Thursday, September 01, 2005
The negligence correspondence
I must be speaking Elbonian or something.
Dropped in my lap is the configuration of a router and firewall for a
customer site. The firewall, no problem there (well, except for
modprobe being completely borked on the firewall and spending
an hour or so trying to untable the Linux kernel module dependencies by hand
iptables working, but that's a different issue). No,
I'm trying to figure out what IP addresses I can use for this.
“What we've got here is … failure to communicate,” as the Captain of Road Prison 36 says.
And this isn't a failure between myself and Dan the Network engineer
here—no, it's between myself, Dan, Smirk and G. Smirk told me, in the
immortal words of Captain Picard, “Make it so.” Both Dan the Network
engineer and G are giving me advice on how to setup the network, but they
have completely different worldviews. And the terminology I know
isn't the terminology that Dan or G uses (for instance, Dan uses “loopback
address” to mean any IP
address bound to a router on the loopback device, not just
127.0.0.1, which is a usage I, a programmer who's done
networking programming, is not used to).
It's been rather frustrating asking (through email) what seems to me a straightforward question and getting an answer back that has nothing to do with what I asked. Or frustrating giving some information only to get a reply back asking for the information which was in the email I sent (and quoted, in full, back to me).
Perhaps I would be understood better if I translate what I want through Babelfish a few dozen times:
I certainly speak Elbonian or something.
Drop in a mine knee department router and firewall disposition for consumer locus. The firewall, does not have question there (to be very good, is completely borked and passed for a hour except
modprobein firewall or so attempts to untable Linux kind module dependency obtains the
iptablesoperation with hand, but that is an other question). No, I try to extrapolate any IP address I can use for this.
“any we have here are … the negligence correspondence,” like go the same way jail 36 captains to say.
And this is not the defeat and Dan network Engineer here does not have between I, it is in I, between Dan, Smirk and G. Smirk tells me, in Captain Picard immortal word, “makes it so.” Engineer Dan network and G raise me to suggest how about establishes the network, but they have completely different worldviews. And I knew the terminology is not Dan or the G use terminology (for example, Dan uses “to return delivers address” to mean any IP address certainly is returning to a router delivers equipment, not only
127.0.0.1, is usage I, is programmer which completes network programming, is not used).
It rather frustrates the request (through email) any and lets to an I direct question with the answer to return to any to have nothing to do with as if I to ask. Or which frustrated provides some information have to arrive request for reply information is I has delivered in the email (and has quoted, in was full, returns to me).
Perhaps I can understand well if I translate any me to want to pass Babelfish several 12:
[The translation reduces translation.]
Yea, much better.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Since 1981, Shell researchers at the company's division of “unconventional resources” have been spending their own money trying to figure out how to get usable energy out of oil shale. Judging by the presentation the Rocky Mountain News heard this week, they think they've got it.
Shell's method, which it calls “in situ conversion,” is simplicity itself in concept but exquisitely ingenious in execution. Terry O'Connor, a vice president for external and regulatory affairs at Shell Exploration and Production, explained how it's done (and they have done it, in several test projects):
Drill shafts into the oil-bearing rock. Drop heaters down the shaft. Cook the rock until the hydrocarbons boil off, the lightest and most desirable first. Collect them.
They don't need subsidies; the process should be commercially feasible with world oil prices at $30 a barrel. The energy balance is favorable; under a conservative life-cycle analysis, it should yield 3.5 units of energy for every 1 unit used in production. The process recovers about 10 times as much oil as mining the rock and crushing and cooking it at the surface, and it's a more desirable grade. Reclamation is easier because the only thing that comes to the surface is the oil you want.
Via Instapundit, SHELL'S INGENIOUS APPROACH TO OIL SHALE IS PRETTY SLICK
I've said before I'm bullish on energy futures, and it's nice to know that we have a few more years yet to perfect oil from garbage (which I personally would like to see, if only to reduce the amount of landfills in use).
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
“What's the frequency, Kenneth?”
I don't handle stress well (as if that wasn't apparent) and again, today was no exception.
I get this way because of deadlines.
Normally, as I approach headbanging time, I simply stop doing what I'm doing and put it on the back burning for a period of time (could be days, could be months) until it suddenly strikes me what I might have been doing wrong. But when I can't follow my own timeline for these things, that's when I get irritable.
It also doesn't help my mood when things that should (there's that word) work don't, and in the process of troubleshooting the things that don't work, the processes I'm using to troubleshoot have to be troubleshot because the stuff that I'm using to troubleshoot should (there's that word again) work, but aren't.
Ouch, my brain hurts.
Today I found two wireless units on my desk to configure (as part of the
firewall/router thing that was dumped on my lap nearly two weeks ago)—an
access unit (with a serial port—more on that in a bit) and a
bridge (without a serial port, just power and ethernet). The wireless
bridge should (there's that word again) have been on
192.168.200.1 (why that address? I don't question
why, I just do and die) but no response at all. After half an hour I'm told
that that unit might be bad, so try this one.
Four hours later with the “new” unit (handed to me encased in plastic)
was just as uncommunicative as the “bad” unit. And don't think I didn't
try. Let's see … couldn't see it at all from the router it's supposed to
be plugged into … couldn't see it from the office switch (and having to
place my workstation into the
192.168.200.0 network). Couldn't
see it from a separate switch the wireless bridge and workstation were
plugged into (bascially because this switch didn't work at all) … and
couldn't see it from a second switch I found (that took about half an hour
to get configured to ensure that the port the wireless bridge was plugged
into was 10Mbps half duplex no auto negotiation (basically, troubleshooting
the switch to attempt to troubleshoot the wireless bridge) since the office
switch can't be configured).
All this in a vain attempt to configure the wireless bridge. It
should (there's that word again) either grab an address via
or failing that, default to
that's why that address) but the documentation, it lies! It
lies! (turns out it wasn't factory set, even though I came wrapped in
Now, the wireless access point? It has that serial port on it.
