Comment

Fiction Friday: Stress-blocked, Part 2

“Dave!  To what to I owe the pleasure, my friend?”  Phil’s voice sounded a little tinny through the speakerphone but that didn’t dampen his obvious good mood.  Jenna couldn’t help but smile a little.

“Phil!  I’m here with Jenna, or rather she’s in the office and I’m trying to work remotely, but we can’t sign on from outside the office.  From what I understand, several people are having the same problem.  Is that something you can look at from there?”

“Sure.  Let me just log in to the backend…”

“You can check the computer from there?”  Jenna hadn’t meant to speak if she could avoid it, but the question felt natural.

“Sure can.  Probably something as simple as a setting change.   How’s everything else?  Anything else acting weird at all?”

“Well, I’m at home, so I can’t see it,” Dave started.  “Jenna?  Have you noticed anything else?  Anything out of the ordinary happen before you noticed the problem?”

Jenna paused.  “I…we all had to log out this afternoon to do an update.  It was one of those required updates that we’d been avoiding all week, but today they told us to go ahead and restart so we could clear them out.  It only took a few minutes and we didn’t do anything—it was just the updates that the computer gets by itself.  Honest.”

“It’s ok—I believe you.”  Phil chuckled.  “You aren’t doing a thing wrong.  You do know that, right?”

“I just feel like I’m doing something wrong most of the time when it comes to this stuff,” Jenna admitted.  “Just like this—things happen that make no sense.”

“Nah, this makes total sense.”

Jenna blinked several times.  “It does?”

“Yeah.  I think I can have it fixed in about 15 minutes.  It sounds like the update messed up the settings.  I’ll put them back.”

Jenna blinked several times.  “Really?  That’s it?”

Phil laughed.  “I think so.  Highly likely.  That was the exact piece of information I needed, so thank you.  Why?  Were you stressing out?”

Dave stifled a chuckle.  Jenna cleared her throat to silence him  “Not terribly.  I just…it’s intimidating to me.”

Phil’s smile could be heard through the phone.  “Ah, Jenna, don’t feel like that.  That’s why you have me.  I’m not intimidating, right?”

“No.  You’ve been very nice.  Thank you.”

“So that’s it,” Phil said.  “From now on you call when you have a question—before you get stressed out.  What are you working on?”

“Nothing,” Jenna scoffed.  “Blinking-cursor-itis.”

“But I’m here to help now,” Dave chimed in.  “Or I will be in about 15 minutes when Phil’s done.”

“Jenna, how much of the blinking-cursor do you think might be because you were too stressed about the tech not working and couldn’t find your flow?”  Phil’s words hung in the air for several seconds and he let the silence speak for him.

“That’s a very good point,” Jenna finally answered.  “I don’t know.  It’s at least a factor.”

“Not anymore,” Phil said.  “You can’t do what you do if you’re trying to do what I do, too.  Let me do what I do so you can do what you do before it’s due.”

Jenna genuinely laughed.   “That’s a lot of Do.  Next time, I will call you right away so I’m not stressed.”

“And that’s why I’m here.”  Phil beamed.  “It’s fixed, by the way.”

“Really?  While you were talking to me?”

“I multitask well.”

“I’m in!” Dave nearly shouted it.

“Well, I’m out,” Jenna said.  “Dave, if we can get in remotely, I’m going home to work from there.  I should be on again in about 20 minutes.”

“Good luck, you two.  I want to hear how you saved the day with a crazy all-nighter next time we talk.”  Phil laughed.

“Thank you, Phil!”  Jenna truly felt more relaxed than she had all day.  “It’s good to have a friend to call.”

Comment

Comment

Attack of the Clone-Files

How many defunct clones are draining your data storage?  They travel in hoards like zombies and they take up space.  That’s really all they do—zombies have the whole brain-eating thing, but these are just half-formed science experiments that sort of exist and stare at your from the directory, sending you on a quest for the One True File hiding among the damaged and ill-formed clones.  Sounds a lot more exciting than it is.

When working collaboratively on a creative project, if you don’t have a well-designed work  flow, then you have a veritable Island of Dr. Moreau of half-files clogging your system.  We all do it—we use Save As when adding our edits so we don’t mess up what someone else has done, and we save the most recent version of the file with our changes in case someone else makes a mistake and loses it on their end.  We end up with dated versions, or numbered versions, or versions covered in the initials of the people who last worked on them.  Inevitably, someone will invest hours perfecting something in an old version of the file, and then it will have to be determined if what is missing from that file can be re-added—make the previous person re-do their part—or if the last part has to be re-created with the most recent version of the file.  Someone leaves work that day very frustrated no matter what is decided.  Those are partial, half-formed clones of the real project, and they also slow down the system once you get enough of them.  It’s not fun for anyone.  

Why do we do this?  Because this one time we sent the file to Steve, and Steve said he never got the file, but we handed him the physical drive and we don’t have it anymore, and even though Steve eventually found it—in his hot car, no less—we never want to go through that again.  Save everything.  Copy it.  Copy it on something else and take it home in case the building burns down.  And maybe put another copy in the freezer at home so in case our house catches on fire, too, it will still be ok.  But then we edit the file at work, and we have to update all those other files, and since they are on separate drives in separate places, that’s not exactly convenient.  Oh well.  Just rename it.  We’ll keep the file 10 times until the whole project is done, paid for, and archived, just to be safe.

See all the trouble you’ve caused, Steve.  Tisk tisk.

The thing is, we were afraid of the possibility of a problem, and to alleviate that possibility, we’ve created for-sure problems.  Behind door number one, there might be a problem, but behind door number two, there is most definitely massive confusion, frustration, lost time, and even some animosity as the team plans for each other’s failure.  Gee, I’ll take door number two…?

