Sleepy Servers

Jon Angliss drops another round on science on his blog, Net Dork. Hibernation is great if you’re talking about your home machine, but not so good if it’s your server. You thought you had problems before – try explaining to management that the same machine running the company’s critical services decided on its own to take a nap.

Read more on his article, cleverly titled: Windows 2008, and Hibernation.

Cisco Live 2010

Cisco Live in Vegas this year was pretty awesome. I was there to set up and work the booth for Sigma Solutions. The objective changes a little each year, but this time it was to talk about our SolarWinds appliance, STATlight. This beast is loaded with drives, memory, Windows 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 and of course hacks by Rob Schricker to make it tastier.

On Sunday EK and Greg set up the backdrop and signs while I made sure the server arrived in one piece. I fired it up, plugged it into a switch and matched up my NIC’s addressing with the server. In a few minutes, with Rob’s masterfully-written instructions, I had netflow running to the server. With that all sorted it was time to pack up and head to dinner.

Ivy met up with us and we all headed over to the buffet at the Bellagio. If you dig seafood, this buffet is amazing. Then again, it had to be for what it cost! I didn’t partake of the crab but the stuff I did have was pretty tasty. We had cabbed it down there but the consensus after dinner was we that we could all use a little exercise. So we hit the strip and started walking.

Monday things didn’t start until 4:30pm so we all had a chance to sleep in and relax for a bit. The SolarWinds partner brunch started at 11:30am so we all headed down there. They really took care of us—a multi-course meal, presentations, and of course, schwag. The shirt was a 2X so I brought it back for Ivy. If you’re a male geek then I know you feel me when I say she’s going to look mm-mm good in this shirt. =)

When the convention hall opened it was insane. The sheer volume of folks coming through the hall was amazing. I must have talked to 150 people in the first couple hours. I compared convention work to speed dating: talk to the person, make a connection, hand ’em your card, move on to the next person. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to meet people so this was beyond sweet. I got to talk to engineers, developers, managers, integrators, marketing, you name it. Several folks had a specific need for our services too which was very cool. Especially sweet since some of them were in far-off places like South Africa. Heck yeah, my bags are packed.

Tuesday the hall didn’t open until 11am but most of the folks who were attending went right to lunch when they arrived. I think there were more NetVets the second day. They learned from previous years to go ahead and wait until the second day to hit the convention hall when it was less crowded. The trade-off was that I got to talk to each individual longer while the flow was lighter. I also had a couple customers that I’d only gotten to talk to on the phone come by and introduce themselves.

By the time Rob came to relieve me I was ready to hit the airport. My bags were packed and ready to go. I handed off the keys to the kingdom and by 5pm Ivy and I were in a cab headed for LAS. Jumping passed a couple delays to our flight we were safe & sound at home by 1am.

All in all it was a really good experience. I walked a lot, stood for a really long time, and got a solid dose of social interaction that’ll keep me going until my job next week which is, ironically, in Vegas.

The Boy

I mentioned a “pseudo nephew” a few weeks ago in the post entitled Launching. I’ve called him “the boy” in Twitter posts and Facebook updates and lately I’ve been getting asked about him so I wrote this entry.

Tommy (the boy) was in Ivy’s preschool class when he was a tadpole and we’ve stayed in touch with him throughout the years. He came up to visit us for a summer after we moved to Vancouver. Fast forward a bit and he’s 20 years old. I’ll spare you the preamble, but the punchline is that he was offered two choices: join the military or hit the bricks.

We offered him a third option.

He moved up with us on August 9th of last year. A semester away from graduating, we enrolled him in the local high school. He passed 5 out of 6 classes and then took another class online to square away the remaining credits. He walked with the graduating class of 2010 at Union High School last Wednesday. We got him his class ring for his graduation present–he definitely earned it.

At the moment he’s attending the School of Klassen. The curriculum includes applying for jobs, daily workouts (weights 3x week, cardio 3x week), reading every day (development & pleasure), and doing various chores around the house. Each week he holds up his end of the bargain, he gets internet access and all the trimmings for the following week. If he falls short, some privileges come off the list. It works just like a job. Do the work, get paid; don’t do the work, don’t get paid.