Ah, I'm brought back to the days of yore when men were men, women were women, and getting any two random pieces of equipment with serial ports communicating was indeed a Black Art™ of the darkest sort—arcane incantations, sacrificing small furry animals to the Great Computer Gods, and an ungodly number of cables, adaptors, frobs and gender changers were required. Along with knowing such arcana as DCE, DTE, CD, XMIT, RECV, CTS, RTS, DB-25, DB-9 (which technically is incorrect—it's DE-9 but everybody just calls it DB-9), RJ-45 (if you're lucky, otherwise, you get DEC's unholy abomination of RJ-45, which requires heaps of gold to use), XON, XOFF, NULL modems, breakout boxes, jumpers, UARTs, male ends, female ends and RS-232 (which isn't).
Just shoot me now.
I didn't get to the wireless access point because I didn't have a gender changer (or a female to female connector). It was bad enough having to crawl under the desk to continuously swap out the DE-9 NULL modem cable (normally used to congfigure the Cobalt RaQs but today used in a vain attempt to configure the one switch while trying to troubleshoot the wireless bridge) for the RJ-45 to DE-9 adaptor cable (for the router that's being configured).
On the bright side, I didn't have to deal with any control panels today.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Wizards too, were scorned by those they served
I could only wonder at the though processes that lead to a customer leaving over 6,500 messages in their incoming email account, and then complaining about how long it took to list all the messages therein. I suppose they might be surprised to find out they have that many messages.
“But I check my email everyday!” said a hypothetical customer in a hypothetical conversation I'm making up on the spot. “Now you're telling me I have 6,500 new messages⁈”
“No,” I said, “but you neglected to delete the messages off the server.”
“But I don't want to delete the messages! And what's this server you speak of?”
“No, you misunderstand me—”
“But you said I have 6,500 new messages! Where did they come from?”
“They're not new messages—”
“So what are they then?”
“Messages you left on the ser—”
“AND WHAT'S THIS SERVER THING YOU KEEP TALKING ABOUT?” I can hear the capitals clearly. “Are you talking about this ‘mail.example.net’ you had me type into this obscure … thingy … in my … Lookout?” And yes, they inevitably always use Microsoft Outlook in checking email.
A disconnect this big … how can one even begin to explain?
“Think of the server being your physical mailbox. You don't leave your mail in your physical mailbox, do you?”
“No,” the customer said, sounding a bit suspicious.
“You remove it from the mailbox, right?”
“Yes … ”
“Well, you neglected to remove these 6,500 messages from your mailbox, so that's why it's taking so long to list all the messages.”
But only if it were only email. It's even worse when people are this clueless about their websites. Their commercial websites, that supposedly bring in money (and I won't even mention a certain website reseller with a website development process where “Byzantine” is an understatement and we're stuck with debugging the sites). I can only assume these people are also the type who don't care about their finances and just dump shoe boxes filled with receipts on their accountant's desk, saying “Fix it.”
What? No gas masks? What gives?
I've checked the Google AdSense™ Terms and Conditions and I don't see anything about not making editorial comments about the advertising appearing in the sidebar there (I can't however, force anyone reading this to click the links, or otherwise attempt to influence the vast amounts of money Google is sending my way, but I can mention that I've made a whopping $1.35 since April). So, with that aside, I just noticed an ad for RVs durring hurricanes (hurry, over 8,000 RVs available nationwide, about $40,000 a pop) and below that lovely ad, another one for sandbags.
Sandbags (overnight shipping available).
I'm beginning to wonder if the Google AdSense program is really worth it.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
I finally know the way to San Jose
It took awhile but the router and firewall are finally installed in the customer site with the help of G.
Okay, basically, without G's help, I would have been unable to do it. The customer had two connections to us, a wireless connection (at 10Mbps) and a T-1 (at 1.5Mbps). The connection should handle all the traffic but if it goes down, the T-1 should take over. Such a configuration can't be done using static routes (which is what I'm familiar with) but requires something like OSPF, which is beyond my ability.
Sure, it took longer than expected, but then again, the current configuration was rather “interesting” (and not in a good way). Also, the configuration in the old customer router didn't survive a power cycle (whoever configured the old router forgot to save the configuration into non-volatile memory—one momentary lapse of power and it's hand-configuration time again) but since we were already connected using the new router it wasn't much of an issue.
G also left behind some light reading in the form of several feet of documentation on Cisco routers (stuff like Everything you Wanted To Know About Cisco Routers But Were Too Ignorant to Ask and Teach Yourself Cisco Routers In a Thousand and One Days) which was kind of him.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Crash course in surviving free fall
Let's say your jet blows apart at 35,000 feet. You exit the aircraft, and you begin to descend independently. Now what?
What now indeed! But the upbeat article does describe several methods one can use to (hopefully) survive an unplanned free fall from at least 15,000 feet. I'm not sure if any of the suggestions would actually work but hey, if you're falling from 35,000 feet it wouldn't hurt to try.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, as caused by the Child Slave Rebellion
My Netflix queue was getting a bit low, so I started looking for more films to add. Okay, more documentaries, as I haven't been in a mood to watch fiction for some time now. During my search, I came across In the Realms of the Unreal, a documentary on Henry Darger, a recluse that lived in Chicago, working as a janitor who in his spare time wrote a 15,000 page novel The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, as caused by the Child Slave Rebellion (the book takes place on a different plant, larger than Earth, about a war that is lead by seven little girls (the Vivian Girls) leading a rebellion against the Glandelinians, who enslave children just for the fun of it). Along with the book he painted over 300 images (may not be work safe as they include nudity) that is considered some of the best examples of outsider art.
He also wrote a 5,000 page autobiography (about 200 pages cover his life—after that it goes non-linear into wild flights of fancy) and an 8,000 page sequel to The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, as caused by the Child Slave Rebellion nominally named Further Adventures in Chicago: Crazy House which continue the adventures of the Vivian Girls in Darger's native Chicago (it was never given a title by Darger).
It's not clear if Henry Darger was insane or not—clearly he didn't fit in with society, living along in a one room apartment with his only employment being as a janitor, with no friends at all. His childhood was horrible—his mother died during childbirth when he was three or four (and the sister that was born was given immediately up for adaption—he never saw her again) and at eight, his father sent him to live in an orphanage since he was unable to take care of Henry. He then lived at orphanages and mental institutions until he escaped at 16 or 17. From then on, he worked as a janitor and at night, wrote what is considered the longest novel ever written (I mean, fifteen thousand pages for a single novel—Ayn Rand didn't write a novel that long, and even L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth Series is only about half the length of The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, as caused by the Child Slave Rebellion).
