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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Alien Land - fiction

I've learned that what meaning time had was an illusion that illusion has been shattered by this place.

The landscape is an endless sea of colors; patterned in unnatural ways. Straight lines, solid colors, shapes.

The ground is soft and I can easily move across it but where do I go? Each direction holds the same empty promise of redemption and food but how do I choose a specific direction to take for each direction also holds the same certain promise that staying still will bring: death.

I cannot recall when I last fed but I know that I am ravishingly hungry.
I need to eat soon; if I do not I will starve right here and my corpse will become a blight to this unnatural setting. It will continue to dry out and become a hollow husk that lies in wait for discovery by another unfortunate being.

I wander about, aimlessly, as there is no benefit to one direction over another when the grandest bounty of my life falls from the sky. More than I could consume in a thousand lifetimes is presented to me. It's warmth glowing against my face as I progress toward my new found salvation.

I prepare to eat and rejoice. I prepare to celebrate my life and my fortune. I am praising all of creation for the luck that has spared my life.


"God damn ticks. How the hell do they keep finding their way onto the bed? Where the hell are they coming from?"

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Yes, you. The person reading this right now.
You are probably feeling, or have felt before, that you are small and insignificant and nothing compared to the world and the universe.
Before you surrender to this thought remember
You're right: you are. The universe is HUGE
BUT, and I cannot emphasize the BUT enough,
The odds against you existing are also tremendously huge. Those odds are so much stacked against you existing that, mathematically speaking, you should not be here. I should not be here; none of us should be. Here shouldn't even be here.
So, when you feel insignificant remember this:
You beat the odds just by existing.
Well done.
Exist some more just to spit in the face of all that says you shouldn't.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fire Privilidge

When I was in college I had two particular friends, Adam and Robin.
Adam was from New Hampshire and Robin had spent the first decade of her life there before her family moved away. Robin has a younger brother and the catalyst for this story was his visit to our college to see if it might be a fit for him when he finished high school.

That, of course, is not where this story begins.
The reality of this story is that it begins before I met Adam. It begins before Adam even finished high school.
This story begins in the basement of Adam's home in New Hampshire when he was in high school.

Adam, like many of my friends, was involved in theatre. He did less (none) acting and more (all) technical aspects of theatrical production. He did lights and sound, he occasionally did set work; but, most importantly, he was fascinated by pyrotechnics. Adam liked fire and the process of things burning whether it was a slow burn or a fast burn.

This story begins with Adam in his basement with a very specific set of supplies. Among that particular inventory were a 9 volt battery, some steel wool, and some flash powder.
The experiment that Adam was conducting for amusement was, and remains, dangerous.
It's a simple experiment and can be conducted, to an extent, with only two of the ingredients: steel wool and the battery.
Steel wool is a conductor but it is a jumbled mess of a conductor and it has individual threats that are so incredibly small that they will ignite and burn under a very light electrical current load. This, in itself, is interesting to witness. It also creates a volatile situation as the metal rapidly oxidized under the current load induced by rubbing both terminals of the battery with the mass of steel wool. The steel heats to orange and evaporates into the air in a small trail of sparks. In essence, the steel wool portion of the experiment is a perfect ignition source for anything that is flammable. This include flash powder.

A tiny sprinkle of flash powder on the steel wool before introducing the battery forces the wool to burn and the powder to *POOF* in a sudden little flash. The key words being "a tiny sprinkle."

As Adam relates the tale he sprinkle some powder on and rubbed the battery: nothing happened.
So he did it again and nothing happened.
He repeated this a few times until something happened.
A large something.
Something that sounded like a shotgun blast and nearly burnt the house down.
A something that cost him the use of his arm for a few months.

Fast forward to Robin's younger brother visiting.

Robin's brother, in addition to wanting to see the college, also wanted to go see the town that haunted his memories. He wanted to see the house who had a shadow on his earliest childhood. He wanted to reclaim those shadows in his mind before they went extinct.

So the four of us headed to the town, which neighbored the one that Adam had grown up in, to visit.
The drive there, and the visit through the town, were uneventful. It was a pleasant drive and it satisfied the needs of Robin, her brother and Adam. I was just along for the ride.