Stop.  Steve doesn’t even work there anymore.  You need to rethink this whole thing.

If your data storage contains file after file of old, partial clones of projects, don’t let them just stare at you with their dead eyes.  Get an Engineer, put together a work flow that allows people to collaborate with shared storage and contains mirrors for redundancy to protect you from loss, and everyone who is supposed to has access all the time. You work on a set of files together, so you don’t need to make a copy for yourself that will only be defunct tomorrow.  

Best of all, once you have a work flow that works, you can eradicate all of those weird clones.  Scorched Earth.  Take no prisoners.   And as you plow through them with a proverbial flame thrower, at least for the three seconds it would take to delete them, spare a thought for Steve.  May he not be messing things up wherever he is today.  Amen.  


Comment

Comment

Blog Posts

Comment

Comment

Guess what!

There’s an awesome new thing out.  It solves problems that existed with the previous version, incorporates aspects previously only offered by competitors in a new-and-improved way, and has taken baby-steps into new frontiers, adding one new elegant feature that will become industry-standard and be adopted by all manufacturers in some form eventually.   It’s an investment, but it really is less expensive than you expect it to be when your system is analyzed by a Qualified Engineer to make sure you make only the necessary purchases.  While you can’t put a price on the decreased stress and increased staff morale, you can most certainly put a price on the streamlined timelines that allow for more work to be accomplished without any of the current efficiency gaps that silently eat your profits.  Talking to someone, just to see if it might apply to you, is free, and it’s a no-brainer.  Do you want to invest 5 minutes to see if your life could be a whole lot easier and your work environment could be more comfortable, and likely more creative as a result? 


Comment

Comment

Fiction Friday: Stress-blocked, Part 1

Jenna hated the blinking cursor.  Whoever thought of that should be shot.  All we need is to see where the cursor is.  It doesn’t have to flash like a strobe light waiting for you to think of something to say.  Some people have seizures, you know—that blinking is annoying at best and life-threatening at worst.  Ok, so maybe not life threatening.  

Comment

Comment

Frankenstein

The Frankenstein Monster was a combination of parts of corpses.  It is Science Fiction because we can’t breathe life into a pile of mismatched things wired together, but it made for a wonderful story.  It’s considered horror, but it never felt that way to me.  The poor monster didn’t ask to be made, he didn’t understand what was going on, and for the most part he wasn’t actively trying to hurt people, he just didn’t know his own strength.  That story was more about being an outsider than it was about digging up dead people.  The underlying message was also a warning not to let our aspirations lead us into places we aught not go, echoing the fear many have of science and what they see as the human race “playing God.”  

Comment

Comment

Anyone got a challenge for us?

Tech talks to tech, but only if you do it right.  The easiest way is to stick with one brand.  In my personal home, we use Apple products.  I’m not paid to represent them or anything like that, I just learned along the way that if I wanted my phone to talk to my computer and my tablet and my television, they basically all needed to start with a lowercase letter i.  It was easy to make the leap when we finally embraced it, because we had already purchased the iPhones and iPads, the Apple TV was comparable in price to the other tv-box systems out there, and when it came time to replace the main desktop computer, we realized that was the last hold-out and we took the plunge.  Haven’t regretted it for a moment.

Comment

Comment

Freeform Friday

Freeform Friday

I spin my wheels in colorful circles

and bounce between them

a whirlwind ricochet

of smiles 

and forgotten things 

and I’ll do it next week.

I’m dizzy.

Generously, 

work multiplies and divides,

doubling itself 

as I watch,

bemused and only half paying attention.

Should I be worried?

Because I’m not really taking this in.


Chocolate.  

The answer beckons from another room

And my dollar and I head 

to the bad-idea machine

where pennies slip through my fingers

and fall soundlessly through my skin

to live on my thighs forever.

But I am a kind penny-keeper—

I continue to feed them chocolate.


Wandering back to my desk

the long way

the work is still not my friend.

It looks foreign today

and my eyes graze across it

without actually reading.

I’ll read it over again

and realize two paragraphs in

that I forgot to pay attention

and have to start over.

Again.

Is it lunch time yet.


Freedom Finally

I explode onto my weekend

Desperate to hit Save

To save myself.

But Monday,

I shall crawl in,

tired and rested,

a professional contradiction,

to sit at my station

slowly translating the shapes before me

into words 

and thoughts

and ideas


So many ideas.

Happy Friday. Recharge. You have not yet had your best idea…

Comment

Comment

Screen Time

For most of us, the first eight hours of time spent staring at a screen each day are instantly forgiven because it is our job.  In order to buy food and pay for our house, we have to go to a job, and most of them require a computer these days.  We get in the car, and while we’re not staring at it, there’s a screen in there, too.  I’m not complaining—without that screen I would get lost all the time—but it’s still a screen.  We get home, kick off our shoes, and sit down to relax in front of a television set, or video games, or YouTube, or social media.  Screens.  And in between, there’s this cool game on my phone where you’re trying to match the colored balls in sets of three or more…

There has always been chatter about limiting the screen time our children enjoy each day to encourage the other things they should be doing for their long-term well-being, such as going outside where the Vitamin D lives, engaging in interactive, social play, using their imagination, and maybe drawing, painting or playing with toys.  Children who do nothing but play video games are very skilled at video games and little else, but unless they have some guarantee from a rich uncle that they will be hired as a game tester as soon as they are released from the school they’ve been ignoring, that’s not sustainable.  We know this, we tell them this, they fight with us, we win because we have the right to take their computer away and in the end all is well.  They are healthier and they eventually not only forgive us, they call us the first time they have to take their child’s computer away.  It’s the circle of life.

