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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Welcome to the New Order

atthew was the system administrator of a smallish warehousing company. His responsibility was to more or less keep the facility’s computer systems working at a reasonable pace and ensure that nothing unexpected would bring the company’s business to a screeching halt. Due to the typical resource constraints (money, time, qualified people), companies of this size frequently contract the development work for their internal software out to a third party. Moreover, as you might expect, the quality of those ‘third parties’ varies widely. Luckily, John, the third party responsible for his warehousing company’s software was an industry veteran and was held in very high regard. You could say that there were those in the company thought he walked on water, but that would be unfair to the original. John’s following was more devout.

One Monday morning, calls started pouring in complaining that the systems had slowed down markedly. As any good administrator would do, Matt checked to see if a number of potential culprits that had previously been identified and corralled in the past had popped up again. In this case, however, none of the usual suspects were at fault so, Matt reached out to John.

“Yes, I put some changes in over the weekend, but there is no way that they could have caused the problem. My tests were lightning fast and the system appeared to be running just fine when my work was done,” John explained.

After a few minutes of begging and pleading, Matt was able to convince John to look at his changes one more time. “I’m sure it’s not the cause, but I need to be able to report back that I’ve covered all of the potential areas,” claimed Matt. Actually, this didn’t come across that clearly to John…it’s tough to enunciate when your tongue is planted against your cheek.

While waiting for John to report back, Matt decided to do some investigations of his own. Experience had indicated that John was reluctant to use source control systems. And by “reluctant”, we mean “I don’t need no stinkin’ source control”. Matt had not solved this problem so much as worked within it. He created a black-ops system that monitored the code directory used by John and when changes appeared, moved them into a real repository. You know, with back-ups and versions and stuff.

His spelunking of the repository quickly turned up something unusual: almost all of the SQL commands used in the application had been modified over the weekend. They referenced a ‘new_id’ field. A field which, despite its name, hadn’t existed in the schema until just this past weekend. And, after Matt dug in a bit more, he found that the ‘new_id’ field, unsurprisingly, was not indexed.

Just then, mid-epiphany, the phone rang. It was John.

“Great news. I found the problem and have already taken care of it”, he said.

Right, thought Matt. Because patching directly into production is exactly what should be done.

When Matt got off the phone, he checked into the code repository and found that the new_id field was no more. At least not within the codebase. It was still in the schema, just not accessed. There wasn’t much Matt could do. Yes, it was a crude fix, but at least the application was back to its former speed.

A few weeks later, Matt had a meeting with the company owner.

“We have this major feature I want to get out, but we’re having problems with that ‘new_id’ field John added.”

“Yeah, I…”

“We could only search for really low values. All of the high ones took forever!”

“I saw the complaints. Wait…high ones??”

“John he did something to the table to fix it, something about reversing the order.”

“Wait…what?”

“Yeah, you’ll have to talk to him. I don’t know the specifics; I just know it works great now.”

Hoping the owner was just confused, Matt called John to ask about the potential solution.

“Seems that ‘new_id’ field was getting too big and it was taking too long to get to the bottom of the data,” explained John, “So I reversed the table and everything got really fast.”

Matt’s initial response was a look of apprehensive befuddlement.

“Reversed…the…table?”

“Yeah, I created a new table in ‘new_id’ reverse order, dropped the original, and renamed the copy. The change will be pushed out with the new update this weekend. Problem solved.”

On Monday, Matt received a call that the application was still running slowly. With a gentle sigh, Matt asked them to hold on for a couple of moments. A quick fiddle with some DDL, and the ‘new_id’ field was indexed.

“How is it now?”

The sound of the keyboard carried across the phone wire. “Wow, this is really fast. And fixed quickly too. That John guy is amazing!”

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The Email Virus

Joe worked hard every day fighting the good fight against viruses and malware for a large financial firm in the UK. Their security setup suffered flaws, but it worked well enough. Scanners on incoming email, an antivirus product on the mail servers, signature updates every 30 minutes, and a basic antivirus on desktops all worked at Joe’s command to protect their network. There was no default route back out to the Internet and a Machiavellian filter restricted web access. Despite all this, Joe had to contend with one vulnerability not even the most advanced security system in the world could defend.

Spam changed faster than their filter-rules, and sometimes bad things slipped through. Joe’s team hoped to lessen the risk of this by educating their users to NEVER, EVER, EVER OPEN SOMETHING THAT LOOKS SUSPICIOUS. As predictable as an Enterprise Red Shirt dying on an Away Team mission, users would always go ahead and crack open malicious EXE files from their “long-lost cousin Frank” and completely fry their computer in minutes.

One day, the Red Shirt in question was Jane, a high-level director. She opened an email containing a nasty worm. Joe was dispatched to her lavish corner office to examine the damage. He found Jane sitting at her big, plush, squishy, and extremely expensive director’s chair. She smacked the keyboard like a rhesus monkey trying to crack open a coconut. Jane slid out of the way to let Joe work but he didn’t need much time to determine her machine was toast. From the comfort of Jane’s awesome chair, he called up desktop support and got them give her a loaner while they re-imaged her machine.

