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)
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)
Work has been an interesting combination of boredom & terror over the past month, kinda like flying a plane with one engine missing. I take consolation from knowing I still have at least one spare engine and a lot of experience, but it's still a bit less than ideal what with the passengers occasionally hitting the bar or screaming in fear. Very distracting, but if we keep doing the right things, we'll be soon clear of the turbulence.

My team was expanded by two extra bodies in July. The new guys are still coming up to speed, but they're progressing very well and are demonstrating the initiative & curiousity I had anticipated. There is a lot to take up, but they are pulling their weight and this makes me happy. I'll be even happier yet in a few months when they're fully up to speed and we have some major projects behind us but I need to be patient.

We've had a burst in workload this past two weeks. No single item was a killer, but the volume was more than we could handle at our regular pace. Still, with some extra hours and some judicious shuffling of priorities, we were able to tackle nearly all of the outstanding items before the weekend began.

My boss took a well-deserved vacation day on Friday so I got to play interim manager again. I like those opportunities because they give me license to speak with a higher degree of authority than I would when the boss is in and therefore might be seen to overstep my bounds. These perceptions are exclusively in my head, of course: my boss wouldn't object and our management structure for problem solving is very flat, but I am by nature hyper-attuned to levels of management, degrees of latitude and adherence to procedure, propriety, etiquette & appearances. If I ever think I'm losing any portion of my Canadian identity, here's a perfect counter-example --and perhaps one I should be more aggressive about addressing since it's probably holding me back.

One of my bigger projects this past week has been completed. It wasn't a technical challenge, but a logistical one: we had over 1,000lbs of dead or retired computer equipment in my data center which desperately needed to be removed. I needed a place to discard the equipment, I needed to have the hard drives removed & destroyed to protect our data, I needed extra hands to help heft the heavier bits (one singular chunk was itself about 90lbs and very awkward to grasp), along with coordination with use of the loading dock, a cargo vehicle and a few hours out of my business day. We got that on Friday.

[profile] cuyahogarvr and I wrestled the largest portion of this pile of junk out of the data center after lunch on Friday and delivered it to our home county's electronics recycling depot using [profile] kent4str's minivan. On Saturday, I collected the remaining eight blades & servers, rail kits and such; those were discarded this afternoon, along with miscellaneous household bits (a retired TV & VCR, some dead batteries, etc.). There is now a huge amount of extra space in my data center and in our garage. I feel much cleaner --and am delighted to strike one more item off my to-do list.

I went to Philadelphia for an overnight trip August 10-11 to attend FOSSCon 2013, a small convention of free open source software users & developers. I had a good time, although not at first. The event started a little late and registration didn't actually open until everything was in operation for an hour because of traffic delays. While I had a schedule from the web site, each hall was listed with a sponsor name, but signs weren't up anywhere in the building to identify the halls. In short, the first two hours put my inner project manager into frustration overload. I nearly stormed out in annoyance and frustration.

Then I remembered two things: (1) there was no registration fee, and (2) these were enthusiasts & amateurs putting together an event, not professional event planners. I've been spoiled by major conferences with large registration fees and professional managers held at major event hotels (think USENIX, LISA, etc.): my righteous anger at misplaced resources was wrong and utterly misplaced.

Once I reframed my thinking and focused on the content of the talks & presentations, all went very well. In fact, I was pretty impressed what they were able to do with limited resources and an all-volunteer staff.

My major take-away from this panels was a list of software packages I should examine for work and/or beefing up a resume: Salt, ZeroMQ, Jenkins, Ansible and such. Of course, I need to get through my immediate work-related projects which include Xen and Ubuntu 12 first, but I've made some notes for future. And I'll definitely attend --and perhaps volunteer-- for next year's event.

I see that the technical schedule for the upcoming LISA conference in DC in November has been posted so I have to go perusing. I've been pre-approved by my VP for registration so I'll be there: the only question is how many of the tutual days I'll sign up for. More later.

