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status embrace failure and anxiety

Mon Jan 15 17:31:26 EST 2007

 I started this status report, sitting at Andy's [1], at 9:30pm on a
 Friday night listening to some guy with a day job playing the guitar and
 singing the standards. Counting the woman that works here, there were
 three of us with laptops, absent-mindedly clapping from time to time. I
 love gnarled, old, alcoholic bar bands and I love earnest young ones, 
 they are
 there for love or at least passion.
 This week I got an email from  John Wooding (#2 guy
 @uml) asking for a meeting. After I confessed to a little
 nervousness, John Wooding made a private little joke about increasing
 the Prozac in the university drinking water and offered his very
 slightly qualified assurance that we didn't need to worry.
 If you care to read the tea leaves for yourself, most of the
 correspondence is on the board list [2]  Tom Costello, Josh Harding,
 Kristina Ickes and I will meet with John Wooding, Jeff Thompson and
 Diana Prideaux-Brune on January 30th.
 If you know any of the players, please put in a good word for us.
 So far the big change is that I leave the lab @ 7pm instead of 4pm and
 and share the events of the day with Laura instead of the guys of
 admin at My email inbox is also empty. With more blocks of
 uninterrupted time, it has been easier to "touch it once". [3]
 Downside, the boomer grant paycheck won't start to roll into until early
 February, but since Laura and I  came into small bit of unexpected
 money, this is not as big a problem as we'd expected.
 Part of my empty mailbox is John coming back from vacation in Kansas to
 handle a few problems that I'd let slide.
 The downtime database is moving along. The current challenge is 
 abstracting the differences between SQLite , mySQL and Postgresql SQL.
 For many, many reasons, It is nice to have the time to do the job right.
 Eric doesn't officially start until January 20th, but so far he's
 commuted three days from Cambridge, done a lot of work from home and
 gone to the Mass Service Boomer grantee meeting with me.
 Same here, except commuting from Missouri is tougher than commuting
 from Cambridge Erich's easiest to understand contribution is a partial
 make-over [4] of the the water festival site.[5]
 No, we'll not be flagellating ourselves bloody, but this week I won't 
 pour sunshine in our half full glass.  Ignorance of one's incompetence 
 is very highly correlated with incompetence. [6]
 So...  this week we examine an actually-we-do-suck-a-little-bit incident.
 It took 8 days it took to fix a NFS/Samba problem that made the file 
 server unusable for the BSM people. BSM is "Broadcast and Student Media, 
 Felicia Sullivan, Christine Dunlap, Sunrise, etc, etc. NFS is  Network 
 File System. Samba is software that runs on Linux and looks like a 
 Microsoft file server to microsoft clients.
 The root of the problem was design. We (mostly me)  decided to run Samba 
 on a separate box than the one the hard drives were physically plugged 
 into. Usually, running separate services on separate boxes allows things 
 that don't depend on each other to continue on. The email keeps flowing 
 if the web server is having trouble.
 In this case, we introduced a dependency and another point of failure.
 Files lived on hard drives attached to brave. The Samba box accessed 
 files  through NFS. For everything to work, brave, NFS, samba and the OS 
 on the samba box all had to be working. The last time we had such a 
 problem, I'd upgraded the kernel on brave and rebooted without 
 considering the effect on Samba.
 When John got back, he isolated the problem to NFS but not further.
 Rather than do more troubleshooting, we eliminated NFS. Once we started
 work on the problem, it took only about 4 hours to  resolve it. I 
 confess, I did better offering advice than doing actual work.
 Getting started was in itself a problem. John was out of town and off 
 the clock. I allowed myself to be distracted by three deadlines for 
 grants totaling $28,000, the annoyance of a small unfinished UTEC 
 project and a weekend with slightly more leisure than usual.
 "Failure" is often a matter of choice. A student chooses a semester of 
 beer over a semester of study and flunks. Another student chooses study 
 over beer and remains a bit lonely. At the very least, last week, I 
 could have made different choices and failed at different things.
 Given a do-over, I'd still do  the contract paperwork for the Boomer 
 grant, $20,000 is $20,000. Likewise the meeting at the Lowell Workforce 
 Investment Board could have been blown off but they've promised us 
 $4,000 for mvhub and said nice things about us to the state work force 
 investment board. The state people have real money.  Likewise $4,000 
 Essex County Community Foundation grant was probably ours to lose by not 
 meeting the deadline. I probably made the right call here.
 It was within my power to push the UTEC project off. Given our contract 
   [7], we get $10 per hour for exactly 10 hours of work per week, less 
 than 10 hours per week means no pay, more than 10 hours means no extra 
 pay. BSM (broadcast & student media) is paying us zero cash this fiscal 
 year, but we need a fforklift to haul out all the political capital.
 On the gripping hand, the Samba (windows accessable) file server is in 
 light use during the semester break and we had no complaint beyond the 
 inital one.
 Again, ignoring failure doesn't make it go away. Acknowledging failure, 
 even dwelling on it is a sign of strength not weakness. In this very 
 slightly sucky incident, I could have choosen differently for at least a 
 different failure.
 The eggroll cafe has re-aranged the furniture, the coach is now in the 
 middle of the room and there is a table against the window. Now the 
 people walking by have a better view than the back of somebody's head. 
 Now the people sipping mocha, grande, decaf lattes have something to 
 look at other than other people sipping mocha, grande, decaf lattes.
 We are now on a first name basis with the woman that runs the place. No 
 more "Sir" and "M'am".  Now it is "Dan" and "Sengli"