Dear Upstairs Neighbor

Dear [Nocturnal] Upstairs Neighbor,

Maybe you’re not aware (or maybe you are, and you just don’t care, but I’m going to be nice and give you the benefit of the doubt here) that you are living in an upstairs apartment within a complex of other apartments.

When you must go up a flight of stairs to reach your apartment this means that your floor is actually also another tenant’s ceiling.

I know, Mind Blown right?!

Something else that maybe you don’t realize, there’s this natural state of the world called “Nighttime”.

Webster’s dictionary defines this as “the time from dusk to dawn”. Basically, this is the time of day where there’s all this darkness outside.

I understand that this time is when you are active, which is absolutely fine, don’t get me wrong. It’s totally acceptable to be active at night.

However, this also happens to be the time that most other people, including the tenants who live under your floor and next to your apartment, are sleeping, or in the case of your downstairs neighbors, lying in their bed desperately wishing that they could be sleeping.

So, this is also a time when societal common courtesy usually calls for the people who aren’t sleeping during these hours to have some respect for those who are and make an extra effort to try to be quiet.

See, here’s the thing.

Apartment buildings don’t usually have very thick, or insulated, floors.

So, this means that whenever you are playing Basketball, or practicing your Scottish Highland Dancing, or engaging in a WWE Cage Fight in your living room, or God knows whatever else it is that you are doing to generate the insane level of noise that comes from your apartment all night, every night, that your neighbors in the apartments under and next to yours are most likely actually trying to sleep.

Surely this situation is just an oversight on your part, so this letter is a polite attempt to bring you some understanding common courtesy and respect for your fellow tenants.

There are agencies out there, such as the police department or the security company, who will be happy to come by and remind you should that prove to be absolutely necessary so please try to take this request to heart and save them the trouble.

Imposter!

Syndrome n.

“A group of symptoms that consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms.”

Not exactly a Phobia, like Trypophobia, that reaction of wanting to shiver and toss up your lunch at the sight of different nasty ass creepy patterns of clustered holes in things. ~blech, twitch~ I don’t recommend Googling that term if you’re even close to having this.

Not exactly a Disorder, like ADD, that condition where your attention………………ooh! squirrel!

Oh, I mean, what was I saying?

I’m neither qualified to, nor even interested in trying to, explain the difference between a Syndrome, a Phobia, and a Disorder and that’s not remotely my point in this post.

Currently Wikipedia has a list of 1,429 Syndromes and the one I’m writing about isn’t even on it. Seems like in our current day pretty much anything can be turned into a syndrome given enough time.

So, syndromes are sort of like Pokémon. I just don’t recommend that you try to collect them all or you’re going to be basically a shivering puddle curled up inside a closet somewhere.

Do you either work in a technical profession, or have an artistic hobby, where you’re actively working around, or associated with in a social community, other people who do the same thing as you?

A situation where your specific abilities are too easy to try and compare to someone else?

Huge shadows to stand under.

Skilled professionals and artists are by nature often our own worst enemy when it comes to trying to determine the value of our skills and abilities. Toss in an environment where you are constantly seeing other professional’s own skills, knowledge and abilities and you have a recipe for some real self-esteem issues.

Society has tagged this sort of situation as “Imposter Syndrome”. A situation where you feel like your own skills and abilities just aren’t good enough. That you haven’t earned your place in where you are in your profession or your output in your profession or hobby just isn’t as good as others who do the same thing.

Feeling like you’re basically a fake, or an imposter because everywhere you look there’s someone to compare yourself to that’s quite possibly better than you are in whatever it is.

The thing is, those people are quite likely doing the exact same thing and feeling the exact same way. Including comparing themselves to YOU and feeling like they’re the ones who aren’t as good. Somewhere in your circle of fellow professionals there is someone who looks at you and wishes that they knew what you know or could do what you do as well as you do.

Fighting this feeling is a constant battle and even potentially capable of going in completely the opposite direction and becoming someone who feels they ARE better than everyone else. In other words, an asshole.

But, here’s the thing. I have a secret for you.

You’re not an imposter!

You’re a work in progress.

If you weren’t, you’d be basically dead. Being alive means that you’re always growing in knowledge and abilities whether you actively try to or not.

Ok, maybe there ARE others out there who are technically better than you are in these things.

So what.