And finally, some high tech trauma: one of our home laptops died. More precisely, the hard drive has snuffed it: no computer can recognize it and it just clicks spasmodically. I've tried everything I know to try waking it up, all to no avail. Yes, we have backups of it, but they predate a number of important software installations and data files. I've obtained a duplicate drive and will take both to a local data recovery service tomorrow to see if there is any hope of grabbing at least some data from the dead disk. It's gonna cost, but it's our own fault. sigh

New Toy!

Jun. 23rd, 2013 10:45 am
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My gradual technology refresh of 2013 continues. Earlier this year, I replaced my laptop with a vastly more powerful one. A month ago, I swapped my aging 10" Viewsonic tablet for a much sleeker, smaller & lighter Samsung Galaxy Tab 2. This past week, I finally let go of my old Motorola Droid Bionic for a Samsung Galaxy S4.

The old Bionic was a decent phone, Android-based and the first multi-core phone available on Verizon's 4gLTE network. It really new how to drain a battery so I rapidly replaced the old one with a beefier, extended life battery; that larger battery bit the dust two months ago, forcing me back to the original short-life battery but that was enough to get me to this point.

What ultimately killed my Bionic (in my eyes anyway, since the machine is still very functional) was its increasing inability to operate at tolerable speeds. I keep 2800 address book entries, untold thousands of calendar entries (including syncing of ten different Google calendars), four different email accounts, numerous apps and more. With only 1GB of RAM and ever-increasing app bloat, it was speedy two years ago, slugging a year ago and would be brought to a crawl any time it struggled to sync my email accounts nowadays. It was time to let it go.

On [personal profile] octothorpe's suggestion, I looked at the HTC One, a new model which is truly a wonder. Sprint and AT&T both have the One available and I was able to test-drive it at a local Sprint store. Sadly, I really need Verizon Wireless' network as it is the only one which extends everywhere I travel or work, and they've only just announced they may have the HTC One available by late summer this year. I tried to wait but after more days of frustration with my old phone, I decided that Verizon's vague delivery schedule was too little, too late.

The S4 isn't a One, but it's pretty damn slick in its own right. It has a fast responsive user interface, a nice feel in the hand, a fantastic screen and a decent battery life. There are some software and hardware improvements over the S3, but they're rather obscure and not ones I either am likely to use or value: I really don't care if video stops when I look away since I typcally don't watch video on my phone. Ditto the eye-driven screen scrolling --cute, but I'm not chosing a phone on that. The enhanced camera is nice, but the older models were already more than good enough for my needs. I could easily have made do with the S3, but with the 4 released, the older model is effectively slated for end-of-life so I went with the current model.

So far, I haven't found any flaws with the S4. My only regret is my lingering bitterness towards Verizon Wireless that they are forcing their customers to terminate their unlimited data plans in favour of limited versions unless they're willing to pay a full $650 for an unlocked phone. Looking back at my data usage over the past year with the Verizon Wireless rep, I didn't exceed the 2GB/month level but once and that was an unusual circumstance. Most months, I'm unlikely to break the 1GB/month level. That was enough to make the sale for me, although I'm not likely to forgive Verizon Wireless' slap any time soon.

New Toy!

Jun. 2nd, 2013 09:45 pm
bjarvis: (Default)
I've been looking to give myself a little present by way of self-congratulations for my raise last month. Initially, I was looking to upgrade my mobile phone to a Samsung Galaxy S4, but Verizon Wireless' less-than-desirable behavior has soured me on that project for a while. Instead, I turned my eye to...
Instead, I turned my eye to... )

And it cost me only $135, "previously loved" from eBay. Brian is a happy nerd.

I'll probably still proceed with the mobile phone upgrade but my desire for a new toy has been satisfied for a while.
bjarvis: (Default)
My current phone has always been a little sluggish. It's a Motorola Droid Bionic, one of the first dual-core phones Verizon Wireless had offered and, when purchased, it was the top of the line. Alas, I do have 2800 address book entries, a number of regularly used apps and four email accounts with significant traffic: once it decides to sync email, performance nose-dives for 2-3 solid minutes, enough to render it unusable.