We sat down and talked about goals. Short-term is a job and possibly a Pell grant to take some college classes next year; mid-term is a CCNA certification and a vehicle (with insurance, of course); and long-term is his very own apartment and independence.

I never know what to call him. He’s not blood, but he’s family. It’s awkward to call him my son given we’re only 12 years apart so for simplicity’s sake, when the long version was too involved to get into, I’ve called him my nephew.

He’s a bright kid and I’m constantly amazed how quickly he picks things up when he wants to. The challenge has been getting him to want to do things. We’re winning, so far. =)

For Awesome

It was getting late during a maintenance window with a customer and we decided it was time to get some pizza munch going. I pulled up the Dominoes website, ordered a couple large specialty “Meatza” pies and 5 bottles of Dr. Pepper.

“Gah, we forgot to get ranch,” the customer says to me after I told him the pies were in the oven – courtesy of, the website informed me, Antoinette the pizza artisan.

“There’s a number here – I can call them and have them add it to the order,” I said as I picked up my iPhone unlocking it with my super sekrit password.

“It costs extra though; they’ll have to re-run the credit card.”

“Hah, not if I get a woman on the phone,” I said, dialing the number. Suddenly I had the room’s attention. That’s right, class is in session.

The phone rang twice and I was greeted by a perky female voice, “Dominoes! Delivery or carryout?”

“Hi, my name’s Steven – how are you tonight?” I said, making a point to smile and annunciate each word carefully, infusing them with just the right amount of PEQ (read: awesome).

“I’m– I’m good, how are you?” she breathed, giving up on her script entirely.

“I’m doing real good – hey, I just ordered a couple pizzas… the–”

“The two Meatzas?” she offered quickly.

“Hah, yeah – you must be Antoinette then?”

“Yeah! Who’s this?” she said, her voice kind of turning up at the end – her interest piqued.

“I’m just Steve… you don’t know me, I’m just ordering some pizza,” I replied, winging it, not really expecting her to come back with a question.

There was a short pause and then, “Do you live around here?”

“No, just visiting for a few days. Hey – after I ordered I realized I forgot to ask for ranch…”

“Oh, I’ll make sure there are some in there, no problem,” she said a little faster than I’d expected.

“I really appreciate that Antoinette,” I said, trying to match the same saccharine tone with which I’d begun the call.

“You’re welcome!”

I let the pause swell for a moment, put on my very best no-no-thank-you smile, and finally broke the silence.

“You have have a nice night.”

“You too,” she said with an discernible twinge of disappointment, hanging up.

The pizza came 45 minutes later. It had enough ranch dressing in it to feed a small army. We were just about done eating and one of the guys pipes up.

“Wouldja look at this…” he says, turning the pizza box toward his friend to his left.

“What?” I asked, walking around the table.

“She left you a message!” he said, laughing his head off.

She sure did.

2010-06-16_2101

As a good friend told me: “You must make sure to use your powers for awesome and not evil.”

Murphy

Undo is great, right? You can do pretty much anything, hit Ctrl+Z and it’s restored to the way it was before. It would be nice if life had an undo button.

Until they come up with one, we have to create our own.

Mike Plunkett was my first professional mentor. He taught me a lot of things, but the most valuable thing I ever learned was to always leave myself an out. Before I was allowed to do anything, he would ask me, “if this doesn’t work, what are you going to do to undo what you’ve done?”

Most of the time the answer is to make a backup. Editing a text file? Make a copy. Upgrading some software? Back up your database. Getting ready to run a query against a database? Wrap it in a transaction.

It’s a good idea, right? It didn’t really hit home for me until one fateful day as a fledgling sysadmin.

I had a directory full of interface files. They were what allowed the system to dial up the modems in these little Okidata printers and print out the customer’s freshly merged credit report. I had the bright idea one afternoon of creating one big text file with all the smaller files in it. Y’know, as a backup.

