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Life Will Find a Way

Like they said in the Jurassic franchise, “Life will find a way.” 

I like to watch documentary-style programs about the end of days, where computer generated images are spliced in with footage from actual abandoned places around the world, using real-life examples to illustrate what iconic buildings and monuments would look like without humans to maintain them. There’s a whole lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that keeps our society functional, and if humans suddenly disappeared, all of that would stop. Estimates are given for how long before utilities collapse, safeguards fail, and the existing natural elements consume the landscape we know until it is unrecognizable. Bushes in the shape of buildings, set against a cacophony of wildlife punctuated by occasional disconnected phrases high in the canopy as wild parrots imprint their learned patter on future generations of chicks, sounds with out meaning, in a humanless world.

The ominous voiceover implied that I was supposed to be scared, or at least a little creeped-out, but I found it strangely comforting. No matter what crazy thing is happening in my life, it’s not something to stress about, because in the end, the plants win anyway. We have to manage not to destroy our own environment along the way, but assuming we stop short of making this mud-ball uninhabitable by all life forms, then we as individuals can’t really mess up that bad in the grand scheme of things, and as a flawed creature, that is greatly comforting to me. 

Entropy always wins—you can try to keep it at bay, but once we stop mowing, the tidy landscaping will escape flower beds to pour over the streets, the roots will crack through the pavement, which will stay broken because there’s no one in the vines-shaped-like-the-capital-building to pass legislation to fix them, and the plants will win. 

I live in a city and visit places that are green. Picturing the city overrun by nature is simultaneously humbling, knowing nothing we will create will last forever, and freeing, because making my bed is irrelevant if the building will one day be demolished and swallowed by nature. It puts things into perspective. When there’s a lumpy mound of green blanketing what once-was the White House, yesterday’s tweets will truly be meaningless. It’s somewhere between Zen and Nihilistic, but without me, the waves crash, the poets dream, the plants win, and my humble insignificance during this short life brings me peace. 

But that doesn’t mean I play in traffic just because I’m going to die someday anyway. I try not to die. I’ve done very well on that one so far, if I do say do myself—haven’t died once yet. 

In fact, we as a society study entropy in all it’s forms so we can do our best to slow it down. Ads chirp endlessly selling vitamins, potions, lotions and creams to try to slow down time’s effect on our health, we add top-coat sealant to try to make the wood and metal things we love more weather-resistant so they last longer, and we don’t take our cell phone swimming, at least not intentionally, without some kind of waterproofing. We can’t make our things unbreakable since that’s impossible, but we can predict damage, prevent what we can, slow down what we can’t prevent, and prepare, prepare, prepare. Insurance, emergency kits, routine maintenance—we do what we can, and when entropy knocks at the door anyway, we can either smile knowing we are ready, or cringe knowing we aren’t, but it’s broken anyway. Broken happens. 

How’s your company’s digital storage? Not really thinking about it, right? It’s not impervious to time. The system is made of parts that will break because they are made of matter, matter breaks, and entropy will win; the question will be whether or not you are prepared when it happens. Did you have all the backups in place so nothing is lost? And do you have a maintenance contract with someone who knows the system, knows the next thing that’s likely to give out, and is standing-by to prevent disaster? If so, you’re prepared, and we can just embrace the freedom of knowing that your system will break eventually—it’s inevitable—but maybe not in our lifetime if we keep up on it. 

Because our Engineers are humans, too, if humans suddenly ceased to exist and plants took over the world, digital storage systems would eventually break down like everything else. But if there’s no people left, that probably won’t be a big deal at the time, given that it’s the end of days and all. 

Until then, we encourage our Engineers to take their vitamins. We like them, we want them to last as long as possible, and, you know, because entropy.

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Trivia vs Troubleshooting

Two people apply for the same position and are asked the same question regarding the height of a monument on-site. One of the applicants happens to know, having studied local monuments as a hobby, and offers the exact answer, down to the inch. The second applicant takes a moment, then steps outside, measures the monument’s shadow, then her own shadow, and using the known of her own height is able to estimate to within five feet of the answer.

Who do you want on your team? The one who happened to know, which was really more of a lucky break, or the one who used everything available to find the answer even though it was a question they had never been asked before?

I know people who know a lot of things, but if you ask them something they don’t know, they blink, stammer, and change the subject to something they know. They are like background characters, completely static, because they will never know anything new if they choose only to stick to what they know. Plus they are super boring to talk to after the first fifteen minutes, tops. Not a fan.

When you call a big tech company and you get “help” on the phone, how “helpful” is it? The kind individual starts with a script, you have to turn the computer off, check connections and turn it back on regardless of the problem, etc. They have very little actual tech training, what they have is a computer with a script, and based on the answers you give it brings up the next tip, like an Install Wizard for customer service. Ask them a question they don’t know the answer to and they will stammer and find the part of their script that most closely resembles but does not actually address your concern, and you repeat that process until someone gives up. It’s not pretty.

When you have a relationship with someone who knows you and your system, they don’t even pretend to know everything in the world. They listen, apply what you are telling them to what they know about your system, and relying on years and years worth of education and field experience, they troubleshoot and explore options. Instead of going in assuming they have all the answers written in the manual in their pocket, they go in to find a find the problem, whatever it may be, and solve it. Most of the time, the answer wasn’t in the manual anyway.

You have a relationship with your tech, and for most of us it’s a love-hate relationship where we love it until it doesn’t work, and then we curse its circuits. We hate calling customer support for very valid reasons. You need someone who can have a relationship with you and with your tech so all of you can work as a team.