I had hoped the OS upgrade to Jellybean would help, but it's really no better. If there's an advantage to having two cores, it's not obvious, especially if key components of the OS are at least acting single-threaded if indeed they are multi.

My contract allows me a new phone so perhaps something with more RAM and faster CPUs would at least minimize the problems with the user experience. Oh, look... the Samsung Galaxy S4 is available! I'll go take a look!

Of course, Verizon Wireless doesn't have any in stock. I'm not surprised at that: it's a new phone with hot demand and rides nicely on the coattails of the Galaxy S III model. I was surprised that they didn't even have a demo model so we could see how it feels in one's hand or against one's ear. I was further surprised and annoyed to learn that the only way I could get the phone for the advertised $250 pricetag is to ditch my existing data & voice plans for a greatly more limited version --at the same price as I'm paying for my currently adequate plans. If I want to keep my existing plan, I'll need to purchase the phone for $650.

At the moment, I'm so annoyed & frustrated with Verizon Wireless' uttery disdain for its existing customers that I'd rather ditch them than upgrade, especially if it means locking in for another two years. I'd be willing to switch carriers but Sprint's coverage is hideous and AT&T already burned me years ago so I'm not inclined to give them a shot at a repeat. Verizon Wireless' coverage is good --very spotty in western Maryland and West Virginia-- but generally covers the areas where I regularly travel. I'd be happy to pay the regular $250 rate for a new 2yr contract, but not if it means either dramatically increasing my monthly rates or crippling the phone's abilities.
bjarvis: (Default)
Got a recommendation for a standalone utility for wiping hard drives? My Dear Employer has sold a division of our firm to another so I'm wiping the drives of two racks of equipment before they are turned over to the new owner. A USB-based or CD-based autoboot wiping utility would be very, very useful. Any ideas?

Still Alive

Apr. 5th, 2013 11:56 am
bjarvis: (Default)
I haven't had much time to read or post lately... life has been busy and will continue to be so for another couple of months. This lack of spare time has been keeping me away from LJ, FB and Twitter, among other things; on the flip side, it's amazing how much spare time one can recoup by staying away from LJ, FB and Twitter.

In the past couple of weeks, I've:
  • finished my employer's performance evaluation;
  • attended the CALLERLAB convention in Cary, NC, where I was a panelist & moderator and representative for the GCA;
  • worked several night shifts, racking up new servers, retiring old ones, and upgrading existing ones, as well as preparing equipment to be shipped out as we've sold one of our divisions to an outside firm;
  • attempted to de-winterize our trailer at Roseland Resort (the campground water hadn't been turned on yet so we couldn't flush the antifreeze from the water system & tanks, and we ran out of propane for the furnace at 3am Sunday morning);
  • worked more extended shifts (did I mention we're a bit short-handed and hiring two more staffers for my team?);
  • had my old netbook die on me;
  • helped a friend assemble some furniture;
  • collected a dresser from another friend;
  • and prepped to head to Wilmington, DE, for the Independence Squares' fly-in this weekend.


In short, I'm up to my ears in a lot of projects. The good news, at least, is that I've completed a lot of smaller projects in the past 48 hours so I'm at least experiencing a significant degree of satisfaction and progress.
bjarvis: (Default)
Yesterday was kinda a light day. I slept in --or rather, woke up at the regular time and read in bed for a few extra hours-- before having a quick bite and dragging the guys out to the local computer show & sale.

I was hoping to get my hands on a not-quite-current version of Quickbooks. The old 2005 version I've been using is fine for tracking my square dance billings & expenses but it doesn't work with Windows 8. The latest & greatest versions of Quickbooks are hideously expensive and/or require annual subscription fees for online services. If I could find a version from say, last year certified for Win7, it would probably be sufficient.

Alas, none were found. There were times about five years ago when the computer shows filled an auditorium. Now they're lucky to fill a single Best Western meeting room. *sigh*

The guys then dragged me to Lowes so they could purchase some household supplies. Rather, they selected and I paid. It always seems to work out that way.

