flewellyn: (Magritte)
I took a trip this past weekend, from Friday to Monday, to Maryland, to visit my father for Passover. Since he lives rather close to Washington, DC (otherwise known as Mordor), I flew in to our nation's capitol (well, "our" meaning "those of us who live in the United States"). I had a few thoughts while I gazed upon the monuments (among them, noting the irony of naming the national airport after the president who fired all the air traffic controllers, but Sabrina Matthews did that one better than I), but one in particular struck me rather sharply.

The Washington Monument is not something George Washington would have liked or appreciated. He was a rather humble man, not given to grandeur or egotism, by all accounts rather disliking the pomp and circumstance of rulers and kings. He would not have approved of a great stone obelisk, a symbol used by the theocratic Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, being erected in his name. I think the Washington Monument is less a monument to Washington, and more a monument to our nation's dirty little secret.

What is that secret? I think, deep down, this country has a major inferiority complex. The recorded history of our country, from a European perspective, is only 500 years old, the much older history of the natives having mostly been lost or destroyed. We have long felt insecure, belittled by the older, more "refined" civilizations of the Old World. So, we, or rather our leaders, overcompensate by engaging in what amounts to baboon-style dominance displays, yelling loudly and beating our chests. And, of course, showing our collective "manhood". The Washington Monument, then, represents our national penis, the urge we often express in much of our foreign policy to whip it out and shriek "Ours is bigger, dammit!" We have to have the largest army, the largest economy, the largest vehicles, the largest consumption, size is everything in this country. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, yes; but sometimes, a giant stone obelisk is a giant stone penis. And, whether by racing to consume as much of our planet's resources as possible, or invading Iraq, our current leaders seem bound and determined to make the rest of the world know that ours really is bigger.

But, of course, as any woman and any mature man will tell you, it's not the size that matters, it's how you use it.
flewellyn: (Default)
A couple of geek friends of mine have asked me why it is, exactly, that I hate the C++ language so much, as well as its descendants. Since I would end up repeating myself a lot, and since this is a favorite rant of mine, I thought I would answer the question once and for all here. For the non-geeks in the audience, I shall provide a cut-tag, so that you don't need to scroll past a lengthy rant that you may not be interested in.

(with-language-rant 'C++) )
flewellyn: (Default)
Awhile back, I wrote a post in which I described the problems I've been having in the past year. 2004 was a hard year for me...a hard year indeed. Unemployed, disabled, broke most of the time, living in poverty, depressed, anxious, feeling worthless...oh, I could go on, but you get the idea. Among many of my problems, indeed the topmost on the list, was that I had no job. The last job I had, at USA Relay, was far too stressful and draining. I had thought that I could never work again, could never support myself; such thoughts were a major contributor to my depression. One of the things about depression, it tends to make you less able to take action to change the thing that's making you depressed. So, after a long time, I just stopped looking for a new job.

Funny thing about my life is, I often find what I'm searching for just when I've stopped searching for it.

Over Thanksgiving, I was contacted by a local business owner who had seen my resume online. He runs a company in North Fargo called Agri-ImaGIS (http://www.satshot.com), which does Geological Information System work, serving satellite pictures of farmers' fields to the farmers, or geologists, or the USDA, or whoever. The company has a large amount of data to serve (many terabytes), a large number of clients, a large and complex heterogeneous network...and, as of when he contacted me, three employees, including himself. Lanny, the owner (it's North Dakota, so there's not much formality), knows, in his words, "just enough about computers to be dangerous." Basically, he knows enough to be able to ask intelligently for what he wants. Ron, the database guru, knows SQL servers and relational databases inside and out, something I have never been able to do, but is not very familiar with Unix, specifically newer Unices (he's 60 years old, started his computer career in 1978, and has never programmed in C; Lisp, yes, but not C). Mark, the image processing guy, knows image processing like the back of his metacarpals, but again, not a network guy. So, you might wonder, how could this system exist, much less work, with nobody at the company to administer it?

