Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Identity Theft FTL

Within the past year, I have received notification from three companies that personal identification about me may have been accidentally disclosed to unintended parties.

Wells Fargo had a server disappear in shipment, which may have had all kinds of juicy info on it including names, SSNs, and bank account information. Wells Fargo, of course, does my home mortgage.

A Medical Insurance company that I don't even do business with, but which provides services for my place of employment, recently contacted me to say a server was stolen out of a locked office at their facility, which had names and SSNs.

Finally, my newspaper informed me that they accidentally shipped a piece of paper including some billing information (we have our newspaper paid direct from our checking account, much as we do with our phone and electric bills) to their carriers.

Out of the three, only Wells Fargo offered to give us a year's free subscription to a credit monitoring service. I wasn't going to take them up on it, but after two additional breaches in the course of the following months, it's probably about time to do that.

And of course, because no tragedy in America happens without someone standing to make some cash, I recently saw a sign on an insurance company for "Identity Theft Insurance." What the hell is that? It's not like you can say, "My identity got stolen, I need a settlement to replace it."

Ah, the perils of the modern age.

Friday, June 09, 2006

What does your workspace say about you?

I've always wanted my workspace to reflect a little of who I am outside the office. This serves a lot of purposes. I get to have a little bit of my outside life around me while I work, and people who come into my workspace can see a little of the person who might not otherwise surface. It can also act as a conversation starter and a bit of a friend-finder.

The problem is that after ten years in the same company, it's stopped reflecting a little of who I am, and started reflecting a little of every little thing that has interested me in that ten years. It's less like a snapshot of my life and more like a dumping ground for it. And that's fine, in some ways. Some times it's cool to find an action figure I got when I was in my teens and remember how it ended up at work when I wanted something to decorate my cube in my first month on the job.

But overall, it's slowly been gnawing at me. I want a cleaner workspace, with less junk and more meaningful items. More things with stories attached, fewer random Burger King kids' meal toys.

And now, as a shift into a new managerial role (and office with a door) looms on the horizon, I have the perfect excuse to do something about it. What do I keep, what do I get rid of, and what do I add?

I mean, I can't even remember what prompted me to put a snowman-shaped pez dispenser on my bookshelf. I think I nabbed it from someone's cubicle after they left the company, to remind me of them ... but I can't remember who it was. There's an irony there which is not lost on me.

I have two Lord of the Rings movie posters on the wall that have been on display since well before the movies came out. When I put them up, it was a way of spreadng the news about the upcoming movies and starting conversations about them. Now people assume I'm some kind of LOTR fiend when the truth is I've seen Ocean's Eleven more times than I've seen Fellowship of the Ring (okay, maybe not, but it's close).

I've got snapshots of my nephews from before they were old enough to talk. Now they're in little league. I've got a complete LOTR chess set. Patriots players action figures for people who haven't been on the team in years. A giant R2-D2 cookie jar. The list goes on.

But I also have my collection of magnets I grabbed on my road trip, to remind me of where I've been. I've got a clay "death mask" I bought in Cancun. I've got a beautiful black and white picture of my nephews and niece taken last fall in a pile of leaves. And while you might not understand why a Diablo 2 action figure is important to me, in a weird way it's very important to me, and I don't want to let it go quite yet.

It's going to be interesting to see what I make of my new workspace, when I move into an office. How much of the old me will come along? What will my co-workers think of the change?

Right now my plan is to save one shelf in the office for "toys" and decorate the rest with more "grown up" trinkets. This will force me to pick and choose the toys which have the most meaning, and remind me of my roots, while allowing me to show more of who I am today to those who step into the office.

The real question is, what do I put on the walls? Right now I have four posters -- 1 Sandman, 1 Swingers, and 2 LOTR. I've been thinking of decorating with travel-themed posters, though ... change it up a little.

Watch here for updates :).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Not a programmer?

In the early 1980s, our classroom received its first computer. It was a TI 99/4A which ran some educational software but more importantly had a BASIC interpreter.

I sat and watched as the teacher asked if anyone in the class knew how to use it. One kid did, a popular boy named Tim. It was ... maddening ... to my little nerd self. I was the smart kid. I knew math, spelling, science. Tim was supposed to be the popular kid, who could beat up anyone in a playground fight and always got picked first at kickball ... how dare he know something academic that I didn't?

That shit would not fly. That summer I took a "Advanced BASIC Programming" class (yes, I jumped right into advanced; the beginner class was full) and a typing class, and by the start of seventh grade I was well on my way to being the kid who knew the most about computers in the class.

Little did I know then how much of a big deal this would be. The rest of my education in some way or another was centered around computers. Computers would dominate my spare time and hobby cash spending for years to come, and would even lead me to my first girlfriend.

As a sophomore in college, some Math professors sat me down at a table and tried to talk me into changing my major from Computer Science to Math ... but I would have none of it. Writing software was what I did. I couldn't imagine leaving it behind.

And now, in a way, I am.

Starting in mid-July, my job title will no longer contain the word Engineer. I will be a Manager. UML diagrams will be replaced by Microsoft Project Charts. If I do my job right, not a single piece of new code with my name on it will make its way into the final product after that day.

This is big, really big. It's a huge departure from what I've been doing for longer than I've had to shave. And while it scares the living daylight out of me, I'm thrilled and energized by the challenge.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about this as I actually transition into the role. For now ... I just keep thinking of that kid who wanted to make computers "do cool stuff." I hope I can feel some of that enthusiasm again, in helping other people "do cool stuff" instead.