We were mugged by a group of girls scouts who compelled us to purchase $20 worth of cookies. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I'm stuffing my face with Savannah Smile cookies as I type this.

[profile] cuyahogarvr and I drove north to Baltimore for the birthday bash of a square dancing friend of ours. Wow, what a great Victorian townhouse! And such food! Alas, [profile] cuyhogarvr was getting very expensive renovation ideas for our kitchen so I may have to break it to him that I'm not a dotcom millionaire after all.

As we returned home, I was hit with a colossal wave of exhaustion. By 9:30pm, I was in bed once again, reading for a half-hour and then collapsing completely. I woke up at 6am, stared at the ceiling for a few minutes and slept again until 10am when my mobile phone buzzed. I received a txt message from my manager asking me to be interim team manager once again as he's departing immediately to the family home in Hawaii. His father has been ailing for some time and passed away last night so he has funeral arrangements to tend to, among other things. I do like being management and am happy to fill in for him, but this is a very sad occasion nonetheless.

After about 12 hours of sleep, I'm feeling vastly more energized and have been gradually working on facing my task list for today. And speaking of my task list, I should end this posting now and get on with other things. Pray for all involved.
bjarvis: (Default)
This work week has been all about hard drives.

The expansion units for our Fujitsu storage array arrived late last week so we scheduled time with the field engineers to install the disk enclosures and hard drives, then configure the whole lot. Unfortunately, Tuesday night, an existing disk died in the same array. Swapping it out was easy, but the Fujitsu's firmware prevents any configuration changes until everything is green, so while we could install the new hardware, we couldn't do the config updates until the RAID rebuild was completed.

The configuration was finally completed this morning. We now have an additional 13.5TB of raw disk space on that array.

While all of this was happening Wednesday, a disk died in our Network Appliance array. The support agreement on the NAS had long since expired since a renewal would have been equal to purchasing a brand new NAS. Two hard drives, a replacement for the failed disk and a spare, were ordered and arrived today. All is now good with that beast.

A 70GB disk died Tuesday night in one of our HP blade servers. Fortunately, the boot disks are mirrored by hardware RAID so there was no system interruption. I pulled the dead drive and inserted a new one --I have spares in hand-- and the array reconfigured itself automagically.

A 600GB disk died in a Silicon Mechanics server. Again, the disks are mirrored and I had spares so I swapped out the dead disk. Because of the cheap-ass disk controllers shipped with these machines, we're using Ubuntu Linux's mdadm software mirroring so I had to manually enter the extra commands to force the array rebuild, but that was easily done.

By lunchtime Friday, all arrays and configs were current once again. No data or servers were threatened in this period, but I did think it unusual that so many disks in such diverse hardware should all expire in the same week. Considering some disks in the Fujitsu have been working 24x7 for five solid years, it's a wonder we don't have more failing there than one per month.
bjarvis: (Default)
I'm writing this on my flight from Phoenix back to the DC area. We've been in the air about a half-hour now, and this is the first breathing space I've had in nearly three days.

I had flown to Phoenix to meet with several others with my firm and visit three candidate data centers to replace our Savvis SC4 facility in Santa Clara, CA. The SC4 site is one of the oldest data centers in Silicon Valley and, frankly, it looks it: the air conditioning is subpar, the internal power distribution is insufficient for current-day server densities and so on. The place needs to be gutted and renovated from the ground up. We have our non-production machines housed there and while that was adequate in the past, our future plans require more than SC4 can offer.

Why Phoenix? We already have offices and staff there. There are a number of competing data centers, all cheaper than anything we could find in the Bay area. The climate lacks the hurricanes of the east coast, earthquakes of the west coast, tornadoes of the central south and terrorist threats of the capitol region. Still, I thought it was a bit insane to stuff equipment requiring heavy air conditioning into a desert, but Phoenix has become a regional nexus for a vast amount of cross-continental optical fibre networks: connectivity is easy and cheap here.