And all of this might have gone unnoticed except his landlord, famed photographer Nation Lerner recognized what he had after his tennent Hanry Darger died (in 1972 or '73). It was clear that Darger never intended anyone to see any of this, and because of that, it has an emotional truthfulness to it (enough such that most that see his artwork feel uncomfortable) and that makes him all the more interesting.
After all that, I just had to see “In the Realms of the Unreal” and added it to my Netflix queue.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
What a cut-up
Instead of watching horror unfolding on TV, I spend most of the morning (between midnight and 7:30 am) making a cake for The Younger. His birthday is later this week but he'll be in Colorado with his Dad so we figured we'd celebrate his birthday today.
I have a copy of Baker's Cut-Up Cake Party Book that's about as old as I am (and apparently, very rare and going for anywhere between $30 to $120 from what I can see) and I thought it might be fun to try to make one of the cakes from the book (I'd make some scans from the book, but I can't locate the power supply for my scanner). I should note that I've never actually made a cake from scratch before. But hey, it can't be that hard, can it?
Famous last words.
The recipe calls for 2½ cups of sifted flour, and I wasn't sure if that was 2½ cups before sifting, or after sifting, so I assumed before sifting. It was quite a pile of flour after sifting and it took on the consistency of dough rather than batter. I did manage to get the stuff wrangled into the cake pan and into the oven for about five minutes before I realized I forgot the most important ingredient—sugar!
See, the recipe said:
Sift flour with baking powder, salt, and sugar.
But in cooking terms, sugar is considered a “wet” ingredient and it's never sifted into the flour but added with the rest of the wet ingredients (or so says Alton Brown); then again, I actually didn't see that I was to sift in the sugar with the flour. In any case, that batch was ruined.
And I was also out of vanilla extract and eggs.
And it's after midnight.
An hour later, after a trip to the nearest Wal★Mart Supercenter I had my missing ingredients. By this time, Spring was home from work, and she informed me that sifted flour was always measured after sifting.
The second attempt went much better.
Once out of the oven, it was time to let it cool for an hour or so before the next stage.
The frosting was uneventful (even if I did have to substitute honey for light corn syrup), but the end result was a metric butload of frosting. Way more than I evern ended up using.
And then the cutting and construction.
In theory, it looked easy. But like all theories, things tend to get messier in practice and this was no different. In the book, the airplane was supposed to have four jet engines, but the actual bits of engine pieces were too small in practice to use. And the tail setion was too heavy to actually stay up without the help of multiple toothpicks (and even then, I had to lob off the top half of the tail). The frosting was thick and sticky and a hellacious pain to spread over the cake.
Now, one of the curious things about the book was the use of shredded coconut in every recipe. I remember as a kid, when Mom would make my birthday cakes they were always slathered in shredded coconut. In fact, I don't recall a single cake made in the 70s that didn't have shredded coconut slathered over the outside. I always wondered about that.
But no more. Shredded coconut plays the same role as plaster popcorn for ceilings—it hides the shoddy application of frosting (or in the case of ceilings—plaster). And the final results weren't that bad, considering it was my first cake and all (and The Younger certainly loved it).
I did end up with enough leftovers to make a rather shapeless mound of cake that The Kids promptly joked was a “crashed airplane.”
Still tastes good though.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Li Zhuang, Feng Zhou, and Doug Tygar have an interesting new paper showing that if you have an audio recording of somebody typing on an ordinary computer keyboard for fifteen minutes or so, you can figure out everything they typed. The idea is that different keys tend to make slightly different sounds, and although you don't know in advance which keys make which sounds, you can use machine learning to figure that out, assuming that the person is mostly typing English text. (Presumably it would work for other languages too.)
I may have to rethink the keyboards I use …
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
I just noticed something that at first seemed very odd, but as I think on it, it does make sense, but it's not intuitive at first (at least to me).
I did three traceroutes from Casa New Jersey. The first to my workstation (in one network block), the second to the office firewall/router (in a second network block) and the third to the company router (in yet a different network block). I would have expected all three to take a similar path through the Internet, but the practice was different than theory. In the diagram below, the top circle represents my computer at home, and the blue path goes to my workstation, the black path to the firewall and the red path to the company router:
Why the (in one case, wildly) different routes?
Because each destination is in a different block of IP address, each of which is handled differently in different carriers due to different peering arrangements—the office block is owned by one of our providers, the firewall block is owned by Smirk (he managed to snag a Class-C network block a long time ago) and the company firewall block is owned by another of our providers.
But that still doesn't explain this though:
The blue one is again from my home computer to my workstation (and yes,
there are two additional hops in this one—perhaps some routing changed
between the time I made the two images) but the other one, the red one, is
to another machine here at the office—the IP address of my workstation is
XXX.YYY.224.11 and the
other machine is
XXX.YYY.227.9, so while technically they're in
different Class-C networks (a “/24”) they're routed to us as a
“superblock” (a technical networking term) of /20. But as to why
the wildly diverging paths, I don't know.
We control IP addresses
XXX.YYY.239.255 and as I mentioned, not all the addresses in that range
follow the same path from my home computer to the office. I was curious so
I decided to map the paths:
This image shows the overall paths, with the double circles the termination points of the various IPs and as far as I can tell, it looks like the “/20” we have is being routed as 16 individual “/24” networks (aka “Class-C”) through out different providers (some through one, some through the other).
Curiouser and curiouser …
Update on Thursday, September 15th, 2005
Smirk emailed a response to this post:
From: Smirk <XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX>
To: Sean Conner <email@example.com>
Subject: bandwidth mystery
Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2005 03:35:54 EDT
I think if you check with Dan, we are routing various IP's with preferences for different carriers in order to have our actual bandwidth usage line up with our financial commitments to our carriers.
Perhaps that may solve the mystery?
Friday, September 16, 2005
“We wouldn't want anything ta happen ta da network, now would we”
“I would like to thank you for not keeping your end of the deal and making this upcoming weekend an enjoyable one for me.” The extortionists demanded $75,000, but then seemed to disregard the money. “I do not care how long I have to destroy your business and I will. You will learn the hard way that you do not make a deal and then f*** around with us … Let the games begin.”
