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MemoryLane

Memory-Lane Monday: Did they say anything about an offer you couldn’t refuse?

After working for a company that provides services to regional automobile dealerships such as sales, financing and inventory-control software, this pilot fish leaves to start his own company.

Shortly after that, he gets a call from a dealership that’s a client of his old employer.

“They heard I now owned a small software-development business,” says fish. “They’re interested in dumping the old company and want to know if I can develop competing software for them.”

That sounds like a good opportunity to expand his business, so fish sets up a meeting.
Turns out the assignment is simple: The dealership wants software just like what fish’s former employer provides.

Sure, says fish, I can develop new software to meet your needs.

“No,” the guy from the dealership says, “we don’t want new software. We want it to be exactly like the old software.”

Then he hands fish the distribution diskette for his old company’s software. “Will this help?” he asks.

Reports fish, “I told them thanks for the opportunity, but I didn’t want to spend the next few years of my life — and the pittance they were willing to pay me — defending a copyright infringement lawsuit.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Memory-Lane Monday: Never let a software guy near hardware

This pilot fish gets an early-evening call from his business’s security company, telling him that the computer room is sending out a “high thermal event” alarm.

There’s no answer after several tries to contact the tech who’s on call, so fish makes the 45-minute drive to the office.

“I assumed the office must have lost power and the IT systems were still running on battery backup,” says fish.

Wrong.

“While the general office space was fine and showed no evidence of power loss, the computer room felt like Arizona — the thermometer read over 90 degrees — and the two redundant wall-mounted air-handling systems weren’t running.”

Some of the older hard drives are making horrible screeching sounds as fish gets to work. He props open the computer room doors and then begins to shut down all the servers, arrays and network hardware as fast and as safely as he can.

Once that’s done, he puts some fans in the doorways to draw cooler air in from the main office space. Then fish turns his attention to the pair of air handlers, wondering how two systems running on separate electrical circuits could have died at the same time.

He pushes the power button on one. It roars to life, pumping out cold air.
He flips the switch on the other air handler. It starts right up too.

A few minutes later, the on-call tech arrives with one of the company’s software developers — and an explanation.

“The two had been out golfing at a course about two miles from the office after work,” fish says. “The tech put the on-call cellphone, which was set to vibrate, in his golf bag. He never noticed until they were finished with the round that he had voice mails from me.”

Then fish describes what he found in the computer room — the Arizona-like heat, the screaming disk drives, and the air handlers that were switched off.

That’s when the developer groans. Turns out he had been in the computer room a few hours earlier, troubleshooting a problem over the phone.

But between the noise from the servers, disk arrays and air handlers, he was having a hard time hearing the person on the other end of the line.

“Figuring it would only be a few moments, he turned both air handlers off to quiet things down,” says fish. “But he forgot to turn them back on when he left.

“Fortunately, the damage was minimal — we lost one drive in a RAID array and missed our nightly backup cycle, but all of our systems were working, communications to the remote offices were back up and our data was safe.

“And I got movie passes and a gift card to a restaurant from the developer as an apology.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Memory-Lane Monday: A patch in time …

This big international airport has a huge computerized central control system that’s maintained by an on-site field engineer — with help from the vendor half a world away.

“The software engineers relied heavily on the knowledge and expertise of the field engineer to install our software on the running system,” says a support pilot fish working for the vendor.

One day, the field engineer calls the vendor to say that the system’s BitBus device — which relays data between a network of sensors and the central control server — has a bug in its software.

According to the engineer, the BitBus device runs fine for a day or two. But then it begins “jabbering” — spewing corrupted messages onto the network — and has to be reset.

And since the device is the only way for the central control system to listen to thousands of sensors and to control remote devices, that’s very bad news.

Worse still, the malfunction makes no sense. “Other than having added some new hardware devices to its inventory, the BitBus software had been stable for quite some time, so its recent misbehavior was a mystery,” fish says.

Fish asks the field engineer to report the checksum for the embedded software. The engineer does, and fish checks it against the current version’s checksum. They don’t match.

Fish has the engineer reload the software onto the device and then reboot it. Now the checksum matches, and the BitBus device appears to be working correctly.

But how could the loaded software get corrupted in the first place? fish asks engineer.

“I didn’t do anything,” engineer tells him. “All I did was run the patch that you gave me a few months ago.”

Um, the latest version of the software we shipped you was newer than the patch, fish tells engineer. That patch could only be run on the previous version of the software.

“What he had done in effect was poke a random change into the newer program,” sighs fish. “This caused the BitBus device to slowly develop the malfunction anytime the randomly patched code was executed.

“I had him discard all copies of the previous program, as well as any patches, so he couldn’t make that mistake again.”

It’s always a good time to send Sharky your true tales of IT life. Email me at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Memory-Lane Monday: And he’s still on Windows 7 to this day

It’s back in the … never mind; you’ll figure out the time frame soon enough.

This third-tier support pilot fish is used to getting the really difficult cases, and he suspects that why a ticket has been routed to him. A user would like to have Windows 7 installed on his PC. He’s close to retirement, and he’s a nice enough guy. But he also has a son in IT who provides him with tips and tricks to make his job easier.

Today’s tip from sonny: Get Windows 7 at work in order to be more productive.

Fish explains to the user that Windows 7 isn’t yet supported by IT. There are plans to roll it out, but not this year.

“He protests and throws his hands up and goes back to work,” fish says. The ticket is closed.

“The next day, we get a new ticket with a request for Windows 7.”

This time the ticket includes a long list of the benefits of Windows 7 over the current Windows version. The request ends, “When can I get it installed?”

Fish makes another trip to the user’s desk and explains that the advantages are well-identified and the benefits are also well-known. But, he goes on, the investment is large because IT has to test the company’s systems to ensure they can run on the new operating system.

“He throws his hands up and goes back to work,” reports fish.

“The next day, we get a new ticket with a specific request for Windows 7 Pro with Windows XP virtual running for programs that are not compatible.”

This time, fish goes looking for the help desk supervisor — and they hatch a plan.

They bring the user’s PC into the shop for its upgrade. There, they install a different desktop theme and wallpaper to give the user’s Windows XP a fresh look.

Then they sit down with the user, train him on the “new” system, and even show him how to pin items to the toolbar — just like in Windows 7.

“Next day, we get a thank-you note from the user for installing Windows 7 on his computer, saying how much better it performs,” fish says.

“A copy of the note ends up getting to our boss’s boss, who blows up and decides to pay us a visit.

“We explain the situation and the available options. He agrees that we made the right decision, considering the other options.

“And we all breathe a huge sigh of relief.”

Sharky can be just as persistent in asking for your true tales of IT life. Send them to me at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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Memory-Lane Monday: It’s semi-automatic | Computerworld

This developer who’s responsible for a daily report to the managers at a semiconductor manufacturing site decides to put together a process to automatically send out the report every weekday at 8 a.m., reports a pilot fish on the scene.

The report does show up in managers’ inboxes pretty reliably, although there are occasional problems. When that happens, the developer gets a call and the report shows up.

But eventually, in a business downturn, the developer is laid off.

And starting the very next week, the report fails to appear in managers’ mailboxes.

Fish and his colleagues aren’t sure what’s wrong, so they start looking for the automated process to generate the report.

But they can’t find evidence anywhere that a batch job was ever set up to run the report.

“Finally someone suggested he might have been manually running the report every day,” fish says.

“Well,” his manager says, “that would explain why the report ran three hours late when he was on vacation in California.”

Sharky doesn’t generate these stories automatically — I need your true tales of IT life. Send them to me at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.



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