Thursday, October 20, 2005

What Day Is This?
Somehow I am in Maryland again. I came in on Sunday night, and I have spent the past four days between two cities. My suitcase is now full of mostly dirty clothes and somewhere between a condo I crashed at and the dirty hotel I am now in ... the clean clothes got all mixed together. I have resorted to sniffing undershirts and socks because nothing has that neat "folded" appearance since about Tuesday.

My skin looks yellow. Maybe it's the flourescent lighting. It could be that most of my face has peeled and fallen off after getting a vicious sunburn over the weekend. And then there is that smell. Perhaps I imagine all this because I am homesick. But I sware that I smell like a cheap hotel. I brought my own shampoo, and good soap, but I can smell the stale chlorine stench rising from underneath my rumpled undershirt.

My first night into town, I drove in at about 1:15AM. I was given the address, and electronic door-code to a Condo in Baltimore. When I spun up the sidestreet just outside of downtown I got a flash of the building front. It was a townhome located right off of the street, with absolutely nowhere to park in front. As I circled the block all I could find was bumper to bumper park cars, homeless people, and what looked like a pack of drug addicts (I would later discover that I was two doors down from a rehab center). Heading down a narrow alley, I came to an empty space with a sign hanging over it. It read "Private Drive". I parked there. I was probably asking for it, so I wrote a note which read something like "I am a visitor to this address ... please don't tow me away ... if you need me to move, call this cell phone". Then, I staggered into the house in the darkness. The first thing I noticed was an open laptop, and a lot of shoes by the door. Someone was living here, and they were probably fast asleep. I should be quiet. And so I removed my shoes, and tip-toed upstairs in the dark. Using my cell phone as a faint lighting device, I made my way into an empty bedroom and shut the door.

This condo was amazing. Everything was very clean and new looking. I had a bed, a full closet, and a high-def' TV for myself (and cable of course). The following morning I awoke, and went to the basement to shower as whoever else was living here might not like me taking 'their' bathroom. I ended up meeting the tennant a few days later. I had assumed it was a man judging by the size the sports shoes by the door. It was in fact a really tall middle eastern woman (with large feet). She attempted to have a conversation with me about where to park my car, and how to lock the door from the outside using the electronic doorlock. But it seems she spoke very little English. And so for the rest of my days there, "hello" and "see-ya" were about all we said to one another in passing.

Going from the condo to a filthy motel room was just .... well it sucked. In the condo, I had a nice selection of about five different access points to choose from for my wireless abuse. In the dirty hotel, I have to walk or drive down the street to access anything. My last night in the condo I had made my way into a really busy public network of some kind, and performed a man in the middle attack (Ettercap). In the process I ended up catching someones SSL certificate transfer ... which allowed me to capture all sorts of ... incriminating stuff. I was having a quick IM conversation with my buddy the Discount Man when I said "this is the point at which I become a criminal!". I smiled, I shut the lid, and I went to bed.

When I got into my hotel room the other night, I walked in to a haze of intense heat. The air conditioner was running at full blast. I walked to the wall, grabbed the thermostat, and upon twisting the dial to try and turn it off - the little dial popped off and spun around on the floor. After fiddling with it a bit to get it to shut off, I stomped over to the air conditioner and attempted to set it on "max cool", but the little dial just spun endlessly and didn't really seem to do anything. Yeah, it was one of "those".

I usually pop off my shoes and put them into the little slots under the TV stand that are sort of make shift shelves. But this room had drawers in it (a luxury). So I slid open to put my shoes in it, but there was a pile of stuff there. Here ... is what I found.

