Delicate infrastructure

I work for a company in California.

Right now we’re supposed to be having a lot of meetings using a mix of telephone and Internet for voice and video, screen sharing, all other sorts of technical goodies.

But it’s been odd. I haven’t seen anyone from the office online yet. No IM’s, no emails. Meeting is supposed to start but no one is around, nor is anyone calling me into the meeting. I pick up the telephone and start calling. Every line is busy. That’s odd. I call mobile phones, they all kick immediately into voice mail. That’s really odd. I tried a few people’s home phones (reach the spouse, ensure I have the right mobile number) and they were busy. Now things are just getting weird. Of course any attempts to connect via the Internet to the office (e.g. VPN) aren’t happening.

I called the company’s main office down in southern California. They confirm the other office seems to have no phone or Internet. This sometimes happens, so I think no big deal, but coupled with all the other inabilities to get through (e.g. mobile phones), I hit Google.

I find this.

That’s basically the area where the office is located. So best I can say is this is the problem. So who knows how long we’ll be high and dry.

Think about the implications of this:

  • An AT&T fiber line was cut. As a result, 50,000 land lines were down, mobile phones are down, Internet is down. This leaves a massive number of people without any means of communication to anything further than shouting distance.
  • Report says that people may not be able to contact police. They are saying if you have an emergency to go to the nearest police station. Think about that. If you ever counted on the police coming to help you, how can they know to come help you if you can’t tell them to come help you…. again, unless they’re within shouting distance.
    • If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you can probably figure out what I’m implying here.
  • Of course, emergencies aren’t just police. What about medical emergencies? What if your house catches fire?
  • How are hospitals coping?
  • If everything can be brought to a screeching halt by severing one line, what does that say about infrastructure? Lack of redundancy?
  • How much commerce is affected? Not just our company’s inability to do business, but think about simple credit card transactions. I doubt those can go through. No grocery shopping, no buying gasoline, no nothing. Heck, I’m sure ATM’s aren’t working. Got cash?

And there are many many other things that you can imply by the fact that one line was cut and all this goes down.

Technology is great, but how much do we depend upon it? And how fragile is it all?

Updated: Word I hear is that this is now being view as vandalism. That someone maliciously cut 5 fiber optic cables. It’s created all sorts of chaos, it demonstrates how reliant we are upon such technology, and it shows how fragile things can be.

Updated 2: Looks like the plot sickens. Interesting quote:

“We would never condone any kind of destruction like this,” [Communications Workers of America union] spokeswoman Libby Sayre said. “We didn’t do it this time. We would never do it.”

Emphasis mine. This time. Mmm.

One of those happy moments

Here I am. Sitting at my computer working (or pretending to). One of our cats, the “weird one”, opts to seek me out. Jumps up in my lap, spends a few minutes getting her head scratched. Then she opts to park it in my lap and take a nap. Purring away. Happy. Content. This is rare behavior from her… she’s not a lap cat.

But it’s welcome, both by her and by me. The wife and kids are out of the house, so it’s just me and the cats. It’s a nice, warm, peaceful moment.

I’m fortunate to work from home.

A simple pleasure

One thing I love about being home so much (side-benefit of the work-at-home situation) is my wife’s cooking.

Not just eating it and eating it 2-3 times a day, but smelling it.

I’ll be sequestered in my office. I’ll be deeply buried in code or debugging or some other software development joy. Then it hits me. Some smell… it has crept its way through the house. It might be the smell of garlic and onions sautéing. It might be bread baking. It might be the wonderful smell of bacon frying. Whatever it is, it’s always a wonderful smell. It’s always a pleasant surprise when it hits. Sometimes I’ll head down to the kitchen to see what’s cooking, other times I’ll just savor the aromas from afar and wait to see what else floats my way so I can try to figure out what she’s up to. 

The printer is in my office. I’ll hear it kick in without my initiation, so I know it’s Mrs. Hsoi printing out a recipe she found. I do my best to avoid looking at the printout. I don’t want to know. I don’t want the surprise to be ruined. Let her cook. Let the clues waft my way. The simple please of deciphering the magic she’s performing in the kitchen.

I am a fortunate man. 🙂

Updated: You know how I know my wife reads my blog? I post this. I go get in the shower. I come out of the shower and smell… bacon. Sweet sweet thick cut smoky fatty bacon. She received the above subtle hint.

My wife is awesome.


Ok, time for a little reciprocal blog love. I’m checking my blog stats and see that I’ve been quoted in this article by Sharon Davis. Thank you, Sharon. So as I’m reading the article the first point it touches on is isolation. Sharon refers to Judi Sohn’s article at the Web Worker Daily that discusses that very issue. It’s an issue I’ve certainly dealt with, so here’s my perspective.

