Thursday, December 11, 2008

On Certifications and Training

I've now been at Epic for six months. During the hiring process, that's the amount of time they said it takes to be trained. Some people complete training a lot faster. I procrastinated, which is always a bad idea. The main thing that held me up was the C exercise. I don't know why it's called that, as it has nothing to do with the C language (Epic uses Cache, which is based off of M), and there are no corresponding A or B exercises. It was a tricky little bit of programming, but there was always this nagging thought in the back of my mind that there was a much easier way to fulfill the requirements of the exercise. Oh well. It's over now and I'm certified in everything.

Despite it taking me six months to meet the minimum requirements, I've done a lot more. I'm certified in three applications, including my main app. There's a nice financial incentive to pursue extra certifications, and doing so is my main means of getting out of debt right now. That, and using a debt management company. I should have done that a lot sooner.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dream Big

This is from May, 2007. I just finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy.

The Legacy of our Generation

Science fiction is easily the most thought-provoking literature in print. The general format is pose a problem, then create a solution. The problems tend to be Herculaen in difficulty, and the solutions monumental. Older sci-fi novels have possessed plot devices that, while unknown in their own time, later came into reality. One HG Wells novel mentioned mobile armored artillery platforms years before World War I, which saw the advent of tanks. Jules Verne was writing about submarines before bathyspheres were even ivented (someone check this for me). Not an invention, but it's cool nonetheless: Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote about the two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, before astronomers ever saw them.

That's old sci-fi. Modern sci-fi has a thousand books about colonization of space, politicking with alien cultures, unified world-wide governments, war where skirmishes are fought light-years apart, zombie plagues... The list goes on. And almost all of it takes place far away from Earth.

Let's take the Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson for an example. No aliens, no galactic wars, no hordes of shambling undead. Just a mission to establish a research colony on Mars, Earth's most hospitable neighbor. A team of 100 men and women gets sent. They build cities. They begin controlled global warming to get the ice water on Mars to liquefy. They send robots to mine the asteroids. They dig holes 20 kilometers deep to pour areothermal (like geothermal, but for Mars) heat into the atmosphere. They create a space elevator that is at once touching the planet surface and in orbit. They do things in one lifetime that rival nothing since the industrial revolution of the late 19th century.

The end of the trilogy has a successful colony on Mars, colonies in progress on Titan, Mercury, Europa, Ganymede, and anywhere else that's big enough to put a person on.

The colonization project totally changed every aspect of everyone's life on every world. From politics, to interpersonal relationships, to technology, to religion. And it started from an idea.

From fiction to fact. By my reckoning, the last several centuries have seen a few ideas like this, and they all revolve around travel. Marco Polo's excursion opened up a whole new world. Fishing junks grew to schooners, to ships that could sail from England to Hong Kong. Columbus paved the way for his own sort of off-world colonization project. All made possible by the invention of really big boats. New products are introduced, based off of different agricultural methods, substances, divergent evolutions.

Later, James Watt discovers that steam is useful for moving things. Big things. Very fast. Lay down a couple of rails to give it a smooth ride, and what was once a month or so of boat ride becomes a week or so of train. Stuff that would rot traveling by boat from China to Portugal now can travel overland fast enough that the orient becomes less of a legend and more like a tangible place.

Later, some Ohioan immigrants to North Carolina put Bernouli's Principal to clever use. Around the world in 80 days? Phineas Fogg sure was sandbagging. People travel all over the world, stopping on each continent in a week. What was a journey of years, was now whittled down to a journey of a single day. People could get fresh oranges any time of year. Venezualan coffee, whenever they wanted. The exports of every culture, delivered to their door.

Then man goes into space. We know there are no cultures waiting to be discovered on the moon. No new toys to bring back to the little ones. This is a venture that will show no fiscal returns. Mankind puts all its effort into it nonetheless. Successful venture. Then--nothing.

The space program was the first and last monumental undertaking that was completely for scientific and research purposes. The movement to faster movement stopped there.

