Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Our new Server and Working From Home

For everyone who looked for my column over the weekend, and today, my apologies. I had it ready for the paper, but hadn't gotten the online version done by quitting time on Friday.

No problem! We're experimenting with working from home, here at the Loonfoot Falls Chronicle-Gazette, and this was a good way to see how well it worked.

I went home, ate supper, and then logged on through our new Vacnet server. No problems. I uploaded the column, checked to make sure that it looked right, logged off, and had a pleasant weekend.

Back at the offices, I checked again, and the column was right where it should be.

Then, about 2:00, someone handed me the phone.

I've been asked not to use the name, but a regular reader let me know that the my most recent online column was still that "Feverish Server" one.

That's not good. I got the website up, went to my column, and the one you're seeing now (I hope) was there.

I did not tell the caller 'it must be a problem with your connection.' That's a technical support tradition I don't mind abandoning.

I thanked the caller, and called Stan Parks, the computer guy.

We still don't know why, but when I logged in from a remote location and uploaded that column, it was put in a secure location. Anyone could see it: as long as they had an employee account on the server, and had logged in.

Putting the column where it was supposed to be took about a minute. My guess is that it'll take Stan quite a while to sort this little glitch out.

And, no: I didn't hit the wrong key. That was the first thing I thought of. Stan and I went to my place, where I uploaded a dummy column, and so did Stan. We tried it a couple of ways, and got the same frustrating results each time.

So, until and unless this glitch is fixed, I'm not working from home.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Case of the Maligned Mallard

My neighbor, Lena Odegaard, is quite fond of her sunflower patch. I rather like the splash of color myself. She explained once that she lets the stalks stand through winter, as a sort of reminder of the summer that was, and the spring that will be.

That's why I was surprised to see her at my door Tuesday evening, brandishing a sunflower. Not just that dinner-plate-size seed head: the whole sunflower, stalk and all.

All she wanted to know was, "have you seen that duck?" That's Jake Nordstrom's duck, Bill. The bird has earned a reputation as a nuisance in the neighborhood. Still, Jake is at least as fond of his pet duck as Lena is of her sunflowers.

Bill may have fine inner qualities, but what most people notice about him is his foul look. Most ducks have all the expressiveness of a paperweight, but Bill manages to project a look of suspicious antagonism.

Be honest: Would you trust this duck?

Circumstantial evidence weighed against Bill. Quite a few of the seeds were missing, and Bill likes sunflower seed.

After calming down a bit, Lena asked me if I could keep an eye on her sunflower patch on Wednesday. It's not as crazy as it seems. She knew I was taking that day off to caulk my windows.

Okay. So, I spent Wednesday morning caulking on that side of the house, ate on the back steps, and went back to caulking.

About an hour later, I saw the sunflower vandal. Not Bill, thank goodness. Lena's got gophers.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Mystery of the Feverish Server

The new Vacnet Local Area Network server we'd gotten last month is in the owner's office. Mr. Johnson's closet, actually. It's the best location in the building: close to a sort of shaft where a chimney had been, a few renovations back.

Stan Parks, who has the computer store in town, ran cables through that shaft, down to the basement, then over to all the ground-floor offices, and up to the second floor, without making more than a few new holes in the floors, walls, and ceilings.

That meant that Mr. Johnson had Stan in and out of his office for a couple of days. Make that a couple weeks. It wasn't until just before Labor Day weekend that Stan had the network running almost to everyone's satisfaction.

The Thursday before Labor Day weekend, Mr. Johnson closed the doors in his office, told us that he'd call Tuesday to see how things were going, and left town.

Most of the staff took off around noon Friday. There wasn't much to do, except receive a half-dozen cartons of coated paper and get them stacked in the hallway.

I stayed late, trying to learn more about how the new network worked. Around 7:00, I called it a day, turned out the lights, and locked up.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008. 8:00 a.m. Heather Fisk discovered that her computer worked, but that she couldn't get anything on the network. The rest of us were in the same boat, except some of our computers had gotten twitchy over the weekend.

Mr. Johnson called. I had the honor of telling him that the network was dead. He said, "you deal with it." It's nice to be trusted, but I was in no mood to enjoy the vote of confidence.

