A Test

[This is a short story written in 1991 while at UIUC.  Lyric quotes are from some Enya song, name escapes me now.]


He stepped out into the cold, glad to be through and glad to be out.  The cold winter wind slapped him in the face as if scolding.  He hadn’t really bundled up too well – just wanted to leave.  He stood there now pulling together his jacket, fastening the zipper and throwing his bag over his shoulder.  Sure was cold tonight.

“Damn…” he though to himself.  “What the hell’s happening to me?”  The cold wind stopped and stood still and for a brief moment, there was silence around him.  He reached into his bag, felt around, and produced his walkman, perhaps the only thing he valued tonight.  “Got a long walk back.”

Pretty cold tonight.  Pretty dark too, and quiet, as if everyone knew and wanted to leave him alone.  Everyone else was probably still in there.  There were perhaps many going on tonight and many people were probably still finishing up.  He didn’t care – just glad to be out of there.  “No use in sitting around here any more.” he has said to himself as he had grabbed his bag to leave.

It was cold.  Cold and dark.  The wind had picked up.  He had felt alone before, but tonight he felt really alone – and sad.  He had never failed like this before.  “Fuck it – who gives a shit anyways?” he said out loud, breaking the stillness, as he flicked on his walkman.  As if to abuse him, a brief gust of wind blew by.  His ears stung.  He could imagine what they would say, and wanted only to block it out.  He shrugged.  “Life goes on.”  He shrugged again, as if to signify something important, and started back.  He shoved it back into his pocket.

Finding nothing interesting on the radio, he hesitantly freed his hand to brave the cold, and thumbed for the play button.  For the past five months, music had become his one place of refuge.  He could block out anything with the flick of a switch.  If only that worked in real life. ‘…Eurus…’  He still had a ways to go.

It was cold and reminded him of happier days; days gone by delivering papers.  How he was alone and could be himself.  How he would daydream of his other life (how he wished he was there instead of here), and for a short while, all would be okay.  How he would yearn for the house up next with the Christmas lights strung up, smiling at him.  He would pay them a little attention as he stopped to warm his hands in their glow.  ’…if every man is true…’

“How romantic a night!” he thought.  “How I wish I had someone special in my life.” A though which brought a tear to his eye.  Someone to take a walk with on a night like this.  Someone who would care because tonight he didn’t.  He’d never been in love before.  He rounded the corner and could see the lights ahead.

This wasn’t his life, was it?  He wished with all his heart that someone would come and take him away.  Away to the place he belonged.  But that was there.  ‘…etu itu ad astrum…’  He was here.  The wind stopped yet again, and there was the noise of passing cars and people talking.

How warm he felt as he pushed open the door to the builing and headed down the hall.  She saw him quickly, and started towards him.

“Your back early!”

“Yeah, it was a breeze.”

recovering from an email outage

If I could do this week over I would.  Too bad I can’t.

Email today is vital.  Not having it makes your heart palpitate. 

Monday morning, during a swap of a failed hard drive (something we’ve done countless times) the storage array we use for email went offline.  The whole thing.  And for various reasons, the last known good backup was from awhile ago. 

I painfully remember thinking “oh shit” when I realized what this meant.

[This isn’t a post about all the things I should have done to make sure I was never in this spot.  Everything’s obvious now.]

I learned a couple things this week:

  1. Hire the absolute best people (and geezus, hire people smarter than you!). You never know when you’ll need them.  You never know who will have the answer to the problem.  Hire people who care about each other.  You never know when you need them to look out for the one guy who, in 73 hours, forgot to sleep.  The same one guy who has to run point on The Next Big Step in 7 hours.
  2. Work somewhere where everyone realizes we’re all fighting the same fight. I’m surrounded by coders and when we needed coding, 1492 python coders lined up to help.  Not a single one of them reports to me.
  3. Get upset, yell, demand results.  But realize when it’s the right time to yell and when it’s not.  During a firefight, I need you to be on the best fucking game of your entire life.  It is not the time to be berating you.  It’s the time to treat you like a hero, a magician.  It’s when I do what you tell me to do for you.
  4. Communicate the heck out of everything.  Throughout this outage we found other tools to use to let users know what was going on and what to expect.  I’d post updates even when the information I had was incomplete.  I’d say so.  I hated having folks in the dark.  
  5. Expect criticism.  Some of it will be searing.
  6. Realize that the people working under me on this are collectively smarter than I am.  Offer help whenever but let them work.  Take point at handling communication.  Make sure #5 doesn’t get to them. Remind yourself of #3.

It took nearly two days to get things back to an okay state, a state where we had new emails.  Still recovering data from backups and reconstructing state from a now corrupt MySQL database.  

I’ll probably never be able to express my gratitude to the team I manage for their efforts this week.  Sucks we got here but without thinking, I’d go to battle with this team again.

We made mistakes that got us here but we can talk about that later and make sure it doesn’t happen again.