How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? – Bob Dylan

There’s a trailhead to Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks that starts on an old forest road. It’s probably left over from the days of logging. I haven’t been on this trail in probably 20 or more years. It might be closer to 30. And yet, for some reason I can picture it in my mind almost perfectly. Or at least I think I can. I mean without going back, how can I be sure I accurately remember it? But the reality in my mind is that I recall it perfectly.

I also remember key points along the trail. Sometimes I will wander down this road in my memory and remember the joys of this particular hike. I should do it again someday.

There are many physical roads like that that I travel down in my mind and hope to go back to again someday.

But, at night, as I lay in bed, there are some roads in my mind I find I just can’t travel down anymore. Or at least not now, perhaps in the future. Last night as I was drifting off, I started to remember my father’s property in the years soon after he bought it. It had a number of outbuildings that had been built over the years. I’m still not sure what they were used for, since it was a never a working farm or anything like that, and even so they weren’t the sort of buildings one would use for such a purpose. I do recall one had some old nudes pasted on the wall.  I remember having grandiose plans for turning one into sort of a clubhouse for me and my friends, but for various reasons… life happened and that didn’t.

Travelling down this particular road started to bring up other memories of my father, who would have been 72 this year. And I stare down these lanes of memory and have to stop myself. Some I know I can explore and laugh and smile as I travel down the fond memories, others… well I have built gates across them. The memories are too close and too raw and I fear if I travel down them any distance I’ll get lost in those memories and the pain will be too much. So, I look over the gate and say, “not now…”

Gradually I’ve found some of those gates I can open, but not all.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say. – JRR Tolkien

My father introduced me to both the poet and author I quote here, but he was more fond of one, and I the other. I’ll leave it to the reader to guess or know which is which.

So, I don’t know how many roads I have to travel down, or how many I can. But they’re there, beckoning.

Snow Days

“I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” – A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

As I’m writing this there is snow gently falling from the sky and the ground is covered.

I woke up this morning to the sound of a plow scraping the roads clear.  I got up to check the school closings list, expecting at least a 2 hour delay. Somewhat surprisingly there was none.

But it got me thinking about how the same event can be perceived differently by different people.

As a young kid, many of us loved the idea of a snow day.  We hoped we’d wake up to the soft hush a blanket of snow causes, broken only by the occasional scrape of the snow plow. Perhaps we might hear the sound of wheels spinning as a car tried to gain traction to keep on its way. Some even created rituals, such turning their pjs inside out, or sleeping with a spoon under our pillows. (For the record I actually never even heard of any of these until I was an adult). A snow day meant a day of fun in the snow: building a snowman, or better a snow fort and having snow ball fights.  I recall one particularly expansive snow fort friends and I built in a snow bank in the center of Falls Village where we grew up. It had a main chamber from which we could survey our domain and at least two side tunnels we could craw through, leading to smaller “towers” that could fit one of us, to provide flanking fire for anyone foolish enough to try an assault on the main chamber.

Sometimes we’d even play the hero and after one blizzard at least, a friend and I went through town, uncovering buried cars, just in case anyone was trapped. Fortunately no one was. Of course we also then had to at one point dodge a snowplow by scrambling through a 5′ embankment of snow created by previous plows.

As we got older, we may have given up on the rituals and built fewer snowmen, but we still enjoyed our snow days. It meant a break from school, perhaps a chance to catch up on homework. But it also often meant chores, the need to shovel the walk, or worse the driveway.

Then we got older still and now we didn’t get days off. We were told, “the office is still open. Please drive safely.” Now those spinning tires we heard as a child were us, trying to keep straight, and on the road, in order to get to work. Those snowplows we hoped to hear as a child were both a boon and a bane. They helped clear the roads, but also seemed to be in the way.

If our children were young enough, suddenly a day off from school for them, became a burden for us as we struggled to find a sitter or some form of daycare.

We no longer looked forward to forecasts of snow. We dreaded them.  We started our own rituals, some actually more effective than what we practiced as a child. We’d pre-salt the walkway. We’d make sure we had a snowbrush inside the house ready to go so we could clear off the car before opening the door.

It was the same event, but a completely different perspective.  I think I preferred the childhood perspective.

And the irony is not lost on me that my job now actually permits me to sit at home, avoiding the drive, and to write about the snow.

For me, even when I have to drive in it, I actually love the snow and snow days.

For you, I hope you get the day you want, young or old, snow or not.



When things aren’t the same

A recent thread on the Nanog mailing list regarding the outages this past weekend reminded me of one of my war stories that I thought I’d relate.

About 7 years ago, I was involved in a project to help a different division of the company upgrade and replace their cluster and SAN with new hardware.  I was in a fairly hands-off mode, but towards the end was more involved.  We had outsourced the hardware and software installation to another company, but we were about to take over and move the production system to it.

I tend to be a bit paranoid when it comes to changes.  Changes can introduce new, unknown points of failure.  There’s a reason for the saying that “better the devil you know.”

Anyway, before we were about to go live, I asked, “Has anyone tried a remote reboot of the box, just to make sure it’ll failover correctly and come up?”

“Oh sure, we did that when we were in the datacenter with the vendor a couple of weeks ago.”

Now, there had been several changes to the system since then, including us adding more components of our software.  So I did a quick poll and asked if everyone was comfortable with moving forward without testing it.  The answer was in the positive.

Still, as I said, I’m a bit paranoid.  So I basically asked, “Ok, that’s nice, but do me a favor, reboot the active node anyway, just to see what happens.”

So they did.  And we waited.  And we waited.  And we waited.  As I recall, the failover DID work perfectly.  But the rebooted node never came up.  So we waited.  And waited.  Now, unfortunately due to budgetary reasons, we didn’t have IP-KVM setup.  We had to wait until we could get to the remote datacenter to see what was going on.

Meanwhile, the vendor that did the install was called and they assured us it was nothing they had done. It had to be a hardware issue, since they had installed things perfectly.

That’s your typical vendor response by the way.

Finally we get someone out to the datacenter.  What do they see, but the machine waiting to mount a network share to get some files.  This puzzled us, since we had no network shares for this purpose.  We pondered it a bit.  Then it dawned on me that the only thing different between our reboot and the earlier one, was the vendor was in the datacenter.

So, we made the necessary changes to not try to mount network files, tested the reboot a few times and all was well.

One of my team called the vendor and asked, “hey, when you do an install, does your tech mount stuff off of their laptop?”  “Oh sure, that’s how we get some of the critical files where we want them, why?”

So, one little change, having the vendor there (with their laptop on the network) and not having the vendor their made all the difference.

If you’re going to test, test in real-world scenarios as much as you can.  Make sure nothing extra is plugged in, even if you think it won’t make a difference.

If you can, test it just the way you would expect it to fail in the real world.  If that means you have redundant power supplies, test it by tripping the breaker on one leg.  If you find yourself saying, “Oh no, that’s too risky” guess what, you’re not nearly as protected as you think you are.  If you can suggest doing the test with confidence you’re 1/2 way to success.  If you actually DO the test and things work, you’re all the way.

In conclusion, one seemingly innocuous change can make a huge difference.