Death Stalks The Cubicles

Someone is dying in my office. It's happening just feet from my door and I do nothing. A mans life is slowly slipping through his fingers and here I sit and wonder when the last breath of life will be drawn and the overwhelming din will finally cease. Boy, I sound like a pretty heartless prick. In my defense there is an office full of people and no one else is doing anything either.

What are you suppose to do about someone having a coughing fit in an otherwise quiet office? The occasional cough is accepted. We've all been there. A cough during a presentation, or while you're on a conference call. It happens, we're human. You cough, everyone stares at you, and then you move on with your day. If you're lucky you don't expel any bodily lubricants during the episode.

There is something quite unusual that happens when that single cough, that draws all the unwanted attention, turns into a full blown coughing fit. All the people who were just staring at you a minute ago pretend you don't exist. "Peter? Never heard of him? Annoying coughing sound? What are you talking about?" We just can't look at the offender now that it's a real emergency. So where is your fellow man when you need him?

I've heard it said the majority of choking deaths occur in a restaurant. Kinda seems obvious really, considering that for 95% of the time that you are in a restaurant you are putting things in your mouth. Hello! But if you also consider most restaurants you've been in, you will see how you should be pretty safe. You're ABSOLUTELY surrounded by people. Can you imagine dying while some idiot is sending back his meal for the fourth time because the steak isn't 'just' right.

"Hello. I'm St Peter. Welcome to heaven. did you die?"
"I chocked to death on a spicy meatball in the busy restaurant."
"No one even looked at you did they?"
"Yeah, what the hell?!"

At this point St. Peter starts searching for the proper transfer forms...

The office coughing fit has now ceased since I started typing this post. This means that Robert is probably dead. Or, it is possible, that he might be feeling better... I don't know. I went by his office just now and didn't see him. Which means he most likely keeled over and rolled under his desk. Sadly we won't notice for a while. He's a application programmer and rarely leaves is computer. He'll stay there till the janitor finally comes to empty the trash, sometime in 2012, or one day we will notice the smell of his rotting corpse. The latter is highly unlikely due the the constant odor of microwaved diet food wafting through the air system.

Still, at least the coughing stopped.

My White Board Is Talking To Me...

"Oh goodie, Peter's typing up another white board druggie post..."

"No, I'm serious."

"Serious is not a word I would use to describe this blog."

"Then why do you still come here?"

Ha! Got you there! So, where was I? Right....

Ladybugs the ultimate civil rights law suit!
"I am not a LADY!"

Wait, white boards. That's it. So here's the deal. For the last month or so my white board has been talking to me. Not in a voice or telepathy. Just by writing on itself. It's kinda like a low budget version of Electric Dreams only I didn't spill any soda pop on it and it doesn't have a love affair with my co-workers. At least not yet...

It all started quite innocently. I noticed a message on it one day after I wrote my latest white board post. It simply stated:

"I'm board. Get it?"

I figured someone came by to see me, noticed the starkness off my message center and decided to fill it. I left it there as a passing amusement and thought little of it. Then I two weeks ago it changed.

"You know I can see you doing that?"

This, creeped me out. I mean no one wants to think about being spied upon. Do you think it could it really see me using an Internet flow charting program? Wow. That would be awkward.

"So. You're no longer using me to write out your ideas?"
"It's just less messy..."
"What's the matter with me? Why did you even request me!?"
"I though it was what I wanted. What I needed."
"And now?"
"Look, it's not you. It's me. I've changed. I've moved on..."

In order to circumvent what could prove a very difficult conversation I responded to it.

In bright red marker I wrote

"I know. That's why I do it."

I figured if it was a co-worker that should sufficiently give them the willies, and if it was the board, I was well on my way to yet another of my relationships built on a stack of flimsy lies. (A new run on sentence record!) Either way, win win.

Which brings us to today. A new message.

Which means I must conclude that the board has become sentient. First it mused at it's purpose in life, second it reacted to it's immediate surrounding and now it becomes self aware. I now know that it's a female white board as well. No man would ever ask that question. They would know that they were overweight by the creaking sound their bed made every nigh as they climbed into it. Additionally they would be uninterested in asking someone to give them false platitudes that would have no means to stop the sound of aforementioned timbers.