There’s always going to be someone who’s more talented or more skilled than you are and there’s always going to be people out there who are better than they are.

This is actually a good thing.

This means that you have tons of resources available to further improve yourself and your own skills so that you can compare those to the only one that you should be comparing to, YOU.

Are you better at your skills than you were 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 2 years ago, last month, whatever?

Compare yourself to YOU because when it comes down to it, you are the only one who’s abilities and skills should be compared to.

Strive to be a better person today, or tomorrow, than you were yesterday and you will never be an imposter.


Keeping the Legacy Alive

Virtualization, “The Cloud”, Internet of Things, Self-Driving Cars, Drones, Virtual/Augmented Reality, 3D Printing, Quantum Computing, Nanotechnology.

I could continue with a further list of the dizzying array of numerous other modern, bleeding edge, technological advancements in the technology industry that I could mention but that’s not the point of this little blog post.

My point here is that there is a side of our high tech world that most ‘End User’ Consumers and even most IT Professionals don’t even realize exists. Much of the newest technology actually relies on Legacy architecture.

Legacyin terms of the Technology/Computing industry is described as “an old method, technology, computer system, or application program, ‘of or relating to, or being a previous or outdated computer system’.”

In short, much of ‘todays’ technology is actually built, and/or tested, with ‘yesterdays’ technology. Manufacturing equipment in the circuit board manufacturing equipment are often highly expensive, in the mid to high 6-digits cost range, reliably built to do whatever task they’re designed to do for a very long time. These machines are not built to be ‘disposable’. Also, much of the processes themselves that are used to manufacture circuit boards really doesn’t change a whole lot, even as the technology itself does advance.

As an example of this would be one piece of equipment that comes to mind which is a Wave Solder Machine. Essentially what this thing is, is a big heating unit that melts solder into a liquid and then splashes it up under circuit boards as they move over the tank on a conveyor system. That’s fairly simplistic but essentially what the machine does. This process pretty much applies equally to circuit boards that were made 20 years ago as it does to the most modern, high tech, circuit board made today.

Essentially where I am going with this is that there are still a lot of Legacy systems in use in today’s manufacturing of technology and someone still has to keep this stuff running.

As IT Professionals we’re constantly pushed to add skills for the bleeding edge of our industry and there’s an overriding attitude of “upgrade it”. Many in this industry get blinders to the fact that sometimes that’s simply not financially feasible.

As an IT Pro, if you were to approach the CEO, CFO, etc. of a manufacturing company with the argument of:

“We need to replace this $180K+ piece of equipment.”

“Why?”

“Well, it’s old. It’s running on an outdated operating system with old software that can’t be replaced”

“Does it still work?”

“Well, yeah it works perfectly fine but it’s old!”

Yeah, good luck with that. The Manufacturing industry especially runs with razor thin margins and very ‘tight wallets’ when it comes to company asset investments. If something still does what it’s supposed to do and it can still be kept running, it’s going to be used until there’s no choice but to replace it.

So, this is where my point has rambled to. There’s still a need for IT Professionals who are tasked with keeping “Legacy” systems alive for as long as possible.

Basically that’s me. I joke about being half IT Professional and half Paleontologist but to be perfectly fair to myself, I am very good at my job. I’m not trying to ‘toot my own horn’ or being some self-righteous douche here. I just want people to understand that just because I am in a situation where I have to keep “old skills” fresh, does not mean that I’m not good at what I do and that what I do isn’t important.

A recent example that, frankly, I will toot my horn about that stirred me to write this blog post.

We have a piece of circuit board testing equipment called a Flying Probe. We have several actually, but this one specific machine is the one I was recently called on to replace the PC. This machine is 20+ years old. I’m honestly not even sure what it does actually but whatever tests it performs are still valid and this specific machine is configured to work on boards for a significant customer that is forecast to drive a large portion of our company business this year.

Well, the controller PC that runs this machine has been ‘on it’s last legs’ for a long time and I’ve been warning management of this for quite awhile. It’s actually in the future forecast to replace it, but that forecast is more like 2018. In the mean time this machine is fairly critical to get us through this year.

So, Murphy’s Law being what it is, the PC recently finally reached a point where it just couldn’t deal with it anymore. It got to the point where the PC would reboot every 6 minutes. On the clock oddly enough. This obviously meant that it was essentially useless.

