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Azure Jane Lunatic (Azz) 🌺 ([personal profile] azurelunatic) wrote2016-01-31 01:23 am

Woe and social

Over lunch this week, the engineer from the Ukraine allowed as how knowing that software in general was developed by careless jerks just like him made him less confident in things like self-driving cars. "And how about planes?" (He is a pilot.) "They let just any asshole fly!" he said, or words to that effect.

This whole week has felt off-balance. The ice storm that hit the East Coast this past weekend delayed the processing of my car insurance payment, so while I had in fact paid twice (once manually, once automatically) neither had actually gone all the way through the computers due to things having been shut down.

A brief digression about computer rooms! (This is all simplified, though I know a chunk of my people know more about them than I do; anyone who knows more can leave helpful clarifications if they wish.) You might think that these days, computers are magical creatures that can stay up through all manner of physical insult, and you might be partly right! You can do amazing things to computers compared to what used to take them down, but there are a lot of moving parts behind that uptime.

First, modern management tools allow the people running the computers to switch which physical computer is doing the work, very very quickly across long distances. This means (if and only if things are set up to allow it, and it takes a lot of things) if the North Carolina data center goes down, everything could get switched over to some site in Scottsdale, AZ and the end-user might not notice a single thing.

Second, there's a lot of effort put into keeping the power grid stable (in the US and other places). Technology for this improves every year (and infrastructure requires maintenance and replacement with appropriate technology). There's probably some reference out there about how things have changed over the years, and I can only hope it's gone towards more stability rather than less.

Third, it's easier to keep power on in a server room now than it used to be. They still take a lot of cooling and suck a lot of power, but there are (better) batteries and generators which can keep things up over shortish blips.

Fourth, computers themselves are getting better about not physically destroying themselves when power is removed unexpectedly. The phrase "disk head crash" should evoke an image of a good sized celestial object plowing a furrow while crash-landing on a planet, except the planet is the spinning metal of the hard disk on which your possibly irreplaceable data used to reside, and the asteroid is the itty bitty reader tool which just lost the power keeping it suspended a tiny fractional distance away from your possibly irreplaceable data's final resting place. These days, a cute little electromechanical system will attempt to snag the read head away from the platter when the power goes down. That doesn't always work, in the same way that using a camera with an old-fashioned flash may not have the flash go off if you try to take a picture again too soon. In which case you'd better hope your data was stored on another kind of drive, or in more than one place.

Fifth, some of the programs were built with an understanding that they could be interrupted unexpectedly. If whichever crucial program was built to not care if a section of its resources just dropped out from under it, it might just carry on without the users noticing anything other than maybe some slowness. Contrast this with systems which have to be painstakingly reviewed by operations people and made sure that there is no error stuffed somewhere weird.

A lot of modern computer stuff happens in shiny modern data centers with fancy uptime promises, and the ability to automatically fail over to remote sites if something happens to the main site. Those are very shiny and new. The world of finance is ... not always on the bleeding edge of technology. They may have some somewhat older stuff. Plus, ice storms are serious business, and if you know it's a matter of time before the power goes out and you're not confident that the generators will hold out, and if the person responsible for making sure the machines stay up is snowed in at home ... maybe it just makes more sense to shut everything down gracefully for the long weekend, so even when the power goes out it won't matter. Then they can bring it back up once they get back in the office, and stuff won't be screwed up, even if it's late.

The customer service agent told me that everything was shut down on account of weather, so I very quickly saw why taking computer systems down would be a sensible move. I confirmed that my policy was active so I could legally drive to work. Yay people being sensible even when the computer is not cooperating.

Purple was not around for lunch this week much -- one day there was a leaving thing on his team, one day he was working from home with the sniffles, another day he had another offsite lunch, and then I had a leaving thing for someone on my team (Sparkles).

It's been the kind of week where people need walks.

Wednesday afternoon I got an email from a person at a company. We called and set up an in-person meeting for the following evening. That turned out to be a five-person interview; I realized that I actually missed the rush of uptime problems.

Other writers out there -- if you're ever beta-read or edited, you get to claim writing as an exercise in collaboration, if you're hard-pressed for an example while interviewing. I really ought to have pointed out the sit-down that lb and I had over a potential question that I was going to ask at a meeting, where we condensed from a large chunk of text to a few lines with bullet points. Writing for a goal means the occasional "I think the way you originally had it doesn't work" with optional "here's why" and "here's what I think you should do instead". lb at more than one point apologized and told me that he didn't want to trample all over what I was trying to say; I pointed out that this wasn't an exercise in my artistic employment of language, this was a text with a very specific goal and two very specific audiences. Therefore my ego about my original draft was irrelevant, and we only had an hour. We got it down to two post-its, eventually.

Friday was the aforementioned goodbye lunch for Sparkles. I was sitting next to the newest person. He quietly asked me if I could help him with the names of the people at the other end of the table. I confirmed the first one, but the second two people were people I interact with a lot less, and naturally their names weren't retrieving through my face. (I possibly could have typed their email addresses, and thereby come up with names, but there was no computer; I was stuck with face-based meat noises.) I apologized for the difficulty. He apologized for it as well, mentioning that he was bad with names. "And I'm moderately faceblind," I allowed.

The new guy lit up. "Oh, so you know exactly where I'm coming from; me too," he said. So we compared notes. If I have time, I may make him a book of flash cards.

Friday was also the day that the department that had suffered the intercision decided to meet for drinks at a local watering hole. I had been included in the invitation, and thought it important to show the colors (mostly blue). So I went, and after a little parking angst, found myself a place against the wall with a cider. I chatted and commiserated and reminisced and even may have uttered some language. One of the remote folks tried to join in via Facetime, but it was noisy and the connection was unreliable. There was some jocularity about one of them there newfangled presence robots, and how one might attempt to jury-rig same via hoverboard, broomstick, and iPad (someone objected as she did not want her iPad to go on fire), and then there was talk of remote control cars and the like.

There was standing around and talking outside. At a reasonable hour, I called Purple to see about dinner; he didn't pick up and I reckoned it was early yet and didn't leave a message. I tried again a half-hour later, and left a message. All told, at the two hour mark I was waiting patiently in the restaurant while getting the odd sympathetic glance from the intercised department (the nuances between "got stood up" and "the rest of the party is 25 minutes late" are mostly dependent on texting) and then there was dinner. Dinner was good. No standing around chatting this time, due to rain.

Various denizens of #cupcake decided that it would be a good idea to meet up socially. R decided that Saturday lunch at her house would be perfect. We had lunch and everyone except lb's girlfriend complained about work. (Sorry, lb's girlfriend!) Then we played cards (Purple had brought his deck) and there was hilarity; lb won and Purple and I had the same score. Every now and then Purple would fall over backwards laughing. Once someone played something meanish and Purple was sure it had been me; it had in fact been R.

Purple and I hung around chatting with R on our way out the door for "just a few minutes"; it was not just a few minutes. However, the moment that R and I started to sound like we were having a conference business meeting, Purple excused himself, gave me a hug, and scrammed. Heh.

A spider inside the "No Soliciting" sign is a nice touch. R needs to (quite literally) debug one of her little technology projects, as the spiders got inside that too.

As a result of the conversation, I started to contemplate a world in which StPatience runs a foundation for women in technology, with me as the administrative person and Nora running a lot of the people side. It's an interesting thought experiment.

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