Which means that the fourth step will be indignation at perceived inequities with my stapler and fan and then it will begin talking about me behind my back with the coat rack. Oh well, at least I know what's ahead of me. Looks like I better start saving up for tiny office dishes filled with candy, floral window curtains and some cat lithographs...

Upgrading IOS

There is something both productive and pointless about upgrading the IOS on network switches. I know I'm doing something worthwhile but no one else in the office has a clue why they are getting inconvenienced by equipment that hasn't been rebooted in over 3 years. Try explaining that to a person who sets Windows servers to reboot every two weeks 'just to be safe'

"I need to schedule overtime to upgrade the switches and reboot them. The last time they were power cycled was in 2008"
"So... they've been running for over 3 years without error and you want to fiddle with them?"
"Kinda. I want to upgrade the IOS so we can leverage rapid spanning-tree and a better QOS command set"
"I have no idea what you just said. Here's the deal, will it interrupt users?"
"It could potentially cause some errors for users with after-market switches at their desks..."
"Then you need to let the users know."

Dear Users-

There will be a scheduled maintenance after hours tonight that might effect connectivity at your location. You many or may not encounter issues where Outlook will complain of lost connection for several hours even though it has one. It's also possible your illegal file sharing applications, that are sucking all the Internet bandwidth, will crash.

This of course means you'll blame the upgrade for any computer issue you might see tomorrow, including why your PDA won't sync to Windows. I didn't really want to tell you what I was doing tonight but my boss made us.

After all this is completed and functional, you will not be able to notice any significant changes.

Your ever caring network administrator

Now the users and my boss are both aware that I do stuff that appears lacking in merit. I know it's important to have the right QOS on the network especially with Voice over IP and video conferencing in our environment, but it's hardly a glamorous upgrade. We were just in a meeting where everyone was justifying their existence for the month. Mine justification seemed quite lacking.

"I'm installing readers to increase work flow and allow clients faster access to our services."
"Excellent! Janice?"
"We're rolling out a new interactive voice response to lessen the burden on the incoming call queue."
"Wow! Peter?"
"I'm causing intermittent network errors on hundreds of our users computers in order to replace IOS 12.1.9 with 12.1.22 on all 50 switches..."
"Ah... okay then."

In some ways that's just IT. No one really cares how it works, until it doesn't. And if we don't take the initiative to keep the nodes up to date, you're going to find yourself in a pickle when your manager walks in a declares a new direction. If you haven't experienced yet, then buckle up 'cause your due.

"The execs just decided we are going to replace all the old phones with VoIP units."
"What?! When?"
"Next week. It should be awesome-"
"You know they won't work on or network. You told them that, right?!"
"Why? What have you done to it?!!"

So we do the thankless tasks and realize that in the end, it's better to be overlooked and left alone then blamed for errors you could have prevented. In many ways it's just a selfish method for keeping people from showing up at my door. And that slice of realization is worth almost any effort I can muster!

When Raptors Attack

Jurassic Park. Dinosaurs, gene manipulations, chaos theory and screaming. Lots of screaming. I ask you, "What's not to love?"

So like the millions of people across the globe, I enjoyed the movie Jurassic Park when it hit the cinemas back in the early nineties. Back when I had to be driven to the movies by my folks or take my life in my hand and ride the city bus. I recall being impressed by how real the graphics looked and how utterly impressed I was by the whole concept. I really didn't know who Michael Crichton was and wouldn't recognize the ridiculous UNIX access screen for many years.

These many years later, I finally decided to read the book. For whatever reason, I didn't think the book would bring anything new to my idea of Jurassic Park. On a lark I brought it in tow during my training earlier this month. It was my anchor from the pointless drivel that the TV tried to throw at me.

The movie is great. There is no doubt about it, but as always it is quite different from the book. A seriously intense read and well worth the few hours it would take to complete it. The downside is this. In the movie, you're given a quick two hour glimpse of a fantastic world. It's scary, but hopeful. There is a problem, but there is also a solution. This isn't so in the book.

