bjarvis: (Default)
Yesterday at work, we received an email from a former employee who left the firm about three months ago. Apparently, he was getting deluged with automated alert txt messages from our systems and wanted them to stop.

Digging into it, we were at first mystified: he's not in any of the recipient lists in our monitoring packages or even email distribution lists. He's not in the corporate directories or any other sources of record. Then we also realized that the messages were for systems we had decommissioned and removed from our monitoring tools. So where were these being generated?

After some considerable effort, we discovered that the bozo had:
1. created a monitoring script for his production environment which he didn't document;
2. the monitoring script wasn't folded into our suite of monitoring tools so it wasn't using our alert management & scheduling systems;
3. he was running this monitoring script for the prod env from a dev workstation, not the proper prod services;
4. he hard-coded his personal contact info into the script so that he alone would get the alerts.

In short, he created the very mess he was now complaining to us to have fixed for him, and he did it in the most incredibly unprofessional means possible.

While I'm sympathetic that his mobile is getting flooded with txt messages and costing him a bundle if he doesn't have unlimited messaging, my sympathy ends there. He built this mess for himself and I was sorely tempted to let him wallow in it a while longer as a lesson in how not to do things.
bjarvis: (Default)
It's been a busy few days but I'm slowly catching up.

We've been slowly decommissioning one old storage array at the data center, requiring us to move the data to a newer array. We discovered some performance issues this week so we had to migrate two particular volumes to a different RAID pool but these activities required essentially two all-nighters this week.

That wouldn't be catastrophic but I also had my regular build work for the new data center cage, and since I'm the only employee on the east coast, it's not going to get done so long as I'm being sucked into these other spontaneous demands. That was unavoidable in this instance but I've made it clear to the dev teams that I'm only available to them for major issues, not trivial ones for the rest of this month.

And as life would have it, I had a few square dance calling gigs this week too: our Wednesday C2 group, a special C1 night for the DC Lambda Squares, a Friday evening holiday party called by John Marshall which I really wanted to attend, and co-calling a six hour C2 event Saturday morning & afternoon with Kent.

I'm happy to report that all of the tasks for the week were accomplished successfully, although at the expense of my gym workout schedule. Still, that's a small price to pay for the pleasure of knowing the other items are under control.

Today's migration isn't about data, but relocating my computer bunker from the basement to the first floor sewing room & middle bedroom. The basement bunker is convenient and optimized for my work, but it gets cold down there during the winter. A small electric heater helps but it has to run nearly constantly to keep the room comfortable. It's easier (and cheaper) just to work from the main floor bedroom until spring.

In all, life should be a bit more stable & normal for a couple of weeks. I hope.

Solaris EOL

Dec. 2nd, 2016 04:46 am
bjarvis: (Default)
I read rumours this morning that Oracle was going to be shutting down all further Solaris development.
Solaris being canned, at least 50% of teams to be RIF'd in short term. All hands meetings being cancelled on orders from legal to prevent news from spreading. Hardware teams being told to cease development. There will be no Solaris 12, final release will be 11.4. Orders coming straight from Larry.

Even if development is stopped, there is still promised support for existing versions for a couple more years, but once the last version runs its course, the game is over.

I have mixed feelings about this, if it is true. I've been with Sun Microsystems since the Sun 3 line and SunOS 3.5, back in the 1980s when the Motorola 68000 CPU was hot stuff. Hell, in those heady days, the OS included a compiler! The machines were sturdy, the screens were huge (cathode ray tubes, naturally) and while they were expensive, they sold like hot cakes. I worked for a Sun VAR in Toronto in the early 1990s, then for the University of Toronto caring for a Sun 3/280 server.

The transition to SPARC and the Sun 4 line was joyful and traumatic. I loved the faster & more powerful CPUs, and the upgrade of our machine was as simple as swapping out a VME board. I did not love Solaris, however. Yeah, SunOS 4.1.5 at that time needed a complete refresh to handle newer communications technologies, extra cores, multi-CPU architectures and such, but it was a solid OS and worked well. Slowlaris was a painfully poor performer and a resource pig by comparison. And it didn't come on quarter-inch tapes: one had to lay down serious money for a CD drive since that was the only distribution method available. And adding insult to injury, it didn't have a development environment by default: it was an extra.

Over the years, my Sun 4/280 gained extra memory and SCSI drives. It was running better than ever, albeit two versions of Solaris later.

After some extra years, a couple of extra jobs and a move to the US, I landed at Fannie Mae for ten years. We were told Fannie Mae was the second largest Sun customer on the east coast (after NASA): I was part of the team which built and maintained their MornetPlus system, mostly built on Sun 250 and Sun 450 machines for data processing and a large pair of Sun 6800 machines for their core cluster. The 6800 machines were standalone, but the 450 models would fit two to a rack --and they weighed a tonne. We were mostly running Solaris 2.6 when I arrived, transitioned to Solaris 8 during my tenure, and began migrating to Solaris 10 as I left (now eight years ago). I loved having a single operating system for our entire enterprise: it made support so much easier, and Solaris 8 was again pretty solid.