As people do, we approached a time in the day when we were hungry. Adam suggested a place to eat and we went there to fend off the mortal needs for raw caloric intake. We forced the menu to testify to the specialties of the kitchen and cross-examined it for what we might like for food that evening and we placed our orders.

While we waited for the meals to be conjured from the elemental particles of food that they were constructed from we discussed a myriad of topics.

We chatted and joked and discussed when, suddenly and without any warning, there was a stifled cry from the younger companion that accompanied a frantic waving of hands; one of which was suddenly holding a fireball.
The brother, it appears, had been slowly shredding corners from his paper napkin and exposing them to the flame of the table's center candle but the flame got a bit more hungry than he expected and began to devour the entirety of the bountiful harvest that resided in his had.

The flame was quickly extinguished, leaving a small puff of smoke to explore the restaurant followed by the bold proclamation from Adam: "I'm revoking your fire privileges."

That's right, the man who had blown up his basement had to revoke the fire privileges of the visiting younger sibling.

Disruption - fiction

The first indicator that there was a problem was the degradation of radio.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Description of a Sunrise

The sky is a marble: displaying a motley mix of grays with a hint of silver and white. Enhancing the apparent grayscale world are the rivulets of steel blue that snake through the light cloud cover; in the east there are patches of blue peaking through from where the sun has touched the morning sky.
The moon, ever watchful, shines as a beacon from above; clearly lighting the upper strata of the overcast dawn with its ever-watchful eyes.

The tendrils of golden light creep across the underside of the clouds to change the forest green of the nighttime maple leaves into the bright green of their daytime shading.

The bats swoop to catch their final morsels of the morn before retiring through the inky blackness of the missing window in the barn they call home.

Daylight is upon us; the morning has risen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Good Day to Die

There is a Klingon proverb that is also a salutation used before battle. It reads, simply enough, "it is a good day to die."

When these words were first penned for Star Trek I am not sure that the author fully understood the level of truth that lay in them.

There is no escaping a meeting with Death. Some receive many passing audiences with Death while others may escape all exposure except for their own, very personal, interview. Regardless of the number of times that any specific individual encounters Death they WILL encounter it one final time.

Most people think it is never a good day to meet Death but the reality is that it is always a good day to do so. It's all in the perspective of the situation and an ability to interpret NOW with a variance of perspective.

No life can exceed its best or its worst; therefore, the scale can run from your more marvelous day to your most devastating. No life can exceed these barriers.

In the event that your best day becomes your last it is a fitting terminus to your life. Generating a memorable outbound moment will leave a wake of impact and discussion on all those who knew, and possibly, revered you. Creating a moment of departure that is the epitome of your life will migrate those memories from mere fact into considerable legend. The greater the outward stroke the greater the legend and the longer it will last in the hearts and minds of those whom Death has not made a social call upon.

Opposing this view lies the single worst day of one's life. The obvious escape that Death can provide on this day is, unquestionably, a potential relief to the suffering of that day and all those that led up to it. The suffering, it should be noted, cannot abruptly end and, therefore, the worst and darkest day is probably the mid-point through the harshest reality of the lifetime extinguished. By meeting one's end on such a day one is stepping free of the pains of their mortal existence and into the unknown. Perhaps they evaporate into a non-existent state that is also free of pain and suffering or, perhaps, they cycle back into a new life. No one knows for sure; no one can know until they take the journey. What better time to do this than in the most deeply depressed moments of one's life?

All days that lie in between these two days have potential. Each day brings actions that can be taken and actions that can be avoided. Each of these actions can tell a tale and each of those tales could leverage the actions into glory or generate mundanity upon the soul. Taking the most nondescript action on the most nondescript day one will find a instant of pointlessness in their life. An instant that all will forget. An instant of complete and total insignificance. The catch to such insignificance is that therein lies the potential of greatness.The slightest difference in choices made on such a mundane day could yield unforgettable results. The simplest of choices could demolish the averageness of the day and convert the day into a day on either end of the spectrum. Any such choice that would lead to the chooser's death would be such a choice that converts what was a nondescript and boring day into one of noteworthiness. This means that there is no such thing as a death on a non-important day.

Seizing control of the world around you and forcing it to be great for you prepares the day for its greatness as a viable death day. Seizing control of your world; and your part in it, can eliminate the averageness of any day. Making your own opportunities to be great, whether in a positive or negative direction, is the key to a life filled with influence upon others and those very influences are what makes significance to the world.

