Computerworld Shark Tank en-us Fri, 22 Jun 2018 15:50:25 -0700 Fri, 22 Jun 2018 15:50:25 -0700 Computerworld 510 510 Computerworld 796 288 Finished, redefined Fri, 22 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Flashback to the 1980s, when computer-aided software engineering methodologies are all the rage for major mainframe software projects, according to a pilot fish in the know.

"A friend of mine was a software developer at a big Chicago bank, and they were very big into CASE for large projects." fish says. "Both the bank's management and the developers were pretty happy with the results for its mainframe work.

"Or they were happy with the software they produced, anyway. But big CASE tools didn't solve all the system development problems. On one particular project, my friend gave me a running update over the last few months of the project's schedule."

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Throwback Thursday: Get the picture? Thu, 21 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

IT director pilot fish at a daily newspaper is reworking the company's entire network. Why? "There is no security," sighs fish. "None, with about 90 users in a peer-to-peer Mac and PC environment."

One night he gets a call from an editor: One of the applications isn't working. It's the one that lets a reporter find a photo on a wire service's website and save it to a folder. The app then moves the folder to a holding folder on another machine, where yet another machine can grab it and put it into the newspaper's production process.

It takes a couple hours of troubleshooting, but fish tracks down the problem. That holding folder? The one that's actually named "Do not touch, do not delete"?

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Why do we even bother paying these IT guys, anyway? Wed, 20 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

It's the late 1990s, and this pilot fish is working as a tech-for-hire for small businesses when he's sent to help out at a local tax preparer's office.

"I was met at the door by the owner, a small woman who gave me a list of things that were needed," says fish. "She emphasized I had to work in such a manner as to not disturb her employees, who were inputting tax information for clients."

The list includes installing an external fax modem on the server, configuring the PCs to use it, setting up a shared laser printer and installing a high-resolution video card on one PC.

Fish knows he'll have to work fast, so once everyone leaves for lunch he adds the fax modem and laser printer to the server, then runs from one PC to another configuring them for faxing and printing. The last thing he does before the lunch crowd returns is to install the video card and verify that it all works.

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Think of it as meeting the needs of the company Tue, 19 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Flashback almost three decades, to when this pilot fish is hired as a systems analyst -- and gets an unpleasant surprise.

"When I started with this company, I nearly quit because there were so many meetings!" says fish. "I was told this was necessary to keep everyone informed about what the company was doing.

"After three years, our CIO held a large meeting and told us that, in order to empower us, we were to reduce the number of meetings held. So suddenly I found myself going for weeks without a single meeting.

"Fast forward a few years: We got a new CIO, who informed us that we needed to be in step with the company and to insure we were all informed they would hold meetings each week. More meetings were added, and soon I found myself attending meetings at the same frequency I was when I joined the company.

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Wait, how can you be unclear on the concept of HEAT? Mon, 18 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Consultant pilot fish is called in to deal with this company's newly installed WAN network equipment. The problem: It's overheating in a big way.

But the reason turns out to be no big mystery after all. "The client had an old available computer room with a raised floor," says fish. "But it was quite dirty underfloor, and no cyber-cleaning was considered.

"The new nationwide network equipment and racks were installed. But to negate the problem of the cabinet's top-mounted rack fans dragging crud up from under the floor, it was decided to reverse the top-mounted fans to push the air down into the rack equipment.

"Wonder why there were massive heating problems?

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Failure, redefined Fri, 15 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Programmer pilot fish is hired by this organization because he can write a mix of C and scripting languages to pull information from databases and generate web pages -- pretty straightforward stuff.

But that's not what he finds when he starts work. "The new job I was hired for used a big vendor's interfaces and coding tools," fish says. "It was a major enterprise-wide conversion, and the vendor consulting staff was essentially learning to do their jobs as we did ours -- and at our expense.

"Their applications were that new and untested. Nothing worked and the vendor's consultants couldn't seem to give us good answers when things failed."

It's soon clear that things are failing a lot -- which means a lot of try/test/fail/retry cycles. And even when things appear to be working correctly, a high percentage of the time they still aren't right.

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Throwback Thursday: Well, no, not exactly Thu, 14 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Pilot fish is configuring a new router to replace a loaner from the telco. It's for running a secure tunnel to allow a branch office to connect to HQ's VoIP.

"When we finished the setup on our side, we needed the remote router to be powered down and then back on," says fish. "I phoned a user at the other end and asked her to restart the router.

"I described it to her and she seemed to know what to do. We exchanged cell numbers in case there were issues."

And that turns out to be a good thing. A few minutes later, when fish tests the connection, he gets nothing. No ping to the other side. No activity at all. Dead in the water.

Everything seems OK on fish's side, so he calls the user at the branch office again.

