Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Wandered Into Hell and Tweeked The Devils Nose.

Today I had to call the Thermo technician about a faulty Mass Spec at work. That is my definition of "Hell", not work being hell, but talking to the Thermo technician. THAT is hell. The guy takes 4000000000 years to explain anything or impart any information to you. He talks at you like you're the stupidest person on earth and you couldn't possibly know what you are talking about even 1% of the time. In his mind he is the world authority on ANY subject you have the misfortune of talking to him about. you are never right in his eyes....even when you are right....you aren't actually right...as that would mean he was wrong.....and that's inconceivable!!. Now when I say "he talks", I really mean that he could give "The Riddler" a run for his money. This guy cannot, repeat CAN NOT explain anything "easily" or "Quickly. He needs to stamp his intellectual rubber "HUGE BRAIN HERE!!" stamp over everything. Everything he says is either a direct metaphor or is wrapped up in a million different metaphors.


Some back ground info so you can quantify just how annoying and frustrating this guy is. I have a Ph.D. in Chemistry and I work in the "Chemical Industry" so, you know, I sort of have this strange quirk which is .. I like to think I know "something" about the topic of "Chemistry". I don't pretend to know everything about everything that I do, but I am not groping around in the scientific dark very often (if ever). This Technician guy will straight off the bat assume you know nothing about what you are talking about. Why does he do this? For some reason he thinks that because you've called Thermo for help that something has gone wrong 5 seconds ago and your first reaction was "I'll do nothing and call the technicians in at $190 per hour".

Now, I'm sure whenever something goes wrong in your job or life, dear reader, that you're first reaction is to diagnose the problem and try every single thing that you can think of to rectify it BEFORE you ask for outside or third party help, am I correct? Of course I am. This is why talking to this guy is an absolute last resort in my books because you can guarantee that the first 1/2 hour of conversation with him will be to suggest doing EVERYTHING you have already tried because there is no way in his mind that YOU could have the slightest idea what you were doing....at any time....in regards to any subject....ever.

Case in point, because I knew the Mass Spectrometer in question was not working "properly", myself and my immediate superior colleague Paul spent the best part of 3 days trying to diagnose why the Mass Spec was doing what it was doing and record any symptoms or effects our "fiddling" had. This was to try and garnish some idea of what which "part" of the Mass Spec could be at fault. Now, in case you aren't familiar with what a mass spectrometer is or does, here's a quick overview.

  1. The Mass Spectrometer is an analytical device that measures the actual weight of individual chemicals. You've probably seen them on TV during shows like CSI, Bones or NCIS but not known what you were looking at because contrary to popular belief in those shows the Mass Spec doesn't spit out the Drivers license number, address and complete psychological history of any given criminal by placing a single human hair into the machine.
  2. The Mass Spectrometer consists of very complex electronics that are highly engineered for a very specific purpose. Most of these electronics can't "break" per sei, but can become, dirty and miss-aligned. The vast majority of the machine is not user serviceable
  3. It is primarily "used" through software designed to run it which is purpose written and usually very complex and thorough. This usually incorporates highly detailed diagnostic tools.
Now, before I had my chat with the Technician I sent an Email to the "support" section of the Thermo company and outlined EVERYTHING that "we" had tried to get this machine working properly again. "We" knew that the machine was not broken in anyway, but somehow it had got "miss-configured". We worked out how to re-configure it properly but for some reason (unbeknown to us at the time) these settings were not being saved and upon next use the Mass Spec would return to LA-LA land telling us that black was in fact white, up was actually down and that we were putting only fried bacon and cheese muffins into it and not chemicals. All of these "results" are quite interesting of course but they are easily identified as WRONG.

My take on the matter was that the "Setting" we inputted for the correct configuration of the Mass Spec where not getting saved and that where ever the setting it was using instead were...ass-backwards corrupted. My email basically asked "Where are these secret settings stored because I have no idea??". That was yesterday. Today my supervisory Colleague plants down Satan's business card on my desk and goes "You should give Satan a call on his mobile". He also said "If you play that word on the other side of the board you'll get 38 points" ....because.... I was having lunch at the time and he could see I was dealing an absolute pantsing to Rachel via illicit luncheon interval Scrabble and wanted the humiliation for her to continue.

So I call the Satan hotline and simply say "I was told to give you a call about the Mass Spec?". Now I assumed that he had at least read my Email from the previous day, but as the "one way" conversation unfolded it became glaringly obvious that he hadn't. So much so that when the "end" of the tirade finished, some 50mins later, I was certain I'd asked for exactly what he had eventually told me was the answer in my Email. I say "one way conversation because I have already (painfully) discovered via previous interaction with this guy that YOU DON'T ARGUE, YOU DON'T OFFER ANY THOUGHT, PONDERINGS OR INSIGHTS...you let him talk and grunt "Yes, Correct, Sure, ok etc" at regular intervals. This is the only sure fire way to steer the "conversation" toward an ending in the same 24hr time period. Never the less, I had to sit through 3 seperate, non-sensical and bizarre metaphors before we got to the actual transferal of knowledge. For this conversation the metaphors he chose were:

  1. That "tuning" the Mass Spec was like hitting a nail into wood with a hammer, except you don't know how to use a hammer and only children or women or something can hit the nail properly...I really wasn't listening.
  2. That tuning the Mass Spec was also apparently like asking someone to tune an invisible piano...there was something in there about porridge too....and that the person trying to tune the piano couldn't actually "see" the piano. I don't remember this all that clearly...but muttered "Sure" and "Ok" at random intervals to feign interest. I remember that I had 4"I"'s, and 2 "E"'s and the "Q" in the scrabble game I was playing at the same time though, because ..honestly... what sort of word can you make with those letters????
  3. The third Metaphor was something about driving a car and telling it who's boss?? Something about if the car stops you get out and ....um.... dunno. I did play "Qi" though on a 3x letter square during this one though :)
At some point he mentioned that the setting file was squirreled away in a certain location on the PC and how I could check if it was corrupted. My brain snapped back into "Scientist"mode and I humbly uttered something about being thankful for his help and i'd try what he suggested and call him back if it worked (Yeah...like I'd do that).

So anyway, I went over to the Mass Spec rummaged around in it's software gizzards for a few minutes and did the necessary file surgery. Then I fired it up and presto, it started working properly again. It did take about 3 hours though to "Auto-configure" itself again which shows just how out of whack it had become. I set a sample running and will see the result tomorrow morning.

So there you have it, mass spec repaired and no need to actually bring this guy out to our facility (which is WORSE than painful, he's unbearable in the flesh). This however left me in a right strop for the rest of the day. I don't dislike many people in this world, in fact I'd be hard pressed to name anyone that i'd say "I hate." ...but I HATE this guy....I hate him so much it turns into a little hate-ball in the middle of my cranium and makes me want to kick kittens and puppies. Accordingly, I couldn't wait to leave work and go home today. I didn't go to the Gym, I didn't have Basket Ball training due to school holidays and I couldn't be assed cooking anything for dinner (and I like cooking!!). I just wanted the day to end and forget it happened. I had a raging headache and not even a nice Chai & Vanilla tea calmed me down much. Then I realised that I would need to get this out of my system or i'd be cranky all day tomorrow too.

Blogs are quite cathartic.

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