Any day is a great day die if only you are prepared for it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Conquerors - fiction

It took only seven minutes to destroy everything I knew.

Racism and Racial Profiling

Racism is a problem in this country.
It takes multiple forms and manifests in multiple ways.
Overtly, racism is a terrible thing that affects millions of people.
Covertly, racism is a terrible thing that affects everyone.

But racism is not limited to white people being prejudiced against those of any other color. Not even in countries where white people are the majority.

Racism can be exhibited by anyone. It's merely the process of judging another being by the color of their skin. White people can do it, black people can do it. Anyone can do it.

I've often heard that I cannot know or understand what it is like to experience racism. That I cannot fathom the situation that exists and how the world is stacked in my favor (it's not: it's stacked AGAINST others. It's a subtle, but VERY important difference) because:
I'm white.
I'm male.
I am exactly the average height for a man in my country.
I have dark hair and blue eyes.

But those people are wrong. They are making the assumption that someone of my physical appearance will never experience the receiving end of such behaviors.

They're wrong.
I have been racially profiled and I have been deliberately targeted for overt racism.

I know what it is like to be discriminated against unfairly. My first exposure to it preceded any racial profiling and racism by several years. My first experiences with it were from tourists in my home town who believed themselves to be better than the locals due to their wealth and the relative poverty of the area I grew up in. This, while not racism, is economic discrimination. It did not happen often, but I experienced and witnessed it many times nonetheless through sheer volume of tourists.
Starting in high school I encountered a different type of discrimination. I enjoy science fiction and I enjoy cosplay (although I despise the term and have been costuming for longer than the term has existed). If you go to a science fiction or popular culture convention and wear a costume outside of the convention grounds, especially when I first started doing this, you would observe a different level of treatment than those who are dressed normal. The volume of this level of treatment would diminish greatly if one only wore a t-shirt decorated with one's favorite show but the "nerd" (or "geek") discrimination still flourished out in the local shops and streets surrounding the cons I attended. (This has lessened considerably since my first conventions but there are some areas that it is still blatant). One time a hotel had such a level of disdain for the geek culture convention that they canceled the con's reservations three days before the con in the hopes that the convention would be canceled completely. Fortunately, a neighboring convention could absorb the situation and did so. (Rumors abound about this situation but I know nothing other than the basic facts I just outlined to be accurate).
When I went to college I stumbled into an opportunity to fulfill a fashion desire I had held for many years. I invested in a black leather biker's jacket. This, coupled with some black leather harness boots, generated a new means for discrimination to follow me. Law enforcement and security personnel followed my path anywhere I went. I was, to them, the epitome of danger. I was the epitome of the highest crime potential. I was, in reality, a perfectly law abiding citizen. (I have another story about this to publish later).

This followed me without remorse through malls, airports, bus or train stations, electronics stores, pretty much anywhere I went that was not already filled with similarly-clad people. Until September 11, 2001. It all changed that day because I ceased to fit the core demographic that everyone worried about. From that day, until I retired that jacket from service, I was never bothered again. Discrimination can be powerful; and it can be changed.

Many people who might read this anecdote will, at this point, outline that none of what I have typed is racial and I will agree. So far I have merely outlined the preamble that let me know what was happening when I did get discriminated against. I know what it feels like to be shunned and I feel the anger when it is over something so trivial as what I am wearing. I know, too, what it feels like when it is something as basic as the way I look.