The files either all started with the same string or had a common extension; I don’t remember. Let’s say they all ended with .modem. The first command seemed innocuous:

cat *.modem > all-my-modem-files.txt

Boom, I had a big text file with all my modem files in it. Wait, how do I tell where one ends and the next begins. Surely there’s something else I could do. I remember at this point I was a real big fan of using -> as a heading in my plain-text documentation.

What about putting “-> myfilename.modem” in the file just before the text itself?

***DO NOT RUN THIS***
for filename in *.modem; do echo -> $filename; cat $filename; done > all-my-modem-files.txt
***DO NOT RUN THIS***

The command ran silently (no news is good news in unix) and I was rather proud of myself. I opened the resulting file and was a perplexed when I was greeted by pages and pages of dashes, one per line. What the hell?

I listed the files in the directory:

-rw-r--r-- 1 xinu users 2 2010-06-16 00:28 atlanta.modem
-rw-r--r-- 1 xinu users 2 2010-06-16 00:28 boston.modem
-rw-r--r-- 1 xinu users 2 2010-06-16 00:28 lafayette.modem
-rw-r--r-- 1 xinu users 2 2010-06-16 00:28 miami.modem

Two bytes each? TWO BYTES? These files were easily 250Kb each and they weren’t all the same size. My heart sank into my stomach. I printed one of the files.

xinu@xv:~/tmp$ cat atlanta.modem
-
xinu@xv:~/tmp$

Time stopped. I looked at my for-loop carefully. Oh no. No no no no. I just overwrote every file in this directory (100s of them) with a single dash. The ‘-> $filename’ bit trashed them, albeit efficiently.

My phone lit up. Every branch office was getting errors back. They were getting calls from furious customers saying that they were no longer able to get their credit reports. I was never so scared in my entire life. I wish I could say that I took a deep breath, assessed the damage and worked it out. I floundered. I called the backup tape company in a panic. I worked for hours trying to find a good tape with the data I needed. It wasn’t pretty.

Every day since, I’ve never done anything unless I had thoroughly contemplated the consequences. That isn’t to say I’m a pessimist now, but I have a healthy respect for Murphy and his law. Have you given Murphy a professional nod lately?

The Geekery

My good friend Jon Angliss writes about systems administration, programming, and whatever other tidbits he thinks might be tasty over at The Geekery. As I went through my feed today I read his latest article on maintenance windows and communicating your times.

If he’s not in your RSS feeds yet, he should be.

San Francisco Public Transit

In my never-ending quest for new experiences I figured now was a good time to learn all the different public transit options in San Francisco.  I’m here for 2 days taping a segment that’s going to air on TV at some point.  I’ll let you know when so you can set your DVRs.

Without further ado, on to the things that I’ve learned.

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)

I picked this up at SFO this morning.  While I was staring at a sign trying to figure out how to get to the BART from where I got off the plane this old man came through and asked me if I needed help.  I think he was a volunteer there.

“Well, I’m trying to take the BART for the first time,” I said cheerfully, smiling like a tourist.

“Come this way,” he said pointing at the escalators that, duh, said BART above them.

He got onto this train and I’m looking around frantically, “I don’t have a ticket – don’t I need one?”

“No, this isn’t the BART,” he said.  Hah, whoops.  Okay, so the train takes you to the G terminal (international?) where the BART entrance is also located.  He pointed me the right direction and then we parted company.

I sidled up to the BART ticket machine.  Credit card, cash, okay – how much?  I hit the button for credit card, put in my CC and was offered a half dozen options – add $1, subtract $1, print $20 card, or BART Plus.  The $20 print seemed to be the path ‘o least resistance so that’s what I did.  I seemed to remember my handy-dandy iBART Live application telling me that it would be $8.10 to go from SFO to Powell station.  $20 would do the trick.

At this point I’m wearing my backpack and I’m hauling my rolling duffel behind me.  The turnstile width was just wide enough for me so I tried to put my bag through in front of me.  It fell down (away from me) so I kicked it through so I could get clear of the gate.  The last thing I needed was for my bag to be through with me still on the other side.

