Onair memories

When I worked at OnAir, I had a boss who will remain nameless (I’ll call him PHB) because this story is a bit embarrassing for him. We had been sent to PAIX in northern CA to install a Sun enterprise server 1000. After uncrating and racking it, we turned it on and watched as the boot console scrolled through various things, finally ending at a repeated attempt to BOOTP.

Now, at this point, I was all set to sit down at the keyboard and start hacking away at the firmware settings, because obviously the unit had no idea it had a hard drive, much less a operating system. However, PHB was utterly convinced that if we just waited long enough, the thing would boot. Really. Honest. He made me wait a hour, repeatedly telling me not to touch the keyboard.

I went to the hotel room that night and looked up the relevant page of the sun hardware guide. Then, the next day when we returned to the data center, I went straight to the machine, told it to list devices attached to it, then told it where it’s boot disk was. After which, no big surprise, it booted right up.

The thing that really annoyed me was that he wouldn’t listen to me, and I think the problem was, he had no idea what I was saying. Concepts like BOOTP and DHCP and network booting and boot device and whatnot were entirely foreign to him. So, when we got home, I printed out the sun firmware console guide and left a copy on his desk.

People have from time to time done this to me – I remember getting a copy of the Sendmail guide with a post-it saying “see page 53”, for example. I don’t remember ever being upset by it, and neither was he. However, it’s a lot trickier in a interactive face to face setting to figure out, how do I clue this guy in to the fact that he has no idea what I’m talking about and what he’s suggesting is never going to work – I’ve never figured out a really good answer.

I remember when I was at ASP repairing people’s houses, one woman’s water pump got hit by lightning. Now, in fact, all it had done is blown a hole in the metal piece that attached it to the feed pipe, but we didn’t know that. Anyway, we pooled up our ice cream money and bought her a pump (ASP disavowed all knowledge of anything relating to replacing a water pump), dug up her wellhead, and pulled out the old pump. I did some cut&splice&whatnot, and put the new pump where the old one was, and we lowered it back down. Of course, when the pump hit the top of the water, that was the end of lowering.

At this point, I made a suggestion. Let’s turn the power on to the pump, and it will lift water up the column and thereby pull itself down. However, the adults (I was about 16 at the time) decided that was too dangerous and radical, so instead they tried to force the pump into the hole.

Not suprisingly, this was not easy. In addition, grinding the pump’s power wiring against the side of the shaft cut the power wiring, and so once the pump was in place, it didn’t work. We pulled it back out, I patched the cut power wiring, and the second time it was decided we would try my way, which worked. (I bet it’s what all the installers do.)

Again, I don’t know what to do in situations like that. It’s obvious the other person is not in possession of all the facts, but it’s also obvious that they think I’m not either. I don’t want to say things that make them think I think they’re a moron, but I also don’t really want to sit and watch while they demonstrate why their technique is not going to work.

The other question, of course, is how to accept the reverse situation – when someone has to clue me in that my airspeed really shouldn’t be 110 knots at touchdown, or that .net console apps use a connection pool and so it really is okay to throw away a database connection after each query (well, it’s not the most optimized thing in the world to do, but it doesn’t involve reconnecting to the server) – without having my feelings be hurt by the fact that I’m apparently clueless.

As I get older I’m finding it easier and easier to accept being wrong without there being any judgement on my value as a person or my skills or anything being involved. This is sort of the opposite of what I would have expected to have happened.

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