This PC is over 20 years old. Spec wise, for the tech savvy reader:

VIA motherboard
733 MHz Pentium III cpu
768 MB of RAM
160 GB IDE Hard Drive
128 MB Graphics Card
10/100 Network Card
Running Windows XP Pro

The equipment this old soldier powers requires specialized software, hydraulics controller card, and image processing. The machine is old enough that none of these things are replaceable anymore.

I’ve worked very hard in my current position to earn a bit of a reputation of being a ‘miracle worker’ for keeping this stuff running. Frankly, I hate it since it means I have no choice but to never be able to advance in my career. I’m stuck being Legacy just like the equipment I support and stuck watching the rest of my industry pass me by.

That said, needless to say I got called on to see what I could do.

Luckily, I had a newer “old” PC sitting under my bench. A system that was “only” 10 years old. Also an XP era PC, but one that was made at the end of the XP era instead of at the beginning of the era like the one that needed to be replaced.

Dell system/motherboard
2.8 GHz Dual-Core Pentium D cpu
4 GB of RAM
1 TB SATA Hard Drive
1 TB Graphics Card
10/100/1000 Network Card

In all specifications this machine is dramatically more powerful than the old one. If this works, not only will the test equipment still be useable, but it will be considerably better at doing what it does than it has ever been before.

Here’s the catch, the Operating Systems itself can’t be reinstalled. The software that this machine requires to runs is not replaceable. The PCI controller card that powers the machine hydraulics requires drivers that are no longer available.

So, I  basically have to put an old ‘brain’ into a new body, reconnect it’s nervous system, and bring it to life without any failure.

Or, cost the company $180-200K to replace the machine.

Deep breath. No pressure.

It’s pretty obvious that I wouldn’t be writing this blog post if it wasn’t a ‘happy ending’.

I did it.

Imaged the old hard drive onto the new, larger one. Blue Screen of Death, no surprises there.
Repair Installation of Windows XP Pro so as to rebuild the OS without losing the installed drivers and software.
It boots! Sweet. But now the system Properties are blank. The Event Log is jammed full of obscure errors. Essentially the PC boots, but it has no connection to the hardware due to it being so dramatically different. ‘Lights are on but nobody’s home’ essentially.
An hour or two of researching and I figure out how to rebuild the ‘hardware layer’.
Re-register a couple hundred .dll files and system32 .exe files. Re-create system accounts.
Voila! It worked. Properties now show the actual new system specs. Event Log errors are gone.

Ok, huge sigh of relief and more than a fair sense of pride in the accomplishment because this was no small task.

However……. I still have to put the PC back into the test equipment and it still has to actually do what the old one did inside the equipment.

Go to put it back in the equipment chassis, and, it doesn’t fit. The old case was narrower than this new one so it wouldn’t fit through the front cabinet like the old one did.
Thankfully with some reasonable effort and about a half hour of laying on the floor, supporting myself with one arm while working waist deep inside the back of the machine it does fit inside through the back of the equipment.
Ribbon cables for connecting the hydraulics arms don’t reach the PCI card connections now because the PC is much larger now.
So, pull it out, flip it over, and start over with working it in through the back of the chassis.

Finally, all connections are plugged back in.

Call for the department manager to power this thing back up while basically holding my breath.

XP boots up (which sadly was still a big relief)
Proprietary controller software launches (whew!)
Equipment servos move as software controls are tested. Woot!

This machine now not only works, but works better now than when it was new.

This was no small accomplishment and I am very pleased that it succeeded. In the course of my career I’ve done projects like this. I’ve spent hours hacking system files and copying registry keys from old Win 95/98 systems into newer Windows XP or Win7 systems in order to get old, irreplaceable software working.
I’ve literally used a paperclip to clamp down a broken CPU heat sink in a machine, while it was running, in order to keep a manufacturing line from going down.

For the fellow IT Professional reading this, the next time you roll your eyes at the term “Legacy” and tell me “just upgrade it”, keep in mind that you may well have no idea of the challenges involved.

We do have a lot of advanced technology here and I work with a highly skilled Systems Administrator whose job is to drive the new improvements and processes but me, I keep Legacy alive. At least until it can be sent off and retired with the honor it has finally earned when no longer able to.




 

The Robertson Tunnel

The Robertson Tunnel

Since it has been a few years without any further unexplainable events, I have decided that it is safe to relate a tale of one particularly unusual day I had that continues to make me question our place in reality, or perhaps question my own sanity.