Who takes ours?  Who steps in and says, “You’ve been staring at a screen for 12 hours straight, and I don’t care that the content has changed, it’s still not good for your eyes, your brain, or really any part of you, so shut it off and go outside.”  I’ve said it, just not to myself.  Anyone else in the same boat?

Perhaps we need to adjust our expectations to accommodate the constant screen requirement of the modern world, but I think it’s far healthier to be your own parent and turn it off when you can.  Even at work—if there’s something you can delegate or a couple of tasks you can trade with a coworker to vary your day, get up and move around.  Say hi to someone you don’t get to talk to often.  Step outside and see what all that trendy Vitamin D is all about.  Take out the trash if you need a reason, but step away from the screen as often as you can.

One way to handle that at work is to clearly define what is and what is not your job, and then don’t do things you don’t have to.  It seems simple, but it’s not, because most of us want to help, and it’s often easier to handle something ourselves than to wait for the cavalry.  Sometimes we make mistakes, and the things that aren’t our job often take us longer than they would take the person who should be doing it, since that’s what they do all the time and they are likely faster at it than we are.  It really does make more sense to not help on some of these things and delegate where we can.

If you are a creative professional managing projects and teams, you don’t need to manage your tech, too.  That’s not your job.  You might make a mistake just because it’s complicated, and while you may not want to call for help, it’s easy and much, much more effective in the long run.  Set up a maintenance contract for your data storage and delegate.  Let someone else worry about the screen that tells your screen what to do.  That’s one less screen for you.


Comment

Comment

The Math Juggle

If your team’s efficiency increased by 25%, what would that mean to you, financially?  We may imagine that 25% greater efficiency would allow 25% more projects to be completed for a total increase in profits of 25%, but it’s often more complicated then that.   There are also factors that are difficult to measure that may impact business, such as improved morale and staff retention, which decreases the costs associated with finding and training new staff, thus increasing overall profit.  The direct increase in profits may be significantly less or more than 25% as a result. 

For example, if there isn’t any more work to do and picking up 25% more clients is unlikely, then the increase in productivity will give you more time and allow you to provide clients with a streamlined project timeline, but it might not drastically impact the bottom line.   The long term results would include happier staff and a more comfortable work environment, which will reflect in the quality of the work.  Clients would be happier as well, and there would be a gradual uptick in business as your reputation grows.   If any contractual work was being done, more could be handled in-house to save the expense.   A small company may not be able to afford a big upgrade to this end, but they would still benefit from the increased productivity, and if some smaller changes can be implemented to accomplish the goal, it would be worth the investment.   For larger companies, the investment is far easier to justify as the smaller differences, such as decreased turnover, add up quickly, even if there is no obvious increase in revenue.

For a company of any size who might be able to increase the number of projects they accomplish in a year with the increased efficiency, it is always worthwhile to make the investment, sooner rather than later.  Even if the expense would require financing, the interest charged would be less than the increase in profits, which begin the moment the upgrade is in place.  The increase in productivity is often greater than the measurable increase in efficiency because the creative flow is not interrupted by errors or unnecessary delays, thus further improving the quality and decreasing the necessary timeline for projects.  If designers have to pause between steps to accommodate slow equipment, they lose more than the actual minutes they spent staring at the progress bar.  Every tool you can give your team allows them to be their best, and as individuals spark off of one another in a team environment, the total is greater than the sum of its parts.  

Comment

Comment

Fiction Friday, Daren Chapter 6

Daren hung up the phone and actually smiled.  When something like this happens, it’s better to be on the boss’s side and in no way affiliated with the cause of the problem.  Better still, he had  been entrusted with the task of calling Phil.  He didn’t even know Phil personally, Briana trusted him enough to call Skytech when she could just as easily asked for the number, if she didn’t have it with her, so she could call.  Daren was really becoming a part of the team.

But he still had to dial the phone.  At this hour.  To deliver bad news.  To someone he doesn’t really know yet.  Not a great way to say hi.  Swallowing and reminding himself of his own admonitions that it really was ok to call, Daren looked up the number in the computer and called.

Phil answered on the third ring.  “Skytech, how can I help you?”  His voice was thick but he was clearly on duty.

“Hi, Phil?  It’s Daren.  Daren at MediaPerfect.  I’m so sorry to bother you.”

“Well, hello, Daren.  Nice to meet you.  Briana and Mike mentioned you joined the team last time I was out but I don’t think we had a chance to speak.”  Phil woke up quick.  “Anyway, it’s no bother.  MediaPerfect has a 24/7 support contract.  It would have gone directly to voicemail and I’d have heard the message in the morning if you didn’t.  And it must be big for you to call—you guys have never done this before.  What’s up?”

Daren let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.  What had he been worried about, exactly?  Phil was clearly not scary.  “It’s the server room.  There’s something wrong with the AC and the building manager can’t get anyone in here until Monday at the earliest.  I know that’s not your problem, but if we don’t do something it will be.  Do you have any suggestions for us?”

“How hot is it in there?”

“I’d be guessing, but over 80, I’d say.”

“Ouch.  Glad you called.  Step one, I don’t care how noisy it is, open the door and get some air in there.  I’ll hold.  While you’re in there, I want you to check and see if there are any red lights, blinking lights, weird noises, or anything that stands out, ok?”

Daren returned quickly.  “Door’s open, everything is humming loudly but just humming, and the lights look like normal.”

“Fan-tastic!  Daren, you caught it in time!  Since the equipment is fine, I’m not coming out right now, but if things go sideways at all please call me as soon as you notice something—we want to catch things early if we can.”

Daren beamed.  “So that’s it?  Open the door?”