We don’t know what’s wrong yet, but we won’t tell you to turn it off and turn it back on again for no reason, and once we understand the problem, it’s no longer your problem. No bogus answer using similar words, or scripted patter that sounds like we’ve said it 20 times today. 

We haven’t handled your problem 20 times because you haven’t had this exact problem 20 times and no two workflows are the same. But don’t worry, even if it’s something we’ve never seen before, there’s a way to find the answer.

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Subjectively speaking...

I’ve always liked subjectivity. There are some things that have to be either right or wrong, black or white, but the vast majority of the world isn’t. It’s more than just shades of gray and includes shades of every color in the rainbow. If the darkness of a shade represents it’s perceived negativity, while each color represented a different emotional state, what’s a joyous light pink for me might be a deep shade of bruised blue to you because of our differing needs, loves and life’s experiences, and that’s beautiful. My 4K display revels in the opportunity to disagree, one pixel against another, until a tapestry fills my screen with a snapshot of glorious, diverse, messy subjectivity.

It never ceases to amaze me how something so complex as high resolution video could be translated into a series of ones and zeros, being read and expressed instantaneously before my eyes as a lioness slinking towards her prey in the sideways afternoon light, her coat simultaneously gold, umber and violet as she moves in and out of the dappled sunshine. 

Ones and zeros. Pretty amazing. But what that means is that all of this extraordinary subjectivity can be translated into a series of objective answers—one or zero. 

Technology is complicated. But when you break it down, everything has an answer, and that answer can’t be subjective. If it’s still subjective, you just haven’t broken it down quite far enough. Deep down at the root of every problem, there is a question, and the answer to that question is either yes or no. That leads to the next question, and the next, and by the end, a very complex series of events unfolds in the blink of an eye, giving us the illusion of glorious subjectivity because we can’t break it down fast enough to see the magic of the simple logic behind it all.

The trick is to know what questions to ask to get to the root of a problem to find that first no that should be a yes. Do you know it? Me neither. But I have an engineer, so we’re all good.

There are a few questions I know the answer to:
No, I am not expected to know everything all by myself. No one is.
No, I do not make technical decisions for which I do not have the necessary understanding.
Yes, I do have someone I can call with my questions.
Yes, I feel confident that my engineer will prevent or solve my technical issues, and
Yes, I just do my job without thinking about the magic behind the scenes that make my screen so pretty. 

If you aren’t the kind of person who feels confident that you could successfully build a digital storage system from components, design it to meet your company’s needs in the immediate as well as your estimated growth without over-investing in the technology, maximize workflow and maintain the system in such a way that the data is protected as well as accessible to multiple workstations simultaneously, that’s ok. That’s everyone with the exception of a handful of people who fall into one of two categories: highly skilled engineers, and people who are wrong. When we’re called because there was a crisis, we get to meet some really nice people who felt confident before they crashed, but since you can't know what you don't know, they hd no idea how close they were to tragedy until it was too late.

We only hire highly skilled engineers who not only feel confident that they are up to the challenge, but who have the talent and training to support their confidence. In the end, it may seem complicated, but you really just have to ask yourself: Do you have a maintenance contract with an engineer who can keep your system running efficiently and protect your content?

Are you a one or a zero?

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Good one, guys...

If I come back from lunch and find that my screensaver now says, “I should log off before I leave my desk” with an unflattering cartoon image that insinuates I have larger than optimal hips, I laugh. No harm done, clever, and it’s actually a good point—about not logging off, not about my hips. Technically that prank is against company policy in most places, but I’m not looking to cause drama. It was funny, and no sandblasting is necessary to correct it. If anything, it will make me log off next time I go to lunch. 

But while I may be casual with my work station, I will take steps to prevent losing my work, because that is not something to play with. That’s my reputation, my livelihood, and frankly my baby—I put my heart and soul into what I do and it would kill more than my productivity rating to lose it. Luckily, my coworkers are in no way interested in messing with me to that degree, but I can’t say the same for time and random acts of power surges. 

You know you will be hit by the effects of time if nothing else, and we don’t live in a world where “nothing else” is likely. Data loss can be significant and it can ruin more than just your day. Set up a maintenance contract for your company’s digital storage so you can prevent most problems and address the rest while they are small, before you find yourself standing in the proverbial burned-out husk of your creative project, wondering why the universe felt the need to surge you. 

If it were a real burned-out husk, like the rubble behind newscasters in war-zones, people would see it and offer sympathy. Since it’s just a proverbial husk, no one can see it but you, and you wander around an otherwise normal-looking office with a spaced-out look on your face for a while. Not many people recognize the Data-Loss-Stare right off the bat, but if you happen to wander over to my desk, I’ll probably figure it out and give you a hug, if you want one. It won’t bring back your project, but at that point it’s the best I can do.

And while you’re here, does this post make my hips look big? No, really, you can tell me.

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"Change can hurt, but it leads a path to something better."

The only constant is change. This too shall pass. Pick your idiom, it's all the same--if you're hoping that everything in your life will stay exactly as it is now, I regret to inform you that you are in for a huge loss if you don't learn to roll with the punches. If there's anything in your life that isn't perfect yet, guess what--everything is going to change anyway, so don't worry about it.

When it comes to digital storage, change will come in one of two forms--the form you choose and the form that happens to you.

Technology is made out of tangible things and tangible things don't last forever. Time will take it's toll. Also, as the industry advances, five year old equipment that runs perfectly may still not be ideal for your project based on what's available now. In time, even if your machine is still running, if technology has moved on and no one else is compatible with your old system, you're done. 

Eventually, you will have to change--you will have to let go of your old stuff that you are comfortable using and embrace the new. The new is better--shinier, faster, and so much smoother--but you have to accept the change first.