  • Two bundles of unpaid bills and letters - These bills told a story. They all belonged to a Mr. Eugene Williams in Florida. Most of them were unpaid hospital and doctor bills. But there were also various notices from two residences in Florida, and a couple of postcards. A few of the post items were addressed to a cancer clinic in Maine (presumably where Eugene was coming back from when he stopped in Maryland).
  • Two "doo-rags" - I didn't know that they made "doo-rags" that were all ready shaped like a human head, and with velco support. Neat!
  • Soiled Washrags - Uhm ... the 'stains' in these hotel rags were ... yellowed ... and uh ... well I didn't pick them up with my bare hands. For that matter, I doubt the hotel wanted them back.
  • Microsoft Street Maps 2005 - This is really nice software, and it cost Eugene $60 at Best Buy (still had the sticker on it). Hopefully he found his way back home without it.
  • Herbal Tea - This SURE looked like weed. But then I am such a nerd that I don't know what weed smells like or really even looks like. This stuff was very finely ground ... and I don't think they do that with weed. Anyhow, it was double-ziplocked ... and it weighed like 4 pounds. So if it WAS weed, Eugene probably cried long and hard over it.
  • Socks - What kind of man carries four pairs of thick black socks?
  • Hospital Parts - You know those things that they stick to you at the hospital for monitoring and stuff? I had a full set of those. On one end was a sticker that read something like "hey, don't take this home".

I obviously had no use for semen-stained towels (the hotel had provided me clean looking semen-stained towels of my own). And since I don't smoke weed, or drink that flavor of tea, I didn't really have much use for any of the other stuff. I could probably make a few bucks with the software on eBay. But this poor shmuck was coming home after being treated for cancer. And I like to think I am a nice guy.

I ended up grabbing a trashbag and using it to grab all of this stuff and toss it into a Denny's bag that was floating around the drawer. I threw my shoes back on and marched to the hotel counter. Lifting the bag up onto the desk I said, "hey this is going to sound wierd ... but I just checked into 119, and I found someones stuff in the drawer". And the hotel guy says "oh, someone is living there?". "Jesus! - I hope not, you just rented that room to me". Maybe he was confused about what I was saying. At any rate I showed him the cellular phone bill which was rubber banded with the other materials, and suggested "maybe you should call him and see if he needs this back". Likely, he threw away all the gross looking stuff, and put the mapping software on eBay. But ... I did my part.

One more day to go. Tomorrow afternoon, I will finish class (early I hope), and I will be back on the road heading home. I have made no plans to take a class next week. I just want to come home and be with my family for a week. Then I can decide if I want to travel again any time soon. Five days from home is ... an eternity.

Oh, and eventually I should throw away the half a pizza that's been sitting in the back seat of my bug since Tuesday. Although I am becoming accustomed to the smell.

Did I mention getting stranded with what seemed like a dead battery? Another time. I am done here and I have a dirty hotel I need to get back to.

Historic Comments
Whee! Wardriving story. Just add more technical stuff next time, like a packet capture log or something for us without the ability to wardrive to carouse through.
SiliconSnake | Homepage | 10.22.05 - 12:10 pm | #

May your every wish be granted in the near future (when I have some real time and motivation to go out and do some damage).

Ray Dios Haque | 11.04.05 - 3:07 pm | #

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Market Comes Back!
Okay, so I got my panties in a bunch. When you have been home for ten days not working and waiting for the phone to ring, you tend to get a little nervous. Within a few hours of having absolutely nothing on the schedule, I had made contact with a new broker and booked four weeks of work (possibly five!).

The Gift Of Kidney Stones
That frantic call I got last Friday about the instructor who was developing kidney stones ended up becoming a "go ahead" for me. The rate was acceptable (although nothing to write home about considering travel expenses). I was not too excited about teaching this awful Sharepoint class, but what else did I have to do?

So a few hours later I was shoveling a couple shirts, ties, and clean undies into my suitcase and preparing to drive to Maryland. The drive was a full seven hours, but I was up for it. I must have left close to 4:00PM and arrived at my hotel right at 11:00PM. The hotel of choice? Motel 6! I go for the cheapest hotel possible when I travel. Why? I have the following reasons:

Why To Choose a Cheap Hotel
  • The sheets are just as clean(?) as the expensive hotels
  • Better hotels give you free cereal, and a muffin (but charge you $20 extra per night for it)
  • The "free" in-room coffee that those 'nice' hotels provide, tastes like shit!
  • If you have an iron in your room, it closely resembles something made by Fisher Price. You should just plan to bring your own.
  • The nicer hotels often "provide WiFi", which means they expect you to pay $10 a night for it (while you can drive to a hot spot and *steal* your access for free!)
  • Nobody want's to sleep at a "shitty" motel, so you generally have the whole place to yourself
  • Those nice hotels give you 100 channels. But fifteen of them are Weather channels, and another thirty five of them are "pay per view" movie channels
  • Cheap hotels ... don't cost much

This Motel 6 was a whopping $60 a night (plus tax). That seemed pretty damn high to me, but everything else in the area was at least $20 more. When checking in, the guy at the counter asked, "you want a room in the front, or the back?". Having looked around the hotel before walking in, I knew that the front faced a strip mall and a car dealership. Figuring I could probably pick up a WiFi signal from there I agreed to the front. As he was ringing me up I looked down and saw a sign on the counter. It looked like it was made in Word, and had clip art of a little choo-choo. It read something like this ...