Richardson would soon learn they were not bluffing. They could destroy his business, and they were going to try. For BetCris to survive, Lyon's slapdash system in Phoenix, which was just starting to find its purchase, would have to stand up to the biggest DDoS attack any of them had ever seen.
The DNS servers that had overloaded in Phoenix were brought back online in a couple of hours, after Lyon and Wilson adapted some filtering scripts and increased the size of their network pipes.
Lyon then spent Thanksgiving and Friday eating leftover turkey his girlfriend delivered and tweaking his system to absorb bigger DDoS attacks. On Friday, he believed it could handle a 1Gb attack, and he felt good about that. He assured a frayed Richardson that he'd never see an attack that big. It would take tens of thousands of zombie computers.
Which is exactly what happened. It turns out the extortionists had more than 20,000 zombies. PureGig's data center suffered badly, which affected several of its ISP customers. PureGig decided to take Lyon's system offline to fix it.
“The attack went to 1.5Gb, with bursts up to 3Gb. It wasn't targeted at one thing. It was going to routers, DNS servers, mail servers, websites. It was like a battlefield, where there's an explosion over here, then over there, then it's quiet, then another explosion somewhere else,” says Lyon. “They threw everything they had at us. I was just in shock.”
I've dealt with this type of attack before, but not to this extent. It's scary to think that not only are these attacks getting more sophisticated, but larger in scope, with twenty, thirty, fourty thousand zombie machines (machines the crackers control) sending bogus traffic to a target site.
Smirk is having me do more network related jobs here at The Company with an eye to prevent such attacks (or suvive such attacks) but it looks like it takes a huge infrastructure to fend off these things. G has mentioned that Cisco has configuration options in their routers to help fend off this stuff, and I suspect it's within the several feet of documentation he left behind. Looks like I'll be spending quite a bit of time reading up on this.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Crisis over, God forgotten
Ah, nothing like an unplanned test of the backup generator this fine Monday afternoon. But better now than during an actual hurricane.
Another story about backup generators
I'm actually surprised I didn't write about this, but I can't find it, so I must not have.
Back in 2000, when I worked for Negiyo on third shift, the power goes out and the backup generator kicks in. That's all fine and good, but the fact that the power went out caused all the sysadmins to scury around trying to figure out what caused the power outage. The weather wasn't bad and as far as anyone knew, FPL wasn't having any problems in the area.
Turns out that it was a planned outage to test the backup generators. The management company of the property had sent notice to Negiyo about the planned outage, but the secretary who received the notification promptly discarded it, forgot about it, or lost it, so no one else in Negiyo had a clue.
It was an amusing night.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
An overheard technical support phone call conversation, including sound effects
Welcome to The Monopolistic
Phone Company Technical Support. [They actually
never said the company name—my bad. —Editor]
may be monitored for quality assurance. The expected hold time is currently
1 minute. Please wait for the next available—”
“Hello, this is Bob, how may—” click.
“Hello? Hello? Bob? Are you there Bob? Bob?”
Welcome to The Monopolistic
Phone Company Technical Support. Your call
may be monitored for quality assurance. The expecte—”
“Hello, this is Bob, how may I help you?”
“One of our clients is trying to send email to
mpc.example.net and your email servers are rejecting the
traffic from our customer's machine. ”
“So you can't get your email?”
“No. One of our clients is trying to send email to one of your customers and the connection is being dropped. I checked from another one of our servers on a different block of IP addresses, and was able to send a message sucessfully. I then checked from a machine I have access to in Boston, and I was able to sucessfully send a message. But not from our client's machine.”
“So your client can't get his email?”
“No. Our client. Wants to. Send. Email. To one of. Your customers!” (cue FX of Star Trek fight music) “Your. Email server. Refusing. Connections.”
“Let me check something.” (cue FX of Girl from Ipanema) “Tell your customer to check his firewall or viral software configuration and have it pass through the traffic.”
“It's not a firewall or viral software because there isn't a firewall or viral software to check the configuration on, but if you like, I'll lie and say that I've already checked that and that's not the issue. The issue is that The Monopolistic Phone Company's mail servers are refusing the connection from our client's email server.”
“Hold on.” (cue FX of more Girl from Ipanema) “The Monopolistic Phone Company does not block any traffic of any of our clients—”
“It's connections to your network!”
“Oh. Um. Please hold.” (cue FX of 70s porn music) “Sir?”
“Yes, I'm here. We were discussing The Monopolistic Phone Company blocking network traffic.”
“The Monopolistic Phone Company does not block incoming network traffic.”
“And if your client is having troubles with email—”
“Could you please repeat back the problem then?”
“Um … ”
“Humor me. Please.”
“Your client cannot send email to our client.”
“Basically yes. I'm trying to find out if you have implemented anti-spam measures, one of which is blocking IP address, and if so, have our client's IP address removed from the anti-spam block.”
“Well, I just read that our company is starting to roll out such a feature so I'll have to investigate to see if it's in affect. So can I have your name?”
“Yes. It's Sean Conner. I work for The Company and our phone number is 515-555-1234. My email address is ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’.”
“Thank you sir. We'll contact you in a few hours.”
“Can I get the ticket number for this?”
“Ticket number. So when I call back, I can say this is in reference to ticket number so-n-so.”
“When you call back, just say you talked to Bob at Dialup Support. I'm afraid we're using a new ticket system and I get the ticket number.”
“Oh wait … please hold.” (cue FX of theme from The God Father) “Sorry, here's the ticket number. In just. A. Second. It's TMPC000666000FU.”
“That's ‘tango mike papa charlie zero zero zero six six six zero zero zero foxtrot uniform,’ right?”
“I'll look into this and email you a report in a few hours. And thank you for calling The Monopolistic Phone Company Dialup Technical Support Line.”
Friday, September 23, 2005
Ping-pong by phone
There have been some “issues” with the T-1 to one of our customers—basically, every 8 to 15 seconds it gets a burst of errors, thus degrading the actual bandwith of the circuit. It's less of an issue since the wireless connection there is working (redundant paths) but still, it's an issue that needs to be resolved.
Over the past two weeks it's been phone ping-pong. I call The
Monopolistic Phone Company Business
line to have the line
tested. The Monopolistic Phone Company does a line test on the T-1 and says
it's clear. I call back saying no it's not. They return the call saying
yes it is. No it isn't. Yes it is, can you test out to the DSU? Ohhh look, we get errors,
we'll do some more testing tomorrow (this was said yesterday).
