Support diary: Matthew M. (Thursday)

What's life like in other shops? Here's your chance to walk a cyber-mile in the shoes of a fellow support professional who's a one-person IT department.


Read Monday’s entry.

Read Tuesday’s entry.

Read Wednesday’s entry.

8:00 A.M.: Duty calls
Okay, another day, another 50 cents, right? Well, when I arrived at work this morning, I was feeling a bit extra sluggish because I had stayed up a little too late last night writing my diary entry for TechRepublic. It was probably around 1 A.M. before I actually got to bed.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I couldn’t believe it. There wasn’t a parking space available anywhere near the building. Seems like everybody and their brother was in our building this morning. I did manage to park next to the 50-foot RV that had the logo of some head-banging metal band on the side of it. FlatHead Screws I think was the name. It is not unusual to pull into our parking lot and see one or two RVs parked. We frequently have bands from all over the U.S. come to town, and they usually use our parking lot for a hotel.

Spreadsheet crisis
You remember how I told you that I sneak into my building sometimes? Well, this morning I didn’t even get a chance to sneak in the door. As I was walking through the parking lot, I was snagged by one of my co-workers. She wanted to know if I could take a look at her Excel spreadsheet. She said that she had cut and pasted it from the master workbook located on her general sales manager’s computer and took it with her last night to work on from her home computer.

Everything copied just fine, but for some reason, the format was all screwed up. She also told me that she wanted to grab me before I got involved in anything. Now this is usually not a good way to get my attention. I have 250 people to take care of in that building and if you don’t go by the rules, like filling out a “Request For Service” form and waiting your turn, it tends to make SuperHumanPC-Guy a little frigid. Especially when he hasn’t even had his coffee yet!

After listening to her problem, I simply said, “If you don’t mind, please fill out a form and put it in my box. I will put it on my list.” I also told her that writing it down for me would help me to remember. That’s what I told her, but what I was thinking is a different story!

8:45 A.M.: Mundane routine
Planning my day, answering e-mails, and returning phone calls; it may seem like a monotonous routine, but if I don’t stick to it, I will just get way behind in my duties. I think I heard somewhere that the average human spends 80 percent of his or her life going through some sort of daily routine and always stays within a 25-mile radius. Scary, huh? Well, as scary as it may seem, a daily routine—oh, and coffee—is a must for me if I want to get anything accomplished. I wonder if Superman or Batman ever made anyone fill out a “Request For Service” form before they stomped out their rogues’ galleries?

9:30 A.M.: Getting a late start
After filling out my schedule for the day, I wanted to make sure “Operation Replacement” would stay on schedule. I did this by setting up six more PCs on my workbench and letting Ghost re-image their hard drives. After creating an image, there is really not a whole lot of overhead involved with this procedure. So I booted all the machines with the bootable Ghost floppy disk and then jumped on my work order schedule.

First up was installing a sound card, speakers, and Real Audio on my general manager’s computer. Since we are in the radio business and we have a couple of our stations broadcasting on the Internet, most of our sales snakes—oops, I mean people—and my GM need to be able to hear our products. I know you are saying—why not just buy a radio? That would be great, if we could just get good reception in the building!

You see, with all the satellite receivers, broadcast routers, and the miles of wire located in the same room as my servers and network equipment, it makes it hard to get a good signal inside the building. If you want to get a good tan and make some toast at the same time, however, then try standing in our equipment room with some bread in your hand for about 30 minutes. That ought to do it.

Anyway, back to the sound card. I usually have an abundance of sound cards in stock, because most of my new PCs come stocked with a standard sound card. A perk maybe, but it is not good enough for our purposes. So every time I get a new machine in, I remove the sound card and replace it with a $400 digital one from Lynx One. These cards put out a pure digital signal, and they are a must if you want to do any kind of quality sound editing. Needless to say, I have a ton of regular sound cards on hand.

Let me tell you what I really think
My GM doesn’t do any kind of sound editing, so all he needs is a regular card. I installed the card and drivers in his machine and made sure Real Audio was also installed. Now as much as I hate Real Audio, we have to use it at least for the time being because of our agreement with Yahoo/ They have told me that they are making the switch to the Windows Media Player, and I will be so glad when they do. I have nothing against Real Audio—well, actually I have a lot against Real Audio.

I have never seen such an underhanded, totally dominating piece of software since Microsoft Windows! Real Audio cleverly makes itself the default for everything if you aren’t watching closely when installing. They also sign you up for all their mailing lists. On top of all that, they allegedly monitor your activity both on your computer and the Internet. That practice, to me, is invading my privacy and it should be illegal. I mean, I don’t want anyone knowing that I have the latest Joe Cartoon flash program downloaded and running on the company’s computer.