When I was in college I spent a summer in Ohio. For work I waited tables. The restaurant I started at was a Long Horn Steakhouse just south of Cleveland. This venue was, quite literally, on the wrong side of the highway.
The kitchen crew was made of white men. The dining room manager was a white man. I was a white man. The bartender was a white woman and two waitresses were, too. Everyone else was not white. I was the only white male that waited tables in the restaurant. This, of course, didn't phase me in the slightest. I didn't care. I still don't care. I also did not care that about 80% of the clientele of the restaurant were black. This, too, didn't bother me. It also didn't bother me when, every single time I went to a table, they needed something. It only bothered me a little when I was busting my ass all night and getting about 10% in tips BEFORE tipping out to the bartender. I can work hard, I have always been able to. I figured it was just harder than I remembered it from when I had previously waited tables.
So I paid attention. I watched the waitresses and the black waiter. I watched the other waiters who were neither white nor black. I watched everyone. They all had the experience I expected to see. They all got 15 - 20% tips before tipping out.
And there I was; busting my ass at every table for a meager handout.
So I began to pay closer attention. Surely there was something I was doing, or not doing, that made me less effective of a server. I started to catalog what it was I was being asked for. I began to catalog what the questions I was asked were. I began to observe and a pattern emerged:
I was asked to get more bread when there was plenty on the table.
I was asked for more butter when the existing butter had not been touched.
I was asked for refills when the current glasses were still full.
I was asked for replacement silverware that was not even unrolled from the napkin.
I witnessed silverware being "accidentally" dropped on the floor so that a replacement could be requested; sometimes it was a utensil that was not even used.

I looked at the attire of my customers and it became apparent that eating out at this chain restaurant was a special thing for them. This pushed their budget. This was a rare treat.

I realized what was happening. I was part of their treat. Some of them knew it. Some of them might not have. But, for most of them, it was a special experience for them to make me serve them.

I was "whitey" in a game of "make whitey run."

The harder I was worked the more hectic things got in my section. The more hectic they got the less clean my service was for them. The less clean it was the greater their likelihood of making a comment to the dining room manager.

I was there about a month. In that time I had him comment to me that customers mentioned I was "hurried," "flustered," "scattered," and a few other things several times. In the rest of my entire working career combined I have received fewer "constructive" comments about my performance than that single month. But, I had no choice but to keep taking the abuse until I could find something else.

Luckily, my girlfriend at the time was working at another restaurant and they were short on staff. Her venue offered a a similarly priced menu and she had been bringing home about 15% in tips AFTER tipping out to the table bussers and the bartender. She told their management about me and I got a call. Two weeks later I was working, literally, less than two miles down the road; on the other side of the highway. The clientele was much more varied racially and the wait staff was less non-white.
With the racial pressures removed I, immediately, began taking home 20% after tipping out to the appropriate parties. Two things readily became clear: my hypothesis had been correct and I was an awesome waiter.

The following January I went to London for an entire academic term. I lived in a flat relatively near Baker street with two other students from my school in a building that was entirely populated by students from my school. I worked at "The Museum of Science and Industry" (I learned one does NOT call it the "Museum of Science" or the "Science Museum"). The experience of working in the museum is unrelated to my event of profiling; it is merely the conduit for why it happened.
In preparation for our trip we had to take a class. The class had a variety of factors in it and, at the end of the class, we were provided a letter from the president of the school that outlined our lodging arrangement, that we would be affiliated with King's College while in the country and that we would not be paid. It, in essence, outlined that our claim of entering the country and staying for a significant duration was legitimately backed by a valid organization. We were warned to ensure we had this letter, and our passports, etc, upon deplaning so they were readily available when we came through immigration.
To understand the next process it is important to note the physical characteristics I outlined above: average height for an American male, white, blue eyes, dark hair.
It's also important to note that, due to where I grew up I had worked very hard to NOT have an accent. As such my English does not place me as an American, nor a Canadian, nor a Brit, nor anywhere (I have another story about this that can be read).
I was traveling alone.

Upon answering how long I planned to be in the country I was scrutinized thoroughly. The officer in the booth looked me up and down and asked me a few more questions before looking directly at the address listed in my passport. A bit more conversation and the big question came out. "Do you have a letter from your university or any other proof of your claim?"I handed over the letter and it, too, was scrutinized thoroughly.
At this point it was approximately 8:00 am local time and I had not slept. At all. Since I rose at 6:00 the previous morning. For me, it was about midnight and I was tired. For me the immigration process seemed only to be a minor scrutiny.

At the flathouse members of the group arrived in small groups. Some flew together and others encountered one-another in the airport by chance. Some people gave in to their exhaustion and napped and others, determined to defeat jet lag, stayed awake.

We had a group-wide meeting at 2:00 in the afternoon and, during it, we were asked if we had had any troubles with immigration. No one, not even I, raised our hands. We were asked if any of us had needed the letter. I, alone, raised my hand.

It appears that the combinations of facts about me, coupled with the sordid and violent history of violence in London being conducted by the IRA created a unique situation.