A train showed up and the name on the signs matched what I was looking for.  I waited at the door until one of the attendants came by and used a key down by the door that caused it to slide open.  I sat down, planted my stuff on the opposite seat (which was in my lap by the time my stop arrived).  The first few stops didn’t have any signs and I was getting really nervous.  It turned out it was just the no-name stops (intersections, etc) that seemed to be missing them.

From here I walked up the 4 blocks north on Powell and one west on Post to the JW Marriott at Union Square. Fairly wiped out (it’s uphill from Market) I checked into my room on the 13th floor and dropped all my stuff. I went up to the lounge and drank a lot of water and planned my next moves.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation (MUNI)

David at expensify.com recommended Ike’s Place for the best sandwiches in San Francisco. I mapped out my trip: walk down to Market & Powell to the MUNI. Take the (J) line outbound (away from downtown) until you get to 16th and Church. Walk 2 blocks west to Ike’s.

I’m really glad I stopped at the concierge because it turns out you need to have change in order to catch it at the station. I made sure I had enough ones and started out. It costs 2 bucks to ride in each direction. I got quarters to feed the turnstile, walked down the stairs, and caught the (J) when it came through.

I’m still fuzzy on the whole stop thing, though. I can’t tell if we stopped at 16th and Church because it was a stop or because someone requested it. I think it was a stop because I was able to catch it there on the way back, but I’m not certain he would have stopped unless someone was standing there. The punchline is you have to really be aware of your surroundings. If you miss your stop, you’re either walking back or you have to catch one in the other direction which would be miserable.

Cable Car Powell-Mason

I didn’t expect to take this up from Market, but I figured I’d give it a try. I stopped at the Sketchers store, got some new shoes, and then walked across the street to the H&M to wait for it. This time I used Routesy app on my iPhone to figure out when the cable car would be at Powell & O’Farrell again. It dutifully reported 5 more minutes.

Behind me and to the right there were two older ladies. One of them was a seasoned cable car rider and was explaining to the other how the stops worked. Evidently the double X’s on the ground in front of us mean a mandatory stop for the cable car. Sure enough, in just a few minutes the cable car was there.

I also learned that not all of the little running board areas are created equal. The 3 on the left & right toward the front are fair game – two people per running board. The one toward the middle is the entrance to the interior of the car. After I was told to get out of the entrance and was shuffled into the center of the car we jerked forward and I’m pretty sure I squished the foot of the lady behind me. I apologized profusely but she seemed to be okay.

By the time I realized how far we’d gone we had overshot my hotel by 3 blocks. I pulled on the cord, shuffled passed the other folks on the train and got off. Then began the super steep walk back down to Post & Mason. I couldn’t imagine walking on these streets in the rain. They would be way too treacherous for me.

Good Old Fashioned Busses

No tour of public transportation would be complete without a trip on a good old fashioned numbered bus line from X to Y with stops in between. I decided to take a trip from the hotel to where the shoot will be tomorrow (more on this later). I googled, it told me that I could catch the 30 bus south toward Townsend & 4th which was a hop, skip, and a jump from where I needed to go.

I made sure I had enough cash ($2 per ride) and cut through Union Square to the bus stop. The bus wasn’t too crowded, but I wound up standing for most of the trip anyway. We headed south and then all of a sudden the bus driver decides it’ll be faster to dodge west a bit and then head south again. I looked at the route and this wasn’t it. I guess the bus driver is allowed to get creative with his route whenever traffic acts up?

I hoped I wouldn’t miss my stop and I surely didn’t. We got to Townsend & 4th right outside the Caltrain Station and I walked down to King and over to the building I wanted. So far so good. Now to get back.

I checked out the path back up and initially my iPhone wanted me to take a light rail train ALL the way around to Market & Powell. Uhh, no. I walked away from the light rail and tried again. This time it said I could catch the eastbound 45 bus that would take me within a couple blocks of the hotel. Bingo.