So starting at about 8:00 this morning, and every half our or so thereafter until 10:30 The Monopolistic Phone Company called me (on my cell—yes, I gave them that number) with status updates which basically boils down to: “we can't actually seem to locate the error.” It could be between the DSU and the DMARK (on the customer side), the DMARK and the CO (on the customer side), somewhere within the CO, or between the CO and the DMARK (on our side) or the DMARK and the DSU (on our side).
Note: I usually don't get up until 11:00 am.
They're supposed to call in a few minutes with an update, but I'll give them another fifteen minutes or so before calling them.
Update later today …
They still don't know where the error is, and they don't have the appropriate monitoring equipment in the CO at this time to see if that's where the error is. They'll have everything in place on Monday apparently.
More overheard technical support phone call conversations
“Your call may be monitored for quality assurance. The expected hold time is currently 1 minute. Please wait for the next available represenative.”
“Hello, this is Bob. Not the same Bob as you called yesterday, but still, just call me Bob. [I should mention this was a very perky Bob. —Editor] How may I help you?”
“I'm calling in reference to ticket number ‘tango mike papa charlie zero zero zero six six six zero zero zero foxtrot uniform.’”
“And whom am I speaking to today?”
“This is Sean.”
“Okay, Mr. Sean, if you can please hold while I review your ticket.”
“Okay.” (cue FX of Girl from Ipanema)
“Thank you for holding, Mr. Sean. I didn't understand a word that Bob wrote yesterday but I gather it has something to do with sending email.”
“That's the gist of it.”
“Can you please send an email message to [garbled]?”
“What was that?”
(cue montage of Sean roaming around the office looking for a quiet place to write down the email message—many minutes go by while this happens)
“Yes Mr. Sean. From that the email
company department can
diagnose what happens.”
“Please hold on a second, I can test this right now.”
“Yup, just like I said, it won't get through because your The Monopolistic Phone Company's email server is dropping the connection from this particular server.”
“So it's a networking issue?”
“No, because I can get to The Monopolistic Phone Company's email server from other computers.”
“Oh. Well then, just send a message to
email@example.com explaining the situation and
they'll be able to handle it.”
“Okay, can I include the ticket number?”
“Okay, thank you.”
“You're welcome Mr. Sean! Thank you for calling The Monopolistic Phone Company Dialup Support Line.”
Update on Saturday, September 24th, 2005
You know … like James Bond.
“Hi! This is Michelle from 97.3 WKRP The Party-Hearty Hip-Hop Happening Radio Station! Who am I speaking to?”
“Hello. This is Sean.”
“Sean. Is that S-H-A-U-N?”
“No, it's S-E-A-N.”
“Oh.” I could hear the disappointment in her voice. The call went downhill from there. No big deal—it was a marking call anyway.
Update on Saturday, September 24th, 2005
Saturday, September 24, 2005
The Law of Barnum
“There's a sucker born every minute.”
—David Hannum (and not P. T. Barnum)
I'm looking at the Million Dollar Home Page, where each of one million pixels are for sale for $1 a piece ($100 minimum in a 10×10 block) and I'm simply appalled. The student has so far sold over 120,000 pixels.
I'm not appalled that people are stupid enough to buy pixels for a buck a pop. I'm not appalled that Alex Tew (the student running the site) has made over $120,000 since August 26th. I'm not even appalled by the garish looking picture of the million pixels.
No, I'm appalled that I didn't think of this first!
Director's Commentary for “More overheard technical support phone call conversations”
Hi. This is Sean Conner, director of “More overheard technical support phone call conversations” and you are listening … well … reading actually, the director's commentary.
The intent was to start in medias res with a tech support call I had to
make to The Monopolistic Phone Company. The situation is that The Monopolistic Phone Company was
blocking one of our client's email servers from sending email to
their customers at
mpc.example.net. There was every
indication that The Monopolistic Phone Company was simply dropping the
traffic as an anti-spam measure, since other servers we had could send mail
to users of The Monopolistic Phone Company. This is my second attempt at
resolving the situation.
We begin after I placed the call and the phone is answered.
Compuer: “Your call may be monitored for quality assurance. The expected hold time is currently 1 minute. Please wait for the next available represenative.”
Bob: “Hello, this is Bob. Not the same Bob as you called yesterday, but still, just call me Bob. [I should mention this was a very perky Bob. —Editor] How may I help you?”
For this version, I'm including who's doing the speaking. Originally (in my conceit) I had thought that who was speaking would be apparent, but if you scan the entry too fast it might not be apparent.
Also, the “Bob” I spoke to was female and very chipper.
Why are tech support reps called “Bob?”
All tech support personal are called “Bob”. (Female support personnel have an option on “Bobette”, as they feel appropriate). This has nothing to do with “Bob”, the Divine Drilling Equipment Salesman and the Church of the SubGenius. Nor it is “Brother Of BOFH” (although that's smart sidewise thinking, which is good). The real story of Bob can finally be revealed …
The time: August 1995. The place: Demon Internet, Support Department. A large number of new victims|Wrecruits were due to arrive, and it was observed that there would be much duplication of names. To ease the confusion, it was decided that all support techs would henceforth be known as “Bob”, and identity badges were created labelled “Bob 1” and “Bob 2”. (No, we never got any further).
The reason for “Bob” rather than anything else is due to a luser calling and asking to speak to “Bob”, despite the fact that no “Bob” was currently working for Tech Support. Since we all know “the customer is always right”, there had to be at least one “Bob”, just in case.
Just a little sillyness, but it snowballed. Shift leaders and managers began to refer to their groups of ‘bobs’. Whole ranks of support machines were set up (and still exist in the DNS) as bob1 through bob[lots].
Then came a.t-s.r, and it was filled with Demon support personnel. They all referred to themselves, and to others, as ‘bob’, and after a while it caught on.
Just one of those strange things, I guess …
alt.tech-support.recovery FAQ (acronym expansion and links added)
Anyway, back to the
film entry …
Me: “I'm calling in reference to ticket number ‘tango mike papa charlie zero zero zero six six six zero zero zero foxtrot uniform.’”
