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Hey, he said sorry | Computerworld

This pilot fish wakes up around 1:30 a.m. to go to the bathroom and checks his work cellphone. Lo and behold, there are a lot of emails about a very important filesystem that’s full. This filesystem contains all the user home directories for an entire facility, and according to the emails, even though several people had deleted large numbers of big files they no longer needed, the filesystem filled up again, and rather quickly.

Although the emails stopped around 10 p.m., fish knows he’s going to have a rowdy mob of incensed users clamoring at his cubicle in the morning, so he gets dressed and goes to work, arriving at about 2:45 a.m. This particular filesystem lives on a network that cannot be accessible from the internet.

Fish figures that some process has lost its mind and is writing incessantly to the storage. To find it, he runs a df -k on the home directory filesystem, which lived on a RAID platform, so it was — a tad slow. Two hours later, he identifies a user home directory that is at 1.1TB, up from 120GB a couple of weeks earlier. From there, he runs an ls -lR and looks for a mind-bogglingly big file or files. But none show up, and when fish does a sum of the filesizes from the ls command, they show about 120GB of files.

This makes no sense at all. Because fish is tired and hasn’t had his normal dose of caffeine, his mind isn’t functioning at full speed, but he eventually realizes he has seen this before. It means the file had been deleted, but the process was still writing to the storage.

When this has happened before, it was during work hours, when it was possible to identify the user and machine. With no idea which machine is hosting the errant process, fish has to search through them all and run lsof to look for errant open files. He does finally find it, but there is no process assigned to the entry, it has no size or inode, and the status of the entry is “unknown.” Fish has to reboot the machine to clear it.

He finishes just about the time the user of the machine in question shows up. User explains he had a test process go crazy and refuse to die, even when he issued kill -9. So he just deleted the output file and went home.

Fish then gives a rundown on how he has spent the past six or seven hours and explains that the user’s actions meant that both the process and file were left in almost undetectable states.

To which the user makes amends with the words, “Oh, sorry about that.”

Sharky wants you to ls your true true tales of IT life for me. Send them to [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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DOS-si-do | Computerworld

Back in 1993, for those who weren’t around, Windows still ran on top of DOS. At the time, this pilot fish is a consultant, installing a new laser printer for a customer. But the Windows 3.1 computer won’t install all the drivers from the floppy. (Kids, you might want to check Wikipedia on that one, too.)

So fish gets on his CompuServ account (yeah, this Tank is a regular time machine), finds the driver is available, and downloads it. But the driver won’t load because it is finding remnants of the old driver in the Windows/drivers folder.

Fish then does a dir aa*.* (where “aa” is the prefix of the drivers) and gets a listing. He does a cursory scan to be sure there isn’t anything else in the list that would cause a problem if deleted — and promptly enters del *.* instead of del aa*.*.

He has to go to an office-supply story and buy a copy of a well-known unerase program, then do a listing on another computer to see what the files were supposed to be named. Eventually, everything was fixed and working — including the laser printer.

Says fish: “You can bet the farm that I’ve never again hit Enter until I’ve checked what I’ve typed!”

Sharky misses the command line, but that’s just because I’m bossy. Worse would be missing out on your true tales of IT life. Send them to me at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Shell game | Computerworld

Pilot fish is working for a client at the same time that a consulting firm is developing a new system for the support team. And fish is nearby when the job fails during one of the early production runs. The support staff looks it over, but is quickly lost, so fish is called on for help.

Fish finds that the system consists of nine programs that run in sequence within a single shell script. The final step had failed, resulting in a non-zero return code.

So fish reviews Program 9’s output, and finds that the file from Program 8 was missing. He and the support team lead then start looking through Program 8 and its log to determine why it didn’t produce the file — only to discover that the file from Program 7 was missing. They repeat through programs 6, 5, 4, 3, and finally back to Program 2, where they find the real cause of the failure: There was no error checking between the programs.

