The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The future of working from home

The Atlantic's Amanda Mull believes that workers will benefit most from choosing when to work from home or in the office themselves, rather than through corporate policies:

[R]umors of the office’s death have been greatly exaggerated, as have those of its triumphal return. Most companies are still deciding exactly what their post-pandemic workspaces look like, which means many office-going Americans are about to enter a few months of relative freedom during phased, attendance-capped reopenings. Employers are trying to figure out what they can get away with down the line, and workers are trying to figure out what they can demand.

What would be best for most office workers—and what’s most likely to happen for many of them—is something between the extremes of old-school office work and digital nomadism. What’s right for you might end up being a little further in either direction, depending on how social or siloed your job is, or if you’re a particularly extreme introvert or extrovert. But I’m here to argue for a particular baseline: three days in the office, and two at home.

In a 2020 survey from Gensler, an architecture and design firm, more than half of respondents said that they’d ideally split their time between home and the office. (Only 19 percent said that full-time remote work was their ideal setup.) Many people benefit from working and living in separate places. Commutes can have upsides. Last year, I was somewhat embarrassed to realize that I was among the half of American office workers who missed mine; the time I used to spend walking and riding the train every morning provided a psychological in-between, when all I needed to do was let my brain transition into work mode while I listened to a podcast.

I'm with Mull. As soon as my company allowed it (June 22nd), I went back to the office on Mondays and Fridays, leaving my work laptop at work and my home office desk clear over the weekends. This gave me 5 days a week with Parker and did not seem to cause any loss of productivity. I only stopped after November 2nd in order to spend Parker's last few weeks with him full-time. The office closed again the day before he died, so I stayed home until this past March 1st.

This flexibility, along with not having my work computer on my desk from Thursday night until Tuesday morning, seems like the best balance for me. Cassie only goes to daycare twice a week (it's about $45 a day), I eat most of my lunches at home but still get the occasional 65 Chinese BBQ pork on rice downtown, and miraculously my productivity remains about the same.

In fact, my office's closings and reopenings have provided an ongoing natural experiment in productivity. So far, my productivity cycles  about 28-35 days between peaks and appears to have no connection to where I'm working.

Back to Mull's point, though: giving workers control over when they stay home or go in is really the point. And as we won't be having meetings with 15 people crammed into a conference room for a very long time, it really does seem like the best option for everyone.

Beyond farcical in Arizona

A supporter of the XPOTUS has organized, with the help of the Arizona State Senate, a private hand-recount of Maricopa County's ballots. Apparently they're looking for bamboo fibers? Yeah, it's just as crazy as it sounds:

On the floor of Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where Sir Charles Barkley once dunked basketballs and Hulk Hogan wrestled King Kong Bundy, 46 tables are arrayed in neat rows, each with a Lazy Susan in the middle.

Seated at the tables are several dozen people, mostly Republicans, who spend hours watching ballots spin by, photographing them or inspecting them closely. They are counting them and checking to see if there is any sign they were flown in surreptitiously from South Korea. A few weeks ago they were holding them up to ultraviolet lights, looking for a watermark rumored to be a sign of fraud.

The 2.1 million ballots were already counted by Maricopa County election officials in November, validated in a partial hand recount and certified by Gov. Doug Ducey. Two extra audits confirmed no issues. No evidence of fraud sufficient to invalidate Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Arizona and Maricopa County has been found.

Still, counters are being paid $15 an hour to scrutinize each ballot, examining folds and taking close-up photos looking for machine-marked ballots and bamboo fibers in the paper. The reason appears to be to test a conspiracy theory that a plane from South Korea delivered counterfeit ballots to the Phoenix airport shortly after the election.

When the recount started, the ballots were viewed under ultraviolet light to check for watermarks. A theory popular with QAnon followers has it that Trump secretly watermarked mail ballots to catch cheating.

Meanwhile, our named adversary, Russia, continues to disrupt our economy with impunity because people don't know how to do security.

Electronic Arts' offshore tech support wins this round

When a software company engages with an offshore technical support team, they signal to the world that they have little interest in supporting their users. Offshore teams have no incentive to actually solve problems. In fact, individual tech support reps get punished for independent thought in some organizations. So if you have a support issue that they can't find in the support manual (even if you send them a link to the exact community page that explains the issue and solution), they won't help.

Electronic Arts, the legal successor to Maxis for all things SimCity, has an offshore tech support team that has, I believe, completely given up on solving my problem. That it took as many emails as it did before they finally asked me to do something impossible only adds to the farce.

I got this message this morning:

Thank you for contacting EA Help. My name is Krishna and I would assist you with your Origin issue today.

I would suggest please contact your retailer they will help out this issue.