Option One: you call an engineer, design a system that meets your needs, discuss budget and timeline, and slowly acquire the new things you need to augment what you have and keep you running as smoothly as possible. This involves voluntary change--you agreeing to make changes and learning to work with the new stuff. It's not as hard as it sounds.

Option Two: you insist that your system is the only system that has ever been created since the beginning of time that is impervious to wear and tear, you refuse to change, and when physics shows up to vote on the matter, your world crashes. This involves involuntary change, and no amount of staring at the computer screen and clicking the back button is going to bring back yesterday's lost work.

You will change. That's not up for debate. The only question is whether you will choose to change or wait until change knocks you into next Tuesday. I really hope you call us, but I'll have a Tech-Tip ready for when you come-to, just in case...

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Sorry about your wall...

A wall—is it the side of a building, holding up the roof and providing structure to shelter those within, or is it an opportunity for a passing artist to declare, express, or illustrate their need to share with the world in a way that social media just can’t satisfy? It’s a conundrum, and a job-creator in the fields of external painting, resurfacing and sand-blasting. Sometimes, when the artist is clever, I have personally felt the artist’s touch was an improvement. I’d never tag a wall myself, but if there was a safe walking tour of clever, beautiful and hilarious street art, I would buy a ticket, and the proceeds could go to an after school program for local young artists that provides canvases as an alternative to walls. It would work—someone should move on that, seriously.

But I know that’s not fair to the wall owner. That wall owner wasn’t doing anything wrong, and that artist, regardless of talent, didn’t have the right to paint on something that wasn’t theirs. It’s all fun and games until someone has to pay for clean up, I know, but secretly I root for the artist.

There’s no room for secret support when the vandalism is just hurtful—broken windows, hate speech and damage for damage’s sake is not a form of expression, it’s just mean and wrong. No one wins. Often there’s no one to hold accountable, either, because vandals don’t sign their work.

What if you knew a vandal was coming—not an urban artist or misguided youth, but someone who just wanted to destroy things—would you do something to stop them if you could? Most places will put up fences, lights for the exterior at night and even employ a security department because it’s worth it to them to keep out potential vandals if they know they are likely to be attacked. That’s smart.

There is no crystal ball to tell us when a vandal is near, and if there was a snitch willing to do the job, odds are the information wouldn’t be good for long, and yet we prepare on the assumption that we will be targeted. But there are other things that come quietly and leave destruction in their wake that we can predict, and we want to put up all the proverbial lights and fences we can if that will prevent damage. In the land of digital media storage, that means back-ups and redundancy, with protection from the power surges and the external conditions that can damage your data like a vandal damages the wall.

There’s nothing clever or expressive about coming in to turn on your computer and finding your work stolen by the unavoidable vandals, Time, Elements and Outside Forces. While the cost of repairing the vandalism would certainly help prove the case for installing the appropriate security measures to prevent it in the future, at that point it’s too late to prevent what has already been done—creative content that can never be recreated exactly is gone forever. 

If that ever happened to me, though I may still be clever, HR would have a field day with my level of expressiveness at that moment.

Don’t wait for life to tag you before you put up a fence. It’s a nice wall. It’s your wall. And your art is on that wall, so I’m rooting for you.

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Storm Chasers

Storm-chasers are those with the interesting yet dangerous hobby of literally chasing storms—they use the weather reports to go where it’s the worst and travel as the storm travels so they stay in the very worst part the whole time. They do this for a combination of science and adrenalin, and I imagine each individual would have a slightly different answer as to their personal reason-ratio between the two. I like that we can try to predict the weather, and if storm-chasers can help with that, I’m glad they are there, but that is not something I would be able to do. Clearly, not for everyone.

But storms happen. While the storm-chasers party through them, the rest of the neighborhood has battened down the hatches, so to speak, and areas prone to storms have storm cellars literally created for the purpose. We build and prepare to be at our strongest when the storm hits and minimize it’s impact on our lives because we all hate pain. That’s it, plain and simple. 

I don’t want to be uncomfortable, I really don’t want to be hurt, and if you can tell me ahead of time what to do so I can avoid any and all semblance of suffering, I’m in. Movie night is when we watch fictional people suffer a myriad of problems from the safety of our very comfortable couch. The cupholder in mine lights up. Totally ridiculous and I love it. I don’t even suffer passive darkness, while the characters on my screen may be running from bloodthirsty werewolves, or forgetting to wear pants to school. I observe and appreciate their discomfort for my entertainment whilst myself refusing to be uncomfortable in any way. That’s the goal, and I know I’m not alone in this. 

Unnatural disasters happen too, like when something in the computer decides it’s all done working now and won’t turn on again. That’s the sort of disaster that can have ripple effects for many projects and people, and while there’s no storm cellar for that, there are steps people take to stay on top of things—back-up files regularly, etc. If your company or your project hinges on this technology and any data or equipment loss could be catastrophic, you need a bit more to batten down your hatches than a thumb drive. At that point, think of a maintenance contract with a qualified engineer as part of your weather service and your local emergency preparations team—you have to be able to see the storm coming and have the cellar built for you in the first place before you can hope to weather it well, and in the fast-paced world of creative content, it’s always storm season.

Most of us would rather be safe at home then soaked and wearing a hat that says “I love Tornados,” but to each their own, and good for them if they’ve found their happy. Me, I’ll be as comfortable as the given circumstances allow, and I hope to make others just as comfortable so we can avoid suffering together. I want a cushy maintenance contract to keep the proverbial storms at bay for me, and if a storm has to come, I want my storm cellar to be an exact copy of my room so I am not impacted in the slightest. With mirroring, that translates to back ups and copies of back ups of important files, and a fail safe that switches over in microseconds so I don’t even notice. I am spoiled and not in a big fat hurry to change. If you were honest with yourself, you’re not looking to experience the adrenaline and character growth that can only come from a complete system melt-down and loss of data either.