Bob: “And whom am I speaking to today?”
Me: “This is Sean.”
Bob: “Okay, Mr. Sean, if you can please hold while I review your ticket.”
Yes, she kept calling me “Mr. Sean” throughout the rest of the conversation. It weirded me out a bit as “Sean” is my first name, and it just sounds wierd to be called “Mr. Sean.”
Me: “Okay.” (cue FX of Girl from Ipanema)
Bob: “Thank you for holding, Mr. Sean. I didn't understand a word that Bob wrote yesterday but I gather it has something to do with sending email.”
Me: “That's the gist of it.”
Bob: “Can you please send an email message to [garbled]?”
Me: “What was that?”
At this point in the conversation I was in the Data Center near the back
where the three A/C units are
stored. I am unable to log into the server from my desk, due to the say
sshd is configured on this particular server so in order to at
least half-heartedly carry out her instructions, I need to be logged in.
It's quite loud in the back of the Data Center room, and the headset isn't
making matters better.
She's trying to spell out the email address and for the life of me, I couldn't tell if she was saying “tee” or “dee” or “Zimbabwe.” I kept having to ask her to start over.
(cue montage of Sean roaming around the office looking for a quiet place to write down the email message—many minutes go by while this happens)
I ended up leaving both the office and Data Center before I could decypher what she was trying to spell. Now, remember, in the original version, I didn't include who was saying what, hoping that it would be self-evident.
Me: “Oh! It's
Bob: “Yes Mr. Sean. From that the email
companydepartment can diagnose what happens.”
In reality, the “Bob” of yesterday made this mistake, not today's “Bob.” I know for a fact that The Monopolistic Phone Company's business webhosting is outsourced to Negiyo, so it's not a far stretch to assume that their dialup support is also outsourced.
I should also note that my short term memory is very bad and that I have taken some liberties with the conversation here.
Me: “Please hold on a second, I can test this right now.”
Me: “Yup, just like I said, it won't get through because your The Monopolistic Phone Company's email server is dropping the connection from this particular server.”
Bob: “So it's a networking issue?”
Me: “No, because I can get to The Monopolistic Phone Company's email server from other computers.”
I think I actually said something like “there's no connection made, so therefore the email isn't sent and therefore it makes it a moot point to ask the email department [at The Monopolistic Phone Company] to check the email for an error.” I think she was realizing that the scope of the problem was way beyond her abilities to handle.
Bob: “Oh. Well then, just send a message to
firstname.lastname@example.org the situation and they'll be able to handle it.”
Me: “Okay, can I include the ticket number?”
Me: “Okay, thank you.”
Bob: “You're welcome Mr. Sean! Thank you for calling The Monopolistic Phone Company Dialup Support Line.”
And thus the end of the call.
As Spring and I
were discussing this last night, she asked of the email I sent to
output and I said no, why should it? The Monopolistic Phone Company is
obviously blocking the server as an anti-spam measure. But Spring said that
the admins at Negiyo would turn this case down due to lack of evidence. You
apparently need not only a smoking gun, finger prints and a bullistics
match, but a signed confession to boot before they would grudgingly work on
the case. So why would the admins at The Monopolistic Phone Company be any
“More overheard technical support phone call conversations”
Oh, I see the credits are rolling. I'd like to thank Spring for the
inspiration to do this commentary track and for feedback, and you, for
taking the time to
listen read this.
Director's Commentary for “You know … like James Bond”
Hi. This is Sean Conner, director of “You know … like James Bond” and you are
listening reading the director's commentary. I'm doing this
commentary because Spring found this entry rather
confusing. In retrospect, I can see why.
The title of this is an oblique reference to Sean Connery, perhaps best known as the original James Bond. We also have a very similar name, only difference being a lack of an ending ‘Y’ on my name. And in 36 years, it's been surprising how few people make that connection, and persist in mispelling my name (S-H-A-W-N for instance) or mispronouning it (“sē‧awn” perhaps the worst botching of it—by a Drama Teacher no less!).
Anyway, the scene opens in medias res after I had answered the phone with “Technical Support, how may I help you?” (which is were the confusion starts)
Michelle: “Hi! This is Michelle from 97.3 WKRP The Party-Hearty Hip-Hop Happening Radio Station! Who am I speaking to?”
It was a marketing call from some radio station here in Lower Sheol—I honest don't recall which one, so I made one up. There is (I hope) no radio signal on 97.3—surprising given just how crowded our radio spectrum is with Clear Channel drone stations.
Me: “Hello. This is Sean.”
Michelle: “Sean. Is that S-H-A-U-N?”
Me: “No, it's S-E-A-N.”
Michelle: “Oh.” I could hear the disappointment in her voice. The call went downhill from there. No big deal—it was a marking call anyway.
See? Almost no one gets the Sean Connery connection. Okay, granted, here I didn't give my last name, but what with Sean Connery, Sean Penn, Sean Austin (who played Sam Gamgee in the freaking Lord of the Rings Trilogy), Sean Bean (who was also in the freaking Lord of the Rings Trilogy), Sean Combs (okay, granted, he changes his name more often than Madonna changes her persona but still!) and Sean Young (okay, so her heyday was 1982's Blade Runner but she's still active) you'd think people would know how to spell Sean.
Oh, and yes, there was a glitch. This wasn't a “marking” call, but a “marketing call.” How that one got past the test audience I'll never know.
“You know … like James Bond”
Whoops! Credits are rolling! Gotta go. Hope you enjoyed the director's
commentary for this
Monday, September 26, 2005
“You can't handle the request!”
I wish there was some magic word or phrase that would inform the tech support Bob that they are unable to handle my request and that I should be escalated up the tech support food chain. I realize they have a script to follow, but when the caller (me) says things like “Can you repeat the problem back to me? … No, that is not the issue,” that should be a big 'ol clue-by-four that things need to be escalated.
Yes, I'm still trying to resolve the
email issue and today's round involved four (4) people across two
battling business units (and I think my call ended up in Jamaca—the phone
quality was horrible) at The Monopolistic Phone Company. It got to the
point where, at one point, I actually screamed at Bob “It has nothing to do
with XXXXXXX email configurations! I'll tell you
why! Because I log into their server directly. I then check the MX record for
mx01.mail.example.net. I then pick one, say,
mx00.mail.example.net and do a
mx00.mail.example.net 25, which is the SMTP port. No connection is made. There's no
configuration to worry about at this point because the email servers for
mpc.example.net are refusing connection.”
