Fanning

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(Oh no, not again.)

Fans are a little like nails. Well, one kind of nail anyway.

A little.

Sometimes.

If you wear the right hat.

By which I mean that the loss, absence or failure of a comparatively minor thing can have unexpected consequences.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

At the end of ‘Installing‘ I said

Until they did it to us again the next year.

which sort of implies a sequel to that story. (Typical sequelitis. Just because someone read a sixteen month old post last week doesn’t mean another chapter is called for. Oh well, some sequels don’t suck so maybe this one won’t either. Laugh laugh, joke joke.)

At the end of ‘Installing’ we had a lab (not). All things considered, it was a pretty good lab (if I do say so myself) and saw heavy use for a number of years. (Except for that time it flooded. It was only on the second floor, after all.) It was clear, though, that there was ‘room’ for another one — perhaps one with another dozen or so seats, maybe slightly higher-end ones for some of the (mostly smaller) upper-year courses that had more elaborate computing requirements. Or for training. Or for the odd bit of research, perhaps. (Or for banging one’s head against, but that wasn’t exactly Official.) There wasn’t room in the budget, of course (there seldom is) but there was another computer company that could be approached for swag. (“One of your competitors gave us some cool stuff last year. How about you?”)

As it happens (not) the timing of the request was fortuitous because this particular computer company had just finished a trade-in program; they had offered heavy discounts on new hardware if used (but still new-ish) hardware was traded in. It was a popular program and meant that when the university came calling asking for donations, they were practically awash with potentially useful but used equipment. They could sell it for pennies on the dollar, of course, or they could give it away for free and claim full retail value on their corporate taxes.

Of course ‘newish’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘in good working order’ — if they had the room, a lot of people kept broken hardware around just for situations like this. Trade-in programs often resulted in some truly horrifying gear being dragged out of storerooms and closets.

But we got lucky. Twice. The computer company that has never been explicitly named not only agreed to our proposal and gave us a bunch of stuff but what they gave us was all useful and in working order. (Of course they also wrote some truly ludicrous press releases and made some positively mind-boggling tax claims but corporations do that sort of thing as a matter of course. We were still happy.) They gave use thirteen (not) almost identical systems — eight with pretty good graphics cards, four with darned good ones and one without any at all to use as a server. (No problem — everybody had a spare frame buffer or six lying around, probably in that closet I mentioned.)

What they didn’t send us was storage, because disk drives weren’t part of the trade-in program. So we had fourteen (the ‘server’ had two) 424 megabyte disk drives spread over thirteen (not) machines which had to hold multiple copies of the operating system plus applications and those pesky user files.

Couldn’t be done. (That’s not entirely true. I’m fairly sure it could have been done but it would have made the setup overwhelmingly complex. ‘Overwhelmingly complex’ is a 5-point disad but we didn’t need the points. Or the headaches.)

But we did need storage. (Just like in ‘Installing’ but for a slightly different kind of vendor buttheadedness.) But unlike ‘Installing’ we had a bit of time so we (not actually Ms. Rose and I, but you know what I mean) had time to buy a small pizza box with a (for the day) large disk in it. Lots of space. All in one place. We were set.

First came names. As I’ve mentioned before, naming is important and a lot of people do it wrong. So we looked at the relevant standards document(s), reflected on what we had done the previous year and consulted widely (well, the guy in the next office anyway) before settling on a bunch of cartoon characters. Second came the operating system; I think we chose the one that maximized the number of sub-versions and sub-sub-versions in the version number. And since we had ‘enough’ time and ‘enough’ disk space, no middle-of-the-night epiphanies were required. Then came the apps but again, with time and space there were no significant crises (although we did learn that some software vendors take great pride in ensuring that installing their products is AS DIFFICULT AND TIME-CONSUMING AS POSSIBLE but that’s not an important part of the story).

And at last we reach the actual start of the story.

The school year started. The first pizza-fueled all-nighters (against the rules) happened. The first video games were installed (also against the rules). The bickering over usage and scheduling (guess) approached a crescendo. Thousands of pages of printouts were left on the floor. And one day one of the students came to me and told me that there was a funny noise.

Oh. That wasn’t good. Well, maybe that wasn’t good. I mean, computers make noise — in the case of servers, sometimes quite a lot — but all thirteen (not) of ‘ours’ (including the one being used as a server) were intended for desktop use in an office or lab environment so weren’t particularly noisy. Certainly they weren’t supposed to make funny noises. So I investigated. (It’s wise to confirm things for oneself; sometimes people don’t interpret things in exactly the same way you do. One day, for example, a grad student came to me and told me that his computer was behaving strangely. By this he meant that it had CAUGHT FIRE.)