Fish explains that error checking at each stage would have saved hours, first in runtime, since the problem would have become known several steps before the job’s completion, and second in research time, because they wouldn’t have had to check all those same failed programs.

Feed the Shark! Send me your true tales of IT life at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Sometimes you win one | Computerworld

This big bank has its DR/BCP systems located across the river, and it decides to move the IT portion from one city to another several miles away, says pilot fish. The vendor in charge of this move says it’s going to take a few months to get the new comms lines up, and then it will order a new set of servers for the new site, and then it will set them up — all of which will take a few more months.

Once the lines are in, fish has friendly chat with a systems engineer at the vendor, a take-charge type of guy. They conspire to meet at the old site, where they disconnect servers and cart them down to the engineer’s own car. Once it’s loaded to the ceiling, they head off to the new site. There, they cart it all up to the new DR cage and hook it all up to the new lines. The engineer logs in, makes IP address adjustments, and soon the bank has one of its two backup systems up and running in the new location.

Within a few more days, they repeat, and now both are up and running — months ahead of the vendor’s schedule.

This is where Shark Tank fans expect the other shoe to drop: Corporate chains of command have been ignored, heads will roll, that sort of thing. And maybe that would have happened, but a few days later, there’s a failure in one of the bank’s primary systems. And no one particularly noticed, because the new setup had a working hot backup for the primary systems.

Notes fish, the equipment in the old DR site had never been fully hooked up and tested, so it was the first time in a long time that they had a working hot backup.

Says fish: “It didn’t just feel good that we had this done just in time to prevent an outage. It was a real victory for the two of us over the bureaucracy!”

Sharky wants to load his car to the ceiling with your true tales of IT life. Send them to me at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Infallible | Computerworld

Pilot fish works in support for a software company, taking calls from users who are having problems with the company’s accounts-receivable product.

One caller can’t find a company in the dropdown list, though it should be there; user has to add charges to that company’s account. Fish looks into it, and eventually it is discovered that someone has marked that company as “inactive,” an erroneous status.

After fish talks the user through making the company active again, he goes to talk to his boss, suggesting that the software has data integrity issues and should be updated to prevent users from deactivating companies that have outstanding charges.

Boss cringes upon hearing the term “data integrity” and is adamant that the change isn’t necessary. Users, he tells fish, should manage the data correctly, and if they don’t, it’s their fault, not the system’s. Most users enter correct data, he says; the ones who don’t need to learn how to do their jobs.

It’s a fight fish knows he’s not going to win, but as he heads back to his desk, he reviews some of his experiences with users: They frequently hit “Reply All” by mistake; they are the reason software developers invented CTRL-Z; and they require popups that ask them to confirm that they really mean to delete something.

But, sure, users know what they’re doing.

Sharky knows that you know what you’re doing. And that you’ve seen what can happen when people don’t. Those are true tales of IT life. Send me yours at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Annoying, you say? | Computerworld

This European pilot fish has a client whom he long ago learned can’t be argued with. She hears only what she wants to hear, believes only what she wants to believe, and does exactly as she pleases. So fish stays out of the way as much as possible, just providing what’s asked for. When he sees a potential problem on the horizon, he usually just addresses it, knowing that to bring it to the client’s attention would just be an invitation for complaints and arguments.

For example, the client decides she’d like to send a newsletter about her small business to her mailing list, so fish acquires a cheap mass-mailing solution and then converts each issue of the newsletter into HTML. When she decides she’d like to post the newsletter on her business’s Facebook page, fish provides her with a JPG version. But when the EU’s GDPR kicks in, he makes sure the newsletter is compliant without bringing the matter up with her. The newsletter mailings include working unsubscribe links, and he has the necessary access to the mailing platform to remove addresses upon request.

Then the client tells fish that she is going to start sending out the newsletter herself, using the JPG he provides. Fish is unsettled by this news, knowing that the JPG version, even if it includes the words “Click here to unsubscribe,” is not going to allow for working HTML links. Subscribers can click on the JPG all they want, but it’s never going to let them unsubscribe.

