Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fire Alarms and Broken Teeth

Thursday around noon there was a fire drill. First the siren started blaring, then some guy got on the office loudspeaker and sounded like he was panicking, "there is an emergency, leave the building, this is not a drill, this is a real emergency, you must leave the building immediately.".

Then the members of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) started running all over in their fluorescent orange hats to get everyone out and to unlock the padlocks on the emergency exits (naturally, this is India, they're padlocked for security…). The exit for my part of the office is the central stairwell behind the elevators, so I went that way where around 500 people from both wings of the office had to merge through the door that's only barely wide enough for two people at once and eight floors down the stairs that are such polished smooth stone, covered in dust and having hardly more friction than ice, so no one can very fast and safe down them, all while people on other floors, uninvolved in our drill were working their way upwards…

Outside it was high noon without a cloud in the sky and they kept us at the assembly point for around 20 minutes. Whoever the guy was who was in charge of the drill he had a bullhorn and berated us for the whole time about how slow and how bad we were exiting the building. He said we took eight minutes, and in a real emergency anyone not out in two would be dead. Then he asked us to look for the person who sits to our right, and the person who sits to our left and if we didn't see both of them to let a member of the ERT know.

He said "I watched you come out, many of you were on your mobile phones coming down the stairs, if this was a real fire and you slowed down to talk on your phones the only thing you should've been telling your friends is good bye".

And he said "I don't see any coffee cups this year" followed by a number of people raising theirs, to which he said "how can you bring your coffee cups? If you slow down in a fire to bring your coffee cups you'll never need your coffee again, you'll be dead!"

He started yelling about ladies not taking off their high heeled shoes and slowing the whole group down on the steps, and then somehow segued into something about motorcycle helmets and car seatbelts, which I didn't quite understand.

When we were finally finished then we had to get all the people back up to the 8th floor… After twenty minutes in the hot sunshine, with no shade at all, I started getting a pounding migraine so I didn't think the stairs would be an option, or it would just much, much worse. A friend and I waited at the elevator bank till five or six elevators came and went before the one we stood next to finally opened and we got in.

Then being hot, tired and with a headache it took a while before I could get back on track with my work. I'd sort of begun a major refactoring Thursday before the fire drill with a lot of details to remember, only to come in Friday morning to realize all the details that slipped my mind due to the interruption.

For some reason it reminded me of an incident at at my last company, First Insight at our Hillsboro, Oregon office. In September 1999 there was a lot of tension as the then main network administrator was on his way out, with me the next in line for the responsibilities. The owners of the company said "there's been a security breach" so they were getting rid of the network admin. The network admin said they paid him a lot of money to leave and not say anything, but he hinted that if I knew what he knew about the owners I'd be able to blackmail them very well, too... I never found out what it was, of course and I have only speculation with no proof of anything.

That aside, on one of the admin's last days, shortly after I left the office around 3pm (6am to 3pm shift...) there was a fire alarm. A little while after I got home the boss called me and asked if he could bring the company's file server to my house because it's been damaged and he suspected the network admin, who wasn't fully out of the company then, had done it so he didn't trust him.

He brought the computer to my apartment where I set it up on the pool table. I got an explanation of what happened...

Intel was preparing the office below us for one of their groups to move in, and the construction workers drilled, with the dust setting off the smoke detectors. With a potential fire, not a drill, the boss asked several of the guys in the office to take the file server out to his car to keep it safe. However, several of the guys, and the big dent on the server's case, say that they accidentally dropped it in the parking lot.

When it was determined that there was no fire, just dust, and the building was clear for everyone to go back in, they brought the server up, but it wouldn't boot anymore. That was when the boss called me up and brought the computer over. I did a quick check and it wasn't going to be a quick, instant fix, and I estimated it would take me hours to get it going again.

Later in the evening another coworker popped by to help. For a snack we brought out the bag of Laxminarayan chiwda that I'd picked up in India on a vacation earlier in the year. We worked on the computer, speculated on the "security breach" and munched on the snacks.

Until I was chewing and chewing and found a much harder piece of chiwda than all the others. I mentioned it to him and then spit out a small, black rock. To this day two molars on the left side of my mouth, an upper and a lower one, are chipped, with the chips in the two lined up from chewing the rock I didn't expect in my food...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Macintosh Hardware Problems

Over the past few years I've had not one, but two, Macintosh laptops lose their LCD displays here in the home office during the hot, summer months. I don't know why, I sort of suspect a combination of heat and dust (I mean, just look on the wall above the lights and fan regulators, there's scorch marks all over). Both of these two laptops have the same hinge type, whereas the oldest PowerBook, with a different type of hinge has been fine...