When I investigated, I found… a funny noise. Well, not that funny, but definitely a noise. A mechanical noise. A loud mechanical noise permeating the entire lab but originating in the server closet. (Not completely unlike…)

“That’s a fan” I concluded. (Sometimes I can see hear the obvious with the best of them.) I opened the closet. A fan on the server. It had to be a fan on the server.

But it wasn’t.

Well it was, of course, because the server was the only thing in the server closet, but it wasn’t on the server per se. It was coming from the not-really-a-pizza-box containing the external disk drive, the one ‘we’ had bought.

Oh.

Those fans never break. Except that this one had. In particular, one of the blades had snapped off (which never happens). Given the speed of the fan’s rotation, the resulting imbalance resulted in some heavy-duty vibration (the case was threatening to dance across the table it was on) and, yes, a funny noise. Well, not that funny.

Well, I could get it replaced but in the meantime it would be nice to do something about the noise and keep the disk drive from hurling itself to the floor. That was easy — all I had to do was snap off the opposite blade and that would calm (and quiet) things down.

Or not. With a seven-bladed fan there is no opposite blade. So I piled a bunch of books on top of it and went to log the call with the brain trust.

It didn’t go well.

I got a moderately helpful guy at one of the vendor’s call centers that wasn’t in Cape Breton. “But those things never break” he said before asking what group I thought this call should be sent to.

“Storage, I guess” I said. It seemed reasonable to me. So he transferred me to the storage group. The storage group told me two things:

  • Those things never break.
  • This isn’t the right place for this call. We don’t do fans.

“Where should the call go?” I asked. I forget his answer but it was something unexpected. Systems, perhaps. He transferred me.

“Those things never break. And this isn’t the right place for this call.”

Round and round and round. At every step I was told that ‘those things never break’ and ‘let me transfer you to a different group.’ This went on for most of the next two days. (During that time I checked on the pile of books periodically to make sure the disk drive hadn’t hurled itself to its doom.) Finally I got someone who said he could help. After the obligatory preliminaries (“but those things never break”) he said that he could help me. Yay.

Just give me the FRU for that part.

Some background: field service is all about FRUs. A FRU (Field Replaceable Unit) is the part that ‘they’ send you to make your broken thingy non-broken. Often the same part will have multiple identifiers, each assigned by a different group. Sales might give it one number, for example, Service another. You need the part number that the service arm knows this part by. I needed a fan for my not-really-a-pizza-box so he was asking me how he could identify that part and arrange to have it sent to me. FRUs/part numbers are on stickers attached to the part in question. Unfortunately, the fan didn’t have a sticker on it. Nothing in the case had a sticker on it — except for the case itself.

“Umm, I don’t have one.”

That was bad. “That’s bad.” Turns out that he could have sent me an entire enclosure except that I had already made the mistake of telling him (and a number of his co-workers in other groups) that it wasn’t the enclosure that had failed, but only a specific part of it. And he wasn’t allowed to send me ‘more part than I needed.’ Oh. “Perhaps you could look up the part number for the fan?” He tried. Apparently there wasn’t one. Because, you know, they never break.

To be fair, it wasn’t his fault — he was bound by unassailable corporate logic: I was allowed to have any part I needed. I just couldn’t have an enclosure because I didn’t need one and they couldn’t send me a fan because they had no part number for it. Helleresque in its simplicity and finality. And downstairs the damaged fan continued to whine and vibrate.

There appeared to be no way out. But wait! I hadn’t tried the guy named Mike.

Over the years I’ve dealt with service personnel from many of the major players in the computer industry. I’ve dealt with a Brian, a Tim, a Ken, a Dale, a Nancy  and a few others but for some reason a disproportionate number of service personnel have been named ‘Mike.’ My local guy named Mike even married a woman named Mike and they had a daughter named Mike. For reasons I’ve never understood, Mike is an important name in the service industry.

I called Mike. Could he help me with my little fan problem? Of course he could.

It turned out that the solution was to consult a list of FRUs for the not-really-a-pizza-box (a list that was apparently not easy to find) and find a FRU that they were allowed to send me that also contained the fan.

Piece of cake.

So a couple of days later I received a box. It contained a chunk of metal, a couple of SCSI interfaces, some cables, a red LED and… a fan.