While I used Solaris 10 at Fannie Mae and again at Talaris/Rearden Commerce/Deem where I work currently, I've never loved it. Solaris 10 and I tolerated each other. It felt snobbish and repressed. It ran solidly and had some interesting new features (introducing zones), but other kids on the block (eg Linux) seemed to be moving faster and offered more flexibility. And most of all, the new kids were vastly cheaper.

Fannie Mae paid an enormous amount to Sun Microsystems every year for support. Millions of dollars. Oracle bought up Sun Microsystems and continued to support Solaris and release new models of the Sun hardware, but they added their own special Oracle DNA, that is, their desperate desire to drain customers of every penny they had. Support costs soared and purchase prices spiked, although discounts sometimes be had if you bundled together other Oracle products, especially their software.

Even now, I'm typing this while monitoring a storage issue on a Sun T4-1 machine running Solaris 10. It's fine, nothing much to write about. But we're also building a new data center cage, refreshing our entire hardware base and allowing us to retire & scrap our old systems by spring of 2017. Sun will not be part of the new cage: the Solaris stops here.

As I said, Solaris 10 and I never loved each other, but after Larry Ellison got his mitts on it all, I knew it was time for me to start dating other operating systems. Our on-again-off-again affair had run its full course.

So reading that Oracle is tossing in the metaphoric towel on Solaris (and presumably the hardware line too) is like seeing an obituary notice in the newspaper for an old boyfriend. It's a sad thing and I'll remember the good times, but I let go along time ago.
bjarvis: (Default)
I'd like to say I had a really great long weekend. Really, I'd love nothing better than to say that. Truly, I would.

But lest one thinks otherwise, I should immediately say that it was a perfectly fine long weekend. It just wasn't the weekend I was looking forward to.

Our office was supposed to be shut down for the entirety of US Thanksgiving week to force all employees to burn up their vacation days as we transition to a would-be unlimited vacation policy. And while that worked for most of the company, I was hauled back from vacation mode on Monday and Tuesday to deal with various technical issues. One of the major problems was that while the US operation was on vacation, the Bangalore portion was working a normal schedule and demanded that any service they needed from the US side be made instantly available as they had their own deadlines to meet.

I'm fine with dealing with the occasional unforeseen hardware issue --random things happen. I'm a bit pissed that expectations between the US and India teams were so poorly communicated that my division, supposedly on vacation, were essentially just made to work from home. I'm having a few words with management tomorrow: I want my Monday and Tuesday back, either not being counted as vacation or given two lieu days to make up for this farce.

We saw the movie "Arrival" on Thursday. Quick review: I liked it. It was more cerebral than a lot of other films on offer, and my inner linguist was fascinated by the challenges of learning a language from an entity with whom one has literally nothing in common. There was a major item of scifi silliness which irks me a bit, but it was a construct essential to the storytelling so I'm willing myself to let it slide --watch the movie and you'll understand what I mean.

I wish I could say what I did on Friday but I can't for the life of me think what it was. Which probably means napping, reading and relaxing.

Maurita & Lucas and their daughter Elodie (now 17 months old) came for Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. Elodie was a delight: she's so much fun. We had the traditional turkey and a stack of low-carb, gluten-free sides which the Pilgrims would never recognize. Tasted good though, so what else matters? In an unusual burst of restraint, I didn't stuff myself to the point of explosion. And there will be turkey leftovers for days.

I even got the gym regularly during this past week: every day except Tuesday morning and today. I typically take a rest day after chest day as the chest, shoulders and arms take quite a pounding a need a brief recovery space before the next workout. If I'm clever, I try to book my data center visits or outside appointments on those recovery days to help smooth out my calendar.

This day has been more relaxing and tinkering, and I'm glad of it as the following week is going to be heavy. I've cleaned up a lot of files on my laptop, freeing up another 16GB of disk space. I've finally sorted through a stack of digital photos, cleaning 4GB of them off my mobile phone and filing them away on an external archive. At this moment, I have some cleanups in progress on my Google Drive too.

After being inactive for the past 2-3 weeks, I'm back into square dance calling this week in a big way. We have our regular C2 group meeting on Wednesday, I'm calling a C1/C2 night for the DC Lambda Squares Thursday, and Kent & I are co-calling an all-day C2 session for our crowd & friends Saturday. John Marshall is calling a holiday party Friday evening so we'll likely attend that as well. In all, my reduced calling schedule has helped my professional schedule immensely, and I hope to keep this new balance as long as I can.

Sadly, tomorrow is Monday, with all the excitement that entails. More news as it develops.
bjarvis: (Default)
Work at the gym continues. I'm enjoying the ride --for the most part. The delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) still kicks my ass from time to time, but that's the price one pays for progress.

A level of pain will come up next May when my gym membership expires: LA Fitness no longer does annual one-time payment memberships with discounts for multiple years, but instead offer only monthly subscriptions. The same tier as I currently have (multi-club access except for the Signature gyms, unlimited usage) will cost $30/month. My existing membership was about $750 for three years, or about $21/month, so the new monthly subscription will represent a 43% increase. This doesn't make me happy. Come May, I'll have to dig a bit to see how much wiggle room LA Fitness can offer me, or I could downgrade to the $25/month single-gym option. Or I go looking for another gym.