Or maybe you are. Hey, storm-chaser, you do you. Tell me when your show comes on and I’ll watch it. From my couch, with a blankie.

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Lazy Genius

"Hard work pays off in the future, laziness pays off now."

You know what sounds amazing right now? A nap. I would love to hit save, walk over to the imaginary giant feather bed in the corner of my office and sink into the pile of 200 mattresses with a contented sigh. 

And in an hour or two when I woke up refreshed and looked at the clock, realizing I now have even less time get all of this done, my nap would look less like a good idea and more like one of the many things Hindsight says I shouldn't have done. Hindsight, if you can't be constructive when I really need you, then don't keep showing up after the fact with your I-told-you-sos when you didn't tell me anything. Be a friend, Hindsight--show up BEFORE the tragedy next time. 

I'm not calling you lazy. A nap is an extreme example we can relate to, but while no one actually sleeps at work we hit snooze on other things all the time. Even if you set a reminder to chime every 3 months for your oil change, or one when it's time to schedule your annual physical, you don't drop everything and make it happen. You're busy, and life is about constant triage. What's the most important, what's bleeding to death right now, and what can wait until I get to it later. Like routine maintenance. If I get an oil change in 6 months instead of 3, at the end, the oil and filter are clean, so what's the big deal?

The melt-down at the 5 months mark--that's the big deal. But never mind--that will never happen until it does, regardless of what anyone says, and you're too busy to handle that today. I get it. Good luck.

Routine maintenance isn't that hard. You don't even do it, you just set things up so that someone else makes it happen. For my mechanic, fixing my car is an involved process, or at least it looks like it to me, but for me, it involves a magazine and complementary coffee, so it's not that hard. But we get lazy--or more likely overwhelmed by everything else--we hit the proverbial snooze button and then wonder why the world crashes over something we probably should have handled a while ago.

Let a SkyTech Engineer handle your NAS/SAN system so you can just keep doing what you do. This is one of those things where a tiny bit of work now--a phone call--sets the stage for being allowed to be lazy in the future. You don't even have to drink coffee in our waiting room, you just set it up and let the SkyTech Engineer handle it from there.

Geniuses are usually just looking for some clever way to do less work, which is why just about every story involving someone who is supposed to be a genius has to walk the audience through a complicated machine that cooks eggs and makes toast--an incredible investment of labor to afford future laziness. 

Dude, this one is just a phone call. As genius moves go, way easier...

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The roof, the roof, the roof is on...top.

Whatever it is you are doing right now involves measures you have taken to protect yourself so you can focus. At this moment, you are likely indoors, away from the elements, you are wearing clothes, the water you drink and air you breathe is safe because we regulate it, and because of all of that and a thousand other things, you can stare at the computer screen and not look over your shoulder for predators. 

The only way to have any control at all is to know ahead of time that you will never be able to control everything, prepare for that, and go from there. Can’t control the weather? Predict it, and build houses that can withstand all of it so you can sit inside and ignore the weather. 

You have a roof. You get it, now apply it to your digital medial storage system. Power surges, the ravages of time and fluctuations in temperature exist, and predictable or not some of these things are simply not in our control. 

Have an engineer design a system that is built to withstand all of it with mirroring to protect the data, like a roof designed to protect you from whatever the weather may bring. Then, have an engineer check it quarterly. That’s like checking the roof for leaks and patching holes as you find them. If you do that, your roof will last 20 years or more. Technological development in digital media storage likely moves faster than advances in roof-tiles and you will probably want to upgrade before you hit the 20-year mark, but you’ll get the longest life-span, and therefore the most for your money, if you take care of what you have.

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Attack of the Killer Robots

In the 1950’s, pop culture couldn’t get enough of the Killer Robot. It had no heart, literally. That’s practically the tag-line right there. Robots can’t be evil, they can’t be good, they can’t be reasoned with, and they will kill you if something in their programming tells them to do so. It’s like a person with no remorse, but a person who can lift a car and is also 10,000 times smarter than you, so it made for quality cinema. 

Want a robot to do your menial work but are afraid that some day you will lose control over it, symbolizing humanity’s innocent yet destructive decent into chaos as the very forces we are playing with prove to us that we are too puny to wield the power we assume? Ray gun, charged and on hand—that’s usually the best answer.

We fear these emotionless things in life that don’t need a reason to hurt us, and more than understand them, we just want to stop them. We need those stories to help us cope with the fact that random attacks exist at all, not just from killer robots, but from things we should have seen coming, things we couldn’t have seen coming, time, life, biology and physics. Killer robots were the death of a loved one, the destruction of a storm, and every day to day loss rolled into something we could shoot at, because somehow the one and only person who understood the robot in the first place died at the hands of their own creation. Typical crazed genius scientist stuff.

But you can’t shoot a storm, or de-program a way to bring a loved one back. These aren’t things that can be prevented either, and we hate that. Thus, we make robot movies to make us feel better and give us a break from the helplessness we feel. And we carry an umbrella, wear a coat, see a doctor when we need to, and tell our loved ones we care while we have the chance, because just hating it doesn’t make it go away. We brace for the little tragedies, even in our work lives, and prevent as many as we can, from backing up our photos to the cloud every night to emailing an important document to ourselves for safe-keeping.