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Not so fast! Wed, 13 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Pilot fish who's a computer science professor gets a call from a former student stumped by a database problem -- one that should be pretty easy to solve.

"This was not one of my most stellar students," fish admits. "It seems they had set up a database for a new state agency and the system was running very slowly.

"I did a small amount of consulting on the side, so I agreed to take a look."

Turns out the database is rather strangely organized. The explanation? Former student tells fish it's set up for ease of data entry.

And for retrieval? "No problem," former student says. "We created an index for every field so you can look up anything quickly. We even created Soundex codes for every last name, and created an index for the Soundex codes too."

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Good thing they didn't do any programming, huh? Tue, 12 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

IT pilot fish is part of a team working under a contract where there's a very specific stipulation: These contractors can't write code -- that's the job of a different contractor.

"But we were allowed to do prototyping," says fish.

"So we developed a prototype for functionality the customer needed, using SQL Anywhere as a front end to an Oracle database.

"The customer used our prototype for about four years while their developer contractor worked on the 'real system.'"

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Rigged demo, defined Mon, 11 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

This hospital's IT department lets employees spend time with people in other groups to get a better idea of how the rest of the department operates, according to a desktop support pilot fish there.

"The idea was that people who were curious about what we did were allowed to shadow us for a day," says fish.

"My boss selected me to be the shadowee for some reason. I decided that I'd make sure all of IT knew how Desktop Support ran everywhere.

"For the days when I was being shadowed, I picked out a lot of support tickets that required site visits but would be easy to explain and quick to do.

"I closed something like 15 tickets on those days. And the people shadowing me were all, 'Wow, you guys work hard...'"

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For sale: New PCs, never used Fri, 08 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

It's some years back, and this pilot fish is working on a computerization project at a bank branch in a town that's out in the sticks when a local woman asks him for help.

"She wanted me to visit her at her home," fish says. "I agreed, and as promised arrived at her home one Saturday morning.

"She told me she had new PCs that she wanted help finding a buyer for. OK, I said, show me the computers and I'll see what I can do."

She leads fish to her dining table and points to a box in the middle of it. "Here's one of them," she says. "There are five in total like this one -- all of them brand new!"

Just by the look of the still-sealed box, fish can tell it's been in storage for some time. When did you get these computers? he asks.

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Throwback Thursday: Breakfast Of Champions Thu, 07 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

This IT pilot fish works for a small, privately owned retail chain -- and that means a tight ship, budgetwise. "All six of our servers were on one UPS capable of running the entire computer room for 20 minutes," says fish.

"One summer afternoon we heard a zap and sizzle outside the building, and half of our electrical supply went out. Some lights and outlets worked, some didn't. And, of course, the entire computer room was dark."

The four-member IT department races to the server room and quickly comes up with a plan. First step: They'll run a 100-foot heavy-duty orange extension cord to the one working outlet within reach.

Next step is attaching a UPS that, in turn, will have two power strips plugged into it. Into the power strips are plugged six more UPSes, one for each server and its attached peripherals.

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His last name wouldn't be Murphy, would it? Wed, 06 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

This soon-to-be-wed pilot fish has anything but IT on his mind -- he and his fiancee are spending a long weekend at a combined bachelor/bachelorette party at a casino.

"All our friends know each other, so it's easier to have it together," fish says. "Monday afternoon comes, we're heading home with the party, and I get a call from my manager asking me to come into work.

"I let him know that I'll get there as soon as we drop everyone off. By the time that's done it's 4 p.m., and I'm told they still desperately need me in the office."

And when fish walks into his office, he sees why: His co-worker Barney is sitting surrounded by piles of laptops, and users are steadily coming in to drop off even more laptops.

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Consulting: So simple! Tue, 05 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Database admin pilot fish knows this company's systems inside and out after 20 years with them, and he's a bit annoyed when his boss brings in a consultant for the latest project.

"I suspect there's an unspoken practice of discrimination against me due to my age," fish says. "I don't claim to know everything, but I know enough to have kept things running without incident during my time here, and when I'm stuck I know who to reach out to.

"Recently my manager requested a meeting with me, the consultant and other managers to discuss my proposal for the project, which included the liberal use of stored procedures on the SQL Server.

"The consultant shook his head and loudly said that we needed to start using CLR in SQL Server, and that it would be easy to use: Just write the procedure offline, compile it and then integrate it into SQL Server. So simple!

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Look, this isn't rocket science, it's networking! Mon, 04 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

The IT support guy at this private school seems to be trying hard, but he may not be the most qualified tech possible, says a pilot fish who used to teach there.

"He was previously a student, from the economics and accounting program, who got the position because his godmother was CFO at the school," fish says.

"Among the IT and telecom teachers, we did joke a bit about this guy, because he was more or less always in the dark, trying to figure out things as simple as what IP addresses to use on our internal network.

