Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Virus ate my bagels

I spent a very frustrating day at work yesterday, cleaning someone's computer of the Bagle-CL virus. I had the same frustrating experience a week ago, cleaning my own computer at work.

What, you say, you don't have an enterprise anti-virus system? Yes, we do, but it turns out that the company involved stopped supporting the program a few years ago. I have been downloading upgrades religiously every week and was sure that we were covered, but when I approached the technical support, I received a very off-hand answer "yes, we know this virus but what do you expect when you're using an unsupported program?". I have improved the English a bit as it was less grammatical and more callous, although that may have been the result of the writer not knowing English well.

Fortunately I have the source discs for CA's E-trust program which runs on one of our servers, so I was able to install this product on my computer and get rid of the virus. I wasn't so lucky yesterday; the virus had managed to take a very firm grip on the computer, and I could neither install the antivirus program nor run an internet-based antivirus program. Eventually I found a program from Trend Micro which I could download to one computer; I burnt the program and data file to a cd and then ran this program on the infected computer. After three runs, it seemed that all the infected files had been cleaned (although I had to manually delete one file in safe mode); after that I was able to install the CA program and verify that the computer was indeed clean.

I am still waiting for a service representative to help me install the CA program on our main - and unprotected - server.

All the above causes me to wonder what sort of misanthrope would write such a virulent virus. I'm not too sure what actual damage the virus was meant to do (in terms of destroying program or data files), but it wasted several man-hours and annoyed me (muttering "it's not personal, it's business" under my breath).

Incidentally, does anyone know why this class of virus is called 'Bagle'? As far as I know, there's no such word, unless it's a misspelling of 'bagel' or even 'beagle'.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

One small step

The book which I've been reading lately is called "One small step can change your life" by Robert Maurer, PhD. I bought this because of the book's subtitle, "The kaizen way". Kaizen is a Japanese word which roughly translated into English means "continual improvement", which is one of the cornerstones of the ISO 9001:2000 quality standard, and part of my job is to implement this standard at work.

Basically, the book's main idea is that in order to improve, one should try to implement very small changes. The small changes are necessary because the brain does not feel threatened by them, whereas it does when faced by major changes. I'm not going to go into detail why this is so, but Maurer makes a convincing case, and of course it's backed up with "case studies".

I've translated two portions of the book for the senior management staff at work. Whilst the translation is not that easy (I don't normally use the words contained within those portions in my colloquial Hebrew), the very act of translation has done wonders for my understanding of the material. I hope that the others understand as well.

With no connection but with marvellous synchronicity, we had a lecture the other day at work entitled 'How to achieve the exceptional'. Coming on the heels of the Maurer book, I thought that the lecture was very shallow, but considering the low intellectual level of most of the people present, it was probably mind opening for them. There was a certain amount of duplication, as both Maurer and this lecturer were talking basically about making new neural connections. Maurer points out that these new neural connections stimulate the cortex (the 'thinking' part of the brain), which enable us to think of the improvements which we then go and make.

The lecturer was talking about methods of restoring to the jaded adult the wonder which a child feels. Why do adults become jaded? Because they're not facing new challenges; instead, they're always doing the same thing over and over again. Why does a child feel wonder? Because he's doing something for the first time - and at the same time creating a new neural connection. So creating new neural connections are the key to restoring interest to our lives. A day in which one doesn't learn something new is a day wasted.

This last sentence has long been one of my mottos. Normally at work I face each day a batch of new challenges, so I don't normally have to worry about stimulating my cortex. I may well have structured my job so that I face these challenges. I recall a conversation between myself and our general manager about 'not facing enough intellectual challenges'; it must have been during a very quiet period when I made that comment, for lately I've had my hands full solving all manner of problems (and some can have very simple solutions, like connecting one's computer to the electricity or pressing the 'num lock' key).

I should get a superhero's costume made like that of The Riddler (one of Batman's nemeses) covered with question marks.

Anyway, back to 'One small step'. I find myself these days quoting this book and its lessons to whomever will listen. I have started advising a small branch of the kibbutz who are responsible for communications - telephones, mobiles, tv and internet. I have brought them willy nilly into the computer age and have encouraged them to start using a sales program so that they can issue computerised invoices and so easily know all sorts of interesting information, like how much people have to pay for their services, how much people owe them, what their popular services are, etc. The first stage in all this is entering all the parts and services to be sold into the program. In their case, there aren't that many parts (maybe fifty, but who knows how many types of sockets and connectors there are), but any number above ten seems daunting. My kaizen advice: every day enter five parts into the database. Make a small goal which one will have no difficulty in making. Once all the parts have been entered, issue one invoice a day until they feel comfortable with the system, then two a day and so on until all the backlog has been cleared. Doing this small step by small step will ensure that within a reasonable time (the end of February is my goal) all the data will have been entered and the business will be computerised.

I imagine that when we first talked about using a computer program, they assumed it would take something like three months to implement the system - and where would we find the time? Breaking the implementation down into small steps has made it simple, non-threatening - and above all, achievable.