“Ideally, no, but we’re working with what we have.  If you can get a box fan—just the type that cools a room will work, and place it so that it sucks the hot air out of the server room and blows it into the hallway, that will help a lot.”

“We had one of those a few minutes ago,” Daren started, but opted not to share the idiotic details.  “It died.”

“Good news is that Walmart is always open.  I’m going to check the system every few hours from here to make sure it’s clocking correctly and nothing looks odd from the software side, you contact me the moment something changes on the hardware, and with any luck we’ll make it to Monday unscathed. I think we’re going to be ok.”

Daren sighed.  “Nice to meet you, Phil.”

Phil laughed.  “Likewise.  I hope to see you at my next quarterly visit.  I hope I don’t see you sooner because that would mean there’s a problem, but if there is one, I’ll see you then.”

“Whenever it is, can I buy you a drink?  We really appreciate you.  I mean, I was starting too panic, and I can’t tell you how much better I feel.”

Phil chuckled.  “I’m glad.  But that’s what I do—you have me so that you don’t have that stress.  Next time, skip the stress part and call first.   I promise I’ll tell you if it’s time to panic.”

“And when is it time to panic?”

“Pretty much never.  Never helps.  So if you’re waiting for me to tell you it’s ok to panic, you are officially cured forever.”  He added, “at least as far as your tech is concerned anyway.  I have nothing to do with the rest of it.  But panic never helps anything, so it’s still good advice.”

“It certainly is.”  Daren smiled.  “So, do I owe you for the additional counseling or is that also included in the contract?”

“Nah.  It’s included in the friendship.  And don’t get me wrong—you can totally buy me a drink, just not because I helped you.  That part’s on the house.”

Daren called Briana and updated her on the status, and she thanked him up one side and down the other for being willing to buy fans in the middle of the night.  Maybe Phil would even tell her that this likely saved the system.  That couldn’t hurt the new guy reputation.  Or the next vacation request.  

“I guess the moral of the story,” Daren thought, “is that there are often hidden benefits to working hard, regardless of the schedule.”  He cringed at how cheesy it sounded, even in his head.  He thought about the brainy attempt to balance the fan when just knowing where to put it would have made all the difference.  “Or that true genius isn’t knowing everything, it’s knowing how to find someone that knows what you need to know, and calling them without doing anything stupid just to avoid having to admit you don’t know.  And keeping the important numbers on speed-dial.”

Comment

Comment

The Value of Loyalty

We’re all challenged every day with choices, and generally we’d like to think we make good ones.  Our decisions are guided by a ton of details and most of them change constantly, from the actual logical facts involved to your mood and what’s on your mind at the moment.  Loyalty is also a factor.

Do you buy the same brands over and over in some things?  Like how one brand of cheese tastes like cheese and another tastes like processed yuck, so you always grab your brand?  That’s loyalty.  You decided to buy them for some reason, and you liked their products, so you just naturally gravitated to their products in future purchases.  You might shop around for a product at some point, but if it came down to it, you’d be willing to pay just a little bit more to purchase from a known and trusted brand rather than take a gamble.  Sure, sometimes that means you miss out on new stuff, but once the hype dies down and you can get a solid review before you decide, you’ll still get everything you want.  The best part is that you avoid getting a bunch of disappointing stuff.  You actually save money in the long run if you aren’t constantly trying to fix the last purchase on which you took a gamble that didn’t pay off just to save a few bucks.  

Here’s the weird thing.  People trust brands more than each other.  I have more faith in a massive, faceless company to do as they said they would than I do in the people I know personally, and I’m not alone in that.  There is no customer service department to fix things when the kids didn’t take out the trash and now the house stinks, not that customer service is a fabulous experience either.  We may or may not have been let down by a company, and if we ever were we would change companies, but we’re let down by people all the time, and it impacts our decisions every day whether we know it or not.

Assuming that others won’t do their job, or at least planning for when others might fail, just in case, isn’t all that healthy for either party, and too many people spend way too much of their lives planning for how they are going to handle it when other people let them down.  You can’t be loyal to people you can’t trust.  Brand loyalty makes it much easier to shop for things.  Imagine how much time you are wasting planning for failures that may not manifest when building trust and establishing loyalty would make everyone so much more comfortable and effective, it’s just scary to let other people in because of the people who have let us down, and thus the cycle continues.

As Value Added Resellers, Skytech sells the same stuff at the same price as just about anyone else, but we come with the package.  If there’s a new thing you might be able to use, we will tell you, so you don’t have to trade away cutting-edge to keep your loyalty intact.  We know what’s wrong with your system and we can fix it, or tell you what you need to replace if it’s truly gone.  Better still, we strive to prevent anything from actually breaking, which is what routine maintenance is all about.  Instead of doing a ton of research and having to guess on expensive, complex equipment, we can tell you what brands to trust, we make sure it can communicate with all the rest of your equipment, and we install it.  You can trust us.

Loyalty is something we prize.  I personally reach out to customers just as friends whenever I can, because we are people first and job titles last.  We want to make sure you know you can trust us, and that you feel comfortable giving us your loyalty.  We are loyal to you—we will never try to sell you something you don’t need or design a system that exceeds what you are looking for, because making a few extra dollars isn’t worth the loss of your loyalty, just as it isn’t worth saving a few bucks to buy discount cheese.  That stuff is mostly oil and water, I’ve tried it, I’ve regretted it, and I buy the real stuff now without wasting a second to decide.  I’m not selling you the discount cheese, either.  Not proverbially for your system nor literally for your sandwich.  You are worth more to us than that.

What is loyalty worth to you?