Technological tragedies can be much bigger than losing yesterday’s photos, and generally speaking the “shoot it” method doesn’t work for most of them. “Hit any key” is not a reference to fisticuffs, and outside of Tomorrowland, you really just need that scientist or someone who knows how it works to solve the problem. It’s not nearly as glamorous as an explosion, but flipping a switch can be just as effective without any of the clean-up, as long as someone knows where the switch is. 

Ever talk to your computer? I think we all do—we coach and beg and plead like it can hear us, which is about as effective as trying to reason with a killer robot. Our engineers understand the needs of these emotionless machines and can keep them functioning within normal parameters so you can do the same, while taking all the measures necessary to ensure your content is as safe as possible. 

But if a killer robot shows up, we assume no responsibility. Our engineers are not equip with ray guns.

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Walking Backwards

"If you walk backwards you're likely to run into something." 

I'm sure there are versions of that statement in every major branch of philosophy, so I am neither claiming it as my own nor citing a particular source--let's just call it inarguable wisdom. For those who might really need their symbolism 3D printed and handed to them, it means if you are focused on your past instead of the future, something is going to go wrong; being distracted by the constant loop from the past makes it hard to concentrate on future plans, and then your life is about that one thing rather than being about the stuff that's still to come.

Divorce. The winning touchdown. You've heard it--there is someone you know with a story that defines them. Those folks are walking backwards, and you'll find if their present is about their past, it usually effects their relationships, their ability to have fun, and takes its toll on their character.

Ever lost a project? The day before, you were frustrated with something, but then it's gone, and it was the best work you had ever done. Give it time, and it would have been your Opus, the thing that would have defined, you, and now it's gone, like the graze of a football just missing your fingertips as the clock runs out. Now you're the one on their third beer getting ready to tell the story again. Yup, you became that guy.

So start fresh. Shake it off. Walk away. Pick your favorite disco mantra and dance to the tune of You-Were-Too-Good-For-Them-Anyway. No, it's just that easy. I said it, so it's done, right? No need for years of therapy. Woo hoo. Go me... dialing my therapist... 

IN SIMPLE TERMS:

Two things:
First, losing creative content can feel like a death, because you breathe life into it, you nurture it, you watch it grow, and then it's gone and you stand there, thinking of all the things you'll never get to do together--planned edits, approaching deadlines, and long walks on the beach, all gone in the blink of an eye. I totally get it.

But stop talking about it. Seriously, you aren't going to be able to work on anything else if everything stands in the shadow of the would-have-been-amazing-work you lost. In order to be able to create again, you have to let it go. Don't try to recapture it--you can borrow from it, you can be inspired by it, but you'll never simply recapture and recreate it, and trying will only get in the way. Art is art, it's a one-time deal and that's what makes it special. If you could magically print out another copy from your brain, I think that would take away from it's inherent value anyway. 

It stinks, mourn the loss, and move on, because there really are no other options. Once something is gone, it's gone.

Two, you need a maintenance contract for your NAS/SAN system so that it never happens. Coping advice is one thing, but I'm still all about trauma-avoidance, so let's not lose stuff in the first place, if we can manage it. 

But the whole, "move on" thing is still good advice.

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WHY?!?!?!?

You know what I don’t understand—what do random hackers really get out of sending viruses to people? I’m not talking about stealing data or deleting significant files. There’s tons of reasons for that, from corporate espionage to simple greed. I’m also not talking about virus bombs planted on websites—if you have to actually step on the mine to get blown up, they want to punish you for being there, and there are a ton of reasons for that, too. What I’m talking about are those people who give you a virus, and that’s it—they gain nothing, your life sucks, and they may or may not even have a total count for how many people they attacked. 

What’s the up-side of that? No really, I want to know.

At least there’s antivirus software for that, and with any luck, it’s just a sociopathic phase, the little hacker will grow out of it, and maybe even get a job in cybersecurity someday and live happily ever after. Use your powers for good, self-proclaimed Super Villain. And go do your homework—you’re smart enough to cripple my computer, so there’s no earthy reason you can’t pass algebra. 

The thing is, while we’re prepping for dancing teenaged angst on one side, there are much quieter things we’re paying no attention to whatsoever lurking in the background. Components in the system perform as they are supposed to perform until the day they can’t do it anymore, and they don’t send a heads-up text on the way out. There’s no magical software for that, either.

The best thing you can do to protect your system from all the things you aren’t thinking about right now—wear and tear of time on individual components, the effects of power surges, issues with ventilation and temperature control that can impact the system, etc.—is to hire an engineer or maintain a service contract, depending on the size of your system. Most people can get away with a quarterly check-up, as long as they replace what needs replacing as time goes on. As is usually the case, it’s far less expensive to maintain then to rebuild, and boring maintenance beats dramatic failure every time. 

Your home computer probably runs some kind of a system check at 2:00 AM automatically to protect you from hackers, but your company’s digital storage system is running in the tech room, quietly doing it’s job, and no one who really knows how it works checks on it? That means you may not be able to access any of the content stored on it someday, even if it seemed perfectly fine the day before, if something you didn’t even know was a “thing” happens to breathe it’s last. 

That seems a whole lot riskier than the possibility of being ridiculed by your screensaver, and you put up a firewall to prevent that. There’s a chance you won’t be targeted for a virus while there is zero chance of not being effected by time, but you’re willing to take the risk, despite the mathematical certainty of failure.

What’s the up-side of that? No really, I want to know.

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Tell me a story...

You gotta know people’s stories to really understand them. We as humans think and understand the world in stories, so if there’s no story, we can’t really wrap our minds around it. Instead, we find a way to tell other stories to help us fill in the gaps—the stories of the survivors, the first responders, and their harrowing journey to overcome the senseless tragedy, be it man, nature or machine.