Give Michael Crichton 400 pages of your time and he will utterly convinced you that things you know to be impossible are coming. Dinosaurs embryos ARE being grown by a firm in Palo Alto (where I happened to be during the training). This book doesn't read like fiction. It reads like news.

Add to that the horrific deaths described within those pages and you've got yourself a full blown phobia. How many sentences does it take to explain why a corpse was found holding a steaming pile of his our intestines? Too many...

"Honey, dinner!"
"I'm not really that hungry..."
"We're having spaghetti and meat-"
"pppuuuuurrrrrhhhhhhgggg! Urrrrrgggg"
"...or we could have sandwiches..."

Add to that this newfound fear of Raptors. In the movie they were scary. I literally jumped out of my seat and screamed like a toddler (honest). My 15 year old sister was mortified by the immaturity of her baby brother but I was seriously scared!

As a 33 year old man, I felt the same panic flipping through these pages. Yelling to the book as a systems engineer tried to restore power for the computer at his place of work. I cannot seem to believe it's just a book. Crichton is a master of persuasion. He could wheedle an Eskimo to strip down to the nude and stock up on suntan lotion.

The wife isn't exactly helping.

"I just got a page from the servers. Network error."
"Do you think the velociraptors are in the Operations Center?"
"Probably. Better pack the cattle prod."

Anyway. I think I'm going to go off the deep end and pick up Lost World. Well see how my brain survives...

Would You Drink It?

So I was sitting here doing my morning routine. Checking stuff on the network and sipping my coffee. I love coffee and have a hard time imagining the morning without it. In fact I can't think of anything that would stop me from drinking it. Even it it became sentient and objected to the idea... I wonder?

Would You Drink It #1: Coffee gets mouthy.

So as I wait for it to cool it belittles me? How exactly would that help? I honesty believe it would make me want to drink it faster.

"Hey there Chunk-o!"
"Oh yea!" glup, gulp
"AHH! You're a monster!!!"
"Ah... Time for another cup?"

Plus it would be pretty cool in meetings.

"You call that a presentation?!"

Would You Drink It #2: Coffee gets going.

What if coffee could run? Would that be better or worse than talking Joe? I'm not sure. Would it splash my coffee as it circled on my desk, covering my mouse and keyboard with Yuban?

Personally I believe I would be MORE upset of my coffee started dressing in wranglers and giant cowboy style belt buckles. Wranglers are almost always a disturbing sight. Once I'd recovered from the shock, I would sell tickets to the coffee freak show and use the revenue to buy more refined Starbucks coffee. The sort of coffee that wouldn't take off unless it could locate a pint sized BMW.

Would You Drink It #3: Coffee gets busy.

So...more coffee? Right. I'm in!

I'd like to pretend that I'm this sympathetic person who this sort of coffee suffering would appeal to. If I said so, it would be a lie. Personally I would love it if my coffee began siring some java offspring.

"I have a wife and kids..."
"Excellent! Bring them on out!" GULP, Gulp...
"NO!! Jimmy!!"

Would You Drink It #4: Coffee gets weepy.

No. I would not. Don't think you've found my soul, buried deep within my heartless exterior. It's not about that. To put it simply, salty coffee tastes like garbage.

It's probably my fault though...I doubt he would have broken down like that if I hadn't found his family so utterly delicious! Maybe next time I'll feign some compassion... No. Probably not.

The 36" Monitor

So.... I might have acted a little rash. Maybe my geekiness got the better of me. Maybe my lack of sleep affected me. My wife believes I've lost my mind. Who knows she might be right, but I would never admit it to her.

Here's how it went down. I was surfing Craigslist when a posting for a free 36" monitor popped up. I calmly took a deep breath and then mashed out a very well thought out e-mail.

"WHOA BABY!!! I WANT IT!! I can come and get it tonight!!!!"

The seller responded, "Okay. Here's my address. That's a 3 hour round trip for you."

"Leaving NOW!" Clearly something had taken hold of my better judgment and shook the living daylights out of me.

After my hour and twenty minute drive I arrived. As soon as I saw the beast, I knew I had made a gigantic mistake. What to do? My brain and I discussed it.