Comment

Comment

Translating, Tech to Tech

Getting hardware components to talk to each other can be challenging in a world where each manufacturer not only has their own software, it’s written in a language specific to that company, so most other manufacturer’s components would encounter communication errors when wired together.  Engineers need a framework, so the component they are creating is designed to work with it’s partner pieces.  They haven’t tested to see if it will work with other brands and can’t promise anything outside of what they designed, built and tested, which is only their stuff, working with their stuff.  For best results, stick with one brand, so that everything can talk to everything, but that is often challenging to accomplish unless you are starting from scratch. 

What usually happens is that the oldest tech problems get fixed first so that nothing is horrifically out of date but very little is actually new at any given time.  That also means that different budgets and different people making decisions down the line results in various purchases, not all from the same manufacturer.  Even if a strategic plan is in place and all of the purchases are made according to that plan regardless of when the orders are placed, if you ever work with anyone who doesn’t share your building, they might be using something different. 

Basically, unless you are building a system from the ground up all at once and plan to restrict your projects so that no one outside your building sends or receives files, you have to be more flexible then proprietary.  Luckily, there is now a product that bridges the gaps and lets multiple creative software platforms communicate through a central service.  It is scalable, so you can buy what you need now and add later, and it is specifically designed to play well with others, in-house or remotely.  Someone finally did it—SNS.

If you have ever known the pain of trying to get different manufacturer’s products to work together, or if you are considering an upgrade that’s not as expensive as replacing everything at the same time, reach out to us and we’d be happy to have a Skytech Engineer go over your needs and explain how it would work for you.  

Comment

Comment

Fiction Friday, Daren Chapter 5

Welcome to the ongoing saga of whatever story we are telling right now It’s Friday. Let’s do something else for a few minutes…

“Hello,” Briana answered sleepily.

“Hi boss, it’s Daren. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially since I have to wake you up to deliver it, but there’s something wrong in the equipment room and I’m afraid it’s too hot for the equipment. I don’t think it can wait until morning, let alone through the weekend and I thought you should know.” Daren swallowed. That went well, actually. Less babbling than he expected. If Daren was his own boss, he wouldn’t be upset at Daren. He might even offer Daren a raise. Probably not, though.

“I was afraid of that,” Briana grumbled. “The fan didn’t help enough, did it?”

Daren was so glad he hadn’t mentioned the fan yet or he might have ended up back-peddling to justify his comments as to the questionable veracity of that plan. “Oh, you set that up? I’m sure it helped some but the boxes collapsed.”

“Ugh. So much for creative thinking on the fly. Too much fly and not enough creative. Or thinking. Was anything damaged?”

“Just the fan. It was noisy, but that’s about it.”

“Serves it right,” Breana scoffed. “Saves me from having to shoot it myself. I can’t believe I thought that might work.”

Daren laughed. “You asked a room-fan to cool the boiler room of a steamship—you know that, right?”

“No, Clyde did, I just took his word for it without engaging my brain because it was one more thing on a Friday afternoon and I didn’t want to deal with it.” Breana cleared her throat. Clyde was the building manager. He was not an Engineer, nor a designer. He wasn’t even really a real estate investor, he was the grown son of a real estate investor who would hopefully be passing the company to his daughter soon. She had to be an improvement, sight-unseen. “I told him something was wrong with the AC or the ducts because the office was fine but the equipment room wasn’t and he said the best he could do was Monday. The fact that I got him to come to the office at all was a miracle, so when he carried in that fan from his truck I rolled my eyes but I let it go.”

“So, now what?” Daren asked. “Calling Clyde will go to voicemail—it always does—so he won’t even hear it until it’s too late. Is there some emergency clause that lets us call someone and take it off of the rent or something?”

“Right. I’ll submit those receipts into the bottomless round bin next to Clyde’s desk. Besides, who do you call for something like this? If there was water on the floor I’d call a plumber, sparks from an outlet is the electrician. The guy I call for the AC is Clyde because it goes through the entire building and not just our office, and the AC is cold, just not in that room.”

“So, who are we going to call?” Daren tried to sound serious, but the joke was obvious.

“Oh, hardy har, Mr. Midnight. Later than. Wait, why are you even there?”

“Working was working, so I kept doing it.”

“Well, your lack of a social life probably saved us, so thank you. Maybe you can take an extra day off next week or something.”

Daren beamed. It wasn’t a raise, but he’d take it. “We have that maintenance contract for the equipment. The problem isn’t the equipment, but I think our Engineer would want to know anyway, and he might have a suggestion.”

“Good call. Can we call now, though?”

“It goes to his cell. He works in tech. These things happen. If he isn’t taking night-calls, I’m sure he diverts the calls after hours. Either he’ll pick up because he’s available or it will go to voicemail because he isn’t, and either way it doesn’t really bother anyone.” Daren didn’t mean to pause for effect, but the pause was effective nonetheless. “I think we have to call now.”

“Fair enough,” Briana said. “But I don’t want to take advantage of Phil. If there’s any after-hours charges or whatever, fine.”

“You know Phil?”

Briana smiled—Daren could hear it through the phone. “Everybody knows Phil. Where have you been?”

Comment

Comment

Romeo and Juliet couldn't text

You had to read Romeo and Juliet in high school, too, right?  Or at least the Cliff Notes or 60s film the night before the test?  You know what always got me?  That the whole plot hinged on someone not getting a message in time.