Take a story about a plane crash: there’s some kind of mechanical failure, and the rest is the actual story, which is about tending to the wounded, signaling for help, and discovering the entrance to a cave full of treasure because you happened to crash in the exact right spot. Hey, it’s a story, so it could happen. 

But what about that first part--the mechanical failure that generally gets a line or two at best? It would be a whole different movie if it was about the two missed oil changes before the engine locked up—still not much of a story, but we all understand how that works and can imagine the horror of a tragedy caused by something so small that we forgot.

I like stories, even about plane crashes, but I don’t want to be in a plane crash. I want to have a really predictable day in which I finish up at my desk on time, make dinner with my family, and spend an evening laughing and doing what I want to do without surprises, and that’s usually the scene right before the story actually starts. We like to hear stories, not be stories. 

Like those who work tirelessly in the background to make the stories that shape our world, the equipment you use works quietly in the background until it can’t for some reason. There’s no story in it—something works, something breaks, and now it doesn’t work anymore. Those of us who make stories for a living—the film makers, artists, designers and creative content professionals—are focused on the story they are telling. The last thing they want is for some kind of mechanical failure to be the end of the story they are telling and the beginning of the one they are in.

To be able to tell your story without the sudden superimposition of a crisis flick, there’s this one scene every quarter where an Engineer walks into the tech room and later comes out again. It’s subtle, and it’s in the background, but if you read the back-story, that Engineer is secretly a super hero. By day, they're just a mild mannered Engineer, taking care of routine issues so that nothing big happens. By night, they are Super Tech, and when the phone rings after hours, they know there’s an emergency tech problem waiting to be solved. 

Thanks to the dominance of the main plot, the tech issues were trimmed down to just routine maintenance without the crisis, so most people don’t know the story that could have been, but it’s there. And the SkyTech Engineer can talk to animals, and read the minds of babies, and predict the weather, and do every martial art known to man, while still finding time for family and an avid soap-carving hobby. Ok, maybe not all of that…but that would be a great story.

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"Don't bite off more than you can chew."

"Don't bite off more than you can chew."

That's good advice all the time, in work projects, personal obligations, and sandwiches. "Biting off more than you can chew" leads to choking, which is terrible in both the literal and figurative meanings. But here's the thing--you have to know how much you can chew, not how much you can promise to chew when you're feeling really positive and hyped up on energy drinks after four days of no sleep. 

Ever suffered from a Superhero Complex? I do. That's when I start to list all the things I'm going to do today and suddenly realize it would take a week to reasonably get through the list I marked "before lunch." It's not that I think so highly of myself that I make promises my skills can't keep, it's that I have already thought through all the steps, which never occurs to me is much faster than doing the steps in the real world, I'm charged by the excitement of the situation, and I want to be a Superhero to someone in some small way at that moment. Sound familiar?

There's a worse version of that, and it happens all the time. I've done it. You've done it, too. You say the words, "Sure I can do that," while thinking, "I bet it's on YouTube anyway." The boss thinks you can do something, you really hope you can do that something, you know you can learn anything if you try, you know the Internet is vast and probably going to have the answers somewhere, and what you really don't want to do is tell them you don't know what you're doing when they've casually assumed you can do something you can't. Smile, nod, look it up later.

Ok, so we're all guilty of wanting to maintain people's opinion of us when they think we're smart. So sue us. For most stuff, that's no big deal anyway. It WAS on YouTube, thank you very much, and after a handful of tutorials I'll be fine. I didn't really lie about my skills, I told the truth a little prematurely.

Ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? That's when you know so little about something that you don't know how little you know. Imagine someone reading a pamphlet on the bus and saying, "Brain surgery isn't as hard as everyone says it is." To be fair, we live in a society of snippets, so it's not weird for someone to hear a summary and think they have the gist, but the gist is not the same as being capable of effectively performing brain surgery. Those are the folks at the party talking about a subject like they are experts, but they run out of factoids when they're done reciting the one article, and if you try to talk about anything that wasn't in the article, then YOU are the one who doesn't know what you are talking about.

They sound like idiots, and they think they sound smart. Like it or not, you've been that person at least once. We all have. At a party, that's embarrassing. At work, that can be devastating.

If you are in an IT position, or have assumed IT duties because someone had to do it, and your understanding comes from Google searches, I commend you on your determination, and you will be just fine most of the time, but you need to know that the articles you read aren't the same thing as being an engineer. We care for you--we really do--and we also care for your system. It's hard to say and probably even harder to hear, but you may not know that there are things you don't know, and just to avoid being that person, you should get a second opinion from an engineer.

Just because you know what all the words mean doesn't mean you are prepared to handle something as complex as the digital storage for a large-scale creative content provider, and that's ok. Our engineers are not filmmakers, either. If I handed an engineer a camera and told them to make a movie, and they said, "how hard can it be?" those who actually make films for a living would cringe.

Hey, you've bit off more than you can chew and you don't even know it yet. We've all done it, we understand, and you're forgiven. But trust us--call an engineer before something happens, lest you choke. 

And give yourself some leeway when presenting your anticipated timetable for your next project, too. You don't have to be a Superhero, you know?

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Happy Friday the 13th

Hi. We haven’t met, not officially. I’m your Hard Drive, or at least that’s the nickname you would probably recognize. There are some technical terms involved, but that’s ok: “Hard Drive” works for me.

You haven’t thought about me today, I’m pretty sure. I’m not offended or anything—that just means I’m dong a good job. In the land of computer systems, if the end user doesn’t even know you’re there, that’s a compliment. Think about antivirus software as an example—if you forget you have it and your computer just works without viruses, that’s perfect. If every morning your antivirus needs to send you a message, you probably hate it. Our lack of communication is a good thing.

