly. I was on to her game because I do this same thing with my mom when she tells me windows are flying off the screen of her computer.

Now first of all, I don’t begrudge the people who answer the phone for not knowing all the answers. I know they get a script and they’re only told a certain number of things, and not all calls fit into that. Also, I don’t expect everyone to know about every browser in the world, but I do sort of expect the person I was transferred to who is a “data services expert” to know about the browsers installed on the phones that this company sells. Apparently, my expectations are way too high.

I recounted my steps:

“I go to the menu, I open Opera, and it asks me for an access point.”

“OK, so you’ve got an .mp3 file of opera that you’re trying to play?”

Clearly, today was not the day I get Internet access on my phone.

“Opera is a browser.”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“Like Internet Explorer? Just a different browser.”

“I’ll have to ask my supervisor. I’ve never heard of this Opera.”

I’ll spare you the tedious details, but she finally realized she had to send me their network information. She was very excited: “I have a tool for that!”

And the reward for it all was that I got to go back to work. I’m thinking of picking up a bottle of wine and crawling into bed before I go any further.

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