Just as a recap, since I generally blank out right after the test, too, Romeo and Juliet are from families that hate each other, but they meet and fall in love before they know that.  They get married in secret by a friendly priest who agrees to help hide them.  The priest has a plan to drug Juliet so that it looks like she died, then sneak her out of the mausoleum so she can live happily ever after with Romeo, who is banished and in another city.  So the priest sends the message to Romeo on the slowest donkey ever while Romeo hears the rumor of Juliet’s death and shows up to kill himself on her not-really-dead body, all dramatic teenager style.  Romeo has a horse, naturally, and in the film version you see the horse passing the in-bound donkey just to drive the point home that Romeo wasn’t in on the plan.  Juliet wakes up within a minute of Romeo’s death, having just missed him, so she kills herself and falls on top of his actually-dead body, thus forcing the families to stop the stupid fight, because suicide is apparently a good option in this tale.  

Maybe language arts classes can include a healthy dialog about that rather than just planting that seed and moving on to Hamlet, but that’s another article altogether.  

At this point, no one should be using a donkey for work.  We can do better than that.  Donkeys are for petting zoos.  And trusting a donkey to do the job of a horse results in homework, and high school tests, and long, painful discussions about why they couldn’t just text with people who half-believe they were born with their phone.  Best to avoid the whole thing.

How important is it that your work gets to where it needs to be on time?  If your digital storage is a donkey, it could be the death of a project, proverbially speaking.  You should look in to that.  Here’s the Cliff Notes version: stuff doesn’t last forever, sometimes stuff breaks, technology moves forward, and you will need to upgrade your stuff eventually.  If you don’t have a maintenance contract with a qualified engineer, you’ll find out because it broke, not before.  And that would be a tragedy.  

Comment

Comment

Push-Pull Workflow

Workflow

Do you push-pull?  Do you pull a file off a hard drive, work on it, then push it back where you got it or on to the next step?  How’s that working for you?

If your team is small, like two or three people who are dedicated both to the project and to their team, that can work.  Not everything requires a server room and if you’re making a flier for someone you don’t need a tech crew.  It would have to be a small enough file on a large enough hard drive with a timeline that includes a whole lot of squish room.  It comes with challenges, even for a small team.  

If you are using an actual physical hard drive that you hand off to one another, working remotely becomes more difficult and involves meeting or mailing to transfer between team members before the next step can begin.  What if someone falls behind schedule or gets sick?  If they have the file at the time, it may be a challenge you weren’t planning for.  And what if something happens to that sacred drive?  If someone’s five year old thought it would be a good idea to put it in the microwave, not only does the microwave now need to be replaced, if it didn’t set the entire house on fire, but the files are literally toast.

How do we solve that?  Multiple copies.  I pull it, download it to my work station, fix it, push it, and if all else fails I have the most recent version of the file as a backup, even if it does fill my hard drive and slow down my work.   We roll our eyes, get another physical hard drive, put the backup file on it and get back to where we were, and hopefully we padded the timeline like smart people for eventualities such as these.  Problem solved.

And new problem created.  I thought that was the most recent version. That wasn’t the only file on there—did you back up the smaller side-files, too, like the individual assets, so they’d import correctly and be available for editing?  I used the other version when I made my changes, so there are actually three versions out there now and none of them are inclusive of everyone’s work, so someone will be doing it over, and maybe several someones.   No one pads the timeline that much.

If you are an average-ish person with coworkers who are less superhuman and more regular human, something will go wrong, but hopefully those carefully constructed and pre-set plans for such things will kick in without too much chaos.  People laugh and say that such-and-such was the one thing that went wrong for each project, as though something going wrong is a mandatory part of the process.  In a push-pull environment, they’re right, but no one likes waiting for something to go wrong.  It’s definitely not ideal and in the long run leads to therapy and/or an ulcer.  

When creative people are working together on a project, they need to be able to communicate and collaborate effectively to accomplish the goal.  Luckily, we don’t have to create some mini governmental system with by-laws and workflow maps to accomplish it like they used to when keeping track of a project.  That’s old school. They have stuff for that now.  Which means if you’re still living under the something-must-go-wrong axe, you’re being a little silly.  That’s no longer a thing.  You might also complain that the garters around your socks are pinching.  Equally silly.  Get new socks.  

If you don’t know any other way to do it, that’s ok.  We do.  That’s how this works.  We don’t make movies, for example, but we want other people to make movies that we can enjoy, so we do what we do—design a workflow process that makes sense and maintain the necessary hardware to make it happen, because we’re not filmmakers and you’re not engineers.  This is our part of the creative world we love to live in, even if we can’t be as creative as you, whatever your part may be.  We go to the movies, listen to music, watch sports and buy nice clothes.  We want to help.  Personally, I know I can’t make the things I enjoy.  We’re a part of the team, we’re just back here in the server room so you don’t have to be.

A practical system allows for users to save files centrally, access them from anywhere, and comes with automatic backups and an on-call engineer for questions or issues.  The team works together but isn’t so reliant on nothing going wrong for things to work, so it’s much more efficient and avoids ulcers.  The chances of data loss are slim to none, and if there are some steps that have to be completed before someone else can add their magic, the transfer is as simple as texting to tell them you’re done so they can start their part.  No meeting under a streetlight to hand off a hard drive like spies in an 80s film.  

You could if you wanted to, but it would just be for fun.  You do you. 


Comment

Comment

Fiction Friday: Daren, Chapter 4

Welcome to the ongoing saga of whatever story we are telling right now  It’s Friday.  Let’s do something else for a few minutes…

The fan set up on the ever-so-intelligent stack-o-boxes had careened into the wall when the cardboard submitted it’s final resignation to the job of “shelf” for which it was clearly not qualified.  These things happen on cardboard’s schedule, and cardboard hates 2:00 AM.  To be fair, if Daren had been suddenly required to do a job above his pay-grade for twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, he would have quit on day one, and if for some reason he had been compelled to try, 2:00 AM is exactly when the will is weakest.  To all the boxes struggling to support a family of objects balanced atop them in this humid economy, we salute you.