It was very quiet on the other end of the phone line after that.
I hated doing it, but the sheer level of … bullheadedness on the other end was just phenomenal. Smirk was feeling guilty about his attacks of schadenfreude, but he's dealt with The Monopolistic Phone Company one too many times.
The final Bob I talked to informed me that I should send email to
email@example.com but I kept insisting on some
other phone number I could call. Bob4 balked at first, but I
guess the screaming match I had with Bob3 clued him in and I got
both a voice and FAX number.
Smirk however, had dug up other numbers, and those proved more useful. Bob5 (of The Monopolistic Phone Company Tech Support Business Email Department) at least asked the right questions.
Curiously enough, when I called back to The Monopolistic Phone Company Dialup Support (the first number I was given) to close out ticket number “tango mike papa charlie zero zero zero six six six zero zero zero foxtrot uniform” Bob6 got horribly confused by my request. Apparently no trouble tickets are ever closed at The Monopolistic Phone Company Dialup Support.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
She's leaving on a jet plane
Well, Spring is on her way to Colorado. She'll be there a week before returning with The Younger, who's been spending time with his Dad (who lives in Colorado). The trip to the airport was mostly uneventful (if extreamly early—blech). We did attempt to find a bookstore on the way there, so Spring could pick up A Breath of Snow and Ashes (book umteen of a series Spring got sucked into) but by the time we actually found the store, we were running late and had to skip it.
On the way back, wlofie and The Older decided to stick with me at The Company to save me a trip of driving all the way back home, then back to work. The day at the office was uneventful and once getting home, I had a most refreshing nap.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
On T-1s, routing and email
The T-1 situation is solved—seems that for the past 5 millions years (according to Smirk, who has done something like 47 million of these things) The Monopolistic Phone Company has always provided the timing signal, so of course our DSU were set to use the timing signal provided by The Monopolistic Phone Company, but for some reason, in the recent past (read: a few weeks ago, possibly to spite us) no longer provide a timing signal for a point-to-point T-1.
The upshot: we now have to provide the timing signal. No big deal, once we figured out that The Monopolistic Phone Company no longer does that.
The company with the T-1 also has a wireless shot with us, and today they wrote in saying it was slow—only 1.1Mpbs to some random speed-testing site deep out into the Internet. I did a test more locally, from their side of the network to our side, using iperf and got a consistent 3.4Mbps—pretty much the maximum through the wireless connection.
Another customer with a wireless called in and he too, reported
sub-optimal speeds, again, deep into the Internet. He wasn't in a position
iperf but a few test pings throughout our network showed
no problems. Once he started pinging outside our network to targets deep
into the Internet, the speed drop was dramatic. I'm beginning to wonder if
some of our routing peers are …
I'm still trying to resolve the
email situation—we're now waiting for a response back from
firstname.lastname@example.org. Last time I checked, Lower Sheol
was still hot.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
The Sulfuric Acid Dump Tank
Driving to work this afternoon I saw a sign that said “4-Kids by Kids Carnival” and my initial reaction was if I had kids, there is no way I'd send them to this carnival! I remember being a kid (although Spring might argue that I was never a kid—heck, even my Mom (if she were still alive) might argue that I was never a kid, but I digress) and had I and my friends run a carnival … shudder.
Scene: 7th grade Gifted™ science class, working on chemestry that quarter. My best friend Hoade and I are sitting in the back of the room, killing ourselves over juvenile science jokes as Ms. Absten (Abston? Abstract? Heck, it's almost twenty-five years since this scene occured) gives us the Evil Eye™.
“Fill a pool up with sulfuric acid,” said Hoade, choking back tears of laughter. “And then the mother-in-law dives in,” I said, also chocking back tears of laughter. “SPLOOSH! Yaaaaaaah!” said Hoade and the both of us would collapse on the floor, convulsing in laughter.
Okay, it wasn't great science humor, like MC Hawking's “All my Shootings be Drivebys” but hey, we were twelve. Twelve year olds have sick humor (remind me to forget about Hoade's “Thumper The Bunny Cartoon” series). Like the time, again in 7th grade Gifted™ science class Ms. Absten actually let us work with chemicals. There we were, all at a lab station working away. I had to turn away from what I was doing to read something, and as I was looking away, Hoade dumps a test tube full of some liquid on my hand.
Remember, all year we did nothing but make sick jokes about sulfuric acid.
I screamed like a five year old girl and spazzed out trying to work the sink quickly enough to keep my hand from disolving into a puddle of melted flesh. Hoade was on the floor convulsing in laughter and managed to spit out that he dumped plain old water on my hand.
The fact that I'm still friends with him testifies that had I thought of doing that to him first, I would have.
So had my friends and I designed a carnival for other kids (and I should mention, we were in the Gifted Program™—read: social rejects from the rest of the school) we would have a great time watching all the other kids screaming and yelling from say, the Sulfuric Acid Dump Tank, the Burst the Hydrogen Filled (not helium—it's inert) Balloons Tacked to A Stone backboard with Flint Darts or the ever popular Slide of a Thousand Razor Blades (coated with Lemon Juice of course).
Which explains why we never did have a carnival for kids, designed by us kids. Our teachers knew better. And I know better.
“You see, we lease this back from the company we sold it to, and that way, it comes under the monthly current budget and not the capital account.”
There was an amusing conversation yesterday between Smirk, G and I, concerning The Monopolistic Phone Company and The Monopolistic Phone Company Union. Smirk mentioned that The Monopolistic Phone Company Union only allowed their technicians six roll-outs per day (basically, six jobs per day) even though one technician admitted to Smirk that they could easily do twice that number of jobs. G explained that the “six roll outs” policy was not mandated by the union, but by The Monopolistic Phone Company to the union, which then told The Monopolistic Phone Company that their employees could only do six roll outs per day (it comes down to a safety issue—The Monopolistic Phone Company does not want their employees rushing between jobs in those white and gray vans, hitting little old ladies or the Boy Scouts leading them across and thus opening them up for litigation).