My lack of accent, coupled with my decidedly Irish appearance, had generated a great deal of concern among the immigration officer. Enough, it would seem, that he felt a need to thoroughly assess my credentials where the remainder of the group experienced no additional efforts.

I looked around the room and noted that I was the only one who carried the combination of bright blue eyes and nearly black hair.

I, a white man from America, had been racially profiled.

So, when people tell me I can't know what it is like to experience racism they are wrong. I can.
I may have only experienced the tiniest taste of it but I understand.
I have been there.

I know how it can damage a person. I know how it can anger them. I know how it can be incredibly unfair.

I know.

And I hate that it exists as much as anyone who experiences the receiving end of racism on a regular basis. The world should hold no place for such; yet, sadly, it does.


Sometimes oneself is the best company one can keep.
Sometimes the worst.
Sometimes it is both of these things simultaneously.

Witness - fiction

Home is a long way away

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The World's End - review

This is the capstone of the Simon Pegg and Nick Frost films.

It has a very slow start but, just as I was about to give up on it, an enticing and interesting story does develop.

It has a variety of blended commentaries that are each found throughout the genre as a whole but they are mixed together in good form.

If you liked Shawn of the Dead and Hott Fuzz you will probably enjoy this film once the drudgery of the first part of the story passes.

Oblivion - review

This movie is more than is seems on the surface: a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi adventure film.

It has considerable sub text and commentary as well as a twist.

The twist is, while cliched, well executed and would be a surprise to a viewer that did not know it going in to the story.

I enjoyed it and I recommend it for scifi action film fans.

Bad Parking Revenge

I've seen them; you've seen them.
Everyone has seen people who park miserably.
It's a fact of the modern world.

I've also seen people who appear to intentionally park badly.
People who feel that their status in the world, or their car, grants them an automatic guarantee  of privilege in the parking lot; a right to more space.

People whose sheer narcissism makes them truly believe that they are better than everyone else.

I hate these people.

For the last half of my college career I worked in retail (plenty of other stories on that can be found in my writing). When I finished school I moved to Ohio to be with my (then) girlfriend while she was in grad school. I had no job prospects so I transferred to a store local to where we were going to live. I couldn't afford a newer car so I was still using my beat-up, 10-year-old Honda Civic. This car had dents in all of the panels on the driver side and half the panels on the passenger side. The rear bumper was hanging. There was no passenger side mirror (never had one). The hood had a dent in it and it would not open without someone pushing down on it when the release was pulled inside the car.
My car was a solid and reliable piece of junk.

Now, I'm not a "car guy" and I never have been. I can't identify specific makes and models easily without reading the insignias off the car directly. I'm ok with this and I have always been ok with this. But I can tell a fancy, shiny sports car when I see one. I can guess at an expensive car when I see one.

One day, as I arrived at work, there was such am expensive sports car in the parking lot. The car itself would, and has, faded from my memory. It was black (that's literally all I remember about it). The parking job, however, was a masterpiece of asshattery that I shall never purge from the bowels of my recollection.

The parking lot was mostly empty so this particular car was easy to spot. It was the lone usurper of the block. It was standing in its glory; a beacon to wealth and self-importance. The sun was glistening off its perfectly clean exterior. It was also parked directly on the line dividing two spots.

The car, in and of itself, was not something I took offense to but the audacity of conscripting two spaces in a lot that would soon be full to protect its shiny exterior from the slightest ding infuriated me. So I decided I would make a point of the situation.

The shiny bastion of conceit was not perfectly centered between the two spaces and that provided me my opportunity. My car, small as it was, left a wide margin of space around it when I centered it into a single parking space the size of those in this lot (it had to accommodate a lot of large pickup trucks). I lined my car up and stopped, stepping out to examine my work carefully. When I was certain of my positioning I slipped quietly into the space I had chosen. That space was the very same space that the driver's side of the shiny monument of presumptive pride was trying to usurp for itself.
My car fit perfectly in the center of the spot with the other car where it was. My car fit so perfectly that I still had the full margin around it to get out of my driver's door with ease. My car fit perfectly with about three inches to spare between it and the shiny assholemobile.

I took a moment to admire my work and strolled over to my store to open.

Within a half hour the parking lot was filling and both cars were still there.

I wish I had been able to see when the owner of the other car came back to see what I had done because the look on their face would have been priceless. Their realization that I had called them out on their egocentricity and vanity should have elicited a vengeful peak of rage. That rage should have elicited an intent to vandalize my car which would have generated a crestfallen moment when they realized that my car was so shitty that there was little they could do to it that would make it appear any worse. Sure, they could dramatically vandalize it but they must have known that I, quite likely, took their license plate. They could call the police and reveal that my car was parked perfectly. They could try to have me towed and find the same statement of reality about my parking being perfect.

I know that they had two potential solutions to their self-created predicament: have their own car towed out of the spot so they could get in OR climb in through the passenger side and carefully back out of their space.

I know not which path they chose to take and I do regret I never got to observe it happen.

I hope, though, that this experience was as significant to them as it has been to me. I hope, too, that it was significant in the right way although I am certain that they just have a story about "that asshole who parked me in" instead.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Debbie in Purchasing

Like many people, if not most, I hate homework.
Especially I hate homework that has no purpose other than to inundate the student with busy work.
By the time I finished sophomore year I had had enough. I was burnt out. I needed a break.
I felt the impending wave of despair and desperation that would envelope me if I went into another semester of pointless homework and reading for classes whose ultimate purpose in my life was unclear to me.
The obvious escape route to this unending torrent of pointless busy work was to withdraw from school for a semester. But this was not a simple matter. There were two channels and only one of them was cost-effective: a co-op job or paid internship.
Before school let out in the spring I was reviewing all of the opportunities I could find and, eventually, I settled on one that met my needs and whose requirements I met. I interviewed for the position and I got it.
I commuted an hour each way, into the next state over, and I began my first "real-world" work experience in the realm of Management Information Systems.

I started on a Monday.
I began with a tour of the facility and introduction to the rest of the team.
Then, without much additional fanfare, I was tossed "to the wolves."

I worked on things that could be handled via phone for the remainder of Monday and through Tuesday.

Wednesday morning I arrived to work and, promptly at 8:00am, the phone rang. All of the other team members looked around and smiled. "Let's let the new guy take this" the sysadmin named Dave said.

Admiral Ackbar, with his most famous line from Return of the Jedi, popped into my mind as I replied "ok" and answered the phone.

The call was from Debbie in purchasing. Her computer would not turn on and, yes, it most certainly was plugged in. I promised her I would come down to check it out and got off the phone.

"Where's purchasing?" I asked.
"Go that way" Dave pointed "and stop at the end of the building. She's, literally, against the far wall."

I began my trek down the building, passing through accounting then the main lobby. I passed through manufacturing and shipping. I passed through service and another area of offices that I have either forgotten who they are or never knew and entered into the domain of purchasing.

Debbie was easy to find as she was standing, impatiently waiting for her solution. Her expression of sternness melted a bit when she realized that I was there to help her and that I was new.

I took a look around and verified that the computer would not, in fact, turn on.

My investigation ended a moment later when I discovered that the plug for her computer was only barely in the outlet, enough that a haphazard glimpse made it appear to be plugged in but loose enough that it was not making any significant contact with the terminals inside the outlet.
I reseated the plug into the outlet and tested the computer.
It sparked into life and Debbie was able to begin her workday.

I began my trek back through the various departments, pausing momentarily to note the terminal in manufacturing with the Budweiser Frogs screensaver that was burning frog images into the screen and the machine operator that was playing solitaire over the front of the CNC operation program.

I logged the case of Debbie and went about my day.

8:00AM on Wednesday, the following week, I answered the phone. It was Debbie. Her computer would not boot.
The process was identical in every respect. My journey, the nature of the problem, the solution, etc.

8:00AM on Wednesday, the following week, I answered the phone. It was Debbie. Her computer would not boot.
The process was identical in every respect. My journey, the nature of the problem, the solution, etc.

After the second repeat of this I inquired as to what was causing this and my colleagues provided me the answer. Apparently the housekeeping crew vacuums Purchasing on Tuesday nights and they fail, every week, to properly plug Debbie's computer back in. No amount of effort has managed to make them accomplish this simple task so, each Wednesday, Debbie calls MIS with the same problem.