Humidity.  That made sense.  The room was too hot, someone set up the fan to try to cool it down but was unable to do any more than slow the gradual rise in temperature, and with nowhere to go the unventilated condensation became swamp-air.  Once the temperature and relative humidity penetrated the cardboard’s plies, structural integrity surrendered and the box quit its shelf-job with a bang.  Crash-bang.  Many crash-bangs.

The fan had died a terrible, terrible death, but like Daren always asked of lullabies, what was the baby doing up in the tree in the first place?  Placing the fan atop Mount Box was a hasty decision made by someone who hadn’t thought past, “this will help and we’ll deal with it later.”  It was Friday night, which was why Daren was alone in the office—any other night of the week and someone else might be working late, too, but on Fridays people tended to either have plans or pretend to have plans so they could get out a little early.  That meant no one would be in until Monday morning, and judging by the rise in temperature since he entered the room, math said all living things and electronics in that room would eventually be cooked.  Monday was too late.  

Daren didn’t know much about the system other than the vague notion that the equipment room was the physical location of the hardware that made it possible for him to access his team’s files and his project files from anywhere.  If it died, everything saved on any drive using the same hardware or other hardware in the room would be no more.  Which meant that saving to both the shared drive and his personal file were in the same physical place in the world—right here in the same oven.  Groovy.  Week’s worth of work, just tonight, that was not backed up to the off-site archives, just like everything everyone had worked on since the first of the month.  It was now the 26th.  

Save early, save often, save to a safe place.  Daren didn’t realize that last part was the unsung final line to the motto, but just like only perfect practice makes perfect, it made a difference. If someone kept their money in a shoebox inside a vault, they’re weird, but that’s safe.  Take that same shoebox full of money and hide it under the logs in the fireplace—not safe.  Potentially hilarious to everyone but the shoebox owner, but not safe, and neither the earliness nor the frequency of deposits into the fireplace improves the situation.  Daren’s early and often saved files, saved to two locations in the same proverbial shoebox, were both in the fireplace.

Daren liked to play video games on his time off, because he believed humans as a species had instincts with nowhere to go, and sometimes they just need to kill something.  It’s far better if that something is digital.  His opinion often received less than favorable responses as people insisted that they never had the desire to kill anyone, but those same people shouted obscenities at other drivers on a regular basis—he had seen it first hand in carpools—and Daren just tapped the breaks and rolled his eyes.  Humans are mammals living in a construct that has zero tolerance for a huge part of the survival instinct, and all entertainment is based on satisfying those instincts that aren’t satisfied in life, whether that’s being allowed to laugh at the prat-fall rather than feeling insensitive for choking back a smile when laughter is natural, or sitting on the edge of your seat as an FBI agent of questionable character, cornered and surrounded, to emulate escaping predators.  Romance is most often read by those who are not currently in a satisfying relationship.  Everyone is feeding their inner primate, it’s just those who admit they’re doing so that have a balance diet, so to speak, thus not yelling at other drivers that can’t hear them.

Cleaning his console at home did not make him an Engineer any more than playing Batman made him, well, Batman, but Daren knew this: when the machine gets noisy, it’s the fan working too hard to try to cool the system, which gets hot, because it does.  That part was an element of the mystery inside the shiny housings and he was even less likely to touch that than the buttons, but for some reason electronics get hot inside and that’s why they all come with a fan.  If you don’t clean the vents when the console starts to whine, it overheats and you might be facing BSOD—Blue Screen Of Death—the final death rattle that declares, in techno-babble, that the brains of your console have been fried and are no more, which happens to be blue.  Fini.  Game over, man.  Recycle and repurchase.  

Daren was standing inside a console, of sorts.  All around him were the brains of his company’s operation and all the work everyone had accomplished for the life of the system, and the fan just gave out.  If this was the home console, he’d unplug and let it cool down right now, clean it out tomorrow, and then try to plug it in again.  He wouldn’t just keep playing.  This wasn’t that simple.

Having come full circle, Daren sighed and found Briana in his cell.  This wasn’t an equipment issue—yet—it was a building maintenance issue, and one that couldn’t wait.

Well, at least I have a story to tell and actual information when I call, Daren thought.

Comment

Comment

Simulation Theory

Simulation theory

Have you heard the one where everything in the world is a simulation?  It’s kind of trippy, when you think about it.  Here’s how it breaks down:

GIVEN: There is only one reality.
GIVEN: Humans have created computer simulation programs, such as SIMS games and NASA flight training.
GIVEN: Over time, the simulations humans have created have improved in quality significantly.
POSTULATE: Simulation programs will continue to improve over time as technological advances expand the possibilities. ACCEPTED
POSTULATE: It is possible for simulation technology to advance to such a degree that the simulated individuals created would themselves believe the simulation to be reality.  In fact, this is the foundation of an effective simulation—the components within it behave as though the situation is real, or the simulation ceases to be valid.  ACCEPTED
GIVEN: More than one simulation can be running simultaneously.  There is no limit to the number of simulation programs that can be running at any given moment.

STATEMENT: There is a near infinite probability that this existence that we call reality is, in fact, a simulation.

EXAMPLE: 

If I told you there is one and only one Apollo 42 rocket ship to Mars, and an unknown, near-infinite number of people running simulations of the Apollo 42 rocket ship, all appearing on your screen as users in the same list, and it was your job with one guess to identify if any individual one of them was the real, tangible Apollo 42, odds are worse than winning the lottery that you’d pick the right one.  If you bet any more than bragging rights, you’d want to place your money on simulation, since there’s a far greater chance in the infinite-to-one odds that you’ll end up on the side of infinite.