In my physical pain, injuries come and go. In early 2015, I overworked my right medial deltoid, causing me some discomfort for a long time. I could push & pull directly in front of me for, say, low rows or light bench presses, but could not lift my arm over my head to steady the bar for squats or inclined shoulder presses. Medical exams showed it would heal on its own and it finally did: I've only recently reincorporated some of my original above-shoulder exercises into my regular routine.

Other injuries are more embarrassing. I have a wound still healing on my right shin from accidentally walking into the jutting end of an unused barbell. That one joins two other scars on the same shin for the same reason. *sigh*

And this week, I lost a postage stamp-sized piece of scalp & hair while bench pressing. I just finished a set at 160lbs when I sat up for a minute rest; I misjudged the space between my head and the barbell, scraping the top of my head against the roughed handgrip portion of the metal bar which --because it had 160lbs on it-- didn't budge an inch. It's just a minor skin scrape but damn, it hurt. And bled. And was embarrassing.

In my own defence, I have yet to have to be rescued from equipment because I trapped myself under weight I couldn't handle. I haven't dropped any heavy equipment on my toes. I haven't fallen down stairs. No ambulance has been called for me. But then again, there are many years left ahead so who knows what the future might bring?
bjarvis: (Default)
The tissue removed from my scalp has been officially declared an inflamed keratosis by the lab techs who work with my dermatologist. It is utterly uninteresting medically, and no follow-up is required.

The wound where the tissue was removed still has some healing to go, but there is no sign of any infection or complications of any kind.
bjarvis: (Default)
The initial shock of the election results has largely faded for me, so now it's time to take some action on limiting the coming damage.

The GOP has attempted for years to remove all federal spending for women's health. To counter this, I've been donating monthly to Planned Parenthood, and you can too!
https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/

The young are most vulnerable, lacking adult legal status to own their own lives and lacking resources to protect themselves from the whims of the powerful. I'm donating to Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL) in DC.
http://www.smyal.org/

There are going to be a lot of hungry people in the coming years. Please donate food, money or your time to your local food bank. In my area, it's the Capital Area Food Bank.
https://www.capitalareafoodbank.org/

The president-elect is a self-proclaimed sexual predator. Please donate to the rape crisis support line/support center in your area. In the DC area, I'm donating to the DC Rape Crisis Center.
http://dcrcc.org

The white supremicist & alt-right hate campaigns which supported the new administration need to be watched carefully. I'm donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center to monitor and report on hate crimes.
https://www.splcenter.org/

The GOP's track record of voter suppression should not go unchallenged. Hate crimes must be prosecuted, existing laws & regulations need to be followed, conflicts of interest should be exposed and corruption needs to be shown for what it is. I'm donating to the ACLU to fund court actions to preserve the Constitution.
https://www.aclu.org/

Mourn for the future as long as you need, but taking action will help you as you help others.
bjarvis: (Default)
At this moment, I literally do have a hole in my head. My mother was right, finally & briefly, after all these years.

For as long as I can remember, I've had a relatively small soft bump just behind & above my right ear. Imagine having 2-3 toonies embedded in your scalp: it felt fluid-filled and slid easily against with the scalp against the skull so I knew it wasn't attached to or protruding from my skull. Since it was hidden by my hair, wasn't painful in the slightess and was otherwise irrelevant, I never worried about it.

About 3-4 weeks ago, it began growing. It's diameter grew another 50% or so, and it thickened to the point where it was a visible bump despite my hair. Indeed, after my last haircut, it was so visible and apparently disturbing that one person asked me if I needed help because I had been clearly beat up. Soon, it also began scaling over and began sporadic bleeding.

In the three days before my regular doctor could fit me in, the swelling reduced dramatically. In the end, it was about the size & thickness of a quarter, rough to the touch but still painless.

My regular doctor said it looked like a common wart, but referred me to a dermatologist for a proper exam and possible remediation. Monday, I visited Dr Stolar who repeated Dr Ward's wart theory, adding it could also be a keratosis. In any case, we agreed to remove it.

Within ten minutes, the area of my scalp had been anaesthetized, the wart/keratosis had been surgically removed, the area cauterized, some antibiotic ointment was applied to the wound and I was on my way home while the excised tissue was on its way to the pathology lab. Dr Stolar took a look at a few other skin irregularities across my forehead as a precautionary measure but said there was nothing of concern; being fair-skinned, he recommended either the SPF 2 billion or wearing a burqua when out in the sun, but otherwise carry on my life per usual.

At this moment, the area is still pain-free and I can feel the wound has scabbed over. I can wash my hair without concern. The healing process will take another week or so, but it feels odd not having a bump in that area any longer.
bjarvis: (Default)
This morning is the day after the US elections. I voted for Hillary; she lost fairly, and Donald Trump won. We can argue about voter suppression attempts, gerrymandering of districts, and the validity or not of the electoral college but in the end, Trump is the president-elect and the Republicans have control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

I'm disappointed my prefered slate of candidates did not win, but I've been voting for 30 years in various contests and am accustomed to winning some and losing others. That's not a problem.