Fish’s experience with this client suggests that to bring up this problem will accomplish nothing; he will merely be subjected to a long rant against EU regulations. And it’s his perception that GDPR prosecutions over things like this are almost unheard of, so he lets the matter slide, confident that the client will soon tire of sending out the newsletter and put the duty back in fish’s capable hands.

Before that can happen, though, fish gets new insight into how little self-awareness this client has. As they are chatting one day, she laments to him, “I’m so annoyed with all the mass emails that are thrown at me. And do you know what? Even if I click on ‘unsubscribe,’ they don’t stop sending the emails!”

Sharky hopes you never unsubscribe from the Daily Shark Newsletter. And also that you’ll send me your true tales of IT life at [email protected].

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Crash coarse | Computerworld

At one of the plants operated by a bedding company, the computer system keeps crashing, so this pilot fish heads out there from HQ to lend a hand to the flummoxed field engineers. They note that the system seems to run for days on end without a problem, but when it does crash, it keeps crashing every 15 to 30 minutes. They put meters on the power lines but don’t capture anything for a week. In fact, there are no crashes for a week.

The problem isn’t solved, of course; it’s merely gone dormant, for unknown reasons. When it does start up again, someone notices something: When all of the plant managers are hanging around waiting to see if the system will fail, nothing happens. But every time one particular manager leaves the group, the system crashes within the next 10 minutes. The pattern is too consistent to be coincidence, but what’s going on?

The engineers interview the manager to determine what exactly he does when he leaves the group. Top of the list: He heads to the wash room. His own private wash room. A wash room that, when he’s not around, never gets used.

Root cause of the crashes: When the manager flushes his private toilet, the grounding changes, causing a system — nope, I’m not going to say it.

Sharky feels flush when my inbox is full of your true tales of IT life. Send them to me at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Android 10’s unexpected gem | Computerworld

Android 10 is filled with both high-profile interface changes (hello, gestures!) and important under-the-hood enhancements (better privacy controls — whee!).

But you know what? Having lived with the software for a while now, the feature that’s stood out the most to me is something far less conspicuous. It’s not something I ever expected to care about or use myself, in fact, despite its undeniable significance for some people.

It’s a new system-level function called Live Caption. It’s actually designed to be an accessibility feature, built primarily for folks who are hard of hearing. But just like other Android accessibility features, it has the potential to be broadly useful for just about anyone.

What Live Caption does is simple: When you activate it — by tapping a box that appears beneath the volume controls whenever any type of media is playing on your phone — it puts a box on your screen with a live, real-time transcription of everything that’s being said.

Android 10 Live Caption (1) JR

Flip the switch in the volume panel (left), and ta-da: Instant real-time captioning of anything, including an exceptionally engaging podcast (right).

The utility for people who have trouble hearing is obvious, and that in and of itself is immeasurable. But the broader benefit for anyone, as I’ve discovered, is that the Live Caption system makes it possible to see what a video’s all about or even to “listen in” to part of a podcast without having to have any actual sound blaring from your phone.

When would that matter, you might be wondering? Well, picture this: You’re sitting somewhere relatively quiet — a place where only a barbarian would be boorish enough to blare audio from their phone with complete disregard for the people around them. Maybe it’s a restaurant, maybe it’s a bus, maybe it’s a lecture, or maybe it’s your own home in the evening whilst someone else is slumbering nearby. And you don’t have any headphones handy or hooked up to your cellular telephone apparatus at the moment.

When you’re in such a situation — and you’re the cordial sort who still has some sense of decency — Live Caption gives you an easy way to consume video- or audio-oriented content without having to impose on everyone around you.

