Support diary: Matthew M. (Tuesday)

Here's day two of Matthew's support diary. Tuesday finds him receiving some good news from the Big Giant Head and dashing back and forth between the various responsibilities of his day.

Matthew Mercurio,a.k.a.SuperHumanPC-Guy,isthemanagerofinformationsystemsforClearChannelBroadcasting’sLouisvillemarket.

Read Monday’s entry.

8:00 A.M.: Arrival to work
Well, I didn’t take my own advice and decide to start my vacation, but I probably should have. You see, in order to get to the coffee dispenser, which is located in our kitchen, you have to walk through the sales area and right past the general manager’s office. I heard my name in many conversations taking place inside those cubicles. I think I even heard a faint voice in one of the cubicles use my name in the same sentence with Satan.

Three more steps and I would be in the kitchen, if I could just get past the GM’s office without him seeing me. I took three lively steps past his door and made it safely to the kitchen. Just as I thought I might escape certain death, however, there was my GM, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “Matthew,” he said with stern voice, “what is going on with the e-mail system, and when are you going to get it working again?” Now usually I have some kind of idea how long it will take to get a problem resolved, but this one was out of my hands.

After throwing some tech talk at him to try to blur the issue and relieve myself of any accountability, I finally told him that the corporate geeks were working on it. By the way, the first thing you learn in college is how to never accept accountability for anything that goes wrong in the corporate world and at the same time make it look like everything is under control. After talking with him about the situation, I immediately went back to my office and tried to start my day as best as I could.

9:00 A.M.: Answering my e-mail/voice mail
I noticed that I must have had 20 messages on my voice mail regarding the e-mail problem. So I thought it was time to do another spam voice mail. I left another message stating that we knew about the problem and we were working on it. Amazingly, I still had enough time to myself to answer e-mail and phone messages and even start planning my day.

10:00 A.M.: Time to install the service pack for Office 2000 already?
Yesterday, I made some adjustments to an Office 2000 install by re-installing and choosing full install. It did cure my macro-recording problem, but now there was a new problem. For some reason, whenever the user tried to print to her HP4050 printer in Excel, she would get an “illegal operation error.”

After some digging, I found out that there is an Office 2000 Service Release 1 already available. I went to Microsoft’s site, but the process became very frustrating from there on out. Hmmmm, frustration and Microsoft—hard to believe, isn’t it?

I found the SR-1 download, but it was very convoluted in its procedure. You must first download a new Office Installer file to do the upgrade. So after the 1-MB download, I thought I was in business. Wrong! The installer was just the beginning; the actual SR-1 download was another 27-MB download. Wow! 27 MB for a service pack—unbelievable! Microsoft does it again. Anyway, I downloaded and applied the SR-1, and everything was fine again.

11:30 A.M.: Got some good news!
I returned to my office to get my next work order when I saw I had a voice mail. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It seems the corporate geeks, or the Big Giant Head, had called to tell me that the DNS points and the MX records were corrected. Not only that, but they also informed me that we were going to be upgraded to a T1. Now isn’t that interesting, to go from a T1 to a 256 and then back to a T1? Yeah, it makes perfect sense!

I was just glad to hear the good news. Somebody must have been smiling on me, because as I hung up the phone after listening to my message, my General Manager walked into my office. He said to me with the same stern voice, “So Matthew, when are you going to get to the e-mail problem?” I calmly replied, “Bill, it should be working again.” My GM was so pleased, he patted me on the back and said good job for clearing that up so quickly. I just smiled and thanked him. Hey, even SuperHumanPC-Guys need some extra luck sometimes. Besides, I figured the Big Giant Head owed me at least that much.

11:45 A.M.: Back up, back up, backup
I haven’t had to use it a whole lot (knock on my real fake wood desk) but it sure is a comfort knowing I have a backup of my server’s registry and user database. Arc Serve is what I use, and it does a great job. Once it saved me from certain format and install. Anyway, I did my daily backup routine and changed from Monday’s tape to Tuesday’s tape. I am actually thinking about putting a tape bay loader into my budget for next year so I can have five tapes at once. That way, I will only have to change the weekend tape. But they are costly and I’ll have to plan for that in my budget. In our company, anything over $500 requires a corporate purchase order to be released. That can sometimes take as long as six months.

11:50 A.M.: Stopped by the studio to lend a hand
One of our radio talk show personalities was having trouble getting her e-mail and she paged me to come into the studio. She was on the air, and for her show she likes to tell people to e-mail her with questions and comments. So the e-mail was a big crisis.

I noticed she wasn’t even on the network, so I told her to log on. She told me she tried but was unable to get on the network. That’s when she told me that she had forgotten her password and had tried everything she could think of to log on. That told me that she probably locked herself out of the account and that I had better go check her account on the server. There it was—her profile that exclaimed, “Account Locked Out.”

After three bad logon attempts, the server locks out the account. So I just reset her password to the generic password and set the account to force her to change the password at the next logon. I went back to the studio and told her to use the password I changed it to, then change it to whatever she wanted when she logged on. I also told her to write it down. I guess busy talk show hosts are so focused on their shows that they forget the little stuff.