For the first time, however, I am genuinely fearful of the outcome of an election. Never before has someone so blatantly campaigned on demonizing portions of the population for not being the correct religion, for not being white enough, for not being personally loyal enough, for not being straight enough, for not being male enough --and won. And never has someone campaigned with plans with of how he's going to deal with those people who do not meet his standards --and won. I don't remember another candidate for the presidency who bragged about being a sexual predator --and won. The man endorsed by the KKK has won the most important election in the most powerful nation on the planet.

And now this man will be in the White House, backed & protected by the power of the executive branch of the US federal government. The House and Senate are of his own party and will be only too happy to fulfill his whims --he did win an election so he has the mandate-- and the Supreme Court will soon be stacked with like-minded men rubber stamped by his friends in the Senate. There will be no checks & balances.

I fear what will happen to my friends & relatives on disability or retired with Social Security, those who get their medical care via Medicare or via the Affordable Care Act, and for my LGBT friends whose marriages are a specific target of the new administration. My own employment prospects may go very dark if various trade agreements are dissolved and trade wars are encouraged. My retirement plans are on indefinite hold until we see whether a recession results, and whether my savings will survive.

Until today, I had no particular reason to fear the future. Now I do.
bjarvis: (Default)
Our Car Service division is a mess of disorganization. It has been run as a separate division of our firm since we acquired them about 4-5 years ago and as such, I've had little interaction with them.

Three senior people from Car Service left the firm in the past couple of months so there's been movement to merge the support of their Windows servers & infrastructure into the Operations group of the rest of the firm. This makes sense and I'm happy to be part of it.

Except that now I get to see how the sausage is being made. Or rather, I now see that the sausage isn't always sausage, it isn't necessarily being made or made on time, or isn't made out of meat or even something organic, or isn't even made on the equipment we thought it was.

What has been hidden from view is that the Windows Servers are creaking under their own weight and have frequent undetected/unreported hardware errors. We have also discovered the apps need to be touched or helped by a human being every few hours or the app will simply die. Nothing is automated, monitoring is sparse at best, there are no performance monitors at all, and nearly nothing was documented. This is a classic case study in how not to do business.

But all of this isn't news: we've been repairing & cleaning up this mess for much of October and have made great progress.

Today was another surprise. A domain I've never heard of (transponet.com) apparently expired last night. Huh? A look into the Whois records doesn't help: the registration info is just a privacy proxy firm in Florida, shielding the actual registration holder & contact information. The domain isn't listed in our portfolio of domain names and we never received a renewal notice.

In the massive email thread which ensued, we have a strong suspicion that the domain name was registered by one of the software engineers in their personal account, but was never transferred to the corporate account as they should have. They probably did this as a convenience many years ago and it slipped through the cracks like so many other things. Unfortunately, the engineer we suspect did this died two years ago. Because of that, he's not available to renew the domain or even transfer it to our corporate account for renewal. *sigh*

We're now working legal channels to see about getting this transferred as needed. The people who have access to various mailboxes & files of departed employees aren't in the office yet so I can't check for any renewal notices or even confirmation of our suspicions on how the domain was registered. At this moment, I'm at a dead stop.

Things like this aren't supposed to happen. It's a profound embarrassment & shame upon the clowns who created this situation, and the rest of us for not catching it in time. Needless to say, the balance of my day is going to be spent scanning all of the source code in that division to look for any other domain surprises and ensuring all of them are in our corporate portfolio where they can be properly managed.

Update: We've renewed the problem domain but are still trying to transfer it and several others to our regular portfolio. The snag we're finding in many of these domains is that the registrant contact information is incorrect: there's a typo in the email address! We're now in the process of getting around this by registering the typoed domain name, then creating MX records to point it to our corporate email server. *sigh*
bjarvis: (Default)
We use Akamai as a content distribution network. For the non-geeky crowd, this means that some of the items in our firm's web applications are distributed to the planet by Akamai: when a user in, say, the UK, uses our application, the graphics, images & logos in our app are retrieved from a local server in the UK close to the user rather than reaching across the planet to get a copy from our server in Virginia. This gives the user a faster web experience, and it eases the load on our web servers in Virginia.

Naturally, we use web certificates so users can be certain (a) they are getting data from an authorized source instead of Someone Evil, and (b) it is encrypted for privacy, (c) it is secured for consistency to ensure the data wasn't manipulated in transit.

We have several web certificates for many domains in Akamai. Three of the certs will expire this week so Akamai contacted us for approval to renew them. I've been trying to tell them that we don't need the certs and to let them go, but they just don't believe me.

