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Improving Your Life, The Science-and-Technology Way
by Thomas Myer

Life is full of annoying stuff. Troubles at work. Family spats. Trouble with loan sharks. Neighborhood children. That pit bull that considers the back stretch of the park's jogging trail his domain. The stack of dishes that just doesn't wanna go away, ever. You get the picture.

Well, it's nearly the 21st Century, and things are only going to get worse in the annoying category. So we, the citizens of the Microsoft Empire, must unleash the magic of modern science and the marvels of contemporary technology to pave the way into a brighter future, et cetera.

Here are some time-tested tips for using science and technology to improve your life.

Avoiding Annoying Work at Work

This is a common goal for most reasonable red-blooded Americans. In fact, if we were to take a poll right now, we'd find that the quality of life would improve everywhere if only work weren't so annoying. (Please note that "annoying" work can also be loosely translated as "stuff done to pursue profits".) Even though there are many creative ways to avoid work (attending meetings, getting promoted to management, joining the marketing team), some of the best ways involve the creative use of technology, to wit:

Be keeper of the coffee pot. I know, I know -- the lowly coffee pot isn't too technical. But the one in our office is a monster device with a dedicated filtered water line and other neato features. You can get really creative, too, like setting up a web cam so people all over the office can check if the pot is getting close to empty. This way they can email you and ask you to refill the supply. Or they can send email to a pager notification system, which will display their messages on your pager. The fun is just endless.
Designate yourself as the person who reads all inter-office memos and then writes summaries about them. This way folks can save time by er... reading the summaries. You might think there is little high-tech potential here, but you're wrong. In many large organizations, memos are distributed as attachments to email messages. There are plenty of chances for creative non-work involving e-memos and e-memo summaries. Like posting your e-memo summaries to the corporate intranet. And then sending out gang emails to everyone in your group telling them about the added summary. Or using a perl script that (1) checks for any new postings by you, and (2) emails a bunch of people to let them know you were up to BS work again. Of course, if you aren't that technical, you could get the company to hire somebody who does everything that the script could do, thereby spreading the non-work evenly.
Speaking of perl, learn it. Its twisted nature will have you pulling your hair out until you've been assimilated into the collective. If your superiors ever second-guess their decision to allow you to learn such a tool, you can impress them with a nice five-line script that (1) harvests all the names and email addresses from your boss's email in-box, and then (2) forwards each of those people a request for a contribution to the Area 51 Midnight Basketball League, in your boss's name.

Not convinced? Well, here's a sample of what you could learn on the company's nickel. The following script counts the number of the's in a file:
#!/usr/bin/perl -w
$yag = shift; $hork = 0;
open(FOO, $yag);
while(<FOO>) { $hork++ if /the/i}
print "$yag has $hork instances of 'the'.\n";

Those of you who say it would have been faster to manually count all instances of the in a file, as opposed to typing the script, are missing the point. So are all of you who question the need to know how many instances of the exist in a file.

Attend any other kind of computer class, no matter how arcane. If Training is giving a three-day crash course on Oracle Server Maintenance, take it, even if you work in Tax Accounting. You'll become indispensable to your team, especially when the Oracle Server goes down.

Avoiding Drudgery at Home

Do not fear -- the marvels of the modern age can help you at home, too.

A lot of people complain that it takes too long to cook meals, and that instant microwave meals just don't cut it in the taste department. Well... I'd like to introduce you to a substance called "liquid oxygen". Just pump this space-age stuff into an outdoor (this is an important™ detail) grill loaded down with plenty of vittles. (Please note: I will ignore all emails with subject lines like "How do I fill in the crater that used to be my back yard?")
What about communication? A lot of families complain that kids don't communicate with each other or with parents, and that Mom and Dad are off in their own worlds. Look into establishing a small ethernet LAN at home (the first on your block) and set up workstations all over the house. Now kids can fire off snotty emails to each other, and parents can scream at each other in private chat rooms. This way, emotionally scarring communication is limited to computer screens. If an enterprising young one implements a denial of service attack on her younger brother's pirated 'wares FTP site, enroll them both in MIT. Their Silicon Valley stock options will be a comfort to you in your later years.
If you believe in carrying over skills from work, you could set up a web server in your master bedroom and a web cam pointing at the back yard. This way the dogs can let themselves out and you can see what they've done from the comfort of your bed. Of course, you'll also have to figure out how to disarm the house alarm at a preset time, and remotely open and close the door out to the backyard. But hey, I can't be the only creative one around here.

As for loan sharks, please don't mention my student loan in mixed company. It upsets the children.

Copyright © 1998 by Thomas Myer

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