At the time, I lived south of Portland and commuted back and forth to work during the week via Trimet which included passing through The Robertson Tunnel.

If you, the esteemed reader, live in the Portland area and have ever taken the Trimet MAX Light Rail then you are likely familiar with The Robertson Tunnel. If you don’t live here, then you can check out that Wikipedia entry on it.

On a Monday morning I was coming back to work after a week off for vacation. I am on the MAX heading through Portland towards my place of work in Beaverton. It’s a nice, sunny morning as the train enters the Goose Hollow Transit Center, the last stop before the tunnel.

Perception of Time is a funny thing when you’re occupied in mundane tasks, like a mostly boring commute that you take daily, and I remember this morning’s trip through the tunnel seemed to feel like it took longer than it usually did. I disregarded the feeling as the imagination of my idle mind.

The MAX pulled into the Washington Park MAX Station without incident and headed out through the rest of the Tunnel. As the MAX exits the tunnel I was surprised to see that the sky on the other side of the tunnel was overcast, rainy, and kind of an unusual color.
Oregon is a state of fairly schizophrenic weather that can regularly go from good to bad so, although a bit weird, I pretty much just wrote this latest incident off as normal.

As the MAX headed down the tracks towards Beaverton, I looked out at the highway and noticed quite a few sleek and futuristic looking cars driving by. “That’s cool”, I remember thinking.

As a tech geek I like to keep up on the changes in technology and I do know that many new hybrid, electric, and even ‘self driving’  vehicles have been coming out. As such, my mind attempted to justify this latest peculiar incident but I was still slowly getting an uneasy feeling that something just wasn’t right.

As the MAX pulls into my stop, the Millikan Way MAX Station, I get off and start walking to my work which is only a few hundred yards from the stop. Between the MAX stop and my work is one of the many Nike owned properties and buildings in the Beaverton area that I walk through daily. On this morning I noticed some new construction that I didn’t recall seeing before I had gone on my vacation.

“Wow, they really work quickly”  I was thinking.

I headed into work and went to my desk. I’m generally always the first one in my department, the IT Department, to get in every morning so it was nice and quiet. I started my morning with the usual, routine activities like making coffee and logging into my PC.

When I attempted to log into my PC I was surprised to find that my password didn’t work. I had been on vacation, sure, but I know that I hadn’t forgotten my password.

Yet another unusual incident for this day but there was far more to come.

I tried to justify this latest incident as maybe something happened in the week while I was off that caused a need for my boss to change my password. I logged in using our department Administrator account and changed my account password and went on with my work day.

There were some unusual things that had caught my attention and contributed to my ever growing feeling of unexplained uncertainty. Things like some of our manufacturing machines in different locations than they were before my vacation and names on our company phone list that I didn’t recognize.

My ever logical mind struggled to justify this strange day I was having.

Well, we have been doing a lot of hiring lately, and our manufacturing floor does rearrange stations a lot.”

My attempts to justify this truly bizarre morning were starting to not be enough and my feelings of unease were get worse.

My boss arriving for the morning had been the final strange incident of the morning that pushed me to start to question whether or not I was losing my mind.

“Oh, hey. Good morning Mike. Glad to see you survived your vacation. You decided to shave your goatee off, huh?”

I HAVEN’T SPORTED A GOATEE IN NEARLY 20 YEARS!

My boss is a great guy and we like to joke with each other but this statement wasn’t made in a humorous manner and was just one more strange occurrence that made me start to feel like my mind was shattering.

Thankfully, the rest of my work day was uneventful and I was starting to think that I was just imagining all these incidents as anything but normal.

 

Until I was back on the MAX and heading back home for the day.

 

The MAX headed back through The Robertson Tunnel and pulled into The Washing Park stop. While at the stop, some of Trimet’s Transit Police came onto my train.
This is a fairly normal occurrence on the train because they often check for riders who were trying to ride without paying proper fares but these guys looked different than I was used to seeing.

Trimet Cops were often dressed in nearly as SWAT Team uniforms but these guys were downright scary looking. They were in full combat gear and, while they were sort of half heartedly checking other riders’ fares, they seemed to be specifically heading straight for ME.

I had my wallet out and was showing off my annual Trimet pass as one of the cops approached. He glanced down at my pass and then looked at me.