So after N phone calls, several service departments, some judicious rule-bending creative reinterpretation of corporate Procedures and no more than a week, things were calm once again.

Until someone walked off with the printer the day after I installed a new toner cartridge in it.

 

(Fine) Tuning

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Everybody does it. (Despite whatever Cole says, probably not fleas, though.)

I don’t mean fart (although everybody does that too) or pee (ditto) or even aspire to total global domination but rather make decisions and form opinions based on generalized (ie stereotypical) behavior. (When faceless corporations do it it’s called ‘research‘ of course.) I talked about some of the pitfalls of this process after I ate lunch on the road a couple of weeks ago.

After clicking the ‘publish’ button, though, it occurred to me that there have been other times when my little mental shortcuts have failed me.

The first one that sprung to mind happened in the park named after a tank. (It’s just up the street — 500 metres or so.) On a pleasant spring day I wandered up there to listen to a wildly overly attached computer voice (she used to be significantly worse) and attack some frogs at the same time. While I was there a truck pulled up and disgorged a couple of young, fit and (to my eye) mean-looking guys in boots and culturally intimidating apparel. I was nervous.

More than usual, I mean.  There I was, a nerdy-looking guy loitering in a public space while my phone said embarrassingly affectionate things to me. And there they were — the natural predator of nerdy-looking guys everywhere (especially ones caught separated from the herd). It couldn’t end well. I mean, there can be only one possible reason for driving a truck into a park, right?

I started edging toward the exit while regretting my footwear (hard to run in orange sandals) and trying not to attract attention or make eye contact when I saw that their truck was full of geraniums.

Red ones.

Wait, what? There was something wrong with this picture.

While I stood there looking like a slightly dimwitted… something, one of them started pulling weeds while the other one hauled a shovel out of the truck and started digging. And planting geraniums under the sundial.

Gardeners. They were gardeners. That was unexpected. I mean, I’m a gardener (sort of) but I’m a nerdy looking guy of a certain age wearing a 25-year-old T-shirt and sporting multiple gardening-related injuries (damn that chipmunk). They, um, weren’t. Not that all gardeners look like me — I get that — but if you do a google image search for ‘gardener’, well, nerdy-looking guys of a certain age are wildly over-represented. (Heck, the VERY FIRST IMAGE is an arguably nerdy-looking old guy in an ugly hat. At least I usually skip the ugly hats.) There isn’t a scary young dude anywhere in the first nineteen screens of images.

thegardennamedafteratank

They do nice work, though.

Clearly some fine-tuning was needed.

Soon after, a visit to the Insomniac Capriform Cafe brought this home twice more. My first fine-tuning assignment was handed to me when I was standing in line to order bacon (my usual order since it’s a vegetarian restaurant and all) behind a young lady. Since it was a nice day, she wasn’t wearing much (any?) goose down but rather a very nice summer outfit. (A sundress, although I have no idea what actually constitutes a sundress.) Non-scary shoes. (Women’s footwear tends to frighten me.) And an ankle tattoo.

Now, I don’t get tattoos. (Hardly a surprise — I don’t get a lot of things.) I don’t dislike them or anything, I just don’t understand them. I mean, I get art. (I don’t know much about it but I know what I like.) But I don’t get ‘art that I’ll have to live with every waking minute of every day for the rest of my life.’ That’s a lot of commitment. Even more confusing, you have to commit to it before you even see it. Wow.

But I digress. The young lady in the nice summery outfit had an ankle tattoo. And what do young ladies get tattooed on their ankles? Well, a google image search shows hearts, vines, flowers, stars, dreamcatchers, fairies, jewelry, icons. All very attractive, all very light. Even the barbed wire is kind of cute. (One website calls ankle tattoos ‘visually enchanting’ and ‘subtly flirty.’)

But what did this young lady have tattooed on her ankle? Totally unexpectedly, she had a Great Old One. A horrific, malevolent, tentacled deity. (Probably this one.) Not light. Not particularly summery. Almost certainly not ‘flirty’ or ‘enchanting’. Definitely not cute. It rattled me so much that when it was my turn to order I couldn’t remember how to pronouncefhtagn‘ and just blurted out “bacon!”

Back in my chair I was musing about stereotypes, their strengths, weaknesses and failings when I heard the millenials (two men, two women) in the booth behind me talking. What might they be talking about? The Washington Post, perhaps?

Turns out not so much..