So The Monopolistic Phone Company told the union to tell them that their own employees could only do six jobs a day.
But, as G went on, the union's executives receive their paychecks not from union dues, but from The Monopolistic Phone Company itself. It's not that the union executives have one job with The Monopolistic Phome Company and they do the union executive thing on the side, no. The Monopolistic Phone Company pays the union executives to run the union.
So if you work for The Monopolistic Phone Company, the union you belong to is paid for by The Monopolistic Phone Company.
And as if that weren't surreal enough, the union executives belong not to the union they work for, but for a Monopolistic Phone Company union executive union. Yes, the executives have their own exclusive union. Run and paid for, by—you guessed it—-The Monopolistic Phone Company.
If this sounds like something from Monty Python's Meaning of Life, well … yes. It does.
Except The Monopolistic Phone Company doesn't have a machine that goes “ping.”
“If you are having problems with your email, please email us … ”
Still trying to resolve the email
issue. I sent email to
email@example.com and this is what I got back:
Subject: Re: Deblock our customer's email server please
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005 14:25:17 -0500
Dear Sir or Madam:
This is an AUTO-REPLY to acknowledge that your mail to the Abuse Department of The Monopolistic Phone Company Internet Services has been received and to provide some information on our abuse policies and procedures. Please DO NOT REPLY to this message.
The Monopolistic Phone Company Internet Services does not allow or condone any abuse of our Acceptable Use Policies, and we maintain a “zero tolerance” policy towards spam and network abuse of any kind. Because we take your complaints seriously …
Blah blah blah … okay. Scan past the broiler plate:
Block List issues:
Okay, here we go …
- If you are a Monopolistic Phone Company subscriber and have been listed on a block list, please send an email with the following information to
firstname.lastname@example.org: your name, email address, who is blocking you and your contact information. Please put the following in the subject line “Block Request Removal Assistance”, and we will assist you with this matter.
Okay, that's not me. Reading further:
- If you are not a Monopolistic Phone Company subscriber and you believe that The Monopolistic Phone Company Internet Services is blocking your email, please contact your ISP.
Yes! Okay! Only … I'm the bloody ISP! What do I do?
If you are reporting "hacking" or scans/probes by a Monopolistic Phone Copmany Internet Services subscriber that your firewall is detecting, we need the following …
Aaaaaaah! There's no information for the ISP!
Thank you for taking the time to submit your report to the Abuse Team.
“I don't care if you have nothing to do with this, I still want my money!”
The tech support phone rings. I answer it.
“Yes, this is Joe,” said the person. “I just bought a CPU from XXXXXXXXXXXXXX for $105 and I never got it. I tried emailing and calling but no one has responded. I spent a lot of money and I either want the CPU or my money back.”
I felt for the guy, but we're not XXXXXXXXXXXXXX and we don't even host the website in question.
Small digression: The Company partners with another web hosting company (other side of the building) and the data center is jointly run between the two. Yes, we host web sites, but the markets are different so there's little if any competition between us and the other company. Calls to the “data center company” come here.
So while the site is hosted here in the data center, it's actually a customer of the other company, not us. Okay, so back to the story.
“Yes,” said Joe, “I used [a
traceroute-like program] and I got XXXXXXXXXXXX [the data center
company]. I want my $105
back.” And on and on and on. Joe wouldn't stop talking.
By now, Smirk noticed I was on the phone and not saying much and asked what was up. Muting the phone, I told Smirk what was going on. “Hand me the phone,” he said. I unmuted the phone, broke into Joe's monologing and told him I was transferring him to my manager.
“Hello sir,” said Smirk. “How can I help you?”
Several minutes go by as Joe monologes at Smirk.
“Sir,” said Smirk. “We're a data center. One of our customer's hosts this website—” Smirk is cut short; several minutes go by. “Yes, but we're not … no, sir! Are you listening to me? … We're a data center, and one of our customers is hosting … no, we're just a data center … if you just … let … me … I'll give you a phone number you can call … data center … we have nothing to do with XXXXXXXXXXXXXX … it's a site our customer is hosting … I'm sorry about your $105 but … sir … aw XXXX this,” Smirk said, hanging up the phone.
For Joe, if you ever read this: we tried to help you, but in your anger, you didn't listen to what we were saying as we were trying to steer you in the right direction. Sorry about your money, but tracking people down on the Internet sometimes takes time. Look how long it's taking me to track down someone helpful at The Monopolistic Phone Company …
Muntzed the car to death
And how did Muntz get his circuits designed to be so inexpensive? He had several smart design engineers. The story around the industry was that he would wander around to an engineer's workbench and ask, “How's your new circuit coming?”
After a short discussion, Earl would say, “But, you seem to be over-engineering this—I don't think you need this capacitor.” He would reach out with his handy nippers (insulated) that he always carried in his shirt-pocket, and snip out the capacitor in question.
Well, doggone, the picture was still there! Then he would study the schematic some more, and SNIP… SNIP… SNIP. Muntz had made a good guess of how to simplify and cheapen the circuit. Then, usually, he would make one SNIP too many, and the picture or the sound would stop working. He would concede to the designer, “Well, I guess you have to put that last part back in,” and he would walk away. THAT was “Muntzing”—the ability to delete all parts not strictly essential for basic operation. And Muntz took advantage of this story, to whatever extent it may have been true, and he publicized his “uncanny” ability to cut his costs—in yet more televised advertisements.
Reminds me of my friend Bill's father. Bill got the old family car once he got his license (hey, it was a 'Vette … okay, a Che“vette”). Over the years as the car broke down, Bill's father would repair it, and rip out more and more of the engine block. “Don't need this hose,” he'd say, “since it doesn't snow.” Or “don't need this belt, since it never snows.”
Slowly, over time, the engine became more sparse as Bill's Dad work the engine over. Eventually though, the engine became too spare and it broke down just outside of FAU and never ran again.
Bill's Dad might have muntzed the car to death.
Friday, September 30, 2005
Saucers seen over Hollywood
Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you in the future.
Nothing much here, other than a quote and a screen capture of one of the most well known movies ever made. These two clues should me more than enough (either one alone is more than enough) to figure out which movie. And even if you haven't seen the movie, much like Citizen Kane, you've probably heard of it (and yes, that's an actual quote from the film, my friends).