Akamai: There's three three certs which are gonna expire. Let's coordinate a time to talk to the cert vendor to renew them!
Me: Not needed. We don't use those domains so we can let the certs expire and save money.
A: But there's customer traffic!
Me: Not from us. We don't use those domains.
A: But there's customer traffic!
Me: If any, it's probably web bots and spiders. Don't care.
A: But there's customer traffic! Look, one domain name is CNAMEd traffic to our caches!
Me: Yes, the data is in the zone files, but we don't use those domains.
A: But there's customer traffic! You need to renew immediately!
Me: No, that's not us. We don't care. *Logs into the Akamai control panel, removes the certs. Updates DNS to remove any reference to Akamai in those zones* Look, I've wiped out the references to Akamai. We don't use the domains, we don't care about the certs, we want to them to expire.
A: But there's customer traffic! It will all fail now!
Me: What can I do to persuade you we aren't using these services and can let them expire?
A: *silence*
bjarvis: (Default)
Why did I vote for Hillary in the early polls in Maryland? The easiest answer goes back to Ronald Reagan: Are you better off now than you were eight years ago? And my answer is a resounding yes. At this moment, I'm healthier, stronger, wealthier, and generally happier than I've ever been in my life. The economy is doing well, my employment & income are stable, my basic human needs are well covered, LGBT rights are stronger than ever before, and I see no significant threats to my wellbeing on the horizon. Of course, not all of these can be linked back to the president or politics in general and none are perfect, but if Hillary represents a continuation of the bulk of Obama's policies, I'm all in favour. More of the same, please! I don't want this particular train of progress to stall or rewind.

Apart from obvious self-interest, I think Hillary has an amazing resume. Her past political experience shows she can be a shrewd operator, a dignified representative, a forceful advocate and a balanced negotiator as needed by the situation. True, not every decision was a good one and lord knows she's made some mistakes, but that's the price one pays for actually doing something instead of being a passive by-stander. Show me a perfect track record and I'll show you an under-performer who can't handle risks or leadership. "To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing."

For all of the noise made about how untrustworthy she is, all I can say is that the accusations are being made by those whom I deem to be even more untrustworthy. Years of investigations by people who have dedicated their lives & careers to attacking her still haven't found the evidence they are convinced exists somewhere. So many of the stories are clearly fakes, distributed among the true believers in her being Satan incarnate: she isn't dying, she isn't sick, she isn't hosting drunked orgies, she doesn't have a half-dozen love children, she isn't having a lesbian affair, she isn't hosting satanic rituals, she isn't high on drugs, etc., etc.. She's simply a good target for conspiracy theorists who profit from selling tabloid fiction to the tinfoil hats. ProTip: If you have a stack of assumptions, dig for years for the evidence to confirm them and come up with nothing, perhaps your assumptions are wrong.

She is a woman, which in the eyes of many is enough to disqualify her for elected office, not to mention employment anywhere or even treatment as an equal. By contrast, I think it's high time a woman was elected into office. I checked the constitution: there is no requirement of a penis for the office of president, although there are some people who clearly think otherwise.

I could go on about how horrible Trump is, but it's not enough to vote against someone. I would vastly prefer to vote for a candidate than against their opponent. It's not good enough to simply give my vote to the least evil among evil people: if that was my choice, I'd skip that particular question on the ballot or write in another person if there is an option. This election however, I chosen to affirmatively vote for Hillary.

On Trump, I've only talked to a few of his supporters as my area is highly Democratic. Most of them complain about how horrible Hillary is, and how they're loyal Republicans, but few every speak openly of their love of Trump. They seem to be voting against a candidate rather than in support of their own. I have no patience for those who blindly vote their party without regard to the candidates. This isn't a sports team you may love in good times & bad with no consequence: the choices on the ballot will affect the future of everyone and requires consideration of the candidates more than the party.

Those who did voice support for Trump loved his anger, his promise to destroy convention, his blather, his ego and his unpredictability. These may be fine on reality television, but I absolutely do not want that in a manager let alone a president. I can see this as being attractive to voters who perceive themselves as having nothing left to lose: it's a roll of the dice which can't make things worse but have a chance at making something different and perhaps a faint hope of something better. I disagree: I think Trump can make things much worse for everyone, including himself. I would much prefer to fix the things which are broken than throw out everything, good & bad, to begin again from scratch. There is much wrong with the country, but there is also a great deal which is working well and should be preserved.

My vote was cast last week and we are mercifully in the final days of the election campaign. In my dreams, Hillary wins the White House, and the Democrats take both the House and the Senate. Trump concedes graciously, then the lame duck session of Congress proceeds to work on the stalled legislation & appointments in compliance with the declared will of the people, including the Supreme Court nominee on hold.

More likely, Clinton takes the White House, Dems take the Senate, Republicans keep the House, and Trump concedes grudgingly as a sop to history even as his ego urges him to scorch the earth with wrath about stolen & rigged voting. (FFS, Donald, just read the prepared speech on the teleprompter as written then step away from the microphone!) There is noise already that the Republicans will do all they can to block all judicial appointments forever until a Repubican regains the White House, but I hope no one actually thinks this is a good idea or sensible policy. I also hope that a Democratic majority in the Senate will push these appointments along the pipeline to conclusion.

We'll see how it all shakes out next Tuesday evening.
bjarvis: (Default)
I've been wearing the same frames for about eight years now, I think. For many years, my eyes had the same prescription but about two years ago, I had to go to multifocal lenses. Not finding any frames I liked at that time, I simply had the lenses replaced in my old frames. Those frames are showing their wear & tear however and I'm unsure how long they will last.