But wait! you say. What about this internet thing? Lots of people worked on that! Well, it's brought people closer together than ever before. All the combined knowledge of the world is at our disposal. We can travel to the far reaches of the planet, without leaving our climate-controlled living rooms, in which our HD tvs reside, playing our favorite episodes of House.

Well. Here we are. Since the internet, what progress has been made? What new ideas born? What heretofore unknowns have become known? What figurative mountains have been conquered for no other reason than because it was there? What progress is there to be made?

What point is there to making any progress? We have arrived.

A short story I read once told of a wizard who created a Man from his dreams. The Man was a hero, sent to slay an ogre who routinely terrorized the town. The ogre lived on an island, thus the hero was forced to sail to the ogre's lair to defeat him. The wizard, fearing for his creation and given to worry instructed the crew to raise black sails on their return home should the hero fall in battle. Battle ensued, the hero used fire to defeat the ogre, smoke from said fire staining the sails black. The hero emerged victorious, and unscathed. The wizard, upon seeing the black sails, wept, and died. Last words of the story: "What man lives, when his dreams are dead?"

Civilization, with the birth of the internet, has stagnated. There's no future to look forward to. Only a continuous, mind-numbing perpetual present. Another daily grind at the office, another routine day of scanning produce labels while customers yammer to stupid devices jammed in their ears. What's there to dream for? A different job? Everything is service industry. Gamestop is the same as Food Lion. Move to a different city? Architecture and the accents change, but LA has the same problems as DC.

In all eras previous, there was always a frontier for malcontents to run to--for the disaffected to pull up roots, and create for themselves utopia. They weren't always searching for a promised land as much as an adventure. Now, there's nowhere to go. We can see other planets, but we're fish, trapped in our terrestrial aquarium.

I'll end with a hypostrophe. What man lives, when his dreams are dead? Our dreams are stillborn. What kind of life is that?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another oldie but goodie

I wrote this one in Febuary 2007.

Military Strategy 101
There's a lot of debate in Washington about the War in Iraq. Many say that pulling out of Iraq is the best choice, the only choice. Others think that to leave now would be suicide for America. In war, the side that quits first is the side that loses. It's a forfeit, and every athlete in every high school across the country understands that you don't want to be the team that forfeits. Forfeiting the game (or war) is the same as saying you're too lily-livered, too chicken, too yeller to stand up and fight. I, for one, don't want to look at my country and see yeller.

Miyamoto Musashi was a renowned samurai in Japan's feudal era. He fought his first duel at age 13 against a grown samurai. He won that duel as the loser died choking on his own blood. Before the age of 29, he entered more than 60 duels, and won them all. By 35, he quit using swords of steel, in favor of wooden bokken, or training swords. He continued to fight, and he continued to win.

He later wrote a book, entitled "A Book of Five Rings." It outlined his Way, the steps to achieve victory with the sword. It's been used by military strategists and businessmen to win conflicts ever since.

Journalists need to read this. Politicians need to read this. Military leaders need to read it again. Soldiers need to read this.

"To cut and slash are two different things. Cutting, whatever form of cutting it is, is decisive, with a resolute spirit. Slashing is nothing more than touching the enemy. Even if you slash strongly, and even if the enemy dies instantly, it is slashing. When you cut, your spirit is resolved."

America's spirit isn't resolved. We're slashing at phantoms half-heartedly. In the 1940s, we were committed to cutting down the enemy. America was united in its resolve to be victorious over enemies that wanted to conquer and rule America. Today the enemies are less numerous, but there goals are higher. They want nothing less than the complete destruction of America and everything it stands for. And they're not afraid to kill you at work, at play, or in your sleep. They've done it to others.

Americans, thanks to the media and frightened politicians (not scared for their lives, mind, but scared for their re-election campaign) are too scared to cut the enemy. We slash, and we miss. We touch the enemy, but the enemy dances away from our blade.