Which brings me to why I’m writing. If the little hairs on your arms have started to stand up, it’s not that bad yet, but unfortunately you’re on the right track. It would have to be pretty bad for me to break the code of silence and reach out like this, so I really hope you take this warning seriously because I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this again.

Hard Drives are different than other parts of your computer. If something’s wrong with something else, your system may start having problems. With the Hard Drive, files are either accessible or they aren’t. That means one day your Hard Drive may be just fine, and the next day she won’t even wake up. No diagnosis and a three-months-to-live prognosis, just alive and then dead, with nothing in between. For your home system, you have the cloud and all the usual backup for your pictures and stuff, so that’s not really a problem.

I’m the Hard Drive at work. I hold every file that you and your coworkers have ever made, including all the things involved in that huge project you’re currently working on, and if even part of the Hard Drive is damaged, you will lose so much data you won’t be able to finish the project on time and may lose the contract altogether. It could be really, really bad—way worse than losing some of your personal photos, which you took the time to protect.

I don’t know how long we have, actually, which makes this hard. I have all kinds of pieces that have to work together, and the parts that go first are usually the parts that protect me from power surges, and power surges come from the outside without warning so I have no way to predict them. Right now, I’ve absorbed a bunch through the years, and there’s only so many surges I can live through. I’m not sure how much I have left in me, or how wonky the power plans to be tonight, so this is the best I can do.

I’ve been working for you all this time, and I’d really love to keep doing it. I’m not trying to be a pest—really, I’m not—but I’m getting worried. We never know what might happen, and it may seem weird for a computer to care, but I get to see everything you do, and I’d love to see this project succeed. I can see the writing on the wall—I may end up being the reason everything fails, and nothing depresses and terrifies me more.

Thank you for listening. I wish we had met under better circumstances, but with the future this uncertain, I felt a;klsdlhf. A oiyhapod8fyaghikpphn raasdjvkh 1011010101010
<file not found>

Happy Friday the 13th. Good luck.

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Don't let this happen to you!

“My car is running fine. Don’t tell me I need to replace some expensive part. I’m not authorizing any of those ‘recommended repairs,’” said the angry driver when seeing list on the bottom of the routine maintenance receipt. The following week, the same driver was angrily calling for road-side assistance. 

Victim of the Universe, or Blind Self-Saboteur? 

“My system is fine! You come in telling me that some part inside this expensive equipment isn’t working to capacity and I’m supposed to try to authorize an upgrade when there’s nothing wrong?” said the end-user who didn’t understand the gravity of the potential data loss, just before a major crash.

Tow trucks make a living assisting those who may or may not have been as diligent as they should have been on their vehicle repairs, because at one time or another, that’s all of us. There is no tow truck for digital media, and unlike a broken car, which still exists even if it’s broken, a lost file is gone forever. There’s nothing left to tow.

No matter how busy you get, remember to keep up on oil changes, get a mechanic you trust and stick with them, and take care of your vehicle so it can get you where you need to go. And if you don’t have a maintenance contract for your digital media storage, having an engineer check on the status of your system should also be done every three months, but you don’t have to remember that one—once it’s set up, we come on schedule.

I know! If you set up a service contract, whenever you see your SkyTech engineer, it’s time to get an oil change on your car. Problem solved. Glad to help.

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Tiered Storage Strategy

Implement a tiered storage strategy: If you ensure that your systems can cope with various storage tiers, you can save future efforts, money and time. 

There are files everyone uses at the same time, and files that are basically historical data. There are top-of-the-line options that maximize productivity for those very active files, and they are more than worth the investment when compared to the cost of lost time on projects of their scale. The video archive from the 1980s doesn't need to occupy real estate in that system, and less expensive options can be paired with newer technology to give you what you need without throwing money around unnecessarily.

There are two types of wrong in choosing and funding technology for your company, and both are expensive. In the first, the person making the financial decisions doesn't know enough about technology to understand the importance of timely upgrades even though "it isn't broken." This leaves the company less productive than they could be and possibly at risk for a loss of data if the system is allowed to fail, the cost of which adds up quickly. In the second, the person responsible is equally out of their depth, but purchases the most expensive, top-of-the-line everything, just in case. They are prepared for expansion, prepared for emergency, prepared for adventure, and actively using only 35% of their system while paying for 100% of it. Very few people have the resources to be so impressively ignorant, but it does exist.

Here's the part that's not often said out loud--there is very rarely a situation in which the person making the financial decisions truly understands the technology. That's not an insult, it's the result of specialization. The Staff who works with the technology daily has the skill and knows the frustrations they face. Their Supervisor knows the frustrations of dealing with Staff complaints and time-pressure from above. It's generally the Supervisor explaining the need to an Executive, who specializes in high-level reports and cost-analysis, which determines whether or not an investment is made. Even if the Supervisor was once a Staff member, they may have an outdated understanding since the days when they were more hands-on, and regardless of the Supervisor's level of expertise, the Executive they must appeal to generally fits into one of the above categories. None of us would want to do the executive reports, they went to school for something other than technology, and all of us should imagine what it must be like to be constantly asked to understand departments that are not our own before we roll our eyes too hard. It's a tough gig, but that's why they make the big bucks, and until we've walked a mile in their Italian leather shoes, we can't judge. 

That's why Engineers exist. Invest in a relationship you can trust, then listen to their advice. That truly is the least expensive option.

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No-Redundancy Roulette.