This hotel overlooks a live railroad track. Trains come regularly at intervals of 20 to 30 minutes. If you feel that the noise may bother you, please request a front facing room.

Looks like a made the right decision with that front room, eh? About getting settled into my room and climbing into bed the entire room began to shake like an earthquake, and a train came roaring down the valley behind the hotel (horn blaring). I did my best to ignore it, and sometime around 1:00 or 1:30AM I must have finally blocked it out of my head and passed out.

I awoke at 4:00AM to the sound of some woman downstairs from my room who thought it would be okay for her to have a conversation with her buddies, and maybe have a few beers. They laughed, they tossed things around. They had a good time. I eventually turned on the air conditioning fan to drown out the noise (which worked). The following night ... I slept like a LOG!

The class ended up being a real bitch to teach. Microsoft took a seminar (I think) and added some free labs from their website, and then packaged it as a "course". It is the *worst* course that they have ever offered (hands down) and I had the grand pleasure of delivering it. The evaluations for the course were of course pretty awful, but being the "nice guy" that I am, I managed to pull of a good instructor rating (which is required for getting paid!). I will think twice before agreeing to teach that class anytime soon. Although in the meantime, I think I might set up a sharepoint server just to play with it. Sharepoint is nifty!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Where'd The Market Go?
The hardest thing about being in business for yourself is definitely "projecting the market". When I went independent as an instructor in March this was a much easier business to be in. The State of Ohio, and it's Federal counterparts get their training budgets in early July. Prior to July, they get into a mad dash to spend all of their money from the previous year. It was like fucking Christmas, and I was your spoiled cousin. The phone rang off the hook. I was turning away jobs left and right because I was simply booked! But that was then, and here I am sliding into October. I'm no longer smiling.

To make things even harder, my former employer (who had been hiring me out so much, they might as well consider me employed there) went and merged with their lifelong competitors in the training business. Of course when this happened it was said that this "superpower" in the training industry was combining courses, and was going to go out and "kick ass" or something. But I knew then that this was a bad move. My former employer had all ready merged with my former-former employer ... and there was nothing left of that merger. I was the last to get laid off from that original company and by my count that left ... nobody. So would this merger prove to be the same? Nothing but a "legal merger" to aquire a contract or two? It seems so.

The scheduling contact I had at the super-power headquarters sat down with my one day to go over the coming schedule. She was a bit disappointed. "The way we understood it, they were going to give us their students so that we could run more classes ... but they don't have any to give us". This company that they had merged with brought a full staff, but no aparent business with them. So now the superpower had many more hungry mouths to feed, and no business to support it. As you may have guessed, this staff has dried up to practically nothing. We all suspected this would be the case, and sadly we suspected correctly.

In the meantime, I have been taking the table scraps of the training industry. "We can't run this class unless we break your rate down to somewhere near what we pay the toilet sanitizers" - "I'll take it!". Of course, the brokers still contact me with odd requests. "Can you teach ProPoint Clustering?" - "WTF is ProPoint?". Or, "Can you teach a class in Albany?" - "Albany New York?" - "No, Albany Canada".

So, as I watch the training industry sink into it's holiday slump, I wonder how I will pay my bills through March when it picks up again. I am also a little concerned that my taxes are going to be murder this year, and I will have to come up with the bazillion dollars for that too. What do I do with all of this downtime? Study!

WTF Am I Studying?
I decided the best way to determine where we were "missing out" with training gigs was to sit down and go through all of the emails and phone calls I get from brokers who were desperate for instructors. I saw a couple of common requests. At the top of the list was Microsoft SQL. I know nothing about SQL, but I know I could learn it. And I certainly have the time to study it! I also found I would only have to pass two exams, and I could begin delivering those courses and naming my own price. So I am one third of the way through a book, and I have been playing with the courses that I downloaded. But this took my attention away from what I had been studying the week before ...

Certified Ethical Hacker! Yeah, I am a HAXX0R (an ej33t one b1tch3$). I get asked every once in a while if I can teach this course. Of course, I can't. But maybe I could get certified to do it. So I looked at what needed to be done. One exam. I can pass one exam. I got to studying. As I studied, I also contacted my local training center (my former employer) and talked to them about it. In so many words, they don't offer the training because it "costs too much". They let other training centers fight for those students. Maybe I could work for those "other centers", but they are all far away. I also found that unless I take the course myself, the exam will cost $250 to try. Oh, and everything I had been studying is now declared "old" as they just revised the exam. Shit. So screw that. Dropped. Maybe I wasted some time. So what.

Another hot trend that I picked up on was "Microsoft Office Manager" (MOM). This is an awkward product that Microsoft made to monitor servers, and kick their ass once in a while when they drop a running service. It's neat stuff. It has also excited many IT managers and project leaders who are rushing to send their administrators off to MOM classes ... which aparently noone is qualified to teach. A quick look at my Microsoft Transcripts told me that I WAS qualified! I had been turning away calls saying "I can't teach that", when in fact I am permitted to. I don't know anything about it though. So I have speant a good week learning all I can about it. I downloaded the course, and I have been working through the labs. It's a neat product, and the course seems fun. So I volunteered myself to teach it twice this month. I am ready! I am confident! And ... after one cancellation for next week, I may still get a shot to run it on the 19th. Fucking cancellations.

And then there's Sharepoint. I know nothing about Sharepoint. I have used it as an "end user", but I don't think that counts. I get a call Friday afternoon from a broker out in VA. He says "So I have this guy to do the Sharepoint class next week ... he has done it for us many times ... but ... he might be passing a kidney stone". To which I replied "ouch!". He adds, "if I call you Monday and ask you to drive to Maryland and be there for a class Tuesday and Wednesday, can you do it?". I thought long and hard about this. At least four seconds. Almost long enough for me to glance up to a calendar I have hanging over my desk with lots of red pen marking out all of the cancellations I have had. "Yes! Count me in!". So this weekend I am learning Sharepoint as fast as humanly possible. Because I 'might' teach it next week. :-/ Alas, I need to teach it once or twice anyway just so that I can start taking the offers I get for it.

Cleveland Traffic is Worse Than LA Traffic
Having now been to Las Angeles and Pittsburgh (both known for intolerable traffic) I can safely say that areas of Cleveland are actually WORSE. I had a gig there for a five day class, and I was determined to stay in hotels as little as possible. This was a good plan. It did however involve me getting out of bed very early, and driving straight to Cleveland (a good 3 1/2 hour trip). My first day in, I arrived into town a full hour ahead of time. Good planning!! Yet, when I rolled off the highway I could see that the directions I had been given the previous week were terribly flawed. I was told to come off the highway and "bear right" onto "Antenucci Blvd". So I barrelled off the highway, with my Bug running hot and trying to stall. And alas, I could find no "Antenucci" anything. Turn right, then? And so I did. Bad move I guess. It took me about 20 minutes to get through one mile of traffic which abrubtly dead ended into a residential area. I could see residents backing out of their driveways, looking at all the traffic, and then turning to go in the other direction. They must know something I didn't.

After another 25 minutes or so I had worked my way to the other end of this road. Now I was sitting in a parking lot that rolled downhill into nothingness. It was really creepy. Just smog, and hills as far as the eyes could see. I would later learn that all of the construction and traffic was for a Wal-Mart getting built. I rolled off the edge of the road, and cut the engine. Reaching into my bag I pulled out my cell phone and my little black book and called the training center. The woman at the desk was describing a building which I was sitting next to. "Hey, I think I am all ready on that road". "Turn down that road to your right", she says. And so it seems that this parking lot connected to a narrow road which was somehow "Antenucci Blvd". No sign. No arrows. No indication that this dirt ridden path was even a road. I wonder how students find this damn place?

So I found the place, and when I got into my room I thought I might be in the wrong room. There were a couple of books and whitepapers laying around for Microsoft Exchange (I was teaching Windows XP) and my desk was littered with trash and coffee rings. Hell, even the waste basket had trash in it. But alas, this was my room. It was just not ... clean. Aside from the filthy condition of the classroom, it would be the only problems I had all week. In fact, the students were fantastic, and the class ran smooth as butter.

That night I checked into my hotel. It was much further away than it seemed on the map and traffic still sucked. Yet, what else did I have to do? I was in Cleveland. Once I arrived, I quicly realized why this room was only $32 a night. It was terribly small. The bed was warped in the middle. There were two tiny bars of soap on the sink that a guy like me could easily lose up the ass, or between the toes. The towels were more like washrags. This place didn't even give you shampoo! Now THAT's a cheap motel!! Aside from the low quality freebies, the place was suprisingly clean, and quiet too.

Halfway through the week I drove home after class. I was able to catch my son's football practice and sleep in my own bed. It was great. The only downside was that I didn't really want to drive back to Cleveland the next day for two more days out of town. Let me tell you friends ... there is nothing more lonely than sitting in a cold hotel room watching TV. I don't know how you "traveling types" can go on with your lives. I was in bed every night at 7:00PM hoping to God they weren't showing "Batman Forever" on HBO again. Yes, I watched that whole movie. All the way through. You know the one with "Poison Ivy" and the chubby "Batgirl". Fucking awful. My second night in the hotel I was laying in bed at about 10:00PM watching TV and it struck me. I was bored as hell, and really hungry. I had made the mistake of eating dinner directly after finishing a class, and I was ready for "the real dinner" now.

So I drove to Denny's across the road. When I walked in the waitress asked "are you a regular?". I didn't know it was one of those places. But when I looked around I could see that this place was a club for fat truckers. I plopped my bag down and placed an order for the cheapest, yet most satisfying junk on the menu. When they brought it out on two plates I delightfully said "oh, this came with a side of pancakes?!?!". That was a lot of food, and I ate every bit. While I waited for the food to come I popped Audrey (the laptop) onto the table and played a game of Hitchhickers Guide to The Galaxy (the 1980's Infocom game). I think I dragged every bit of amusement I could out of that laptop. You would too if you were stuck out in the middle of nowhere without wireless!

It's funny though. As shitty as it is to travel, I didn't mind that week a bit. I think partly because I knew I was just a long drive from home (not two connecting 5 hour flights). And I also knew that I was making a fair bit of money for a class that required no prep time, and very little expenses. With gas, hotel, and food, I averaged $36 a day in travel expenses. Yes, I lived off of the value menu for dinner and skipped lunch. :-) One week later, I got that check in the mail. A check the size of two paychecks (or four weeks of work) from my previous job. Not bad at all.

Oh, had I forgot to mention that my laptop came back to life? Just when I think the battery is completely shot and worthless, it begins charging again. It's as if Audrey got a second wind. Maybe she wants me to take her wardriving again and she misses "old times". I had finished surfing the web one night and had sat her down on my night stand. That's when I noticed her. Flashing "amber" (for 'Im charging') was just her way of reminding me that she needs love. The next trip I take, Audrey ... I promise. We will hit the unintentional hot-spots and make this Blog interesting again.

Historic Comments

It's nice to see your posting again,and things are looking up.

apex | Homepage | 10.14.05 - 1:01 pm | #

I was thinking the same thing too. Post more wardriving adventures. It's been ages since we've had a fresh one.
SiliconSnake | Homepage | 10.16.05 - 8:00 pm | #

Is the The Blue Monster going to post new stories, its been a year?
oc12 | 10.16.05 - 9:46 pm | #

Can kidney stones be turned into diamonds like human remains can?
Poe | 10.16.05 - 10:38 pm | #

I do really need to bring back the monster. These past few months he has been stuffed into the back of my Bug getting mildew posioning.

And I do not believe that kidney stones can turn into diamonds. But, I'm sure they would still make nice jewlery. Perhaps ear-rings?
Ray Dios Haque | 11.04.05 - 3:09 pm | #

Holy sh*t! You're alive! Glad to see you're still managing to scrape by. Hang in there and keep posting.
_shaun | Homepage | 10.08.05 - 6:46 pm | #