Mos Eisley

Mos Eisley Spaceport

So Luke and Obi-Wan were standing on the overlook at Mos Eisley Spaceport and Obi-Wan says, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

Luke replies, “Sounds like the DNC is in town.”

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Pay It Forward

As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. Continue reading

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Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

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I Love the Smell of Popcorn in the Morning

Years ago, Movietech Solutions created ticketing and management software for movie theatres. The DOS version of their flagship app had been quite popular with smaller and mid-sized chains throughout North America for years, so it was no surprise that when the Windows 95 version was announced – with its integration with front-line touch screens, self-service kiosks, and boatloads of management reporting – that it was quickly adopted. For the most part, the upgrades happened without issue. New hardware would be ordered and installed by a local IT person, data migrated and business carried on as usual. Except for when it didn’t. When this happened, corporate sent out James. A.K.A. ‘The Cleaner’.

While there is definitely a Bad @$$ sound to the title, being a cleaner is just a combination of trainer, installer and jack-of-all-trades. James would spend a few days on-site putting the pieces together, followed by a couple of days training the staff on the new system, handling any hardware issues that arose and basically getting the software through the teething stage.

So, it was of little surprise that during this hectic time, James came into the office one morning and before he could reach his desk, was immediately met by his manager who appeared more caffeinated than normal.

“I’m afraid you have to go out to Annapolis, Nova Scotia, ASAP. Their entire system is down and after working with the backline engineers all night, we can’t figure what’s happening. It seems like the on-board network has failed on the server. But only after the system has worked for a few minutes.”

“Did they fail back to their legacy box in the meantime?” James replied in a very serious tone while mentally suppressing an eye roll.

“That’s just it – their local IT guy had a ‘change of heart’ and decided to walk off with their old server. James, they’re a 6 site installation who just paid for our premium support and are running their business like it’s the 1950’s.”

James straightened up a bit. “OK – that is a little different. I’m on it.”

Once he got into Annapolis, the next step was to find the client’s first cinema that was experiencing the problems. The map he had picked up at the airport was decent, but as he got closer to the address, the surrounding area became more suspect. Not ghetto, but definitely with a touch of film noir. While parked at the side of a street in the downtown area consulting a map, James was approached by the hooker. Given the size of Annapolis, there was likely to be just the one. Her appearance immediately brought to mind that famous big screen purveyor of sex for money. No, not Julia Roberts…visualize Jon Voight.

After dispatching the hooker, James made his way to the theatre. The area had improved, but still had a downtrodden feel to it. Not that James was overly concerned. He had been to his share of seedy places. And this was Canada, where even the muggers are polite enough to say “thank you’ after they’ve taken your wallet.

The side entrance to the theatre was down a dank alley. James made his way to the door and knocked. After a brief moment, it cracked open slightly.

“Are you the cleaner?” came a gruff voice from inside.

“Yeah, that’s me…I’m here to fix things.”

James made his way to the front of the theatre. Apparently, with no other way to operate, the staff had resorted to distributing paper raffle tickets to the patrons. Which made it challenging to show management the money, much less the more interesting details. But the staff was relieved to see him and he was taken immediately to the server room.

At first glance, nothing appeared to be a problem. James logged into the server and checked out the usual suspects. No issues at all. Still, erring on the side of caution, James shut the server down, replaced the network card and brought the system back up. In a matter of moments, it was completely functional. The staff got back to the job of selling tickets.

A phone call was made to Mark to let him know the situation. It did not take a genius to suggest that James might want to stick around for a while to see if anything unexpected happened. So James went downstairs and starting talking to the staff about what happened. Apparently, the system just stopped working. They turned it off and own, which fixed the problem. But only momentarily. After about 10 minutes, the system would again go off-line.

Right about then, it happened. Suddenly the front-line ticketing system started throwing errors. What they had was a failure to communicate. With a sigh, the staff grabbed the raffle tickets while James hustled back to the server room. Nothing appeared to be wrong with the server at all.

Then, one of the staff came in.

“The system is working again.”

James was puzzled. He hadn’t actually done anything. Most certainly nothing to make the system start working. He logged out of the system, picked up a phone and placed a call to the IT support at his company. Moments later, the same staffer entered the room.

“System’s down.”

James looked up at the server. An interesting, yet familiar pattern of colors and shapes danced over the screen. We had all seen the noodle pipes screen saver before. It was beautifully rendered and hypnotic in its own way. He hit a key and the pattern disappeared. As he hurried to the ticketing area, he met the staffer coming the other way.

“System seems fine now.”