Let’s assume that if we were a simulation we wouldn’t know it, because participants who know they aren’t real don’t act real and therefore negate the simulation.  We must either be real, or functionally ignorant of our status as Simulants.  Infinite-to-one odds.

There’s a whole theory with photos and expert testimony and everything, so if you want your mind blown further, there’s plenty of ammo to do the job in any web search, but I still have to get up in the morning.  I don’t need my mind more blown, I need to know where to put this in may brain.  How do I make sense of this when I’m sitting in traffic and my brain is running amok for lack of anything better to run it?  What do we do with this?  

Nothing.  If this is simulated reality, it will behave like reality, and in reality if you don’t pay your rent you don’t get to live there anymore.  A simulated job producing simulated rent for a simulated person is all the same to the person if they don’t know it’s a simulation, so drink your coffee and hit the road with a book-on-tape, because traffic is a part of this reality, simulated or not, and you shouldn’t leave your mind unsupervised.  It gets lost.

But there is one take-away…

If this is a simulation, don’t you hope they take good care of their digital storage?  What if the real end of the world is the program glitching back to blinking cursor on the digi-desk of a SIMS game designer who hasn’t kept their equipment room cool enough?

For the sake of all the ones and zeros running around in your digital storage, unaware that they are running inside a computer for you, hire an Engineer and keep a maintenance contract.  

Be a merciful God.

Comment

Comment

Summer is hard on tech

Summer is hard on tech.

Have you ever noticed how hot old tech used to get?  I had a special lap-desk for my lap-top because I couldn’t use it on my lap without burning myself, especially in the summer.  It was more the change in wardrobe than the actual heat of the CPU, I’d imagine, but the ambient temperature couldn’t have been helping any.  I’m glad they figured that out.  Go them.

But not everything electronic has made the leap to the magic that prevents overheating, and some are just out of luck—they require too much power to avoid heating up and no one can fix it, so fans are built in.  That’s what makes old computers noisy before they die—the fan is working too hard to keep up with overheating components due to years of dust build-up in the vents, etc.

If you have an equipment room and it isn’t a comfortable temperature in there year-round, something is wrong.  A well-designed tech-room will have proper ventilation to keep the system cool and dry—the ideal state for all electronics.  We can’t all knock holes in walls to create ventilation where none was originally installed, but there are always options that don’t involved just letting the equipment overheat.

The NAS doesn’t have a summer wardrobe, and if it’s too warm in there, overheated components start to break downCall your Engineer, or set an appointment with SkyTech to have an Engineer come out and assess the situation.  You may be considering a vacation, but your poor equipment fans are working overtime.

Comment

Comment

Fiction Friday: Daren, Chapter 3

Welcome to the ongoing saga of whatever story we are telling right now  It’s Friday.  Let’s do something else for a few minutes…

The noise in the equipment room was really, really loud.  Daren rocked back on his heels for a second before flipping on the light, knowing there was absolutely nothing he would see that could possibly be good news.

The light filled the room in sections as the florescent bulbs came to life one by one.  The room looked the same, not that Daren spent enough time in there to really know what it looked like.  The way the towers were set up, he had to step in and bend to see the back corners of the room, and he leaned as far forward as he could so his feet could remain as close to the exit as possible.  There was absolutely no chance of the server exploding or some such nonsense, but Daren had always been a fan of 1950’s SciFi and he had a healthy respect for mysterious rows of buttons, switches and lights.  

Buttons, switches and lights, Oh, my, Daren thought, completing his own ode OZ, feeling very much out of his element and wishing he had some tech-magical ruby oxfords to click.

Laughing at himself, Daren stood up straight and took a deliberate step towards the noise, which was loud enough to cause involuntary flinching as he approached the back wall.  His eyes scanned all the complex machinery, hoping to see something that was so obvious that even he could fix it, like a cord that came unplugged, or at least something he could identify to the Engineer—which machine, are the lights red or off, that sort of thing.

The machines looked fine.  Nothing was flashing red or smoking, at least, and since those were very bad things that weren’t happening, Daren considered it a win.  Perplexed and slightly braver now that he was all the way in the room and still alive, Daren began to look for a cause.

The equipment room was also home to a handful of items that didn’t have anywhere else to go.  It was a bad habit, but it wasn’t really an issue most of the time, and some of the storage was actually equipment for this room that they picked up recently and wanted to show to Phil during his next quarterly visit, so it wasn’t like they were using it as a catch-all.  In the back corner, two boxes stacked on top of a low cabinet made for a make-shift shelf, and the lid of the top box had caved under the weight, leaving the “shelf’s” contents to fall between the boxes and wall or into the box itself.

Someone had set a large fan on top of the second box, plugged in across the aisle with the power cord stretched as far as it could go.  Definitely not approved by the Fire Marshal.  Obviously the idea was to cool as much of the room as possible, heat rises, so get the fan off the floor and it will do more good.  But not like this, guys.

Luckily the loud noise was a broken fan, still trying to do it’s best to spin and hitting both the box, which sounded like a drum, and the nearby aluminum duct, which made up the majority of the repetitive hollow crash-sound.  All bark and no bite.  Daren was relieved for a million reasons, not the least of which was the fact that he had not called his boss.  Not only was the problem something obvious that Daren could identify, it wasn’t even the equipment.  He unplugged the fan, stopped the scary noise, and possibly even prevented a fire, had that fan-motor and cardboard had a disagreement.  Daren went from terrified in the hallway to heroic in the equipment room.

The silence was welcome, and it left a ringing in his ears.  Daren took a moment to appreciate it, then paused.  Something was wrong.

It was really hot in there.

Comment