"Take it, before he says no!!"
"It's absurd. I don't have space for this..."
"36" inches! DUDE TAKE IT! Can you imagine playing video games on this?"
"Can you imagine my legs breaking after the desktop gives way?"
"You have a fine desk and it will have no trouble supporting this trifle of a weight."
"This trifle is almost 225lbs!"
"I believe it is worth the risk!"

So against my better judgment I began down the path to herniated disks and hoisted it into my pickup. I couldn't even see out the rear view mirror.

Hooked up the laptop and made sure it worked!

Then the wife and I muscled it on to my desk and waited for sounds of breaking wood. After a few hours, we figured it was okay and decided to test it out. I couldn't help but smile. This was just too cool! Made my keyboard look like a PDA attachment!

Downside? Well, it's not so great for reading e-mail as the highest resolution is 800x600, but for gaming...this is amazing! The wife fired up some of her games and we played for a while. Hidden puzzle games are a joke on a 36" screen.

"We're looking for angels on the head of a p-"
"Got it. Next?"

Then I brought out the serious guns. Elder Scrolls IV.

After a 6 hour gaming coma I pronounced it good. When characters heads can be life size you know you're at total immersion. Oh and attacking monster literally had me jumping out of my chair!

A Week In Poorly Taken Pictures

Last week for me, was spent in training. During the week I was living out of a hotel with expensive televisions, tiny soaps and a broken microwave oven. It was a interesting place with an imposing building and beautiful facade sporting cheap veneered furniture and a standing queue at the complimentary breakfast counter.

Looking back on the pictures I took, I only have one from my hotel room. It's me after I got a haircut. I wanted to show the wife that I had lost 7 pounds. In hair. It had been 4 months since my last haircut, and she was quite surprised by the change.

See that lovely bed in the background? Doesn't it just scream "I'm a fluffy beacon of comfort?" It lies. It's a rock filled mirage that will turn your bones to dust in just 4 short nights. I of course didn't mention this on the hotel review form becuase the clerk informed me that they enter them each week for a Best Buy gift card drawing. So, I wrote, "A lovely room with 5 star amenities at 3 start prices." The lie continues as guests are bribed to write good things in hopes of geek booty. Will there be any guilt from me? Only if I don't win.

Here is the training center lobby. It looked to me like the engineering level of a Galaxy Class Federation Starship. I envisioned the elevator as some massive power warp engine idly waiting for it's next request to bend space time. Oddly enough, in the heart of Silicon Valley, many of the buildings occupants also fit quite nicely in this illusion. You can probably imagine that I felt fairly comfortable here. You would be correct.

My constant companion during the training week. The slow crappy coffee maker. For poor tasting crappy coffee, it sure had a thick following. As the entire floor waited for it to "brew" it's coffee like substance we realized that it was the only bet for blocks. By Friday I probably had consumed 20 cups and was forced to admit that it was growing on me.
"How about another cup of indulgence?"
"I couldn't. Well... Alright then!"

Ah the exciting world of layer 3 QOS. What more can be said about these 6 bits of header? Yeah, the class was a little dry for most, but much information was imparted. Oh look, time for more indulgence...

Here is some more of my fine photography at work... This is a grand picture of the expansive IMAX 3D theater where I watched The Green Hornet. It didn't come out. The point? It was big. Yeah, thats pretty much the only point. BTW Skip this movie if you have any self preservation instincts what-so-ever.

Here is a random picture I took, because I'd lost my mind. I was quite tired from the amount of information I was shoving in my dome, add to that my lack of sleep and you get this. My dinner on Thursday night. A very spicy wrap from Wrapp World in Santa Clara. I'm not positive what was in the sauce, but my lips were burning all night. Seriously good eats!

20 Things I Learned From Troubleshooting

  • Do No Harm. You can and will make it worse if you're not careful.

  • Celebrate even small successes. This keeps you sane.

  • Searching the internet for a solution to your problem with a random Microsoft error message is akin to playing Russian roulette with yourself. Your odds pretty much suck.

  • Everything is fixable. Sometimes that means thinking outside the box or other times it means dropping that box in the ocean.

  • Between conspiracy and incompetency, bet on incompetency. More often than not, it's something stupid (or someone).