Unfortunately it was leaving in less than a minute. =) I looked right and, sure enough, there was the 45 bus. I got ready to cross the street in front of it and the light turned green for me. Sweet! I got across in just enough time to see it sail up behind me.

I got on the bus, paid my $2 fare and sat down. The next stop more folks got on. The next stop even more got on. I gave up my seat, I moved over, I squeezed in, and I got stepped on. By the time we got to Sutter & Stockton I couldn’t move. There was a woman behind me getting awfully friendly and my belly was mere inches from this older fellow who didn’t seem to notice. They stopped, I got off, and walked back toward my hotel.

On the way I saw a hot dog vendor. I’m a sucker for a hot dog, especially an all-beef one so I patronized his sidewalk establishment. A few onions and a whole lot of mustard later I was on my way with some grain-fed all natural hot dog goodness.

Summary

That concludes my tour of the San Francisco public transit system. So, BART good, light rail good, cable car still needs some work, and the bus is a last resort unless you can be reasonably sure it won’t be crowded. I don’t get claustrophobic, but I was double checking my pockets to make sure no one came up at my expense.

8 Habits Update

I set out with 8 habits that I wanted to cement over the course of 30 days.  The ones that I could check on daily whittled the list down to these six: Wake Up Early, Water on Wakeup, Meditate 30m, 30m Exercise, 5 Fruits/Veg, and Avoid Soda.

I did really well on waking up early, drinking water first thing in the morning, exercise, and avoiding soda.  I still haven’t had a soda since March 26th.  Getting some water in me soonish when I wake up is still pretty consistent, too.  The early morning wake-up is kind of hit and miss, but I’m pretty good about retiring early and getting up an hour or two before I’m expected to be anywhere.  If I don’t have anything going on in the morning I’ll sleep in util 6 or 7am.

It’s time for some new habits.  Tracking things on a day-by-day basis really did the trick.  I successfully kicked the soda habit and have been perfectly happy with lemonade, propel, vitamin water, and of course the straight stuff.  On an unrelated note I also haven’t had any alcohol since those Christmas chocolates were done.  I think I’ll keep both routines going.

So another 30 days, then?  This time I want to nail down the following:

Take Vitamins

Yes, it’s a multivitamin, but I’m also taking this omega 3-6-9 blend (3 gel caps). I used to take flax seed oil pretty regularly and for some reason I just stopped.

Exercise

This is easier to do when I’m home (really easy with Zumba, actually), but on the road I need the oversight. The heart rate monitor is going to help, too. I know that when I’m working out on my own I’m not pushing myself hard enough. If I knew my heart rate I’d know when I was slacking.

Clean Eating

This is also not so hard to do when I’m home, but it’s still a challenge. Saving the “damnit, I gotta have a cheeseburger with fries” impulse for one day a week is hardly a new idea. I just decided I would actually give it a try. Stay tuned for that – we’ll likely cover the results on a GeekFit episode.

Write 1K Words

I started this tonight though I’m not going to keep track until tomorrow morning. When I’m not writing in this blog I’ll be writing in a journal. Who knows, maybe some of my journal content will wind up on the blog. We’ll see how that works. I didn’t realize how many words 1000 was until tonight. I got to about 500 and thought I was there. Always stretching, right?

Clean Slate

Miserably Dirty DeskThis is one that was contributed by the lovely @MrsXinu. It was inspired by a site she used to (or still does?) read on called FlyLady.com. The idea is that you clear away an area that’s constantly getting cluttered and make a concerted effort to clear it down again at the end of the day. My desk is a perfect candidate for this.

I’ve cleaned up my desk a few times.  That’s how the machine under all that stuff got there.  There used to be piles of papers and all other manner of nonsense in its place.  Tomorrow I’ll clean the entire thing off all the way back to the Drobo and this time I’ll check the box each day I actually clear it again.

Move Not

Everyone has had a bad experience as a customer.