8:00AM on Wednesday, the following week, I answered the phone. It was Debbie. Her computer would not boot.
This time, though, I deviated from the routine. I explained to Debbie what we had discovered and what we thought was causing the issue. I outlined that it was as simple as pushing on the plug to ensure it was fully in the wall. Debbie, accepted that this was possible, and watched me prove it.

8:00AM on Wednesday, the following week, I answered the phone. It was Debbie. Her computer would not boot.
I realized, then, that Debbie was never going to do the simple task of plugging her computer in to I began my trek.
The process was identical in every respect. My journey, the nature of the problem, the solution, etc.

I repeated this journey every Wednesday for the duration of my experience with the company and I had the great fortune to have my replacement and I overlap by a week at the end of my time.

On Wednesday, that week, at 8:00AM the phone rang. This time I got to be the one to say "How about we let the new guy handle this one?" as everyone else smiled.

He began his journey to Purchasing moments later.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Good Bye, Cruel World - fiction

To Whom it May Concern;
My decision has been made and it was an easy one.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


The spider cares not what intent the wood stacker bears for the result is the same: a crushed web and a broken home.

The Rogue DHCP Server

Some things are best learned through experience.
The horror and frustration of them is a far more valuable lesson than the actual knowledge if read from a book. Losing data is one such lesson and there is really no way to make light of that event.
One of the horrors of losing data is that it can affect anyone.

Another such lesson, though, only affects network managers. Only plagues those who are responsible for the smooth operation of the network and the reliable access of resources for their users.
What makes this issue so insidious is that it is not obvious and it can plague the most well-prepared individuals; even more so those who are learning the eddies of troubles that managing a network can bring.

Imagine, if you will, a basic network built of the most basic networking equipment.
A network that is working perfectly and reliably. A network that maintains access to the core resources used by all of the users and which allows them to pass through to the outside world for general internet access. Imaging this should be no special task because, as you read these very words, you are using such a network or you used such a network to gain access to them. Such a network is seamless and the users make no notice of it just as they make no notice of the hallways or streets that they use until there is a problem.

The first indicator that I had that there was a problem was a routine helpdesk request. One of my users was unable to log on to the computer. Investigating the issue yielded a message that, at first glance, seemed a bit odd for my network but which was in the realm of possibility: an IP conflict.

The users could not access the network because the workstation had been shut off from the network because it had an identical address to another workstation. A simple reboot solved this problem and I verified that the workstation was getting its address from the network itself, as intended. I made a note of the address and began my investigation.

I checked my sheet of static addresses and found no matches.
I checked all of the devices that were supposed to have static addresses and they all had the addresses they were supposed to have.
I noted other machines around the building and none of them were having an issue.
I chalked the issue up to a random fluke and continued on.

Until another user informed me of the same problem the following morning.
And another.
And another.
And then several more.

I knew, then, that I had a serious problem on my hands but I had no idea what it could be.
I also knew that I had a limited window to find and solve the problem before my professional reputation was damaged and my "personal capital" in the organization would be completely and totally, and irrevocably, spent.

I examined the problem and found no inherent and obvious cause.
As I could not treat the disease I began preventative measures on the symptoms.
I reduced the range of assignable IP addresses and began statically assigning addresses to every affected user. I did this on the network side and hard-coded the addresses into the workstations themselves.
This, it turns out, was exactly the measure I needed to buy myself some more time.

With that time I turned to some online resources, which in the time of this tale were greatly diminished as compared to today, to get assistance on the root cause.

Reading and testing; more testing and more reading. I spent considerably time trying to understand where the problematic addresses were coming from but, regardless of my lack of comprehension they were still there. They still were being issued to anything that requested them. I was merely preventing things from asking for them.

The main clue that I received was that computers still pulling the addresses automatically were trying to use a different gateway than I had configured on my network. This little clue allowed me to deduce some more information, now that I had a few moments, as to the originating entity.

Most routers, if not all, have an interface that is visible to the network from the "inside." This interface is accessible by pointing a web browser at the address of the router. Unless otherwise specified this is the address that the router will hand out as the gateway.
So took the gateway address that I was seeing and entered it into the web browser of my affected machine.
BOOM. I was fed back a web interface to configure a router.
I now knew what I was looking for. I knew what the device was and how it was destroying my network.
What I didn't know was WHERE it was nor who had installed it in my building.
Somewhere, in my domain, was a Rogue Router.
And so began the great hunt.