If one can mentally facepalm, that’s exactly what James did. The pipes screen saver. It uses OpenGL. And because of that, when it was active it took 100% of the server’s CPU. Letting every other request to the server time out.

Going back to the server room, James logged in, changed the screen saver from the beautiful tubes to a blank screen. In other words, from a screen saver that took 100% of the server’s CPU to one that didn’t. As he sat down, waiting the requisite 10 minutes to make sure his hunch was correct.

As James made his way to the next site, the thought about how he was going to explain to his manager to explain that he had just flown 500 miles to turn off a screen saver.

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Who Automates the Automation?

Steve huffed up the steps of the state Capitol to his office in the IT department. As he caught his breath in the lobby elevator, his PDA buzzed. The flag coordinator, responsible for processing state flag orders from citizens, had written him an email in his typical tone. WHY ARE THERE NO FLAG ORDERS IN THE SYSTEM? IT’S YOUR JOB TO GET THEM TO US!

Still panting from the climb, Steve logged in at his work computer and checked the FTP server where flag orders were stored after being faxed or mailed to the Capitol. Requests were uploaded as PDF files and renamed automatically with a numeric suffix, such as “flag_order_1234.pdf,” by the automated system in the flag coordinator’s office.

Checking the logs, Steve noticed that flag_order_6612.pdf had somehow been written twice, throwing the naively automated system into a feedback loop until the FTP server crashed. Until the server was back up, the Capitol intranet couldn’t read the new orders.

So, the automated system tried to upload two files with the same name, Steve thought. But shouldn’t it have incremented the numeric suffix automatically? Steve knew the bug was in the flag coordinator’s system. He went downstairs to root it out.

Going Down

“WHY DID THE FTP SERVER GO DOWN, STEVE?” The flag coordinator’s tone of voice had always been caps-locked for as long as Steve had worked there. The flag coordinator worked out of a first story office, just below the IT department’s slightly more spacious cubicles above.

Steve explained. “Your automated system tried to upload a file with the same name as another flag order.”

“YOU MEAN YOUR SYSTEM! I DIDN’T WRITE IT–”

“Wait, your office doesn’t run the automation?” During Steve’s tenure, the flag order system had never changed. He assumed, since there was no IT documentation, that the flag coordinator’s office had built it. Steve began to ask a question, but noticed the coordinator’s face had turned a dark shade of red. “I’ll take care of it,” he said.

Well, Steve thought, I could trace the flag orders from when they first get to the Capitol building.

Basement

The mailroom sat on the foundations of the Capitol building. The floor was wobbly from a century of bad concrete patches and shifting soil. Mail clerks pushed shaky carts full of packages, either to a mailbox inset in the walls, or to an outbound cart. One lucky soul delivered mail upstairs, escaping twice a day from the dimly lit room.

“141?” The mailroom supervisor squinted at Steve over bifocals. “That’s that mousy fellow, Ramon, I think. He usually comes in around nine-thirty.”

On cue, a short, middle-aged man in a grey sweater shuffled to box 141. Wheezing, Steve ran out around the wall of mailboxes, catching Ramon before he could scurry off. “Ramon? I’m Steve from IT upstairs. I’m trying to fix a bug in the flag order system. Can you take me to your office?”

“Oh, okay,” Ramon whispered. “It’s a bit of a walk.”

Trailer

Because building funds were always tight, the state legislature leased several single-wide trailer offices in an unused parking lot across the street. Steve wiped beads of sweat from his forehead as he stepped into Ramon’s cramped office. “Don’t get many visitors,” Ramon said. “What can I do you for?”

“I’m rooting out a problem with the automated flag order system. Can you show me how it’s done?”

“Of course.” Steve watched as Ramon produced a flag order form from an envelope, set it on a scanner, and saved it to an old, yellowed Pentium desktop. “And then I rename the file, move it to a folder named FLAG_ORDERS, run this .bat file–”

“Wait, wait,” Steve interjected, “I thought this was automated! You type them all in by hand?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Ramon’s lip curled. “I’m the one who automates it! THIS is my job. The way I do it works just fine, so please don’t change it.”

Steve sighed. “Mind if I fix it? You know, no more dupes?” Ramon thought for a second and then nodded and got up from his desk. Steve opened the .bat file in Notepad, then added a sanity check in case Ramon named a duplicate flag order again. “By the way,” Steve asked as he saved his modifications, “who hired you? Which department trained you to do this?”

“Oh, I don’t remember,” Ramon said, “But let me tell you, it sure beats flipping burgers!”

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