The folks in the contracting & purchasing division of our firm had already selected candidate sites; they and my upper management would be making decisions largely weighted by the cost of the facility and the overall negotiated package. My purpose was to was to look to how my systems engineering team would deploy, maintain and decommission equipment and our degree of satisfaction that the facilities each met our minimal power & network redundancy.

After a flurry of meetings and site visits Monday and Tuesday, I'm comfortable putting our equipment into any of these sites: they're well built, well connected, accessible with appropriate levels of security and meet our paycard compliance requirements. That said, each site had interesting quirks of their own.

The first location was CyrusOne, a new facility still under construction in Chandler, AZ. One bay is completed and ready for occupation: if we moved in, we could be among the first. The front office space is still being built out but will be done within a month. As a new building, they've built in a number of interesting architectural features to help channel hot air away from the floor into peaked roofs where the air is collected, chilled and recirculated into pressurized side wall containments which then channel the cool air to the pressurized floor. Rain water is collected for use in the chillers. Solar panels are being considered for supplementary power. It'll be a gorgeous, sexy building when it is completed.

Next, we looked at IO in Phoenix proper. The facility was originally built as a designer bottled water plant, although that firm went bankrupt, killed by its own fraudulent accounting. IO picked up the building for a song and rebuilt the factory floor into an extraordinary data center facility. Wisely, they kept the stunningly opulent lobby and front offices, some of which they rent out to firms with servers on the data center floor. Walking into the building was like walking into a luxury New York hotel.

The building is just down the street from the Van Buren street fibre nexus. Indeed, it's close enough we could get huge bandwidth with only two cans connected by string. Oddly, while we can make connections through this massive meeting point to nearly every major telecom player in North America, Comcast isn't one of them: they don't serve Arizona.

The data center itself had two flavours: the older “phase one,” a traditional data center floor with individually walled cages for each client. Their newer and vastly preferred “phase two” area uses their proprietary modules. These modules look like stainless steel cargo containers: one can install 14 cabinets down the center of the container, power & network connections fed from overhead trays. The air conditioning and power distribution systems are in separate lockers under the floor. This allows the maintenance to be performed on a module without ever entering the customer space above. Each modules has its own fire control system and its own entry lock system (your choice of physical key, badge, fingerprint scanner, iris scanner or any combination thereof). While these modules are all inside a common warehouse, they're designed to be weather resistant and could be deployed remotely as needed. IO also offers a larger version we affectionately called the “double-wide,” but that's larger than we need.

The third facility is a Digital Realty site located next door to the previously mentioned CyrusOne location in Chandler, AZ. It's an older building, originally constructed as a data center by a financial securities firm for their own use. Of all of the sites, this was easily the most bland and unglamourous. That said, it also probably has the longest track record and best uptime record of all of the facilities we examined. Our cage there would look largely like our existing facilities: a standard cage on the data center raised floor inside a nondescript building. What caught our eye with DRT, however, is how transparent and open they are about their maintenance procedures and their logs. They were open to letting us look through any of their log books to examine their past preventative maintenance, corrective actions, root cause analysis and more.

As an older facility, DRT's site wasn't up for LEEDS consideration and they used an open water system for their chillers, taking water off the municipal system and then returning it again after use. I've been burned by that kind of dependency on a constant outside water source at a previous employer and am not keen on that again. That said, they do maintain their own two 60,000 gallon tanks for backups and despite being in operation for years, have never had to tap their stocks.

DRT's facility, like all others, have onsite generators for backup power. They own their own electrical substation instead of simply having the utility's substation on their premises like CyrusOne. Since generators take a few seconds to spin up and reach required power outputs, all facilities have some sort of bridging power, typically a huge bank of batteries to provide up to 30 seconds of continuous megawatt-hours of energy. DRT offered the choice of batteries to bridge the power gap, or hitec flywheel generators. These are 12,000 pound flywheels in constant motion while there is external power: once external power is cut off, the flywheels continue rotating and begin acting as generators themselves while the diesel generators rev up. Personally, I prefer batteries: they're easier to check remotely to ensure they're charged and ready, and they're trivial to replace as they wear out. 12,000 pound flywheels aren't exactly trivial to fix or replace when the bearings go.