  • Whatever you do, don't temp fate. Fate will mop the floor with you.

  • If at any time you say, "Piece of Cake." You're doomed. You should just as well paint a target on your chest.

  • Ask the obvious questions, even if they sounds stupid. "Did you turn it off, then on again?"

  • Good troubleshooting is like good art, so don't be upset if people don't understand it.

  • It is possible to solve a problem and not realize if for an hour or more. This has happened, but mostly its the other way around.

  • Which means never take credit for coincidence. Just because a problem disappeared, doesn't mean you fixed it. Congratulations can turn to blame in a blink of an eye.

  • You might be surprised how many hours of downtime can be traced back to someone updating a Windows server.

  • Breadcrumbs. Remember what you've changed. If you tell an irate manger that you can't retrace your steps, don't be surprised when you wind up in the oven.

  • Never give an ETR. See #6

  • Caffeine, Caffeine, Caffeine. And then once more just in case.

  • Diagram, Diagram Diagram. Whether on paper, whiteboard or in a pool of your own bitter tears. Draw the problem out.

  • While troubleshooting my fingers look like a dry-erase-Mardi-Gras-celebration. Minus the music, nakedness, hangovers and general 'good time'.

  • The solution is rarely worth the effort. It's true. One mis-checked box after 5 hours of work can be a little less than gratifying.

  • Managers want explanations. Lie to them if you want. They wouldn't understand anyway.

  • Relax, you've earned your pay for the day. Go blog or something...
  • Excuse Me For Making An Idiot Of Myself...

    Awkward. Awkward and outgoing. It's a strange combination, and probably the number one reason I'm so prone to having these horribly embarrassing encounters with people on a regular basis. See my side bar if you need a dose of feel good. After which you will say to you're self something like,

    "Sweet mercy. This guy is a walking crisis. Do you honestly believe anyone can have that many embarrassing moments?"

    After that, you will begin to feel better about yourself and whatever minor infractions you may have perpetrated on others.

    I mean that's the real problem isn't it. Other people. Who gets embarrassed by themselves? Fall over in the morning while putting on your jeans, or cut a toot while bending over to find the cereal and you might feel a bit silly but certainly not humiliated. You won't go hide in the closet, or start sputtering and apologizing to yourself. Other people are the only reason we ever get uncomfortable.

    For most people anyway. There are those folks with either no soul, or just no concern about what anyone else thinks. The fellow who bumps you while you're holding hot coffee and announces, "My Bad!" You try to smile while you drip with scalding brew. Or what about this fellow; the farting champ. I met this dude in the line at the sandwich shop, cutting at laughing, while ignoring the general disgust displayed on the face of his peers.

    Some say, "self confident" or "comfortable in their skin". I say "arrogant self-absorbed bastard." Patato, Potato.

    Regardless, for most of us this embarrassing moments are quite common. Some of us, like myself, seems to almost attract them. Again, it's my initial inclination to reach out to people and interact, coupled with a severe self consciousness.

    For example... I've been here in Santa Clara on training all week. I'm boning up on my Cisco technologies. As such, I've been staying in a hotel. The class, runs from eight to five with an hour break for lunch. On Tueday I went back to my hotel for lunch. It's close and I had a leftover sandwich half from my dinner.

    I just take a huge bite and I hear a knock at the door


    "Hrpdnmm" I say with a mouth full of sandwich.

    Knock, knock, knock. "Housekeeping"

    Now what. I'm going to be chewing this thing for 14 minutes. There is no way I can swallow it down without dying, so... I open the door and gesture, as if to say, "Come back later please, as I have a mouth full of sourdough right now."

    She smiles. Looks sort of strange and then comes in.

    What the hell? She then puts her head down and starts cleaning the bathroom. Crap. So now I have to sit here and pretend that's EXACTLY what I meant. Try acting casual as you make a giant mess on the floor with a sandwich and chips while someone is scrubbing the toilet right adjacent to your chair. Not to mention the fact that I had to go pee quite badly. Worst lunch ever.

    These things happen all the time. Anyone else out there as prone to this? Sometimes I feel like an embarrassing moment magnet.