Judi’s article hits on a key part of dealing with isolation: communication. I’ve learned that you must communicate; in fact, you must seem like you’re over-communicating. Now, you can’t overload your co-workers and boss such that they wish you’d shut up (they’ll tune out out and that’s even worse), but you just have to make a greater effort to let them know what’s going on with you. If people in your office use Instant Messaging, you should too. Be on all the relevant networks/protocols for all the relevant people you have to communicate with in your office (using a consolidated IM app can help with this, e.g. I use Adium). Get in the habit of using your IM Status to relay what you’re doing; you don’t have to update the minutia of your life, but it does provide some degree of “Hi, I’m active” to those that work with you. Make sure you do respond to emails promptly. Every Friday I send a weekly status report to my boss and other relevant parties at the office so they can know what I’ve been up to this past week. One thing that you can also consider is that all of these things have “time stamps”. They show when you’re working, when you’re available, how long you’ve been online, and so on. Depending how much your boss wishes they could look over your shoulder to monitor your work habits, these things can be useful to demonstrate “I’m working, even though you cannot see me”. Of course you can manipulate those things, but be mindful… too much fibbing will come back to haunt you.

While you need to communicate with them, they also need to communicate with you. You can’t expect the home office will always tell you what’s going on, so you’ll have to ask. When you’re talking to your office-bound mates, ask them what’s going on around the office. This doesn’t necessarily have to be juicy gossip, it could be simple things like “how’s the office renovation going?” or “I hear some loud noise in the background? What’s going on?”  Little things like this help you keep connected to the culture that’s developing within the office walls. You can be “in on the jokes” and other things like that. It’s useful to also have visited the office a time or two so you can know the physical layout, which often is relevant to being “in” on things. You just have to be proactive at getting the information you’d otherwise naturally get if you were in the office.

But while these things cover information, they don’t exactly cover one important thing that being in the office gives us: that human interaction. I’m fortunate that I’m not home alone (wife and kids are here), so I get some human interaction in a day. But for human interaction with my office-mates, I’ve found that instead of IM’ing or emails, just pick up the phone. IM is nice for a quick exchange, but if it’s getting lengthy just pick up the phone… it’s faster in the end, and far more personable and productive. Plus it’s nice to hear someone’s voice now and again. Or if you’ve got a real tech-savvy company or co-workers, do a video chat now and again… it’s nice to see faces. And also remember, every conversation does NOT have to be pure business. If you blow a few minutes just chit-chatting about the weather or other non-business things, that’s not a bad thing. Don’t let it dominate and distract too much from work, but we have to be human, we have to develop relationships.

One thing you can also do? Look for places near your home that have Wi-Fi available, that allow you to sit and use that Wi-Fi for a long time. Every so often, get out of the house. Go work somewhere else, even if just for a couple hours. It changes the scenery. It gets you around some people (even if you don’t talk with them). And you can still take your laptop and stay connected and get some work done. I don’t do this very often because I like my wife’s cooking way too much. But it’s an option.

Honestly tho, I think the only thing I really miss about being in an office? Halloween. It’s more fun to dress up when more than your wife and kids can see you.. 😉

How to succeed at working from home

As a software engineer, I’m fortunate that my job lends to telecommuting. I’ve been doing so in a formal capacity for almost 9 years and dealing with telecommuting in some manner or other for my entire professional career.

Often when people hear I telecommute I get two responses: 1. Wow that’s so cool, I wish I could do that, 2. But I couldn’t do that because of distractions. Do you want to know what I’ve found to be the keys to successful work at home?

Continue reading

No office, not bad – chapter 2

One of my in-office co-workers just IM’d me to say the building fire alarm is going off. And it’s raining.

Honestly tho, I’d love some rain. This drought is pretty ugly.

No office, not bad

Being a software engineer I’m fortunate that my job can be performed anywhere in the world… so long as I’ve got a computer and an Internet connection. As a result, I’m happy to work from home and telecommute full time.

While there certainly are disadvantages to not being in the office, there are also advantages. IM’ing with an office-bound co-worker this morning he tells me about 1. some new computer that another engineering group brought into the office for testing something (dunno what, but apparently the fans are wicked loud), 2. someone had a potpourri thing in the office yesterday and it stunk the place up so bad they had to ask her to remove it. Ah, the joys of the cube farm. The sounds I get are those of my wife and kids working and playing, and the smells of my wife’s cooking. This is quite the advantage. 🙂