At the moment, I have no idea which data enter we'll go with: it'll 80% based on the bottom-line price for each. If Savvis plays ball with us, we might stick with SC4 for one more year but would hit the road in June of 2014. If Savvis doesn't play, we're outta there by June of this year. Exciting times!
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The new laptop has worked pretty well on this latest business trip to Phoenix. All of the regular stuff continued to work well, including the VPN connectivity to the office over the hotel's wifi. I installed a couple of extra software packages such as WinRAR, VLC and LibreOffice, a free MS Office clone. All are working superbly.

I wish the laptop wasn't quite so bulky: it fits in my backpack but only just. My old netbook's best feature was its relatively small size and easy portability. Oh, well.

New Laptop

Feb. 1st, 2013 01:11 pm
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My old Asus EEE PC netbook is still working well, but it's gradually showing its age (four years). Being a netbook, it was always a tiny, light-weight little worker: the screen was unusually small (600x1024), the keyboard reduced enough to make typing a challenge and it has only 2GB of RAM and a 900MHz CPU running Windows XP. At home, I connected it to an external monitor to make it a bit easier on my eyes.

The greatest thing of this little beast is that it travels like a dream: it's so much smaller than any other laptop I've ever had. For my regular trips to/from the data center and occasional trip to the corporate overlords in California, it's been fantastic.

The new machine is an Asus X501A. 15.6" screen, a full keyboard, 2.3 GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM, 320 GB hard drive. It's not a top-of-the-line model by any stretch but it's the same weight as my old netbook while three times more powerful. And it cost about $300, more or less the same as my netbook four years ago, a price point at which I consider the machine to be essentially disposable.

The new beast is running Windows 8, which has been a bit of a pain. The OS itself isn't too bad --it feels a lot like Windows 7-- but they've slapped on this top-coat of pain called "Metro," their user interface which replaces the old Start button & menu. Flipping between apps & screens is an enormous pain compared to the old stalwart versions of Windows but I'm gradually (and grudgingly) getting used to the interface changes. The extra hardware speed has helped persuade me to keep plodding through the Win8 suckage.

All of my regular apps have been successfully transferred to the new laptop, including Vic Ceder's CSDS application used for my square dance calling, including Winamp and Pacemaker, the plugins which control MP3 playing. My VPN to the office is working well so I can travel with the new machine as needed. Printing is working as it should too.

The only thing left to tackle is some form or version of MS Office, although I'm probably going to go with some Office clone rather than experiment with the latest cloud-based or subscription-based versions of the original package. I'm open to suggestions!

OMG.

Jan. 30th, 2013 05:44 pm
bjarvis: (Default)
The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind.

Tuesday was a fairly regular work day but I went to a geek user group in the evening, the DC chapter of LOPSA, for a talk on using wireshark to decipher TCP protocol failures. It was interesting, not in a huge amount of depth but I learned some new things nonetheless. The February meeting will be a combined meeting of five different geek groups in the greater DC area.

In the middle of last night's meeting, I received an email from my team's new manager. My prior boss resigned effective Feb 1 (this coming Friday) but the new guy has been given the reins of power early. Alas, said new guy also had a two week Hawaiian vacation planned already and departed today. In his last act before heading out of the door, he made me the manager pro tem for our team. Yay.

I was up late last night addressing a number of minor alerts from that evening's code release but finally made my way to bed around 2:30am.

This morning, I woke up with nasal congestion, temperature sensitivity and a mild headache. This is what I look forward to on my birthday while simultaneously being on-call for work and interim manager. Such fun.

I tackled a number of work tickets today, approving many, executing some and delegating others. A firmware upgrade on one of our new small storage arrays bricked the whole damn thing: I'll head to the data center tonight to power-cycle it and see if I can resurrect it.

