only person in the Rolodex
Thursday, March 3 2005
I spent nearly all of the day at the radio station just across the border in Connecticut trying to figure out a maddeningly-complicated puzzle. This particular station is a small one based in an old Victorian house, but it nonetheless depends on a dizzying array of computer technology to function. There's both an advertising log and a music log, and these have to be merged and then posted in the broadcast studio for a DJ to follow. Central to everything is a "traffic computer" where advertisements are scheduled. That computer went down yesterday and my task today was to get it working again.
I soon discovered that the computer had a serious motherboard problem: its BIOS had somehow become invalid. I was forced to migrate everything to a new computer. But then that computer proved insufficient for the task at hand, an outcome I should have expected given the fact that it was a 200 MHz Pentium being used to replace a dual P-II motherboard. The dualness of the processors in the old computer caused its own set of headaches. Did you know that Windows NT has a different version of HAL.DLL for dual-processor systems? No, I didn't either.
I eventually raided the FM studio for their web surfing computer and converted that into a traffic computer, but then I couldn't figure how to get it to connect to a headless "server" back in the server rack. With the weak tools of Windows at my disposal, I tried pinging IP addresses manually starting from 192.168.1.1 until I found something at 192.168.1.21. Later, following a hunch, a figured out that the "server" was running Novell Netware, which I haven't seen in the wild since hacking university networks back in the early 1990s.
Despite the trickle of insights and discoveries, for some reason my client software wouldn't "connect" with whatever was running on the "server." Then again, I didn't really know what was supposed to happen on the network or what exactly lay on the other end of the connection. The whole thing had been built years ago by a gentleman who had long since vanished and nobody at the station had even a rudimentary scrap of knowledge to help me with what I was trying to do. I kept calling the tech support numbers for the various products I was dealing with, but this was complicated by the fact that the company that had created the network had been subsequently divided into two different companies, and neither of its descendants seemed to know much about the other's products. Like most obscure proprietary software for specialized purposes, the program I was trying to install and configure suffered from limited configurability and rudimentary error reporting. For me to attempt different settings, I couldn't just go to a configuration menu. Instead I had to reinstall the software from scratch, a process that I always had to begin with a trip to the Task Manager to kill off a number of obscurely-named processes. It was a pretty fucking hopeless situation. I just wanted to scream, hurl something across the room and storm out, never to return again. But I knew I was the only person in the station's Rolodex with a hope of fixing the problem.
Adding to my misery, the radio station happened to be in the process of being sold to a new buyer (thankfully not Clear Channel) and tonight there was a meet and greet so the staff could shake hands with the new overlords. There I was, racking my mind trying to figure out what was wrong, rebooting and reinstalling over and over again while trying different things, and all around me people were standing around with drinks in their hands talking and laughing. The pressure was on me while they were having fun. Individually they'd try to give me moral support, but sometimes this took the form of unhelpful, seemingly mocking displays, such as when one of them began oooohming.
When the last hour of available phone tech support came to an end, there was nothing more I could do. So I had to leave the station with a promise of coming back tomorrow. It never feels good to leave a job like this unfinished, but I had no alternative.
On the way home I drank not one, not two, but three Labatt Blues. Happily Gretchen had a delicious curry and rice dinner prepared for me.
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