10:00 A.M.: Time to deal with my nightmare
I have a wide variety of networking systems that I deal with on a regular basis here at our location, but nothing makes me so frustrated as the AS/400 we have running our proprietary traffic and billing system. Between the AS/400 and the JDS Traffic software running on it, I am constantly battling configuration problems.

Problem solving is usually what I like the most because it offers a challenge to me, and nine times out of 10, I always end up learning something new. In order to set up some frame of reference for this particular problem, I have to give you a little history. Originally, we had 14 devices running on the AS/400 through two legs off the mainframe. On one port, we had one dummy terminal, three 486 PCs running Win 3.1 and EM5250 emulator software for DOS, and three stand-alone Epson 5000 Plus dot matrix printers. On the second port, we had five PCs with the same configuration as above, and two more Epson 5000 printers.

Now all these devices had their own address assigned to them, and they were connected to the AS/400 by way of Twin Ax (Twin Axial) cable. YUCK! Twin Ax to me is the cable from hell! I am not exaggerating when I say it takes me an hour and a half just to terminate one end! I wish Twin Ax cables were banished from the earth all together! Does it sound like I have something against Twin Ax? Well, right before the end of the year and in my efforts to get us Y2K compliant, I replaced all the PCs on the Traffic system with new Pentiums.

Oh, and regarding the Y2K thing—I could write a 1,000-page book on how I thought the Y2K movement was nothing but hype produced by some news-hungry media institutions and some moneymaking scam artists!

Anyway, when I replaced the computers, I also put an Ethernet adapter in my AS/400 and installed TCP/IP for Windows on the system. Now I have the ability to get rid of the hated Twin Ax and get everyone on the network with Category 5 cable.

For expansion and ease of management, it just made sense. That, together with the fact that we were almost in the 2000s and it was time to get with the times! Everything went smoothly. The conversion was actually easier than I had expected, and I had everybody up and running on the new system in one day. I did all this with the exception of installing all the printers. Most of the printers had Twin Ax adapters built directly into them, and they were all connected via Twin Ax.

Gotta do the research
I was going to have to attach the printers to the local port of some of the PCs. This was a whole different configuration setup and I was going to have to do some research on this, so I left one printer still connected to the AS/400 by way of Twin Ax and disconnected all the others. Running all the print jobs from this one printer would be no problem for now.

After a couple of weeks and some research, I learned how to install and use these printers from local machines on the AS/400. It turns out that all I needed to do was to add another “session” to the EM5250 emulator program running on the host computer. This time, I had to configure the EM5250 for Windows program as a printer “session” instead of a display “session.” When the users fire up the 5250 software, they will need to fire up the second 5250 printer session as well. Voila, problem solved—or so I thought.

You see, even after doing all the installations and configurations under the directions provided by IBM and JDS, it still didn’t work. The AS/400 even saw the newly configured printers and everything seemed to be in order. The problem was that when someone would release a document to be printed, the AS/400 would say the document was released and was printing, when in reality nothing was coming out of the printer at all!

Well, as much as I hated it, I had to call the “Big Giant Head” (the corporate geeks) and ask for their help. Big giant mistake. They told me to go buy some print servers and put the printers on the network as stand-alones. I did this and guess what—it didn’t work! Now I had the traffic people and my GM breathing down my neck to get this working again. The Traffic system is our software that sends out the bills to our clients. This system is solely responsible for recording our billing process. Pretty important, don’t you think?

Anyway, after trying everything I knew to do, I decided to put the printers back on Twin Ax and run them that way until we get a new AS/400 scheduled for sometime this coming summer. At that time, I will let the install guys get the extra printers on the Ethernet. Since we did some remodeling, everybody has moved from one place to another, and now I am going to have to string more Twin Ax. YUCK!

Today was the day to pull the wire. I really wasn’t looking forward to this, since I hate Twin Ax with the greatest of passions! The only good thing about this was I managed to talk the GM to letting me hire some temps to help me pull the wire. When we are talking about getting a system operational that is responsible for probably close to $5 million worth of billing, I didn’t have too much resistance. This was an all-day job with the exception of lunch; we crawled around in the ceilings and pulled this wire for the rest of the day.

5:00 P.M.: Finally time to go
We managed to get the wire strung and all that was left to do is make the connections. But that is for tomorrow. I am just glad we got the bulk of the work accomplished today.

You know, there is something to say about the difference between working your back and working your brain. I don’t know what it is exactly, because in both situations I usually go home at the end of the day pretty much drained. This is nothing that a good night’s rest won’t cure, though. After all, tomorrow is only a half-day because of the Prophet install tomorrow night. See you then.
To comment on this diary entry, please post a comment below or follow this link to write to Matthew .

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox