[rescue] Re: You want balls?

Skeezics Boondoggle skeezics at q7.com
Thu Jan 16 18:37:07 CST 2003

On Thu, 16 Jan 2003, Dave McGuire wrote:

>    Anyway those 6-slotters are nice chassis, I like them a lot.  I once 
> built a "mondo Xterm" in one, back in 1993 or so.  I used a 3/200 CPU, 
> a CG5 framebuffer, and two 8MB memory boards.  It netbooted Xkernel.  
> It was (for the day)...glorious. 8-)

Yes!  Xkernel rocked!  I was still using it up until 1999 or so... :-)

A related and somewhat amusing story, since this is a day for goofing off:

The whole sysadmin staff at <TheISPWhichMustNotBeNamed> ran Xkernel on
12-16MB SS1+'s back in the day, and except for when they'd go into
Spiraling Death Mode (bug in early versions of Netscrape that would trash
the X server) they were great.

There were so many stories from That Place, many of them perhaps still
floating about in the a.s.r archives, but it was probably the most
memorable first day on the job ever.  Set the wayback machine to early 
January, 1995...

I show up early, around 8AM, and go with the lead sysadmin across town in
a truck to pick up some cube walls and new furniture.  Ugh. Heavy lifting,
right off the bat.  Get back to our building and start loading everything
in through the lobby, and (of course) they've just been refinishing the
elevators, using some kind of stinky cleaner that gives off nasty fumes.  
It's January cold outside, too hot inside, and the elevators are old and
go upanddownreallyfast and leave your stomach bouncing like a yo-yo
between your pelvis and your chin.

So we get the furniture in and I'm about to pass out, when my boss leads
me to our new office.  Which is nearly empty.  Except for his desk.

Says he: "Pick your spot, and go get one of the new desks..."

I can see where this is going.  I'm employee #6, the 2nd sysadmin, in a
company that over the following 21 months will grow from fewer than 4,000
subscribers to over 25,000.  We don't know this yet, of course, but I am
thinking to myself, "This is a rather inauspicious start..."

So I go hand-truck a desk down, find a reasonably comfortable chair, and
choose My Spot.  By the window.  In case I need to hurl.  Or Jump.

The boss comes back.  He produces: an empty SS1+ chassis, a somewhat
grungy but reasonably bright 17" Sony, a Handful Of SIMMs, and two 105MB
Quantums, one with "stiction" just for good measure.  A small hammer.  
And a 4.1.3 CDROM and 1x reader.  And sets them on the desk.

"Okay," he says, "go ahead and put that box together and start the 
install, and then I'll show you where the riser closet is..."

So I manage to find a couple of banks of usable RAM, manage to get the
sticky drive to finally spin up with a well-timed gentle whack with the
hammer, and step through the painstaking process of squeezing SunOS onto
two 100 meg drives, keeping in mind that OpenWin would take a good
60-80megs out of that.

Once things are s l o w l y installing, we go up to the 10th floor to see
the phone system, back to the 8th floor to trace a free pair on the
building's riser cable, over to the server room down the hall to where the
internal 10 meg Ethernet is punched down on 66 blocks.  I then fish a run
of 6-wire telco-grade UTP through the insanely crowded false ceiling
(plenum rated?  In this old office building?  In 1995?  Are you serious?)
down to the office, and split it out to an RJ-11 and an RJ-45, then
punch down the other end with the cross-connect from the phone and the
patch panel to The Hub.  Yes.  Phone on one pair, Ethernet on the other 
two.  I know.

This was Day One.  It went downhill from there.

About a month or so after that, we hired a 3rd sysadmin.  My boss said, 
"Show him what he'll need to get set up."

So I said, "Pick your spot, and go get one of the new desks..."


That became our initiation rite for all six of the sysadmins on our staff.
And despite the insane hours, the 7-day work week (with an all-nighter
every Sunday for scheduled mayhem), the crappy pay, the *certifiably
INSANE* upper management, and countless dozens of horror stories that we
all look back on now and laugh about, it was a great, great experience.  
I think everyone should have to serve a year in the military, or a year at
an ISP. Of course, anyone with brains would run screaming from the ISP
option, but I was younger then and didn't know any better.

Oh, and the Xkernel bit is that yeah, the SunOS install on the two-drive
SS1+ lasted about two weeks and two power hits before I said, "Okay, no
more moving that heavy ass monitor to whack the stuck drive!"  And I
ripped them out and set up Xkernel instead.  (See?  There was a tie-in. :-)

Here's another *highly ironic* twist:  TODAY, right now, 8 years and about
2 weeks after that fateful day, I'm sitting at my desk and a construction
worker and an electrician walk down the hall.  I choose to ignore it,
sensing the worst.  Sure enough, half an hour later, a guy with a cart
loaded with metal studs and drywall goes rolling by.  I leap up and sprint
down the hall...

Our company now has 12 employees, but we have office space to accommodate
37 people (back in those days when Boards of Directors were saying things
like "You aren't growing fast enough!").  It's been really nice, with lots
of space for storage and exchanges of fire from Nerf weapons.  But the
lease renewal is coming up, and to save some money next year, They decided
to wall off the back wing, which is a Perfectly Reasonable Thing To Do.


Oh, except for the PHONE and NETWORK WIRING and about 40 computers still
occupying the space, including the QA lab, three people's offices, and
piles of extra furniture...

So, even though I make 4x the pay than I did then, am the third-most
senior guy in the place, command the fear and admiration and respect, nay,
even the love of my coworkers, and own piles of vested-yet-still-worthless
stock options - I'm still *moving desks* and mucking about with phone and
network wiring for a living.  Life of a sysadmin, doncha know.

-- Chris

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