Krishna, the most likely case is that I am contacting the retailer. My reply:

I actually don’t remember where I bought the software, because I bought it 18 years ago. I thought it was Egghead, but they went bankrupt in 2001. So I probably bought it directly from Maxis. EA bought Maxis in 2015. So, really, I bought it directly from the company you represent.

Once more, with feeling: I have a license for SimCity 4 that I obtained in 2003. The software does not work on any Windows platform after Vista because Maxis made an engineering choice that turned out to be wrong. Flash forward to 2021, and the only way I can use the software today is through Origin. I therefore need to download the software using Origin, and then activate it, which requires a code.

Is it possible to escalate this to someone with the authority to solve this very simple problem?

I believe EA has now burned about 4-5x the value of the activation code avoiding giving me the activation code. As a 25-year veteran of software development, I can say this exactly the outcome I would predict from an offshore tech support operation.

So, I'll probably just give EA $20 for a new license, while continuing to ridicule them on social media.

May I please play this game that I bought in 2003?

Maxis died in 2015 and made Electronic Arts king of SimCity. When I recently found a copy of SimCity 4, one of the only computer games I've ever played long enough to get good at, I thought I might waste an hour or two on a rainy Sunday playing it.

Unfortunately, the CD requires a copy-protection feature in Windows Vista that Windows 7 dropped because researchers discovered a massive security flaw in it. The CD, therefore, will only work on Windows Vista or Windows XP, neither of which I have run since 2007. So I combed through tech support articles Electronic Arts published on the issue (both of them) and found that EA can provide a key to run the product on Origin, its portable game engine.

Here is the conversation I had with EA tech support. I'm including the names provided by the tech reps only because it became an issue that a new person replied to each of my replies.

Sunday 2 May 2021, 13:25 CDT

Subject: Ancient SimCity 4 CD-ROM + new Origin install = need support to activate

Message: Hi! I recently found a SimCity 4 CD that I bought when it came out. There's a known incompatibility with Windows 10, so it won't play anymore. But I found this support article that says you can send me a code for the downloadable version on Origin. What do you need from me to send a code?

Monday 3 May 2021, 01:06 CDT

Hello David Braverman,

Thank you for contacting EA Help. This is Krishna, following up on your case of Origin.

I can see that you are concerned about your SimCity 4 game code.

Please do not worry, I will certainly help you with this issue.

In order to investigate it further, we'll need to verify your account ownership. And to do the same, I've just sent you an email with a 6 digit verification code in it.

Please copy that code here to verify account ownership.

I patiently await your response.

You can also find answers to common questions on our Help Center at http://help.ea.com, or ask our community experts by visiting Answer HQ at http://answers.ea.com.

Thank you once again for contacting EA Help! Stay safe!

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Krishna K.
EA Help

Monday 3 May 2021 19:07 CDT

Here you go: {code}

Tuesday 4 May 2021, 06:14 CDT

Hello David Braverman,
Thank you for contacting EA help. My name is Rahul and I would assist you with your issue today in Origin.

I see you have a CD for SimCity 4 and you are unable to run it on your system and looking for it to be installed in a digital form or on the Origin account.

To help you further, we need game code written over the CD or game manual.

Awaiting your response. Thanks!

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Rahul K.
EA Help

Tuesday 4 May 2021, 08:22 CDT

Hi, Rahul,

The code is: {code}

Thanks!

Wednesday 5 May 2021, 01:51 CDT

Hello David Braverman,
Thank you for contacting EA help. My name is Maria and I would assist you with your issue today in Origin.

I see you have a CD for SimCity 4 and you are unable to run it on your system and looking for it to be installed in a digital form or on the Origin account.

Thank you for sharing the code for the game, however, may I know from where did you purchase the game as the shared code is not for the origin and The SimCity 4.

Awaiting your response. Thanks!

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Maria S.
EA Help

Wednesday 5 May 2021, 08:28 CDT

This is getting silly.

It’s an original CD from 2003, so I probably purchased it from an Egghead Software store in Chicago. In 2003. 18 years ago.

Thursday 6 May 2021, 05:53 CDT

Hello David Braverman,
Hi my name is Abhishek and I'm the advisor that is currently handling your case.

I see that you are facing Invalid code issue in SimCity 4. I realize its indeed disappointing. I'll certainly help you with the best possible information to help you out with this issue.

In order to help you we need to locate your account, please be sure to provide at least one of these:
- Email address linked with you EA account
- PSN ID/XBOX Gamertag
- Your Origin ID
- Code number.

I will leave your case open for 7 days waiting for an answer, after that it will be closed automatically.