“This isn’t your train. You need to come with us!” He said.

Um, ok, this is weird because my annual pass is definitely not expired but I sure as hell wasn’t going to argue with these guys, especially not with the way this bizarre day had been going.

As I exited my MAX car with these heavily armed cops, the train pulled away and continued off into the tunnel. The cops guided me towards the tunnel elevator that leads up to the Portland Zoo that’s 600+ ft. above the Washington Park stop.

They shoved me into the elevator with a cryptic statement “Stay on the elevator. You can exit when you come back down. Your train will be the next one.” With that they pressed the button and sent my elevator up.

Ok, what the fuck! This entire day is just creeping me out!

When I came back down into the tunnel I looked around. Those cops were nowhere to be found, which was strange in itself since the Washington Park stop was underground with limited ways to get out.

In fact, the entire station looked somehow different than it looked earlier that morning but I wasn’t really able to ‘put my finger’ on just what exactly was different.

With great relief, the remainder of my commute was totally uneventful. As I exited The Robertson Tunnel on the next MAX train, the sky was back to being bright and sunny and the rest of my commute home went as it had always gone.

What a truly strange day that had been!

The next day, Tuesday, I uneasily headed out on my morning ritual commute but was quickly relieved to see that nothing unusual was occurring.

That is, except for what was missing from my previous day’s trip. There was no unusual cars on the highway and even the construction at the Nike campus wasn’t there.

I was beginning to think I had totally imagined the entire previous day, until my boss came in.

Oh, hey. Good morning Mike. Glad to see you survived your vacation. You decided to take one additional day to recover, huh? Next time just call and let me know you’re not coming in, ok?”

 

………………………………………

 

Those unexplainable events haunt me to this day, years later.

Is there more to The Robertson Tunnel than just a normal transit tunnel through a hill? Is there something almost supernatural to the precise, geometric designs of the tunnel.

20160409_113549

 

Are there stories to the cryptic artwork that covers the walls of The Washington Park MAX Station that our rational reality isn’t realizing?

20160409_11360820160409_11361520160409_11374020160409_114050

 

 

I have no rational explanation for that day and you can judge my story for yourself but all I can tell you is that for months after that fateful Monday commute, I chose to take the bus all the way to work and avoided that godforsaken tunnel that still creeps me out today.

 

 

 

 

My 2 cents about Random LinkedIn Invites

I got motivated to throw my 2 cents out following a discussion on LinkedIn that came up on my feed that one of my connections had commented on. It was concerning how we should all just accept every invite we get because it increases our ‘network’. Since LinkedIn won’t allow their users to make posts longer than just a couple paragraphs I figured I’d rant here.

This discussion was primarily around receiving invites to connect out of the blue from individuals in the recruiting/headhunting professions.

While I very rarely get invites to connect from Recruiters because my skills aren’t really all that in demand I still disagree with the notion of accepting invites just because.

I generally always decline invites from recruiters, when I do get one, because I know that they are sending them because they’re simply clicking down their “People You Might Know” list and sending to everyone indiscriminately.

Like it or not, a Recruiter/Headhunter is only as successful as their contact list and the scope of their ability to network with people in the industry that they are recruiting for.

They’re selling a service and the more people in their contacts list that they can sell to, the more successful they are.

This isn’t in question and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s simply the nature of the position.

However, as such, it is far more beneficial to the recruiter sending out the invites than it is for the individual receiving the invite.

Blindly accepting an invite, on the off chance that a recruiter, who really knows nothing about you, ‘might‘ one day have a position you’d be a fit for will simply clutter your feed with posts that you likely don’t care about.

In the meantime, that recruiter gets to mention their considerable range of contacts as a selling point to people they ‘do‘ have a position for. They get to have a “500+ Connections”, etc. on their profile which looks impressive.

Like it or not, those of us on the receiving end of random invites are simply being looked at as a commodity and means to an end.

This isn’t a negative attitude, it’s a harsh reality.

Being a Recruiter/Headhunter is a tough job and is beneficial and necessary for the industries they server, but, like it or not there’s no incentive to simply accept invites on LinkedIn blindly UNLESS someone is actively looking for a new role, in which case THEY would be the ones sending a recruiter the invite.

So, if you’re a Recruiter, take a moment to actually put yourself in the position of the one you’re sending an invite too and don’t go getting all bent out of shape if they decline your request.