"[You must] crush the enemy, regarding him as being weak. In large-scale strategy, when we see that the enemy has few men, or if he has many men but his spirit is weak and disordered, we knock the hat over his eyes, crushing him utterly. If we crush lightly, he may recover. In single combat, if the enemy is less skilful than ourself, if his rhythm is disorganized, or if he has fallen into evasive or retreating attitudes, we must crush him straightaway, with no concern for his presence and without allowing him space for breath. It is essential to crush him all at once. The primary thing is not to let him recover his position even a little."

A crushed enemy is an enemy that can't fight back. If America pulls out of the Middle East now, then the enemy will have crushed us. The only way to prevent this war from becoming "Bush's Vietnam" is to win.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Going Live

During the many steps in the hiring process, my interviewers made it very clear that working at Epic involves travel. Depending on the position, you'll be required to travel quite a bit. But most positions allow you to travel as much or as little as you want.

If you're an implementer (listed as Project Manager/Implementation Consultant on Epic's website), you'll travel a lot. At least 50% of the time. I share my office with an implementor, and I rarely see him. If you're employed in any of the other positions, you get to pick when you travel, or at least I've been able to so far. When my main customer goes live, I'll be required to put a couple of weeks in at their site, but the HR people who hired me gave me plenty of forewarning.

I've seen a lot of rants, angry blog posts, and general grumpiness from disgruntled Ex-Epic employees, and people who didn't make the numerous cuts required by the hiring process. Most of them involve the lack of warning about travel, expected hours in a work-week, and general stuff like that. I can only speak for myself, but Epic was very up front about all that. They didn't sugar-coat anything.

Anyway, I had my first opportunity to travel at Epic's expense over the weekend. It was within driving range, so I got to get in my car and explore Greater Wisconsin. I drove past the Ho-Chunk Casino, saw some spectacular-looking waterslides in the Dells, saw gas prices steadily decline the farther I got from Verona.

Having had no clinical background besides what my RN mom brought home with her from her home health supervisor job, working in an ED was interesting. It was as much a steep learning curve for me learning the ED as it was for the nurses, doctors, social workers, EMTs, paramedics, etc learning Epic. There was a lot of frustration on the first day. By the second day, things were running a lot smoother. Most of the people working in the ED looked like they wanted to walk across the parking lot and admit themselves to the psych ward after work on the first day. A couple of hours into the second day, though, they were using Epic like old pros.

I learned a lot on the trip. Mostly, no amount of training in the classroom can prepare users for after Go-Live. Users have to learn new workflows, and if one link in the chain messes up, it screws everybody. Also, Epic staff need to spend more time in the clinics, the EDs, on the hospital floors. We, as a whole, don't know enough about the inner workings of a hospital to be the best use we can be. However, that could just be me.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Food for thought before the election

In my old blog, which I will delete soon, I wrote what I think are some pretty poignant rants. I figured I should share them here before I delete the old blog for ever.

Food for Thought

I found this on a message board. Thought it was kinda interesting.

Regardless of your political views, this certainly gives us all food for thought.

