Is Dilbert Based on Real Life?

April 23, 2011

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I was mildly amused at Dilbert when it came out and started to get popular back in the early 90’s. I was just finishing high school and starting college, and I couldn’t really fathom how such scenarios could possibly exist in a professional IT environment. Despite my having a degree in music, the vast bulk of my adult life has been spent with me having a job in IT, the result of me and student teaching not really getting along. Many, many times over has Dilbert proven that yes, such ridiculous scenarios and characters do have a basis in real life.

You say Dilbert’s iconic “pointy-haired” boss couldn’t possibly exist in real life, right? Well, I’ve had just about every kind of boss – amazing ones, highly technical ones, ones with no technical skill, and horrible ones. Yes, I’ve even had a boss with minimal technical skill and almost no concept of managing people in a professional environment. As I’ve been told (but was always too apprehensive to ask him directly) he was a clerk in the US Army and then got a degree in library science. You’d think this would lead him to have good organizational skills, something like Radar from M.A.S.H. Not even close.

On my first day of work with this boss, I was busy customizing my PC – you know, adding useful utilities and widgets that systems admin types like me find handy. New boss – we’ll call him “Boss G” – comes over and sets 2 pieces of printed paper on my desk, stapled neatly in the upper left hand corner. Thinking that it’s more paperwork for me to sign or work policy that I need to review I looked up at him and asked, “what’s this?”

“That’s a Magic ticket,” he replied, referring to Support Magic, our helpdesk incident management tracking system. I had used that exact system at my previous job for over 4 years and had not once seen a printout of it – it runs off an SQL database that meticulously tracks all aspects of incidents/tickets and has a nice web interface so that any level of support staff could enter in work details, asset tracking, work flow, etc.

He must have seen the bewildered look on my face as I glanced over the two stapled pieces of paper, because he then gave me rudimentary instructions on what to do: “Finish the work, then write your solution down on the back page and bring it back to me.”

I was completely dumbfounded. The whole purpose of a $50,000 plus software package like Support Magic or Remedy was to allow all level of tech staff to access and share information as they perform work. Printing the tickets and then giving them to your tech staff so they can hand write the steps they took in troubleshooting/solving an issue is like buying a really nice new car so you and your friends can push it around the block. I said to him, “I’ve used Support Magic extensively, I helped test and implement it at my last job. I’m used to accessing the system directly and managing any tickets assigned to me.” I didn’t even add this was at my job at a Wall Street firm where I worked for 5 years, where every last thing needs to be completed 10 minutes ago and seconds can literally translate into thousands of dollars lost.

Boss G’s normally stoic expression was marred by just a slight twitch of his mouth, and following a pause of 4 or 5 seconds he replied sternly, “I’m the only one in the group who accesses it here and that’s how we do things.” Immediately after the last word left his mouth he had turned and walked away from me.

I could hear snickering in the cubical behind me, and a co-worker stepped out and said, “Dude, you just got your first dose of Boss G.” I wanted to say something, but was so befuddled at this complete new level of inefficiency that my mouth just hung there, slightly open. My co-worker continued, “The real kicker is after you write everything out on that paper and bring it back to him, he reads it and tosses it in recycling. He doesn’t even enter anything you wrote in the Support Magic database.”

If confused exasperation were explosive force, my head would have burst at a megaton level. Over the next 8 and 1/2 years I would learn that barely scratched the surface of the dysfunctionality of where I worked. My torment is your gain, dear readers, I hope writing about it is as cathartic for me as it is amusing for you.

The Best Comics Ever

February 10, 2010

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Before we started subscribing to the Sunday paper several years ago, my wife asked my if I’d read the paper if we got it.

“Sure,” I replied.

Within a few weeks, she noticed that I was only reading the sports section and the comics and asked why I wasn’t reading the paper.

“But I AM reading the paper,” I insisted.  Well, the only parts that are worth reading …

I am a person who has a pretty broad sense of humor and loves a good joke.  On occasion, I have been known to laugh so hard that I eventually started crying.  Other times, I’ll crack up just thinking about a story or joke I heard hours earlier.  Truly, laughter is the second-best medicine (baseball being the best).

We’ve covered sports aplenty in The Soap Boxers.  So, today we shift the focus to comics.  I’ll break down my 5 all time favorite comics.

5.  Wow.  This is a tough call. I could go a lot of directions here – Blondie, Family Circus, The Far Side, Dennis the Menace, Retail, a few others.  But I’ll settle on Beetle Bailey.  The military theme differentiates the strip from its competitors, and Beetle and Sarge have a good dynamic going.  The secondary characters also have quite a bit of definition to them (gotta love Zero).

4.  Dilbert – A few years ago, Dilbert would have been top 2.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  It’s possible that the strip has simply gotten less funny over the years – or it may simply be that a dozen years living in a cubicle have taken some of the humor out of cubicle life.  I do remain a devoted member of Dogbert’s New Ruling Class (DNRC), so I’ll be on board when we run roughshod over the InDUHdividuals.

3.  Get Fuzzy.  Huh, what’s this?  Haven’t heard of it?  By my estimation, this is the most underrated comic strip on the market today.  It’s a bit of a Bizarro Garfield (whoa, double points for back-to-back comic references) with a man, a cat, and a dog.  The dog (Satchel) never seems to get a fair shake (like Odie) but that’s where the similarity end.  Rob has a bit more control over the Get Fuzzy household than Jim does (although we’re talking in relative terms), and the cat (Bucky) is bent on world domination (or, barring that, weasel domination).  There’s also quite a lot of sports content (Rob’s a Sox fan; Bucky is a Yankees fan), which is always good for extra credit in my book.

2.  Peanuts – Perhaps the most beloved comic strip of all time.  The strip has a lot of baseball content, which gives it a huge boost.  It also has a dog who thinks his doghouse is a Sopwith Camel, which is slightly odd (in a good way).  The hockey battles between Snoopy and Woodstock on the frozen bird bath, Linus and his blanket, Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, Schroeder eluding the romantic overtures from Lucy – and, of course, the completely unintelligible adult voices (yeah, that’s exactly how we sound to our kids – blah, blah, blah).  I have Peanuts books, I love the TV specials, but my favorite comic strip of all time is …

1.  Calvin and Hobbes.  Has there ever been a greater tribute to the sheer power of imagination?  Not only does Calvin possess it in spades (the transmogrifier, Calvinball with its crazy and never-the-same-twice rules, and of course the fact that Calvin thinks his stuffed tiger is actually alive), but his dad chips in with some wonderful answers to Calvin’s questions.  The strip was short lived (just 10 years) and Bill Watterson resisted the temptation to license it (if you see Calvin and Hobbes merchandise, it’s certainly bootleg – Calving urinating on a Ford logo is not a licensed use of the character) to preserve the integrity of the comic strip.  And who can forget that final strip, with Calvin and Hobbes sailing off in their wagon to go exploring?


That’s my top 5 – what are yours?