Recently in Corporate Dronehood Category

Eat your heart out, MacGyver
January 19, 2012 10:33 PM | Posted in:

I knew when I accepted my new job that I'd be doing a wide variety of things, but I never anticipated I'd be doing CSI-type work.

Earlier this week our Denver IT group was troubleshooting some network issues that were slowing down our work. In order to diagnose the issue, they needed to know which ports some of our computers were connected to.

The problem is that in certain offices, the furniture has been conveniently placed in front of the wall ports, and that furniture weighs approximately the same as the USS Nimitz. In other words, it's not moving. This presents quite a challenge in discerning the ports' identities, which are a combination of letters and numbers that correspond to their switch connections in our server room.

My challenge therefore was to figure out a way to identify a specific port which was obscured by a desk that had about 3" of clearance from the wall. So here's what I did.

I went home at lunch and found my little extension mirror, the one that looks like a dentist's mirror on the end of a radio antenna (for those old enough to remember telescoping car radio antennae). When fully extended, I could contort myself enough to get the mirror positioned in front of the wall port and read the labeling. Sort of. The real problem is that my bifocals aren't synched up with the mirror. Plus there's that whole "mirror image" thing that hurts my brain trying to interpret what I'm barely seeing. Then there was the complicating factor of the darkness behind the desk. Gee, if there was only some way to light the scene, capture an image, and then manipulate it so that I could confirm that I was reading the wall plate accurately.

I'm nothing if not committed - or at least a candidate for being committed. I held the telescoping mirror in my right hand, arm stretched full length and angled just so. I held a small LED flashlight between my teeth, and my iPhone set to camera mode in my left hand. It took some doing, but I finally got the mirror, flashlight, and camera all angled properly, and snapped a picture just before my entire body cramped.

Here's what I had on my phone following that contortion:

Small photo of mirror

This is pretty close to the actual size of the photo as viewed on my phone's screen. You can make out my hand at the lower right, and the mirror is on the left side, near the middle of the picture. Obviously, it wasn't helpful at this size.

So I emailed the photo to myself, and opened it in Photoshop. The view was a little better after cropping:

Small photo of mirror

You can begin to make out the port label, right? Would you stake your life (or your network) on a correct interpretation at this point? Me neither.

A little more massaging was called for. First, I flipped the whole image horizontally, eliminating the mirror image issue. Then I sharpened the image and tweaked the contrast a bit, giving this still-ot-great-but-definitely-usable picture:

Small photo of mirror

Port P2-26. As far as I know, after all that trouble they still didn't figure out what was slowing down the network. But at least I can now add "contortionist" to my résumé.

Installing a BHP
October 25, 2011 10:05 PM | Posted in: ,

Big Honkin' Plotter, that is. Or, to be less dramatic and more boring, an HP T-1300 Designjet large format plotter. Yep, that's what I [almost] singlehandedly assembled and put into operation at the office yesterday, in fulfillment of my loosely-defined IT responsibilities.

It was actually ridiculously easy, despite having 94 discrete steps in the instruction manual from unboxing-to-printing. Some of those steps were along the lines of "remove dessication packet," or "open printer cover." I didn't mind; it was a welcome change from too many do-it-yourself projects where the instructions were badly translated from Serbian, or simplified into one "assemble the unit and enjoy!" instruction, which is OK if it's referring to, say, a shovel, but not so good for a propane barbecue grill.

Anyway, while I did most of the assemblage by my lonesome, I did enlist some strong backs to help lift the almost-200-pound device to its feet, thereby avoiding any embarrassing job-related injuries. And to top it off, the darned thing actually worked after I got it connected to the network.

Still, it's one big piece of machinery. How big, you ask? You be the judge.

Aircraft Carrier vs Plotter
Items not drawn exactly to scale

Hardware Guy
October 19, 2011 9:52 AM | Posted in: ,

While the greater part of my new job involves GIS, I'm also the IT contact for the Midland office. Our IT department is centralized in Denver, and the regional offices don't have IT professionals to handle computer-related tasks. Apparently, because I had worked previously in a technocentric field, they thought I would be the right person to assume those duties.

It's a bit ironic. Website clients regularly asked me for advice or tried to hire me to work on their computer hardware or networks (which inevitably involved Windows), and I always declined to do so, stating that I "wasn't a hardware guy," or "I'm not a Windows guy." And now, of course, I'm both.

To be honest, though, I enjoy it. For one thing, while I'm not a computer professional, I do have working knowledge of most the things I'm asked to do, and during this early period where I'm in a prolonged training mode on the GIS side, it's nice to feel like I'm contributing something of value to the company.

Power ButtonI've done everything from install RAM, hard drives, and video cards to helping the Denver networking guys troubleshoot some problem communications lines. I've hooked up a digitizing tablet, swapped out a ceiling-mounted video projector, and installed several complete dual-monitor workstations, both tower- and notebook-based. And, just yesterday, I installed an HP Lefthand SAN, which is essentially a networked storage unit.

That was something of a daunting task for me. For starters, the unit weighs about 50 pounds, and it had to be installed in a server rack. So I had to install the rails first, then drop (well, that's not the best term to use when referring to an expensive piece of hardware) the unit into the rails. Once that was done, I connected the redundant power cords and the redundant networking cables to the proper switches. I then connected the unit to one of our servers so that the Denver folks could finish the configuration and place the unit in service.

Funny thing about that, though. After I had gotten all the preceding done and was feeling pretty satisfied with my accomplishment, the guy in Denver messaged me. "I'm having trouble finding the unit on the network," he said. "Can you check the connections and make sure they're all tight?"

I knew they were, but I went and checked anyway. I reported back. "Hmm..." he said, "I still can't see it. Maybe we have a bad port..."

Then he messaged back. "Uh...the unit IS turned on, isn't it?"

Like I'm supposed to think of everything? *forehead slap*

In my defense, when you plug in the power cables on that unit, lights start blinking and it gives every indication of being powered up. But it's not; you still have to press the "on" button. D'oh.

There's always something around here to ensure that I stay humble.