After making my appointment this morning, I looked at some of the frames on offer, quickly narrowing the selection down to about three. For laughs, I took pics of myself wearing each, as well as one with my current glasses. Combining those into a single photo, I posted it to FaceBook and Instagram to get feedback & reactions.

My favourite of the new frames received favourable reactions but to my surprise, my existing frames were the runaway favourite. Possible reasons:
  1. My friends are accustomed to seeing my existing glasses and are therefore unconsciously biased to the familiar;
  2. My current glasses are already an excellent choice for my face, my complexion, and facial hair colour, so the other candidates have a high bar to reach;
  3. My friends have the same taste, good or bad, as I do.


In any case, my eye exam is tomorrow morning. If my prescription hasn't changed, I may skip new glasses entirely. If it has changed and new glasses are warranted, I may defer the purchase for a couple of weeks to consider other frames.
bjarvis: (Default)
My dear employer purchased another company about six years ago, adding ground & car bookings to our business travel portfolio. Of all of the acquisitions we've done over the years, this was practically the only one which made sense, the only one which has been financially worthwhile and the only one still operating, but that's another story.

This particular car service division has been largely independent of the larger firm: our travel systems makes system calls into the car service systems, but we haven't tried doing a full integration of their services or their staff. Our core travel systems are all based on Linux with Solaris/Oracle handling the backend databases, while the car service machines are all Windows Server based with Microsoft products and some cloud-based services to supplement.

In the past month, two of the primary people from the car services division have left the firm, and because we have no other staffing, care & feeding of their systems have fallen to my systems engineering team. And now we're seeing the true nature of the nightmare...

These car service systems require constant care. Constant. We've learned that the core database has been receiving manual maintenance daily for the past eight years it has been in service. We've learned the logging system has been manually restarted every 48 hours or so for the past number of years. There's a stack of little things like this which have been consuming the full attention of two fulltime staff on a daily basis.

I'm horrified by the amount of work that has been required daily if not hourly to maintain uptime for these systems. I'm horrified that no one in management seems to have noticed and thought it odd. I'm horrified that no one has seen fit to fix any of these problems, especially the guys who have been doing the work. And I'm horrified that even if the guys couldn't correct the root problem, that they didn't even attempt to automate the required recovery steps. Seriously?!

My team is now trying to pick up the pieces but I have little Windows experience and the training hand-off occurred while I was on vacation so I'm missing huge chunks of knowledge about their architecture, single points of failure, and other gems one could collect from those who built & maintained these things. It doesn't take great knowledge though to know that This Isn't Right.

Remember your training, young padawan:
1. Automate everything.
2. Automate recoveries as much as possible.
3. If something breaks daily, fix it.
4. Document everything so the people coming after you have a guide.
bjarvis: (Default)
In various telephone calls today with people at our San Francisco mothership, I have learned that two more senior staff from our Car Service division in Secaucus, NJ, have left the firm. By default, my team is now caring for their servers & services, although at this moment, I don't even have login credentials for most of their machines, not to mention an inventory. This is a sad and dangerous situation.

On the good side, my boss is going through the formality of interviewing a candidate for the recently departed Car Service director. It's a guy that the boss has already worked with, and with whom I worked with on a recent visit to California. If we can make him an offer, I will be a very, very happy camper.

In a vastly bigger bit of news, the board of directors has approved a budget of $1.2 million for support & upgrades of our data center facilities. At long last, we have approval to proceed with the hardware refresh in the data center where I work, after nearly a year of false starts. The boss is making some calls to confirm numbers and then we start pushing out the purchase orders, probably before the end of this week. My October is going to be very, very busy but it will be doing the work I love.
bjarvis: (Default)
I've been away from work for two weeks, the longest single vacation I've taken in years, possibly ever.

I've been checking up on office email via my mobile from time to time, sometimes to see if there's any emergency which concerns me, but mostly to trim out the crap so I'm not overwhelmed with 1500 emails the moment I step back into work. I dislike surprises so I wanted to keep abreast of any developments. A lot of peace of mind can be bought for only ten minutes per day.

So far today, I've just been taking care of some outstanding tickets and minor issues which have been ignored in my absence. There is one server issue which has been generating an email message every two minutes for a week now... I'm unsure how that one was ignored all this time but I'll have that fixed shortly.

The HR folks have been busy. The official unlimited vacation policy is now in place, along with the steps for implementation on Sept 15, 2017. To clean up the bank of outstanding vacation days before that start date, the firm is officially shutting down for the week of Thanksgiving and the week of Christmas this year, and the week of Labour Day next year. That wipes out 15 vacation days, whether I want to or not.

I have no concerns though about the compelled vacation. Even after taking two weeks off, I have eight vacation days left in the bank. And with my seniority, I get another 20 vacation days before the policy starts. Even with the forced burn, I'll still have 13 vacation days leftover. Further bonus: the company shutdown days are exactly the date ranges I was planing for anyway.

Since my extra vacation days won't be cashed out, I'll find other uses. I still need to set aside days for my grandmother's upcoming 90th birthday in April, 2017, as well as for the IAGSDC convention in Palm Springs around July 4, 2017.
bjarvis: (Default)
It's been 10 days of touring so far, and I should write a few notes about the highlights (and lowlights).