I’ve had this come up when I’m in that very sort of scenario and I encounter a video on Twitter I’m interested in seeing, a video-based news story that doesn’t have any text alongside it, or an audio-only clip of a conversation I’m curious to hear. Being that I’m at least somewhat civilized (even if only a little), I wouldn’t dare just blast the audio out loud from my phone and remain oblivious to the sighs and glares of everyone around me, as so many people seem to do these days. (If you’re one of those people, stop whatever you’re doing and go flick yourself in the nose immediately — then please, for the love of humanity, reevaluate your choices.)

Well, now, I have an answer that doesn’t require me to either toss aside societal norms or avoid playing the clips altogether. Instead, I turn the volume all the way down on my phone, start playing the clip, and then tap the Live Caption button in my volume control.

And just like that, I can read along with the video or audio as if it were a text-based article.

Android 10 Live Caption (2) JR

Live Caption at work with an inline Twitter video.

I don’t have to stick with that tiny little box that pops up by default, either. A couple quick taps on it, and bam: It’s expanded into a larger, more-pleasant-to-follow-along-with view.

Android 10 Live Caption (3) JR

A couple quick taps gives you a larger reading area.

If you’re able to hear without issue, it’s easy to write a feature like this off as something you don’t need. Heck, you might not even give it a second glance. But lemme tell ya: I’ve been relying on it way more often than I would’ve expected. And it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite Android 10 features — a small-seeming detail that makes a meaningful real-world difference in what my phone’s like to use.

Live Caption is available only on the Pixel 4 as of now, but Google says it’ll be rolling out to the Pixel 3 and 3a phones later this year and then to other Android devices sometime in 2020.

When it shows up on your phone, take my advice: Don’t let its accessibility branding fool you. Make yourself a mental note that it’s there and then remember to tap into it when the right moment arises.

It truly will change the way you use your phone — and maybe, just maybe, also change the level of undetected glaring being aimed in your direction.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Shake and bake | Computerworld

This pilot fish gets assigned to accounting just as client/server is coming in, and he finds that teaching desktop computing to a lot of gray-hairs requires plenty of patience — and the occasional practical joke.

One day, one of the most senior accountants calls fish over and complains that one of the in-house-designed accounting apps isn’t working on her PC. Fish asks her to step through the process of using the program, all the while uttering soothing assurances that she can’t break anything, and all problems can be fixed.

All goes well until the monitor seems to freeze, which fish knows is just what happens when the program is conducting database queries. But the freeze-up soon challenges the user’s patience. “See?” she declaims. “I told you this dumb thing was broken. It’s not doing anything!”

Fish gives it a minute or two, then pastes the most thoughtful look he can muster onto his face and says, “I know what the problem is!” He then picks up the monitor, gives it a good shake or two, and sets it back down. Almost immediately, the program completes its query and the results appear.

Says fish, with as straight a face as possible, “Sometimes it gets stuck and you just have to shake the screen a bit to get it to work.” User looks at him with large-eyed wonder, but he just walks away, as the other workers in the area start to guffaw. Hopefully they set the user straight; we hate to think about a near-pensioner lifting and shaking a CRT monitor several times a day.

Sharky’s going to shake his monitor until your true tale of IT life lands in my inbox. Send it to me at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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He heard you fine | Computerworld

This pilot fish doesn’t have a traditional tech background. He was the photographer for his university department, and when the World Wide Web came along he volunteered to run the department’s in-house web server. A few years after that, they’re running Filemaker databases online, and there’s some glitch that causes Filemaker to freeze.

Fish’s research leads him to think that a little knowledge of Unix would be helpful. So he heads to a discount bookstore, where he asks the guy behind the counter, “Do you have anything on Unix?” The clerk promptly replies, “I don’t think so, but try the social science section.”

Fish starts off in the direction the finger is pointing, pondering why books on Unix books would be categorized as social science. And stops after just a few steps when it hits him: eunuchs, not Unix.

Sharky can’t get what he needs out of a book. I need you to send me your true tales of IT life at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.



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