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When Stupidity Happens to Intelligent Projects

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"There are only two things that are well and truly infinite.
The constant in my theory of relativity and human stupidity!”
                                                – Albert Einstein

Questioned if the constant in his theory of relativity was really infinite, Albert Einstein replied with above quip.  Life is replete with human stupidity. Some of it provides much needed comic relief to the hectic rat race and draws a smile. Smile, it increases your face value. Touché. On a more serious note, a smile needs 3 facial muscles co-coordinated as opposed to a frown that needs 63. Are you smiling yet? Good. Lets move forward, shall we? Here's an effort to make you smile drawing from life's comical situations. If you do smile, spread the smile. It is the only contagious thing worth spreading. 

Conserve and save the Planet!

A tropical day in the Midwest stirred nostalgia for my days in Florida. I had to move out of Florida in 2003. The good thing was, it was just before the state became a hurricane playground. Prior to that, most of the state was parched from a severe drought.  Water conservation was high on the agenda. Lawns could be watered only on specified days for a half hour.

In the midst of this crisis arose a genius with a clever plan that could easily be implemented.  Simply reduce the capacity of the water used to flush the toilets from the existing four+ gallons to three+ gallons. That would save a gallon with every flush.  Brilliant?  Well, a few days past the mandatory upgrade, water consumption skyrocketed.  When they unravelled the mystery, it was simple.  Three+ gallons wasn't enough water, so people were flushing twice.  Nice.  I'm sure some careers got flushed down the toilets as well. Thank god they didn't come up with a conserve water, shower once a week program.

My job dragged me from sunny Florida to the frigid Midwest. Work is definitely better, so I am stomaching the cold.

A typical day at work: My manager is in early and yet is still late for our seminar. I had sent him my part of our presentation and supporting documents, a couple of megabytes in size. He was to forward my mail with his attachments added to it. Send he did, to all the 300 people in the seminar, but he'd missed the new rule about e-mails and attachments.  To help reduce network load, the system deletes attachments in a forward — unless you specify explicitly. He didn't specify.  No one got an attachment.

So he went back and resent it. Or he thought he did.  There was this other new rule he'd misssed that restricts the size of attachments.  Mine was too big.  One has to wonder, shouldn't the system have been set up to warn people about the file size?   So he had to go back, split the attachments across 2 e-mails and send them out, one last time. Lets take a moment to examine what we have here. Three hundred mails needed but thanks to the new policies to reduce network traffic and load, we sent 300 x 4 = 1200 mails. Not to mention the loss of face. It's the same story all over the enterprise.

Clear and present dangers

I worked for a firm whose Human Resources VP–a former teacher who forgot to leave her lecturing in class–lived for platforms from which to impart knowledge. A silly Internet e-mail provided an opportunity, and she moved in for the kill. The email read, 99.99% of the women in the world are beautiful and the remaining 0.01% work for our firm.

No question — this was in bad taste. Someone got it from the web, changed the company name and sent it to a handful of people in a department. Ms. HR, on finding this, decided to condemn it in the strongest possible terms. She had a printout of her admonition in every break room and forwarded the same to the entire company. Worldwide, too, may I add. A seemingly harmless banter (albeit in bad taste) was now making rounds across the globe. The admonition served as a good propagation tool. Thanks to the publicity, instead of making the ladies in the firm proud, it made them run for cover.

I'll never forget the time there was a system outage at a client site. It mandated a password reset for a generic user id used by a large number of people in a department. How best to communicate the change? How about a public address broadcast over the entire campus.   No excuse for not having the password now.  The GPS1 system password for user id ComeGetMe has been changed to Doh123, I repeat ComeGetMe id's password has been changed to Doh123. And yes, they were ISO certified and CMM level 3 as well.

Corporate woes

Dilbert opines management is real easy. Consolidate if you are diversified, and diversify if you have consolidation. As if to prove that, a large bank in the area three years ago was consolidated in financial space, doing quite well.  What do they do? Exactly — diversify. They acquired an insurance company.

After three years, they dumped the insurance company, citing the need for concentrating on core offerings, i.e. consolidation.  As if to further reiterate Dilbert's notion, an insurance company in the area is delving into banking. Just a matter of time before they trim fat and consolidate again. What's the flavor of the year? What if you’re are not a CEO and just an IT manager? You just need a watered down version of the same parlance. Centralize the applications if decentralized and decentralize if centralized. Elementary my dear moron.

During a particularly difficult merger, the infrastructure was slated to have a complete overhaul as well. The facility we were in was spruced up. The generator we maintained to run the campus of 10,000 in the event of a power failure was decommissioned. The local electric company would provide an alternate guaranteed backup supply if their primary supply went down. Trimming the non core areas being the key (yep, Dilbert's consolidation at work), the generator was decommissioned in a flash. All was well, till a grid tripped due to rains and the primary lines got fried. Well, the secondary would kick in. Right? Err no.., Why not ? Because they put the secondary line right next to the primary and it was fried turkey as well ! Neat !

Can your hear me now        

You should love it when your telephone company wants to give you money? Not me. When I hit the broadband phone bandwagon and closed my account with AT&T, I paid my bill ahead of the due date to avoid having to deal with it later. That's a good thing you say ? Well apparently not. Unfortunately the local county decided to do away with one of the myriad of taxes and come final billing time, I was slated to get a 3 cent payback. I got a check for the 3 cents, which I duly ignored. 2 weeks later, I got a reminder that I still had a positive balance and the account could not be closed. AT&T being committed wanted to ensure I encashed it prior to closing. Two more of those later, I decided to get that put into my bank account and be done with it.

Well, not so fast. The ATM thought I was stupid and refused. 3 cents was less than the $1 limit for the ATM ! I called up AT&T and asked them to just write off the positive balance. They did that, or so they said. A week later, I got another reminder and a new check in tow. Thoroughly frustrated I went into a retail branch. I had to endure the glares of the cashier who looked at me like this was an Ashton Kutcher's punked ! After explaining the situation, she did process the check. A month later, a $6 service fee cropped up for the same on my bank statement. AT & T called to confirm that my account with them was now closed and inquired if I wanted to return back to AT & T? I hung up on them and put their number on the do not call list ..

Every time I relive these moments, it brings a smile to my face. Hope it does the same for you.  Add your own dumb corporate stories in the comments. 

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