Map"You ever seen one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's speeches?" Alan's new supervisor Tessa asked as she led him to his new office at BigTelCo.

"Can't say I have," Alan replied.

"I did once, in California. He said, 'no one likes a loser.' We don't hire losers. Everything we do here, we do to win."

Alan wondered just what else BigTelCo could do to win, having a corner on the ISP market in North America.

"Here you are." Tessa showed Alan into a spartan blue cubicle. "You're in Operations Intelligence now. Talk to Samuel about getting our hourly reports up to speed. Procrastination is for losers, Alan!"

A Half-Dead Process

The hourly report was a boondoggle.

To monitor operations in remote service areas, BigTelCo had a department of thirty low-paid temps and interns. Their sole task was to scour the web for anything that might affect coverage: support emails, news and weather reports, smoke signals, RSS aggregations of other RSS aggregations, and a dozen other services. Each would compile the information into a "concise" mini-report, and those would be compiled into the master report. The master was only occasionally readable, if the temps weren't hung over. This "hourly report" took over an hour to generate, causing outages to get missed.

"Jesus," Alan said, walking into Samuel's office. "How did it get like this?"

"'Get like this?' Everything works as it should." Samuel pointed to a giant map of North America, with pins in major hubs tied to index cards labelled "NOAA," "NYC Metro," "Redskins," etc., all tied together with colored yarn. "It's perfect!"

"Why can't we automate some of this?" Alan asked. "We don't need thirty temps--"

"Shhh!" Samuel quieted Alan as Tessa walked past the office. "We can't let them go. Most of them are relatives of executives in Corporate. You'd put the department in hot water. We'd be branded losers."

"Well, couldn't we automate some of the aggregation?" Alan suggested. "Just a simple open-source RSS reader and site scraper they could use. It could speed things up."

"Well, I guess," Samuel said, "if you can get the hardware..."

It's Alive!

Because the request came from Alan and not Tessa, he couldn't get access to one of BigTelCo's blade servers. Instead, he grabbed a dusty Pentium III from the closet and installed a LAMP stack. In a couple weeks, the hourly report portal was up and running.

Over the next few months, Alan improved the aggregators and automated the master report compilation with a quick VBA script. He soon had the hourly task completing under an hour. Still, for every IP address Alan asked to whitelist, Samuel would push back or Tessa would laugh his request away.

Soon, the top brass was asking for global reports, as BigTelCo also had subsidiaries in the Caribbean and Central America. Corporate had contracted a similar system to Alan's for the overseas reports. Of course, Alan didn't have access to this new system, because interoperability was for losers. Instead, he relied on a 500-page spec, faxed from the contractor from a photocopy of a dot-matrix printout. From the spec he spent a week writing a script that would FTP a .csv file dump of his data onto their servers.

Alan heard no complaints from the contractors at first.

Trouble In Paradise

"US Virgin Islands?" Alan asked. "Is that even in our coverage area?"

"Of course it is, Alan," Tessa said, her voice cracking, "and some people are upset that the report isn't covering outages there. Do you know who has outages, Alan?"

Not our competitors, Alan thought.

After Tessa stormed out, Alan called the support line for the other, global reporting system. A nondescript British voice answered. "Yes, the .csv data is being read properly, but your formatting is all wrong."

"No, it's not." Alan directed the support guru to a line in the latest dump. "See, there's the UUID, country code, state or territory--"

"That is not a valid country code, sir. The country code must consist of two letters."

"Oh, I see. I'll use ISO 3166-1, then, which has two character codes."

"Huh? ISO what?"

After a few minutes, the support guru explained that their system used custom country codes, and provided Alan with a list. ISO must be for losers, too, he thought.

The reporting system hummed along a year until Alan and the rest of his department were let go.

Tessa explained while Alan watched her clean out her desk. "They're chopping us up like Ma Bell. They won't need a global reporting system anymore. Someone at the FCC doesn't like us much."

Well, Alan thought, hiring lawyers familiar with antitrust legislation must also be for losers.

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