I don’t remember what the young gentlemen were saying but the young ladies were having an animated discussion about sniper rifles.

Apparently I don’t know anything. Even though it’s not Christmas.

 

Stereotyping

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The other day I drove up to Ottawa. Bytown. The nation’s capital. The home of some of the worst-designed roads and highways on the continent. (But that’s only my opinion. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, after all.)

There is some background to this (that you probably don’t care about but I’m going to give it to you anyway). In particular, there are two basic (not) routes between here and there. The first one involves a modern, award-winning (so clearly not designed in Ottawa), high-speed, four-lane-all-the-way route which is fast and generally fairly efficient. It’s also a little boring and can be stressful. (Because it’s modern and efficient, traffic levels are often quite high. So I usually take the other route.)

The other one is a little shorter (roughly 20k — about ten percent) but is not nearly as modern, is a little slower, goes through multiple small communities and is not nearly as straight. (Of course, winding roads plus an insanely overpowered vehicle plus a capriform playing guitar equals fun, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

Anyway, I left a little after 9 in the morning and had… problems. In particular, Highway 15 was Under Construction. It was slow at Joyceville. It was down to one lane at that-place-where-I-almost-had-a-fatal-motorcycle-accident-in-1985. It was completely torn up at Elgin. It was blocked at Crosby. And where the construction had finished, where you might hope to make speedy progress, well, those bits had trucks painting lines. And when that happens on a windy road you have to follow them for miles at a walking pace before the school buses in front of you can get by them. Good thing it was a nice day.

(All things considered, this is actually a good thing. Roads need maintenance, after all. And that road is an old design and practically screams for the odd modern amenity. It’s good to see it happen.)

But all this meant that it was slow going. So slow that I arrived at the midpoint (more or less) of my trip at almost exactly 11.

11:00 is important to the story because that’s when a burger joint along the route (I was going to include a link, but the corporate website got the restaurant location completely wrong. Good going, faceless corporate drones.) opens for lunch. Being a burger restaurant, they wouldn’t do a whole lot of breakfast business but lunch is another matter. And right then lunch seemed like a decent idea. So I stopped.

This is where I digress a bit and talk about stereotypes.

Stereotypes, by themselves, are neither good nor bad. We consciously and unconsciously make assumptions and generalizations as a sort of mental shorthand to help make sense out of a complex world. Of course, having said that, a lot of stereotypes come with, um, let’s just call it ‘baggage‘. Sometimes that baggage is positive. (“Canadians are polite.“) Sometimes it’s negative. (“Canadians love Celine Dion.“) Often it’s neutral. (“Canadians like hockey.”) So when I stopped at a roadside burger joint at opening time I wound up thinking “What kind of people would I expect to be the first ones through the door of a burger joint at opening time?” Several stereotypes popped to mind. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I half expected to see blue-collar working types, there for an early lunch after a long morning of hard work. I was more or less correct — the third vehicle in the parking lot was a pickup truck, full of brush-clearing equipment and two tall, fit-looking guys in chainsaw-resistant pants who practically reeked of testosterone. Check.

I expected to see harried-looking travellers who, having run the gauntlet of road construction and line painting, wanted nothing more than something to eat, something to drink and someplace to pee. Well, there was me. Check. Sort of.

But the first car into the parking lot? The people waiting impatiently at the door for the employee to unlock it? Well, that was two little old ladies.

I wasn’t expecting that.

So I learned three things:

  • I learned that Highway 15 is getting better.
  • I learned the Wi-Fi password for a burger place that is not (whatever Corporate may think) in a field.
  • I learned that some little old ladies can eat more burgers than I can.

Clearly some of my mental stereotypes need a little fine-tuning.

 

Figuring

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This blog is named ‘Rose Glace’s Blog.’ This morning, Michelle asked (apparently not for the first time) why.

It’s VMS‘s fault. Sort of.

VMS is/was a computer operating system that you’ve probably never heard of. It’s an incredibly stable and fairly easy to use operating system that had the advantage (which was also a disadvantage) of being proprietary when its main competitor sort of wasn’t. (The era of the killer micros was hard on computer vendors. They sold a lot of product, it’s true, but they had to embrace the ‘openness’ of Unix and at the same time sell their own proprietary version that they had to argue was somehow ‘better’ than all the others to justify its proprietariness.(Is that even a word?) This level of blatant doublethink probably drove an entire generation of sales droids to madness. Not that you’d be able to tell.)