Before he left, he gave Jane a little “re-education” about how to not open email viruses and to immediately delete anything that suspicious. Jane assured him she understood.

Joe headed back to his Batcave. He wanted see if the worm might spread or pose a leak risk. It didn’t take much research to confirm that it couldn’t propagate on its own, and it couldn’t send traffic out of their network. Just then he got the phone call from his boss, claiming that hundreds of the wretched emails had gone out and at least 50 user’s desktops were fried, probably more. Puzzled, Joe pulled up the logs on the email server.

Patient Zero, AKA Jane, had put her new machine to use by forwarding the entire company a “HACKER VIRUS!” email. “WARNING!,” she wrote, “DON’T OPEN THIS ATTACHMENT. IT IS A VIRUS!!!1!” Users unsurprisingly opened the attachment anyway. Joe and his security buddies now had a several days-long battle on their hands to eradicate the scourge from their network and keep it from sending any data out.

Months later, after the dust had settled, Jane was the odd woman out in a management restructuring. Joe was not-so-secretly glad to see her go. Jane had no replacement, so after an appropriate amount mourning period, about 13.2 minutes, Joe went in and commandeered her squishy chair. From then on, he cited a bad back for the reason he needed to keep such a lavish chair in his small cubicle. It was a constant, comfortable reminder that it takes a lot of effort and careful wording to cater to those with the lowest common sense, who sometimes are also the highest in the management chain.

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Long drive, short putt

Just after lunch, user calls pilot fish to report there’s no Internet in this remote office.

“I ask if there are any lights on the routers and switches,” says fish. “She says no, and says nothing has come back on after the power outage.

“I ask if the UPS, little white box that things are plugged into, is on. No, she says, it’s not and it won’t come on.”

Fish hasn’t dealt with this remote office before, so he asks around for the standard protocol. Turns out the standard protocol is that he drives the three and a half hours to the site in a company car — and he needs to leave promptly, as it’s already 1 p.m.

After an hour packing up all the gear and backup gear to replace the entire equipment set on-site if necessary, fish heads out.

But before he gets far, he gets another call: Another remote site that’s three hours out and just a little out of his way is also having Internet problems.

He diverts to the second site. He takes a quick look at the networking gear and asks if anyone knows what happened to the cable that used to be plugged into this circuit. The only answer: “Someone moved it.” Fifteen minutes of crimping late, fish is getting high-fives for restoring the Internet.

Back in the car, he’s welcomed at the second site by a crowd of users very happy to see him. He’s shown to the networking closet, where he hits the power button on the UPS.

“Five minutes of testing later, it was more high-fives and kudos for bringing the Internet back up,” fish says.

“Eight hours of driving for less than 30 minutes of work.

“Best. Overtime. Ever.”

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Questions, questions, questions

Consultant pilot fish is called in by a big sports venue to be project manager for the opening of the new grandstand.

“A critical part of this is the world-class Wi-Fi system that the CEO has been pushing for a year in marketing materials and the press,” says fish.

“I met with the IT manager to ask how the Wi-Fi project was going. He said it was a fantastic system that will do this and that and the other thing.

“Then I asked a few specific questions.

“Can it do live TV? No.

“Can it do live betting? No.

“Can we handle the 50,000 people on opening day? No.

“How do people log on? Using Facebook.

“Our customer profile has 85 percent of them over the age of 55. Do you think many of them have Facebook?

“Have you read the CEO’s press release describing the system?”

Reports fish, “Owing to a sudden and unexpected family emergency, the IT manager had to take six weeks’ leave immediately…”

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That’s one way to deal with a security breach

Head of plant engineering hires a maintenance superintendent from a pool of several candidates — and he’s not the best choice, reports a pilot fish who’s in the loop.

“Within weeks, the new guy has established himself as a wingnut, making bad decisions and also proving to have an obnoxious personality,” says fish. “In-plant scuttlebutt indicates the plant engineer has made a mistake.”

And within a few months, that assessment proves true: Mr. Obnoxious manages to post a confidential document containing the salaries of his direct reports on a public share of the network.

It’s soon spotted by some of the hourly workers, and word spreads like wildfire that the salaries of their supervisors are available in a convenient, easy-to-access form.

And for the next week there’s plenty of snickering over exactly how much the company believes those supervisors are actually worth.

Finally upper management gets wind of the mess. What would they do about this misfit who just revealed confidential info?

“He was called in and told to be more careful,” fish says. “Then the hourlies had their computer access revoked, except for a few who were tasked with maintaining preventative maintenance forms and the like.

“This adversely affected me as an intranet developer, because now email could no longer be used as a communication tool among the maintenance personnel.

“But at least the plant engineer didn’t look foolish for having to fire his hand-picked subordinate.”

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