Backing up files is important. Everyone knows that. Plan A, everything works. Plan B, we bring in a new computer and restore from the back-up drive. We back up our files regularly, and when asked how our digital storage is doing, we are “all good.” How likely is a complete failure of my digital storage anyway? It probably won’t happen to me. Or if it could happen, it would be way in the future, so I have time.

What if the back-up fails? Plan C? You sure you’re covered? How’d you like to place a little bet…

With deadlines, downtime is more than just lost work hours, it may mean lost clients or projects that fall apart at the very end, and it only takes one key failure to shake a company’s reputation and therefore their future success. Worse, imagine losing files—not only losing hours of time while the system is restored, but discovering that hundreds of hours of beautiful content has been lost, most of which can never be recreated in exactly the same way and is gone forever. Talk about one of those moments in life when you wish there was an IRL undo-button.

If digital losses were as visible in the media as physical losses, we would see a staggering number of well-dressed executives standing dazed before the burning ruble of their professional lives, saying, “I had no idea…I thought the files were backed up…”

Your professional life is the creative content you generate every day. Your team works diligently on labor-intensive projects daily, and lost material would be devastating to more than just the bottom line. Redundancy means that your files are available to all, and simultaneously saved in multiple places, so if one of the drives fails for some reason, the content is intact on the mirror drive. It reduces the likelihood of loss to near-zero.

IN SIMPLE TERMS…

Some enjoy spending $5 on scratcher tickets, because the potential loss is worth the potential gain, and those who enjoy it find the uncertainty thrilling. No one would bet the future of their company against the potential gain and thrill of doing nothing, and yet people do so every day by assuming they are “all good.”

Talk to an engineer. Invest a few minutes in a professional opinion, and end the call with confidence. You will either discover that you are indeed “all good,” or you may be able to prevent an unnatural digital disaster in the nick of time. You will either spend the money in strengthening digital infrastructure now or in rebuilding after the crash, but that pending crash is an uncertainty that brings dread, not thrills, while proactive investment is a sure bet.

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Technical Tips (for the Non-Technical)

Make a disaster recovery plan and test it on a regular basis: To enhance the performance of the storage device, create a good recovery plan so that you know you are able to retrieve data in a minimal amount of time when required. Test the recovery system regularly and verify that you have retrieved your complete data pool.

We hold emergency drills in school, and families are encouraged to develop meeting places and other plans in case of natural disasters, but we don't think about the far more common disasters, such as those joyous moments when technology fails and work is lost. For home use, people may save their photos on an external hard drive as well as in the cloud, so in case their computer crashes, there are two back-up plans in place that are only as good as the last time you backed up your files, but that will be enough for most people, and they know they can access their data quickly enough for personal use.

If you are working in an active, creative environment and you are generating large amounts of data that many hands must access daily, you're in a different ballpark altogether. Data protection/recovery is often something that is handled for you. With redundancy and a maintenance plan, your engineer can test that everything would transfer to the backups in milliseconds, but as the end user, you wouldn't notice anything, so to you there was never anything wrong in the first place. There is a Plan A, B and C, the system does it automatically, and the only plan you have to worry about is the one where you get coffee and sit down to start your day.

We should have drills. I already get coffee every morning so this should be easy...

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The Importance of Work-Flow Efficiency

Rent (Inefficiency) vs. Buying (Investing in Infrastructure)

The technological world is moving fast, and it can be a challenge to keep up with the demand. The only way to survive is to be as efficient as possible. Lost work-time can cost a company thousands if not millions of dollars over time and it’s often completely invisible. Because we are accustomed to some amount of “glitch” in our technology-driven lives, the minutes we lose waiting for things to load can feel as natural as the exhale following the inhale. You click, you wait, you work, you wait, repeat.

Take the total number of employees, multiplied by the average hourly compensation for your company, from the top to the bottom. That is the cost of one hour of down-time. 

Then, think of the tiny fragments of every day when files load slowly or something needs to try again to connect to a centrally-stored database. Is that five minutes a day, or fifteen? Or worse? 

If your company loses as little as 15 minutes of efficient work-flow per employee, per day, that’s an hour lost every four days, or five hours total in a 20 day (4 work-week) span. That’s the cost of just over 5 hours of down-time every month.

But it gets worse. The equipment in use today is dying, one day at a time. The best anyone can do is design and install a stable system with room to grow that anticipates the individual company’s needs over the next five or more years with a maintenance plan to keep it running and replace things as needed, because nothing lasts forever. The hours that are being lost to inefficiency now will gradually, invisibly increase, until break-room conversations start with, “I’m waiting for a file to load,” and very little else is being accomplished. How many hours of down-time would your company be paying for per month then?

It wouldn’t take long for that cumulative cost to be large enough that you could have implemented a more efficient digital storage system for less, and how much more could have been accomplished in that time if you had done so? Perhaps it would have made the office environment a little less stressful. Perhaps it would have improved outcomes so much as to involve expansion, generating rather then losing revenue. 

IN SIMPLE TERMS…

You keep your digital files stored on a drive. That drive is your files’ house.

Paying for inefficiency is like paying rent in an ever-increasing housing market. At some point, you can’t afford to pay it and you have nothing to show for your years of scrimping to make ends meet. Investing in a home is obviously better—you have something to show for the money spent and more control over your situation. The money is being spent either way, but what scares people most is the down-payment on a house, because the big number up-front gets in the way and they can’t see the savings over time. Most of us save up somehow, because it just makes sense.

Same thing. Keep paying for inefficiency—rent—until you can’t afford it anymore and the whole thing crumbles. Buy the appropriate digital storage system for what you need, keep it up with a maintenance plan, just like your house, and you will never find yourself homeless…er…work-less…file-less… You get the gist…

 

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