"After some years he eventually moved to another job, and the administration hired a new IT support guy who supposedly had some academic degree in computers and networks.

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Code review Fri, 01 Jun 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Company is evaluating financial software from three different vendors, and one of the reviews is assigned to this pilot fish.

"The one I was given to look at was originally written for Microsoft SQL Server, but was recently ported to Oracle," fish says. "All the source code was provided, along with a non-disclosure agreement, of course.

"It relied heavily on a large number of database-compiled PL/SQL packages and stand-alone procedures/functions, which is usually a good design. All the SQL needed was embedded in the database, and the front-end only needed to call these routines."

But as fish quickly discovers when he peruses the source code, all those packages have been compiled under the SYSTEM schema, which means they're running with almost all available administrative privileges.

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Throwback Thursday: It seemed like the thing to do at the time Thu, 31 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Database admin pilot fish is on call and sleeping soundly when his beeper goes off at 1 a.m.

But it's not an alert from monitoring software or from the trouble center. The phone number on the pager is one fish doesn't recognize.

He calls the number. It's a user who tells him that a job on the server is stuck, and he's not getting new rows into a table.

Bleary-eyed fish logs on and checks. Sure enough, the job has a problem. A single mouse click restarts the job, and it's working again.

But fish also notices in the log that the job has been stuck since 10:30 a.m. -- two days before.

"Yeah, it's been annoying," user explains when fish asks about it. "The stuck job has been paging me to tell me there's a problem every 15 minutes."

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There IS such a thing as too many user options Wed, 30 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Programmer pilot fish gets the assignment to write a specific application for his company's shipping department, and the specs are pretty specific too.

"Not web-based," says fish. "Ability to print labels and interact with scales and scanner. Ability to assign sounds through a setup menu. You get the idea.

"I wrote and tested the application, wrote up a quick user's guide, installed the application on the customer's computer and demonstrated it to the manager so he would verify all was working."

And that's that, fish figures. But a few weeks later, his boss tells him there's a problem: The customer is complaining that the application is slow.

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So you're saying we need to have THAT connected too? Tue, 29 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

This pilot fish does tech support for a security appliance vendor, whose customers tend to get really concerned when the security black box isn't doing its thing.

"One of the configurations we sold and supported was a pair of appliances in high-reliability mode, so that if one failed the other would take over," says fish

"One customer kept complaining that the pair of appliances could not talk to each other and, of course, failed to fail-over under test circumstances. Since they were fairly close, my manager and I went to pay them a visit in person.

"First the customer demonstrated that, while one unit seemed to work properly, the backup unit could never be seen on the network.

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And how did you spend YOUR holiday weekend? Mon, 28 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

This 30-employee branch office is about to move to a new location, and the end of the week is going to be busy for this networking pilot fish.

"The manager from HQ says he's prepared everything for the move," fish reports. "The new office will be ready to move in, telcos are informed, network cabling is in place, and we just need to bring in the new server and switches."

Fish will spend Wednesday and Thursday setting up network switches and copying data to the new file server. Two other IT guys will spend Thursday and Friday moving all the PCs and reconnecting them to the network.

And because everything is ready to go, the manager who planned the move is going on vacation.

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See, you just have to ask them the right way Fri, 25 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Go-live date for this big application update is now just days away, but it still hasn't been fully tested, says the pilot fish responsible for the project.

"Part of the preparation is to test the big update's ability to integrate with payroll," fish explains. "This, of course, requires cooperation from the Payroll Department. They must set up suitable test data in the primary test environment.

"The big update doesn't benefit them directly, and they have been highly resistant to assisting with any testing. 'Too busy, higher priorities' is what they have been saying for three months."

Naturally, all the other departments are busy too, but they've managed to find time to help fish with testing. And with go-live less than a week out, it's increasingly clear that the payroll integration test isn't going to happen at all.

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Throwback Thursday: Shh! Don't tell! Thu, 24 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Pilot fish gets a new job where one of her first assignments is to design a database-oriented application.

"I'm not permitted to create any tables or keys," says fish. "I have to submit it to our database admin, who will take care of it when he gets around to it.

"I soon learn that, at this company, they spell DBA G-O-D."

Fish sends DBA her tables, their links and recommended indexes. DBA accepts the table design, but tells fish that the data will be indexed by first, middle and then last name.

That won't work, fish tells him; the lookup key is by last name. But the boss sides with the DBA. And predictably, the application's response times are B-A-D.

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Top-level executive support, redefined Wed, 23 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

It's the late 1990s, and this multinational company's US division is developing a new system for its call center, says a pilot fish who's hired to be the systems manager there.