I have a new laptop! Yay! Alas, it has Windows 8. If you haven't seen Win8 yet, here's a quick description: it's Windows 7 with Metro popping up at ill-advised times to prevent you from doing anything useful. Remember Clippy, that damned paperclip animation which would spontaneously appear in Word when you were trying to get work done? Imagine your entire screen vanishing and replaced with various animated tiles. I've heard there's a means of blocking Metro from popping up... I'll look for that later tonight. I like the new hardware but am not overly fond of the new OS.

Tonight, I'm off to dance C2 before dashing to the data center to reboot the wayward storage array. And I a dental appointment for 9am tomorrow morning. Whee.
bjarvis: (Default)
Like most IT shops, my employer has a ticket system for user requests, system changes and such. If a person needs a new service, they put in a ticket so we can prioritize the work and assign it to an appropriate team member. If something breaks, we need the ticket history to determine what was done and (hopefully) to allow faster resolution if something similar breaks in future.

One of the side effects is that you can also track which users are clearly not thinking ahead. They're easy to spot: those are the tickets which start with requesting Task A, and then are edited repeatedly over the next few business days to include the next logical steps such as Task B, C, & D, all of which were incredibly obvious from the start. If a ticket has been edited more than three times before any work has been performed, it's a sign of a user who doesn't really have a firm grasp of what they're trying to accomplish.

Yesterday, I received such a "huh?" ticket, requesting insane things NOW NOW NOW URGENT TOP PRIORITY NOW!!!. The author then rescinded the ticket, added more requirements and resubmitted it. *sigh*

I, of course, updated the ticket but I had several false starts as I attempted to throttle back my initial sense of annoyance and disgust.

Attempt #1: "The ticket timestamp indicates you created this ticket in July and only forwarded it to my team this morning at 3am. You then pulled it back to add two extra tasks which should have been part of the original request per the default template. Your inability to plan your work is far more likely to threaten the success of this project than anything I could do."

I deleted that before hitting the "submit" button.

Attempt #2: "This can't be a priority #1 if you created the ticket and left it forgotten in your own queue for six months. We have actual P1 tickets which need our attention; we'll get to your steaming pile of mistakes & misconceptions when time allows later today."

I deleted that too.

Attempt #3: "In your rush to avoid responsibility for neglecting your own project for six months, you neglected to get management approval for this ticket. As near as I can tell, you've also either neglected to do the required architectural review or to document it on the company wiki per procedure. When you get your act together, please give me a call. Until then, we have tickets from actual software professionals which need our attention."

I deleted that without submission as well. I'm a softie.

Last attempt: "We need management approval and a documented architectural review before we can execute the tasks you've requested. Please see the process documented here (link) and resubmit the ticket to our queue as soon as possible."

I finally hit "submit" for that one. It wasn't as personally satisfying but I think it's unquestionably more professional and productive.
bjarvis: (Default)
Just before xmas, I saw a good deal on a laptop on eBay. I especially love shopping on bidding sites where auction deadlines land on major holidays or weekends: there are many fewer competing bidders so I have a better chance to slip in at the last minute to grab a good deal.

Indeed, I won that auction: $330 for a new Asus X501A laptop. The listed delivery date was Dec 29 but I was sure that date would be missed because of the holiday. Sure enough, it finally arrived Jan 4, but we were already on the road to North Carolina so I didn't get to collect it until this morning.

It's the wrong machine. It's an X401U model with a CPU less than half the speed of the advertised model. It also has a different OS.

I've since been back in contact with the vendor who has issued the expected mea culpa and I'm shipping the machine back to him for the correct model. I'm a bit annoyed by the delay but if my existing netbook wasn't still running adequately, I wouldn't have gone the online route and would have sought immediate shopping satisfaction at a local store.

Exactly what kind of rating the vendor is going to get will determine on how quickly I get the correct machine.
bjarvis: (Default)
Dear Lazywebz:

My Dear Employer has been using Atlassian's Jira system for bug tracking. What we really need however is a proper change management system, one that enforces & records an approval process for work tickets.

Any recommendations for a change control system? The powers-that-be don't want to give up Jira so something which can interact with it would be ideal, but I'm open to anything reasonably priced.