After hours I went on safari, seeking the beast that was destroying the stability of my equipment and which was poised to consume my career prospects.
There was no better way, with the limited equipment I had to work with, to hunt this beast than to roam the vast halls; exploring room by room. I sought the beast.
For three nights I spent time migrating through the wilds of the network, physically examining the devices attached to the network in each of the many rooms I connected.

Until I beheld it.
In a room on the back wing I found a table.
On that table lay four additional workstations.
Four machines that were not supposed to be there.
Four machines that were not in my inventory.
Four computers that, combined with the other two in the room, could not POSSIBLY, connect into the four network ports that existed in that room.
Six machines simply could not use four network connections: the math just did not work.

I climbed under the table and followed the leads out of the wall. I moved around the edge of the table so that I could examine where the lines went as they moved from beneath to above the table.

I traced the line and I found my quarry.

Buried in a nest of cables it lay, lurking and waiting. Eating the productivity of all and consuming my reputation little by little.

There was the netgear router that was not supposed to be there.
It had one port that was not in use with one feeding into the wall and the remainder going to the computers. But the one that was not in use was the NOT a downstream port. It was the uplink.
Whomever had installed this router didn't know what they were doing and had uplinked my entire network into this router.
This was the source of the wrong addresses. This was the source of my pains.
This was the cause I consumed so much Tylenol in the previous week.

I unseated the cable that fed to the wall from the port it was nestled into and I seated it into the uplink port.

I made this change and I waited.

A week passed without any additional problems.
A week in which I could not find any trace of the issue.

A week in which I rebuilt my confidence and allowed others to believe I had contained, and eliminated, the problem.

A week that lasted an eternity while I waited, hoping that I had resolved the issue.

The following week I began the slow restoration of systems back to the proper configuration now that the danger had passed.

And then I went to the user who had built the mini lab in their room.
I went to her and I asked her why she had built it and where she had received the equipment.

I also, kindly, let her know the specifics of how it could disrupt the entire network in the future and that I needed her to ensure, if she hooked it up again in the future, that she matched how it was plugged in now.

My first IT crisis was averted.
One of the most important lessons was learned and I learned it the hard way.

Monday, September 1, 2014


Sometimes, as an IT Professional, one encounters users that are happy to try to reassemble their computer on their own.
Given the reputation of scary IT people and those who are condescending to users, I have always found it important to allow users who wish to try the opportunity to try it out. Nothing reduces fear of the equipment faster and better than demystifying it.

Once upon a time, in my journey through a career as a technology manager, I encounter a user that was happy to reattach all of their equipment after a room move. I was asked, prior to their efforts, if I found it acceptable for them to undertake the effort and I assured them I was. I even stated that  if they encountered any trouble to please let me know.

Later that day the user appeared in my door with an expression of concern adorning their face.

"I have a problem" they informed me, "it won't turn on."

I rose from my seat and escorted them back to their office area. Of course, the first question I asked was "is it plugged in" and the answer was an affirmative.
I began my troubleshooting, examining first, and last, if it was plugged in.

I found, to my acceptance, that all of the necessary cables appeared plugged in to the appropriate spaces. Network to network, USB plugs in USB ports (side note: a USB plug WILL fit into a network jack so "plug it in where it fits" doesn't work for all users). Monitor attached correctly. Everything seemed to be plugged in correctly; that is, until I looked at the wall socket.
There was nothing plugged into the electrical outlet in the wall. I knew, suddenly, that this MUST be the problem but where was the plug that needed to go there?
I traced all of the cables with my fingers until the culprit became clear. One of the plugs that is plugged into the surge protector was also the source cable for the surge protector. I gently unplugged this and slide it home, into the wall socket.
I rose, out from under the desk, and sparked on the system with the power button.
Everything fired up exactly as expected and my user was back in service.

Upon being asked what had been wrong I merely answered "one of your connections was arguing with us. It wanted to take a nap. I woke it up."
My user found this response amusing and accepted it.

I left their office and returned to my own to continue the tasks of monitoring servers and standing by for additional help as needed.

This is another true story tagged as "fiction" due to the story-telling nature of it.

The tale of the office move and the computer that wouldn't turn on because the power strip was plugged into itself