Hop-on/Hop-off bus tours: Yup, you'll see a lot but surface traffic is so horrible that every circuit takes hours. Wear a hat and bring a drink. Best views from the upper deck, of course; the lower deck sees practically nothing.

Buckingham Palace: Great tour, including a temporary exhibit of the Queen's fashions over the decades of her reign. It's the Queen's town home and working residence, as well as reception & welcome halls for state visitors. If you've seen photos of the Queen greeting heads of state, it was probably here. We also saw the changing of the guard, kinda: the interesting stuff is inside the grounds and walled off from public view so regular tourists have to be content with watching the guards come & go.

London Eye: It's a big ferris wheel, but you can't call it that and still charge about $50 USD to go up. It's a half-hour slow revolution with spectacular views. Still, you might get better views from the dome of St Paul's Cathedral for less, if you can handle the stairs.

Walking tour of the Victoria & Albert. I was grateful to have a guide to show off a few highlights of the collection and give a lot of background information about the facility and the exhibits. That said, the place is huge and being part of a tour means that you can't just drop out to examine a gallery which strikes you as fascinating. And did I mention there's no air conditioning, something I find a little horrifying in a museum dedicated to preserving the past? Go, but consider skipping the guided tour.

Jack the Ripper tour: lots of fun! We only visited two of the murder sites as the others have been built over since 1988. Still, the nighttime walk and tour through some of London's legendary back alleys was a thrill.

The Tower: this was one of the best tours I experienced. Yes, the crown jewels are impressive (as well as the other accoutrement of the coronation process) but for me the good stuff was the chapel where you'll find the burial sites of Anne Boleyn, Catharine Howard, Thomas Moore and others, as well as the chance to stand at the site where Anne and Catharine lost their heads. The White Tower, the oldest part at nearly 1000 years, was fascinating in its structure & style. Go do this; personally, the trip would have been worthwhile if I never saw any other tour.

Kensington Palace: huge disappointment. You have a self-guided tour of some of the apartments of George III, Queen Anne and Queen Victoria (she was raised there), but the rooms are unimpressive, the exhibits forgettable and the chronologies of the signs & displays were hopelessly jumbled. You will see little about the day to day life of the residents and nothing at all about the infrastructure of royalty or the work of the non-royal staff. Skip it, but visit Hyde Park around it.

Churchill War Rooms: See this. These are the underground rooms from which Churchill ran his government during the height of World War II, including the map room, communications room, BBC broadcasting room, personal rooms of Churchill and his senior staff, the kitchen of his personal cook, etc.. Bonus: they have a separate hall which is dedicated to a birth-to-grave biography of Churchill.

Walking Tour of Old Westminster. This outdoor walking tour pointed out some interesting items about Westminster Palace (Parliament), the buildings nearby, and some of the side streets. Yes, I learned a lot but I'm unsure still it was worth the money. It's kinda interesting to know that PM Wilson didn't live at 10 Downing Street because his wife objected to being physically close to the secretary with which Wilson had an affair, but I didn't really need that info.

Day trip to Avebury and Stonehenge: OMG, totally worth it! We had a two hours bus drive out a prehistoric grave barrow, now a heritage site, then on to the village of Avebury which is built entirely within a henge of standing stones. Great pub, too, and very scenic. Stonehenge itself was another half-hour away and has an excellent interpretation center and shuttle buses up to the stone structure. It was smaller than I was expecting but very impressive. Go see it.

Walking tour of St Paul's Cathedral: great tour. There was lots of good info, a lot of highlights and, for the brave & strong, a chance to walk 500+ steps up into the dome of St Paul's. It's not actually that hard since the first half gets you to the whisper gallery, a viewing area around the inside of the dome looking into the church's interior. The next 100 steps get you to the spacious lower outdoor viewing platform, and then you can make the final run up to the very narrow and crowded top viewing platform (with a view from a landing directly down into the church, to the very center of the floor a couple of hundred feed below. Completely worth it, just for the views.

"The Mousetrap" I saw this in 1979 or so as dinner theater in Toronto but had long since forgotten the plot and the identity of the murderer. It call came back to me half-way through the first act, but it was a still a fun performance.

Walking tour of the British Museum: same issues as the V&A (too fast, no air conditioning, no chance to pause to examine thing which catch your interest). It didn't help that our tour group was twice as large as it should have been so our guide couldn't be heard from the back, and I think simply gave up on crowd management 20 minutes in. Disappointing. Go see the museum, skip the guided tour.

Whitehall Palace Banquet Hall: The original Whitehall Palace was destroyed by fire centuries ago, but the banquet hall survived. Charles II converted it into a reception hall, moving the masques to another location. He also commissioned Reubens to pain a series of enormous paintings which were then installed in the ceiling of the hall, giving it grandeur and awe-inspiring beauty. It's an odd self-guided tour: just lay back on the provided beanbag chairs and let the pre-recorded audio walk you through the art, the architecture and the history as you take it all in.

