Code Monkey Re-visited

While browsing Slashdot (a techie-oriented news discussion website), someone posted a link for the animated music video of the song, “Code Monkey,” that came out in 2006. I haven’t heard that song in years. This catchy tune gave me hope of becoming a code monkey during my final grueling year of earning my associate degree in computer programming at San Jose City College, where I took special study classes because all my required courses got cancelled for the year. I graduated in 2007 by making the president’s list for maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A. in my major.

Ironically, I never became a professional code monkey.

After landing a help desk support specialist job at a financial Fortune 500 company in 2005, I made that my professional career and became a code monkey for my personal websites. My plan to go from black box testing with no programming to white box testing with programming went awry. Seven years later, and being unemployed on-and-off for three years, I’m in the middle of another job transition to information security. Maybe I’ll become a code monkey by writing security scripts. Or maybe not. There’s always hope that I can do something with my programming degree.

Blowing Up A Sex Doll In Space

During the eighth grade in 1984, I had a junior engineering class to draw blueprints and build models. The big projects we did were a cut-away section of a house, a racing car propelled by a carbon-monoxide cylinder, and a tissue paper hot air balloon.

My favorite project was the hot air balloon. I glued alternating sheets of green and white tissue paper into eight panels, cut each panel into a balloon-shape pattern from a template based on a mathematical formula, and glued the panels together to form a 48″ balloon with a narrow neck.

Because I assembled my balloon at home, the cats got to it with their sharp claws. I had to glue on 234 patches inside the classroom while everyone else flew their balloons. The best-case scenario for my balloon was for it to fill up and fall over due to the extra weight. The worst-case scenario was for it to catch fire from an ember (which did happen to some balloons, including one in flight).

The teacher held the flue over the wood-burning trashcan to direct the hot air. I held the balloon neck over the flue opening to fill it up. After I tied off the neck with a rubber band and let it go, the balloon floated 20 feet into the air and out of the courtyard to everyone’s astonishment. A group of us chased after the balloon two blocks down the street from the school. That’s the furthest any balloon went that day.

The teacher announced at the end of class that my balloon was a kludge—something that worked when it wasn’t expected to work. That was the happiest day for me in the eighth grade.

Kids today don’t know how good they have it when doing engineering projects. A weather balloon filled with hydrogen can carry a mounted camera to transmit video of a test object going into space. Like the video of this inflatable sex doll that went up 102,000 feet, exposed to extreme gamma radiation and the low surface pressure of Mars, and crashed somewhere in the Nevada desert.

Gives new meaning to the old Star Trek engineering motto: “She’s gonna blow, captain!”

Please No Talking At The Urinal

iStock_000001699103SmallOne of my pet peeves at work is standing at the urinal in the men restroom when somebody comes up to the urinal next to me, unzips his pants and strikes up a conversation. Not the manly grunts to acknowledge the other person existence, but the “Whazzup!” conversational opener. I cannot talk and pee at the same time, a level of multitasking has always eluded me. Talking at the urinal means I need to stop peeing, think about what I need to say, say my piece and resume peeing again. Talking shop is the last thing I want to do at the urinal.

As a child prodigy tragically misdiagnosed as being mentally retarded (whenever I blew the evaluation exam on the genius side the teacher called it a “statistical fluke” every time), the boys restroom was a dangerous area for a fat white boy like myself in the Special Ed class. If someone turns off the lights, the student next to me always turned sideways to spray me with piss. An accident they told the teacher. Yeah, right. Because I rode the little yellow school bus, my mother didn’t drive and my father worked in San Francisco, I had to sit in piss-soaked pants for the rest of the class day and the two-hour bus ride home. My classmates would taunt me that I needed to wear diapers. I’m surprised that I never developed homicidal tendencies towards my classmates.

When I worked as a lead tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises), we had more testers than the men restroom could accommodate. The custodians had to clean and stock the restroom three times a day to keep up. Someone always “forgot” to flush one of the toilets in the stalls. If you “read” the toilet bowl like tea leaves in a cup, you can figure out what they had for lunch at Taco Bell. The splatter pattern was different each day, as if someone tossed in a cherry bomb for good measure. I wrote up a proposal for management to install Porta-Potties out in the parking lot. The mad bomber of the restroom eventually left the company.

I did a six-week contract at Sony in 2005 to test what later become the Sony eReader. With no possibility of an extension, I looked for a new job while working on this one. I was standing at the urinal when a woman recruiter at Microsoft called my cellphone, answered the call and stepped away as I zipped up my pants. The urinal, of course, had an automatic flush. She asked if this was a good time to talk. I reassured it was, although my voice echoed in the restroom, Indian coworkers gave me strange looks, and toilet seats got plopped down for business. I conducted many interviews there since I couldn’t find a more private spot elsewhere.

My boss recently asked me for a status report while at the urinal. I had a catastrophic brain freeze. A status report meant collecting data, analyzing it and offering an interpretation relative to yesterday’s status report. That wasn’t a yes/no or one-sentence answer. I hemmed and hawed in answering, both verbally and peeing. As we were washing our hands (separately, of course), I stammered out that I would send him an email and ran out of the restroom. I was fortunate that I didn’t piss my pants.