Maybe your waiter had an attitude. Maybe you stayed in a hotel with really bad internet. Maybe you kept getting the run-around when you called tech support and only after finally fighting to get to the 3rd level did you actually make any progress.

The question is what you do about it at that point. There’s an imbalance in the universe and right now you feel like you’re getting the short end of it. You could vent to a buddy, sure. That would make you feel better about it, but it doesn’t make things right.

So you’ve decided to do something about it. You’re ready to get on the phone and yell at someone or write a strongly worded letter to send up the chain. What do you say? Of course you’re going to try to explain the essence of the injustice. You might even ask to speak the person’s manager when you don’t immediately get what you want. That’s the key then, isn’t it? What do you want?

Often folks will get on the phone, explain their situation, and then just sit there.  “Your move.” The person on the phone will probably apologize. That’s a start, right? They didn’t cause the problem, but in the absence of an apology from the right person, you’ll take it. What now? Do you hang up? Good job – you got someone to apologize to you. Sometimes they’re sincere, but most of the time it’s an act. They want to get you off their phone so they can move on to the next call.

Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical.

I keep mixing up Sun Tzu and Shang Tsung. One of them wrote Art of War and the other sucked the souls from the combatants in Mortal Kombat. Anyway, the quote above came from the former. He was preachin’ it too, boy. Why did you bother getting on the phone unless you had a specific gain in mind? Were you looking for an apology? I doubt it. Maybe you wanted a free night at the hotel, or a free meal at the restaurant. They screwed up – you still paid them. That’s not okay.

If you’re going to take the time to get on the phone, do it with a specific objective in mind. Heck, pick 2 or 3 so you have some lateral to play with. If I stay at a Marriott, for example, and the service isn’t great (this only happens about every 12-13 stays) I do a couple things. First, I write down in as much detail what the problems were and I take it to the front desk. Then, I give them as much time as possible to sort it out (I’m usually there a week). If it’s sorted out to my satisfaction, we’re done – no harm, no foul. If it isn’t, I call the customer support line.

Once you’re engaged with customer support they need to know 3 things – what your issue is, if it’s been dealt with already, and what they can do to make things right again. They want your business. Getting a new customer in the door is much more costly than keeping one they already have. With Marriott I have a rewards program. I give them the first two bits of information and then say “throw 10k points on my account and we’ll call it good.”

The moral of the story is, don’t make them guess what you want. Don’t keep screaming until they figure it out. They’re not mind readers. Unless you strive for a specific objective, you’ll never reach it. They say the same thing about goals, huh? Interesting.

Play Nice Mr. FCC


These Midland GXT1050 2-way radios had been on my Amazon wish list for a while. I don’t have any particular reason to have them, but I remember having those little walkie-talkies when I was a kid and figured I needed the adult equivalent. Looking at the other things right around that entry in my wishlist I’m beginning to think that I had just read a book about zombie infestation and I was gearing up. Have to be prepared, right?

So a benefactor hits up my wishlist, drops the cash, and the radios show up. I unpack them, throw in the batteries and turn them on. Channel 1, alright. I remember this from my dad’s CB radio. I clicked through the channels and didn’t hear anything. Alrighty, let’s see if this works. I set the other radio to the same channel and talked into one and heard my voice on the other one. What can I say – I’m easily amused.

At this point I dove into the manual, read up on the difference between the FRS and GMRS channels, privacy codes, group mode, and all the other neat things it would do. Somehow I skipped right past the warning that says “you will be fined and/or tossed in the pokey if you use the GMRS channels without a license.” So off I went to the FCC website to apply for a license. $85 for 5 years? Alright. Paid. Now what?

It’s been a few days and nothing, so I consulted the mighty Google: “how long do I have to wait for my GMRS license?” The first entry that came up was really well written article by Kristopher Linquist that took me through the entire routine. It doesn’t look like I’ll have my callsign by our Kahneeta trip but since the immediate need was a 2-3 vehicle caravan on the way to/from the FRS band will suffice.

So the moral of the story – before you spend the cash on radios (especially if you need them soon) make sure you have the right license to use them.