Thank you for contacting EA Help today, and please feel free to reach out to us again in case you need further assistance with this issue or any further queries you might have in the future! https://help.ea.com

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Abhishek S.
EA Help

Thursday 6 May 2021, 08:42 CDT

This is becoming a farce.

At 24-hour intervals, I get an email from a different person who appears to have no idea why I reached out to EA support. I provide the information you ask for, and then the next day I get a new email showing a complete disregard for the email I sent the day before.

I expect the next person who emails me to have read the case file and to respond to it in any way that answers the inquiry.

All I want is a code for SimCity 4 because the CD I bought in 2003 won’t work on any computer built after 2009. I’ve provided the serial number of the CD, you have my email address because it’s the one you’ve emailed, and if you can’t find my Origin ID, that’s just sad.

My next step is a detailed blog post, naming names, with a link posted on Twitter.

Your move.

Thursday 6 May 2021, 21:23 CDT

Hello David Braverman,
Thank you for contacting EA Help. My name is Jaikish and I would assist you with your Origin issue today.

Having gone through your email, I came to know that you are having issue while login to your Ancient SimCity 4 account. I know this must be disappointing for you. please don't worry, I will certainly help you with this issue.

Please let me share that we are unable to locate the account with the provided the Code" BY7P-NHL7-M24C-4JQK-9BL6". I would request you please provide the Correct code to locate the account.

Look forward to your reply.

You can also find answers to common questions on our Help Center at "http://help.ea.com" or ask our community experts by visiting Answer HQ at "http://answers.ea.com"

Thank you for contacting EA help .

Still need help? You can reach us on help.ea.com .

Jaikish G.
EA Help

Today, 10:27 CDT

OK, since a new person reads this case file every time I reply, let me start from the top.

I have a CD-ROM that I bought in 2003. The CD-ROM has a license number on the back of the case. This has never been an Origin issue, except that an EA technical support document claimed that I can get an Origin code for Sim City 4 by showing proof that I own a copy of a Sim City 4 CD.

Here, then, is me with the copy of the CD that I own.

I have shown proof that I own a copy of a Sim City 4 CD, and I would like a code to unlock Sim City 4 on Origin, please. Thank you.

And here we are.

You know what? They might win this round. The current version of SimCity, released in 2013, costs $20—a lot less than my bill rate would have been for all these messages. So Krishna, Rahul, Maria, Abhishek, and Jaikish, having mustered the very best example of obstructionism that a company with overseas tech support can muster, may get me to spend the $20 after all.

But I still want my copy of SimCity 4, dammit!

All the news that fits

Spring has gone on spring break this week, so while I find the weather pleasant and enjoyable, it still feels like mid-March. That makes it more palatable to remain indoors for lunch and catch up on these stories:

And finally, via Bruce Schneier, Australia has proposed starting cyber-security training in Kindergartens.

On this day...

May 5th has some history, and not just about a relatively minor battle in Mexico that most Mexicans don't even remember.

For example, two hundred years ago today, Napoleon died and The Guardian was born. I never knew about that coincidence. TIL.

And this morning, Facebook's Oversight Board upheld the social-media company's ban on the XPOTUS, at least for the next six months.

Also TIL that my main programming language, C#, commands 7% of the Internet's mind-share, making it the 4th most-popular programming language. Python, at 30%, is the most popular, because its ease of use (and ease of writing the most godawful spaghetti code imaginable) makes it the preferred language of non-programmers.

I'm glad to see that one of my most-hated languages, Scala, continues its plummet, now even less popular than Visual Basic and and VBA, two languages that should have died during the GWB presidency.

Someone call "Lunch!"

We have gloomy, misty weather today, keeping us mostly inside. Cassie has let me know how bored she is, so in the next few minutes we'll brave the spitting fog and see if anyone else has made it to the dog park.

Meanwhile:

All right, off to the damp dog park.

In praise of boring

On my horizontal monitor, I'm watching Apollo After Hours 2021, our chorus's annual benefit. Last year we deployed the 7pm video about now. This year we deployed it yesterday.

I've spent the last six years working very hard to spread the gospel of boring software deployments. I'm overjoyed that we had one this year with Apollo After Hours.

Lunchtime reading before heading outside

Today is not only the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, it's also the 84th anniversary of the Nazi bombing of Guernica. Happy days, happy days.

In today's news, however:

I will now get lunch. And since it's 17°C right now (as opposed to yesterday's 5°C), I may eat it outside.

What a difference a small change can make

I've just made a change to the side project I'm working on that will reduce my database costs about 94%. Maybe 96%. This is only in the dev/test environment, so it may make less of a difference in production, but still... Sometimes taking something out of your code can make an enormous difference.

I promise I'll write a lot about what I've been working on once it launches.