12:00 P.M.: Time for lunch
After all the stress from yesterday and worrying all night about the e-mail, my appetite was huge! I took an hour to nosh.

1:00 P.M.: Time to wear yet another hat
Along with my duties as the IT Director, I am also in charge of handling the phone and PBX system. Whenever someone moves to another office or we hire a new person who requires a phone, I am the guy to see. Since we are doing a bit of remodeling right now, we usually have a couple of phones to move around. Today, there were 12 phones to move.

It’s a good thing I saved a blueprint of the building’s floor plan and office arrangement, because I use it daily. The blueprint is taped up in our broadcast/server/phone equipment room. On it is every phone and data drop to every office, and the rooms are all numbered. These numbers match both the patch panels for my network connections and the punch down blocks for the phone system. This list makes it so easy to find which wire goes to what numbered port.

I have to admit, making the blueprint was one of my better ideas. I requested the original floor plan in CAD format from the architect who designed the building. They e-mailed it to me and then I brought it into my Visio Professional software. This software is so helpful. It allows me to drop and drag symbols of desktops, towers, servers, printers, and much more onto the floor plan.

This way, I can drop a picture of a computer into my general manager’s office, then attach that symbol to an Access database. Then when I double-click the picture of the PC, it brings up a database that tells me everything about that PC—things like software loaded, OS, make, model, specs, and even drill downs to IRQ assignments. Visio allows me to have a complete database of all my equipment—from PCs to phones—and a visual diagram of their location. Once I finished moving the phones with the aid of my handy-dandy blueprint, there was just enough time to make a phone call and dash out the door for another TV taping.

2:00 P.M.: Put on my TV hat
Today was the second of my two-day-a-month television duty. I barely made it to the set on time. This time, I demonstrated some really helpful Web sites for PC users, from novices to experts. I also showed off the Cool Edit Pro software.

First up were the Web sites. I started with PC Mechanic for the intermediate user who is tinkering with the idea of building a computer. It has a ton of really helpful information like what, where, and how to buy the parts. It also gives good details on putting it all together. Next was J. Helmig's World of Windows Networking. This site is a help site geared to answering many technical questions. The operating systems covered range from Win3.1 to Windows 2000. Speaking of Windows 2000, I also showed a site that has an archive of tips and tricks for all the Windows server and workstation flavors. It is the JSI Inc. site, and it even has direct links to most of the knowledge base articles.

I also demonstrated the Cool Edit Pro audio editing software. Being in the radio broadcasting business, I am around this type of software all the time. I have to admit, Cool Edit Pro is one the finest that I have seen. It allows you to do 24-track editing—that is a bunch of flexibility! You know all those obnoxious commercials you hear on the radio? Well, chances are that they were made with this software.

4:00 P.M.: Back to the ranch
Next on my agenda was a situation that required the installation of the Cool Edit software. We have eight production studios and 14 on-air studios—each with proprietary on-air and production software called Prophet loaded on a Windows 98 SE machine.

You may have heard of the Prophet system. It’s getting a lot of publicity right now in the news. The only thing is that it’s bad publicity. My company is Clear Channel Broadcasting—the largest broadcasting company in the world right now. Clear Channel uses the Prophet system to generate all its music and talk shows. Now here comes the “bad” part. The Prophet system allows you to do what we call “voice tracking” for an entire three-hour show. In other words, I could sit at a microphone in a production studio and just speak the intros and outros between every piece of music for a three-hour show. Put that together with commercials, sweepers, liners, promos, and weather reports, and bam—you’ve got a radio show.

How is that bad? Well, think of it like this: I could sit at a microphone in Louisville, cut a three-hour show, then put it on our WAN and send it to Cleveland. Now the Clear Channel station in Cleveland throws it out on their airwaves, and nobody is the wiser. Clear Channel can get rid of the DJ in Cleveland and let me voice track that time slot. So you could very easily cut a lot of jobs this way. Some people are even calling it “canned radio.” I can easily say that when you travel from Kentucky to Florida, you are listening to a Clear Channel-owned station with someone voice tracking a lot of the time slots on those stations.

Okay, sorry for the detour—now back to my Cool Edit task. In one of these production studios, I have a Windows NT Workstation machine. This machine is logging in to both my WinNT network and also the corporate Novell WAN network.

I am trying the software out on WinNT on this machine because I am looking for a more stable operating system for these applications. It was running fine with Cool Edit 96, but it was time to upgrade it to Cool Edit Pro. After installing the software, I noticed it wasn’t logged on to the network, so I rebooted the computer so that it would be. I tried to log on again, but it just hung looking for the network. After I tried several times to log on, I noticed the clock said 5:30, and it was time to go home.

5:30 P.M.: Time to go
The production studio is an important element of our business, so I will make this my first stop in the morning. I filled out a work order for it and then I went home. Tomorrow is another day.
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