Where was I? VMS. VMS was a darned good operating system (more than good enough to steal from) but far from perfect. And I’ve mentioned that VMS was proprietary for a long time (I confess I don’t know its exact status today since I haven’t used it in twenty years.) The company that owned it was sort of like VMS — good in a lot of ways but with… warts. For one thing, it was often — but not always — incredibly inflexible. (For example, I remember an OS upgrade that rendered some third-party hardware non-functional. Even though they had no requirement to fix this, the DEC service arm did. For free. But unofficially: “We were never here; you found those parts in a dumpster somewhere.”)

On the other hand, sometimes (often? usually?) DEC was very bondage-and-discipline. Very ein-zwei. Rules-oriented. All about Processes and Procedures.

In other words, Difficult.

Unsurprisingly, this led to massive frustration (perhaps ‘widespread’ would be a better word — it wasn’t a ‘massive’ community, after all) but also prompted widespread humour. In particular, one famous (again, ‘famous’ might not be the right word) screed that came out of this community had the simple title ‘See figure 1.‘ It was born from the frustration of dealing with DEC and its various support arms, especially the VMS ‘support’ group. (Although VMS was darned good, no one — except the vendor — would ever claim that it was perfect.)

‘See figure 1′ had something to say about a lot of things. Including the default settings within the VMS operating system:

Defaults.  We put a lot of thought into our defaults.  We like them.  If we didn’t, we would have made something else be the default.  So keep your cotton-picking hands off our defaults. Don’t touch.  Consider them mandatory.  “Mandatory defaults” has a nice ring to it.  Change them and your system crashes, tough. See figure 1.

Of course this coloured my attitude toward defaults. (A bit. I mean, I never believed that The Vendor Was Always Right (because they clearly aren’t) but the folks that set defaults are sometimes clever people who have reasons for doing what they do. In particular, sometimes they have reasons for choosing particular values and making them the default. There is value in understanding those reasons before doing the bull-in-a-china-shop thing and changing stuff willy-nilly.)

Anyway, this blog was originally created because someone asked me how hard it was to create a blog. Because it was an experiment, a test, a proof-of-concept if you will, I took the proffered defaults even though they weren’t mandatory defaults. And the default name was… ‘Rose Glace’s Blog.’

Michelle also asks “…what it [the title] means to you.”

That one’s easy.

See Figure 1.

 

Sinning

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I don’t deal well with change.

That isn’t entirely true. Perhaps I should instead say ‘I don’t deal well with every kind of change'; I deal with some kinds of change just fine. Other kinds, not so much. And change just for the sake of change (especially when proposed demanded by a guy in a suit) even less. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that, in a lot of ways, I value stability. Coincidentally, that’s sort of what Michelle asked about this morning.

Sort of. I mean, she didn’t really ask about the concept of stability but rather things that keep one (in this case, me) stable. I’m not claiming to be particularly grounded or anything but inasmuch as I am, there are things that help. Like people. Places. Things. Habits.

H’m.

Habits. Rituals. Routines. I have lots of those. Like making tea before I curl. Like carefully selecting the appropriate T-shirt for an occasion. Like eating bacon at a vegetarian restaurant on Saturdays. These are little things — I get that — but I like them. They’re important to me.

And sometimes they can have totally unexpected benefits. Breakfast, for example, often brings extras. Like entertaining behavior by other diners, large and small. Like unannounced drop-ins by politicians from Hamilton. Like entertaining art. (I first saw this piece there, for example. It’s now hanging next to the Green Chair Of Thinkitude.)

On a recent Saturday there was new art. I liked some of it, some of it wasn’t really my cup of tea but most of it was interesting. The most visually striking was a six-piece treatment of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Six?

Yes, six. Because the artist left one out (the one that happens to be my personal favorite). I don’t know the reason he left it out, of course, but I like to assume it’s self-referential: he left out a picture of the sin of laziness because he was too lazy to draw it.  Or maybe he did draw it but was too lazy to bring it in to the ICC. I hope it was something like that.

Anyway, before long our breakfasts arrived. They were as good as they usually are but I had this feeling of being watched. But who? I couldn’t see anyone watching me. There was no small person peering at me from the next booth. There were no politicians. There were no librarians. I was stumped.

But then I looked to my right. There was a pair of eyes a foot from my head. Whose eyes, you ask? Who was watching me eat?

 

The credit to the artist will go here as soon as I find his or her name.

It looks a little like me, too.