The very last day of the 1 year warranty on the almost-new MacBook I managed to buy an AppleCare extended warranty, with the intention of getting it fixed in the U.S. sometime later this year or next year.

However, in December Leena found out about a Apple dealer near her family's house, PT for short. I knew it was there for several years, in the small office building on the same side street as her family, in fact, one of my close friends from my previous job said he used to work at an office in the same building and take his smoke breaks on a park bench across the street from my in-laws' house (that was before we ever met).

When the first Mac screen broke a couple of years ago (I joke that it was caused by my playing Diablo II, roaming through a mountain top castle as a Druid and raining flaming meteors down on demons when one of them bounced out of the game) I suggested we take it for repair to PT, but Leena said no way. She said PT owed her family money for years and never paid it, so we couldn't go there. At the time we found another, new Apple dealer in a new shopping mall in Kalyani Nagar and the price of fixing the broken screen was way too high so we bought a 20" external monitor instead (that I'm looking at now, as I type this).

But then earlier this year Leena again noticed PT and said we should take the newest broken Mac there. I mentioned the story she told a couple of years ago and she checked with her brother. She says she was mistaken about the incident and her brother says PT is a perfectly respectable business... She remembers her brother was going to buy their family business a new computer, from PT, some years ago and she would get the old one for herself. Her mistake is she only remember not getting her own computer and always blamed it on PT, when actually it was her brother who decided they didn't really need a new one and canceled the purchase...

We took the 13" MacBook to PT and the woman who owns it, Rajan, had their technician do a quick check to make sure that it was obviously damaged, like throwing something at it, and they determined that the broken screen was fully covered by the AppleCare extended warranty I'd purchased. They said they needed a week to order the part and then we could bring it in for replacement.

That went smooth and we decided to have them look at the 17" PowerBook with the broken screen that was not under any warranty (I bought it in 2005). She said it would be Rs. 42,000 to replace the screen, but then a little more checking and she said there was some kind of replacement where they would purchase the old, damaged screen for Rs. 17,000 and we'd only pay Rs. 25,000 for the replacement.

At that price we agreed to get it fixed, so Leena could have the 17" PowerBook for her own usage. Rajan ordered the part and about two weeks later we brought it to them for replacement. And that went fine.

I spent a weekend moving Leena's data from the older 15" titanium PowerBook to the newly repaired 17" one and got it ready to synch with Leena's iPhone without losing any contacts or videos.

Then after she used it for a day or two she asked me to get the sound working. Sound working? I looked and neither of the speakers worked on it. I tried various songs and videos and they were all silent. I verified that headphones worked, but the speakers were broken.

We called Rajan who asked her technician who said he didn't touch the speakers when he replaced the screen, they must've been broken before we brought it to them. I wasn't sure, but I hadn't used it in long enough to really be sure when the last time I heard sound from them was, maybe a year earlier? Rajan checked the price and it was only Rs. 1,000 to replace the speakers and we figured since we already spent a huge chunk of change on the screen, what was another Rs. 1,000 to get the sound fixed for Leena, so we agreed to that...

All went well again, the speakers got replace and we popped over to PT's shop to check it out. I played a QuickTime version of Apple's 1984 Superbowl advertisement for the Macintosh and Rajan liked it so much that she asked one of their techs to copy it to a USB thumb drive for them. They tried a couple of thumb drives but they were both bad and didn't work, so we said we'd bring it by another time for her to copy when they got a working drive, as we were late for lunch with Leena's family.

The next night we set the computer up for Leena to browse the web and she complained that she couldn't get the Bluetooth mouse to work, which had worked only two days earlier. I came and looked and there was no Bluetooth icon in the menu bar. I checked the System Preferences and Bluetooth wasn't listed there at all. I searched the System Preferences and it found Bluetooth items but choosing any of them and it warned me that there was no Bluetooth hardware attached. That's very odd, since Bluetooth is completely build in and is not removable.

Leena called Rajan who said she'd check with the technician who told her he didn't change any Bluetooth settings when he replaced the speakers so it had to be that way before we brought it. We knew it wasn't and Rajan said to bring it in the next day, then she left the office for home, since it was late in the evening.

In the meantime I figured I'd hook up a USB mouse for Leena, except when I did that, none of them worked. The red LED didn't light up in the mice and the computer didn't recognize them. I hooked up an iPhone and a USB thumb drive, and no luck, none of them worked.

Friday we took the computer back to PT for the technician to look at. By the end of the day Saturday he still didn't have it working. They got one of the two USB ports to work, but couldn't get the Bluetooth interface working unless the keyboard was lifted off the computer, or held down very hard. Sounds to me like he may have bent the motherboard while replacing the speakers and broken one of the contacts inside it or something...

We're not sure what they'll do now. It's long, long out of warranty, so we don't have any coverage there for it. I'm hoping they'll get a new logic board from somewhere and reuse the CPU that's in it. At their expense, of course, not ours...

We'll see...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Two Week Vacation to do Nothing

So it's Thursday night of the second week of my two week vacation and now the end feels so near. The first week seemed to last forever and this second week is going so fast, and I don't want it to end.

Not that I've done anything or gone anywhere… For the month or so before I took it I was missing more work than I ever have before with sick days because of the wretched headache that wouldn't go away. And since I hadn't taken a vacation in well over a year I figured I could get two weeks off.

I didn't really want to do anything. I didn't want to go anywhere. Since at the beginning I had a pretty nasty headache I certainly couldn't imagine flying anywhere, and what the plane trips would do to my head, and neither do I have any wish at all to travel within India at this point (I need to get out of India for a couple of years before I consider seeing more, as all I'd notice now are beggars, dirt, litter, trash and I'm so burnt out on spicy food I wouldn't appreciate anything in other regions).

The last week I was at work was the first week I was on the medication from the neurophysician for the headache (he said it was "just a migraine" even though I insisted it felt different than the migraines I've had on a regular basis since I was a teenager), two pills a night, small doses of a beta blocker and an antidepressant, which I looked up online and are standard treatment for migraines.

But the first week of those was a nightmare, I was tired, sleepy, dopey and worst of all, depressed. That week at work I felt so defeated and low I wasn't sure I could even last out the week taking them. Fortunately that didn't last too long, and by the end of the week those side effects eased off.

Unfortunately, when they eased off, the headache was back, but much lower in intensity. It was there a few days during the first week of my vacation, too, but by the end of the week was gone.

So, this vacation I mainly just wanted to laze about, relax, sleep when I was tired, stay awake when I wasn't, read a lot, eat a little, and eat for me instead of eating because Leena felt I should eat. I did that…

Sure, Leena makes a small face and is obviously disappointed every time she asks "are you hungry?" and I say "no". But I actually feel a lot better for not eating when I'm really not hungry.

I've read a 1200 page novel, and I've downloaded and watched a lot of movies. Granted, I deleted a lot, too, because the Torrent downloads turned out to be unwatchable quality or not in English. But it's easy to search for a torrent, leave the computer downloading overnight and then have one or two new movies to watch the next night.

I realized I fell way behind on the usual web comics I read, but I'm catching up this evening.

I did my 2006-2008 tax forms and mailed them off. I moved the Learning Rails book on top of the Real World Haskell book, so I'm one step closer to trying to learn Ruby on Rails programming…

We got an air conditioner installed in the room where I sleep so hopefully I can be more comfortable at night. We got a new one for Leena's room, but the first unit was defective so we still need the installers to come back and install the replacement unit.

We've been to Leena's family's house for lunch a couple of times. Her mother took us to the Royal Connaught Boat Club for lunch last Monday.

And yesterday we went to follow up with the neurophysician. And waiting at Jehangir Hospital in the OPD waiting room was the first headache I had in almost a week… I guess it was the noise, the crowds, the chaos, the fluorescent lights and the tension of waiting and waiting and waiting and worried that patients more aggressive will jump their turn in line to see the doctor.

But I think that may have answered the question Leena asked me earlier in the day, whether the lack of headaches was because of the medication or the vacation. I'm leaning towards the vacation and the less stressful days. But the real test will be next week when I return to work.

So, all in all, it's been a relaxing couple of weeks. I've always heard other people say they have to work, or can't imagine life without working, but me? I need an income, but I feel no great compulsion to have to work. If the money could come in (and we're not talking about being rich, just enough to be comfortable) and I didn't have to work, I'd be happy not working...