Y'see, the old sysadmin, who I shall refer to as "Shawn" (because that's his name), had just up and quit on him two weeks before, with an hour's notice. What he left behind was a system that worked, but was overcomplicated, brittle, and extremely hard to understand. My resume listed the requisite skills, and when we met for an interview he liked what I said to him. However, since I had no prior work experience in system administration, he wanted to try me out for two weeks; give me an "internship" of sorts, so I could prove myself.

I started work last Tuesday, on November 30th. I've been very busy, but enjoying myself a great deal, since then. I administer a network of about 15 machines, a mix of Linux, OpenBSD, MacOS X on a G5 server (drool!), and even a MS SQL Server on Windows 2000 (they want to get rid of that, and so do I). My job, at first, was simply to study the system and figure out how it all works, documenting what I learned. If I did that well enough, and was able to finish before the two weeks were up, I could start looking at making changes to simplify, and restore sanity to, the system. The terms were, if I could prove myself well enough through that, I would have a job. Lanny said originally that he'd make up his mind on this coming Friday.

Then, Monday happened. I walked in to work that morning at 9 am to find the entire network was down. Kaput. Zero things working, everything and its cousin gone wrong. Website, application server, database server, internal network, net access, EVERYTHING. Having not the slightest clue what was going on, or why everything would fail like this, I set to work testing the servers. It took an hour and a half of examination and analysis to discover the problem: the DNS servers had gone down. Kinda need those. So I restarted them, then massaged the other systems back to health. By 11:00, we were up and running.

Well, I was apologizing to Ron for how long it took, but he told me that Shawn might have taken all day, if he could have finished it in one day. Then Lanny called. "Well, Avi, I gotta tell you," he said. "With what I've seen today, I've made up my mind. You're with us long-term, if you want the job. You want it?"

Did I?! This was like doing my hobby, but getting paid for it! I run my own little network at home, here, and have messed around with setting up servers and firewalls and such on my own time. Training, y'see. So, being able to do this in a production environment, with real, quality equipment? Hells, yes!

It's been a hell of a time, too. I've learned more new things in the last week than I had in several months of study on my own. I never knew what an LDAP server was even FOR, until I had to administer one. Learning it, under pressure, took an hour. The same, more or less, goes for Java Enterprise servelets, qmail setup, OpenBSD firewalls, NFS and Samba, SSH tunnelling, and a gazillion other things I could rattle off if I felt like it. Pardon me for tooting my own horn, but...*TOOT TOOT*!

I am, as [livejournal.com profile] limpingpigeon says, feeling awesome!

The work environment is great: very few people around, lots of computers, and we're in the old airport building, before Fargo had the new terminal built. We're right next to the airfield, so there's jets and prop planes taking off and landing all the time. The ND Air National Guard has their base next door, so I even got to see a flight of F-16s take off! The building is still used by the FAA, a flight insurance company, and a private plane retailer, so there's a real "aerospace" feeling to it. We're the only non-flight related company in the building (and since we work with satellite imaging, there's still some "aerospace" in there). There's lots of windows, fantastic sunsets, and always a full water cooler. I often bring lunch back to the office with me, to work while I eat. The guys there are very informal, very relaxed, and we always talk about what's going on before I change anything. That way, they know to tell me instantly if something goes wrong, so I can fix it. Plus, it's just nice not being surprised.

Even when I have nothing to actively do to the machines at the moment (because I'm planning something, or not yet fully sure of how to go about it), I still have research to do for what I want to do. What I want to do, of course, is make the system work according to what Lanny's customers need, and in a way that's easier to understand for all concerned. It's kind of an art, I think, sculpting a system so that it's as simple as it needs to be, but no simpler. The last guy, if you'll pardon my saying so, had no sense of good taste.

So, to make a long story short (too late!), I have not only a job, but about the best job I could have dreamed of getting. I can once again support myself, I get to play with computers all day, and I even have my own keys to the place! I have free reign to do as I feel best, so long as I don't break anything, and so long as it ends up making things better. Since that's what I want to do anyway, not a problem.

This, my friends, is why I have been humming "We Are The Champions". That and "Princes Of The Universe". Queen is kinda my triumph music!


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