Stan Parks came in and traced the problem to a bad card in the Vacnet server. To my relief, he also told everyone that there was no way I could have ‘done something' to the network Friday evening. By 4:00, he'd contacted a supplier in the Twin Cities, and was told that a replacement would be here the next morning.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008. Noon went by, but no card arrived. This time I called the supplier. Their shipping clerk told me that we'd received the card that morning. Somebody had signed for it, so we had it.

Except we didn't. After talking to someone else, I was assured that they'd send another card, and that we'd get it Thursday morning.

Thursday, September 4, 2008. Noon went by, but no card arrived. I was punching in the vendor's number, to have an earnest discussion about Vacnet cards, when Mr. Johnson told me that he'd make the call. About fifteen minutes later, Mr. Johnson told me that he'd been assured that a replacement card would arrive Friday morning.

Friday, September 5, 2008. Just after 8:15 Friday morning, a gray-haired man in a business suit left a package at the front desk. It was the card we'd been waiting for. We rejoiced and, more practically, called Stan Parks.

Stan swapped cards, tested the network, and everything worked.

A good afternoon was had by all, and we went home for the weekend. I came back on Saturday, to see if the network was still working. It was.

Monday, September 8, 2008. 8:00 a.m. Heather Fisk reports that she has access to the network. The problem seems to have been solved.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008. Mr. Johnson returns, catches up on what's been going on, goes through correspondence that's collected on his desk, closes up his office and goes home. As do the rest of us.

Thursday, September 11, 2008. 8:00 a.m. Heather Fisk says, "not again." This was pretty much a replay of September 2, except this time two cards were burned out. Stan Parks orders replacements for both, and spends the rest of the day inspecting the server's power source, heat sinks, fans: everything.

Friday, September 12, 2008. The cards arrive. In the morning. They're the right cards. Stan installs them, tests the network. It works. Mr. Johnson gives the okay for him to stay for the afternoon, so he can check out every part of the network. I help out in this task, since I'm the most computer-savvy member of the staff. Which means that I can understand almost half of what Stan says.

5:15 p.m. Stan hasn't found any reason why the Vacnet server should have burned out three cards in a week. He and I are outside Mr. Johnson's office as he gets ready to leave: locking his desk and closing the closet door before turning out the lights.

Closing the closet door.

The closet door had been open almost all the time since the Vacnet server came. Stan had been back and forth so much, it didn't make sense to swing it shut each time.

Stan had cut a small vent in the wall of the closet, with a blower that pulled air in from the back hallway. That would have kept the closet cool enough, even with the door closed.

Except that the last of those half-dozen paper cartons was still stored in the hallway. Right in front of the vent.

20-20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. It's obvious, now: The server had its hall vent running and the closet door open until Mr. Johnson left that Thursday. It worked find with the closet door closed, until cartons stored in the hallway blocked its air vent.

It took hours for the heat to build up, Friday afternoon and evening. But finally it got to hot, and one of the server's cards failed.

The closet door was opened again, when Stan started working on the server. He probably didn't notice any warmth, since the Vacnet server system shuts itself down if there's a failure.

We didn't have a problem again, until Mr. Johnson came back and closed the closet door.

Stan's replaced the vent blower with something a bit more robust, we've marked the hallway as a 'no storage' area, and Mr. Johnson made his own contribution toward keeping the server healthy.

Somewhere up on the second floor, he found an old pedestal fan and took it down to his office.

I don't think that server is likely to overheat again, any time soon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008. Just to be sure, I stayed up most of Friday night, babysitting that server.

Monday, September 15, 2008. 8:00 a.m. Heather Fisk's computer works: and is connected to the network.

It works. What a relief. It works.

I started a short vacation.

(A special thank-you to Mr. Johnson and the editorial staff, for allowing me to take up four times the usual space for this week's column. They told me that at 'epic' experience like that warranted a longer column.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's Been an Interesting Two Weeks

When I'm not writing this column, taking pictures, or filling in for Heather Fisk, the Chronicle-Gazette's feature writer, I'm the Chronicle-Gazette's 'computer guy.' Usually, that means that I get a break from routine a couple times a week.

Not that I'm any kind of expert: it's just that I'm more comfortable with, and know more about, information technology than anyone else here. As a rule, it's good for my self-esteem.

Then, there's the last two weeks.

I'll get back to you, with details.
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