Tour of the new Globe Theater. This is a faithful replication of Shakespeare's Globe Theater which was originally located only a few hundred feet away in the early 1600s. We didn't see a play but we did sit in the seats to watch a tech rehearsal, and the exhibition hall was fascinating. If you have any interest in theater or Shakespeare, go see this.

"Kinky Boots" Many friends have loved the show but I knew nothing about the plot or content. It wasn't until the orchestra was warming up that I realized it was a musical (I suspected, but...). It was a great show and members of our group who have seen other productions thought it was a superb presentation.

Windsor Castle: so worth it! We had to take the train from Waterloo station down to Windsor, a trip of nearly an hour. Compared to years of Via Rail and Amtrak, this was the smoothest, quietest and most comfortable train I have ever been on, and it was only about 15 pounds for an open return ticket. The palace itself was everything you'd expect a royal castle & residence to be: extremely awe-inspiring, historic, and beautiful. Hey, Kensington Palace: this is what a real palace looks like! And you must tour St George's Chapel on the castle grounds: so much history!

Westminster Abbey: totally worth it! This was one of the most expensive tours we went on, but it was worth every pence. There are so many famous people buried in the Abbey: I'm still wrapping my head around having stood by the graves of Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, Edward III, Edward the Confessor, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Dirac, Herschel and more. The list is too extensive to place here. My greatest regret is that photography isn't allowed because (a) it's an active church and (b) it would cut into book sales at their shop.

Hampton Court: go visit. It was a half-hour train ride out of Waterloo station but I enjoy the rail system here. We saw the living quarters of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon (Wife 1), the public halls, the kitchens and the gardens. We also spent some time in the Georgian wings, where William III had initiated major renovations & updates. Actors walked our group through the investigation & interrogations into Catherine Howard (Wife #5)'s affair with Culpeper, culminating in the death sentences issued by Archbishop Cranmer. (Side note: only three women have been executed at the Tower in London: Anne Boleyn (Wife #2), Catherine Howard (Wife #5) and Lady Rochford, one of Catherine's ladies-in-waiting who was said to have assisted her affair with Culpeper, or at least kept Catherine's secret. Last week, we visited that very site at the Tower.)

Our tours are done. Saturday morning, ten hours from now, we depart our hotel and head to Heathrow for our flight home.
bjarvis: (Default)
I knew about some words which needed translation between Canadia (and American) English and British English but a few caught me off guard. Sure, I knew lorrie is a truck, crisps are cookies and mates are friends. There were some surprises...

Signs in the subway aren't "exit," they're "way out." It's more descriptive and closer to spoken English than written form.

The road signs aren't "yield," they're "give way."

I'm accustomed to seeing "no loitering" signs in Canada and the US, but in the UK it's "do not alight here."

I'll add more as I recall them.
bjarvis: (Default)
Dear London:
Why do you have Pret A Manger on every street? What is this obsession? Not even the US has this many Starbucks.
bjarvis: (Default)
Landing on Wednesday, we did little more than walk around our immediate neighbourhood, then take the hop-on/hop-off bus tours. The bus tours themselves took many hours as street traffic is beyond deplorable. Still, we got to see a lot of places and get a general lay of the land while not pushing our sleep-deprived selves too hard.

Thursday was given to a visit to Buckingham Palace, including the changing of the guard. The halls of the palace were all that one might expect in regal opulence: expensive, impressive, & awe-inspiring. Later in the day, we had a ride on the Eye, walked around the vicinity of Westminster Palace and 10 Downing Street, and a few other sites.

We did a walking tour of the Victoria & Albert Museum Friday morning. It was just a taste of the building rather than an extensive visit but it was impressive nonetheless. The Tower of London, however, was all I had hoped. It was the one must-see site I wanted for this trip. Yes, the crown jewels were amazing, but I was more fascinated by the White Tower, the original tower of the complex now nearly 1000 years old, the chapel where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey are buried, the room where Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned the last 12 years of his life and so on. Amazing.

Friday closed with an evening walking tour of the Jack the Ripper story. Fortunately, it was not a live re-enactment. Many of the murder sites no longer exist, having been built over in later decades, but we were able to visit at least two spots where bodies were located, as well as see the churchyard and the mission shelter where most of the murdered women frequented.

Our visit today was to Kensington Palace, residence of William of Orange & Queen Mary, William III & Mary II, Queen Anne, childhood home of Queen Victoria, etc.. And frankly, it was a bit of a disappointment. None of the rooms seemed especially regal in any fashion: we could have been visiting any home of any well-to-do family. And the rooms were generally laid out as museum displays rather than as they were as living quarters. Rather than learn something about the lives of the royals who lived there, we just got highlights of their careers and marriages, all of which we could get from any history book or web search. I was hoping for much more and left empty handed. Not recommended.

Because we were in the neighbourhood, we dropped into Harrod's. It was horrifyingly packed and busy: I'm not claustrophobic but I was quite happy to get out of there again as quickly as possible. I will not be returning.

Because of the rain, we decided to simply stay at the hotel and catch up on sleep in the late afternoon. And I finally had the traditional fish & chips at a local pub for dinner: it would be a missed opportunity to be in England and not try that stereotypical dish.

Tomorrow: The Churchill War Rooms and Westminster Palace tours.

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