SENATOR JOHN GLENN SAID: Things that make you think a little.......
1. There were 39 combat related killings in Iraq during the month of January (2007-ed.).....In the fair city of Detroit there were 35 murders in the month of January. That's just one American City, about as deadly as the entire war torn country of Iraq.
2. When some claim President Bush shouldn't have started this war, state the following: FDR...led us into World War II. Germany never attacked us: Japan did. From 1941-1945, 450,000 lives were lost, an average of 112,500 per year. Truman...finished that war and started one in Korea. North Korea never attacked us. From 1950-1953, 55,000 lives were lost, an average of 18,334 per year. John F. Kennedy....started the Vietnam conflict in 1962. Vietnam never attacked us. Johnson...turned Vietnam into a quagmire. From 1965-1975, 58,000 lives were lost, an average of 5,800 per year. Clinton...went to war in Bosnia without UN or French consent, Bosnia never attacked us. He was offered Osama bin Laden's head on a platter three times by Sudan and did nothing. Osama has attacked us on multiple occasions.
3. In the two years since terrorists attacked us President Bush has liberated two countries, crushed the Taliban, crippled al-Qaeda, put nuclear inspectors in Libya, Iran and North Korea without firing a shot, and captured a terrorist who slaughtered 300,000 of his own people. The Democrats are complaining about how long the war is taking, but...It took less time to take Iraq than it took Janet Reno to take the Branch Dravidian compound. That was a 51-day operation. We've been looking for evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq for less time than it took Hillary Clinton to find the Rose Law Firm billing records. It took less time for the 3rd Infantry Division and the Marines to destroy the Medina Republican Guard than it took Ted Kennedy to call the police after his Oldsmobile sank at Chappaquiddick killing a woman.
Wait, there's more... Some people still don't understand why military personnel do what they do for a living. This exchange between Senators John Glenn and Senator Howard Metzenbaum is worth reading. Not only is it a pretty impressive impromptu speech, but it's also a good example of one man's explanation of why men and women in the armed services do what they do for a living. This is a typical, though sad, example of what some who have never served think of our military.
JOHN GLENN ON THE SENATE FLOOR Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2004 11:13
Senator Howard Metzenbaum to Senator Glenn: "How can you run for Senate when you've never held a real job?"
Senator Glenn: "I served 23 years in the United States Marine Corps. I served through two wars. I flew 149 missions. My plane was hit by antiaircraft fire on 12 different occasions. I was in the space program. It wasn't my checkbook, Howard; it was my life on the line. It was not a nine-to-five job, where I took time off to take the daily cash receipts to the bank. I ask you to go with me ... as I went the other a veteran's hospital and look those men - with their mangled bodies - in the eye, and tell THEM they didn't hold a job! You go with me to the Space Program at NASA and go, as I have gone, to the widows and orphans of Ed White, Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee... and you look those kids in the eye and tell them that their Dads didn't hold a job. You go with me on Memorial Day and you stand in Arlington National Cemetery, where I have more friends buried than I'd like to remember, and you watch those waving flags. You stand there, and you think about this nation, and you tell ME that those people didn't have a job? I'll tell you, Howard Metzenbaum; you should be on your knees every day of your life thanking God that there were some men - SOME MEN - who held REAL jobs. And they required a dedication to a purpose - and a love of country and a dedication to duty that was more important than life itself. And their self-sacrifice is what made this country possible. I HAVE held a job, Howard! What about you?"
For those who don't remember - During W.W.II, Howard Metzenbaum was an attorney representing the COMMUNIST PARTY in the USA.


Just something to think about.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What this is

I'm closing my other blog. I don't like how I don't know how to get pictures on it, and I don't feel like fixing it, so I'm closing it down. I'll copy the good stuff onto this one though.

So, onto other things. I no longer work for a printing/shipping company. I got a job at Epic, in Verona, Wisconsin. I'm a TS, which means my job description includes the job descriptions of all the other positions here. I write code, I do QA, I help our customers solve their technical issues with a smile on my face and encyclopedic knowledge in my brain.

Right now, I'm technically still in training. I've been here almost 5 months, and I'm almost done with everything that I need to be done with. Only one test and one project to go, and I'll be a fully qualified Epic TS. Huzzah.

This blog will accomplish several things. One, it's a soapbox to rant on. Two, it's a medium that prospective Epic employees can peruse to find what qualifications, ideas, and attitudes they need to have to procure employment with this exemplary company, in order that if they don't get the job, they'll know why. There is a plethora of posts on various websites complaining of the hiring practices of Epic. Personally, I found their full disclosure policy extremely fair and refreshing, but some people apparently didn't listen when HR went over the expectations. Their loss. The third reason for this blog is to earn a pittance with advertising and perhaps get a few people to sign up to take surveys for cash money. On two survey websites, to date, I've earned over $150. And this for nothing more than allowing an email account to be spammed. Links are over there on the right: ===>

Sit back, enjoy the reading, and let me know if you want a job here. I'm empowered to grease the wheels.