I've used Remedy at my prior employer so that's already on my list.
bjarvis: (Default)
Yesterday's automatic Android upgrade on my Motorola Droid Bionic didn't exactly go as it should.

As mentioned previously, it downloaded and installed decently. It then 'optimized' the resident applications and attempted to update the app databases. And that's when things didn't go quite as planned.

It seemed the upgrading of the media database took forever. Indeed, after several hours, it effectively drained the battery. I manually forced a restart but it looked as though the 'upgrade' continued in the background, sucking up CPU time and remaining battery life. Many of the built-in functions didn't work at first, each one waking up slowly about one per half-hour. It started up, great! A half-hour later, I was finally able to use wifi connectivity. A half-hour after that, GPS functions came back. A half-hour later, GMail was working. And so it went.

By the evening, however, I had had enough: while I could receiving telephone calls, there was no ringing and it refused to let me access the ring tone settings. When a phone is only partially usable as a phone, there's a problem.

When I got home from my evening's square dance gig, I backed up my personalizations, removed the 32GB SD-RAM card and hit the metaphoric big red button to reset the beast to factory settings. It rebooted fairly quickly into ICS, then proceeded as though it was a brand new phone (as it should). I restored my preferences & apps and voilà all is back to where it should be. I have a working telephone (now ringing!), all of my email is syncing and so on. The alerts operate differently but that's not a big deal.

I'm still testing all of the functions to be sure they work as they should. I need the mobile hotspot functions and IRC for work. I need also confirm it can make emergency work-related txt messages from work squawk in a truly obnoxious attention-getting fashion. Perhaps Winamp's playlist won't suffer from amnesia in this version. Still, so far, so good.

The remade phone seems to operate a little faster than the older Gingerbread version. The interface seems a lot crisper. I love beyond all reason the default system fonts: they strike my amateur eyes as cleaner and better formed. The biggest question in mind is whether the battery life is any better than it was under the old version. That will take about a week of use. More later.
bjarvis: (Default)
A year ago, I bought my Motorola Droid Bionic mobile phone, upgrading from my old Blackberry Storm. The Bionic was the first dual-core phone which could use Verizon Wireless' 4GLTE network and was, at that time, the phone with the most RAM and CPU power behind it. It ran Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread), as it was the latest & greatest version at that time.

It's been a fairly stable and solid platform. There were a few quirks --occasional data drops, sluggishness connecting/switching networks while moving, performance issues under high loads-- but it's been a decent phone for me.

Earlier this year, Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) was released into the world. And those of us with current & modern Motorola phones had to wait. And wait. And wait. Many got tired of waiting and jail-broke their phones. While I've been tempted, this is also my work phone so I value reliability a lot more than street cred of having the newest, shiniest device on the block. Since Verizon Wireless and Motorola promised it would be coming Very Soon Now, I waited paitiently for ICS.

And then they pushed back the release schedule to summer 2012. Then they missed that schedule and pushed it to fall 2012. I was no longer patient, but I waited anyway.

Last week, we heard ICS was finally being pushed out. This morning, my phone got it.

Time to download the 350MB package: about 15 minutes via my in-house wifi.
Reboot & unpackage the base OS: 15 minutes
Optimize installed apps: 10 minutes
Upgrade installed databases (calendar, contacts, etc.): 10 minutes
Upgrade installed media (mostly MP3s): 1 hour & counting... it's still working on that.

Very soon, I hope to have ICS working on my phone. Yay!

Of course, Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) has already been released... My model of phone is on the upgrade list for early 2013, but I'll believe it when I see it.

I'm next eligible for a discount phone upgrade in May 2013. I think my next phone will be a Nexus model, as that line has a more direct pipeline to the Google Android group. We'll see when the time comes.
bjarvis: (Default)
I'm looking at WordPress for creating a very simple-to-maintain web site for [profile] cuyahogarvr. Not having used WP before, it's pretty neat and I like having a huge variety of potential hosting sites.

The thing that is tripping me up is that there are sooo many themes/templates. Thousands of them. Is there any easy, efficient way to sort through them all?

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