"The CIO and the cheapskate US division president clashed on the new custom system," fish says. "The CIO wanted to use the Oracle and AS/400 system that was being developed by the UK office, because it was being designed as a strong business application.

"The president wanted to use a system being developed in the Mexico office -- in FoxPro, which was already being phased out at most IT shops, and certainly wasn't enterprise-grade enough to develop the company's primary business application in."

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Well, he was half-right -- it WAS plugged in... Tue, 22 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Flashback to the late 1980s, when this IT pilot fish working for a large city's Board of Education gets a call about a green-screen terminal that has stopped working.

"Over the phone, all indications told me there was no power going to the terminal," says fish. "There wasn't even the 60-cycle hum you hear when the transformer is energized.

"But the caller confirmed that it was plugged in and there was power to the outlet.

"Off I went to visit the caller several blocks away.

"It was plugged in, all right -- to an extension cord. And the extension cord was not plugged into an outlet..."

Sharky would love to visit your desk to hear your true tale of IT life, but that's not in the budget. So send me your story at You'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt if I use it. Comment on today's tale at Sharky's Google+ community, and read thousands of great old tales in the Sharkives.

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Overboard Mon, 21 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

IT pilot fish at a maritime support company gets a call from a field employee whose laptop has been running slowly for some reason.

"After an attempt by the help desk to clean it off and speed it up, the employee called again," fish says. "He was asking to have a newer laptop that he had found at the project site reassigned to him.

"The machine had been left by a project engineer who had moved on to another project. Supposedly it had water damage, but seemed to be working. Oddly, it had never been returned to us, and just left at the project.

"It took a little research, but we found that the project engineer had been sent a replacement laptop, and hadn't been asked to return the brand new 'water damaged' one.

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Success at last! Fri, 18 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

This pilot fish changes jobs, moving from a small software company to a large state college -- and there's a bit of culture shock.

"It was summertime, which means daily thunderstorms in this part of the country," says fish. "Daily thunderstorms mean daily power interruptions. It didn't take long to discover that none of the computers in the IT department had battery backups.

"This surprised me, as the small company I'd come from had been using battery backups since the 1980s."

So fish asks around, finds out it's the hardware manager who's in charge of providing equipment and asks him for a UPS. "Sure," the guy says cheerfully, "it will just take a few days."

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Throwback Thursday: Why comments were invented Thu, 17 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Request comes to pilot fish to provide employee data for the company-wide address book. That's no big deal.

"Time to code: 60 minutes," fish reports. "Affected employees: 8,000."

Flash forward two years: Senior executives get new cell phones that should be able to import the company-wide address book. Problem: The phone numbers are formatted for human beings to use, not cell phones.

New request: Change address book format so cell phones can dial the phone numbers automatically.

"Time to code: 10 minutes to comment out old code and add new code," says fish. "Affected employees: 8,000. Employees who actually need this data: 10."

Now it's another eight months later: Senior execs decide they're bored with having the entire company directory on their cell phones.

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Well, it's secure, all right... Wed, 16 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

This small IT consulting outfit gets a contract with a very, very big company -- which is a very big deal, says a pilot fish at the consultancy.

"On a daily basis, a large text data file needs to get loaded into a very fast database, and that information is used to deal or not deal with certain customers," fish explains. "And this all has to happen in real time."

The big client is very security conscious, and it won't let the consultancy download the data from the client's site. Instead, a third-party site is used, and access is through a secure connection with a totally inscrutable password.

And on the first day, everything works fine. The big client puts the data on the site and fish's company downloads the data, then keeps checking back periodically to see if anything has been added or changed.

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Smarter than you thought Tue, 15 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

Systems analyst pilot fish and his longtime programming partner are joined by a new hire, and it's soon clear that she has little grasp of systems -- but she does know how to throw lots of jargon around at managers.

"That insured that she was included in many meetings, which kept her too busy to program," sighs fish. "Because of this she soon became our manager.

"One day she called for a meeting, and my co-worker and I knew something was up due to her deer-in-the-headlights look. It turned out she had committed to design a system in six months that would track a product from when it was made to delivery to a customer.

"After she described it, my co-worker and I explained there was no way that could be done in so short a time. She frantically said we needed to put something together to demonstrate next week. Couldn't we just throw a web page together and hook up a database or something?!?

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And thanks so much for your input, boss! Mon, 14 May 2018 03:00:00 -0700 Sharky Sharky

It's 1999, and in this IT department the big crisis isn't Y2k, says a pilot fish there -- it's the Melissa virus.

"We were infected, and we were all called into the Emergency Operations Center to devise a strategy to determine the extent of infection and how to mitigate the effects," fish says.

"The server admins were coming up with methods to clean up any servers that were affected. The desktop group was trying to figure out how many desktops were infected. We in the network group were trying to come up with a way to block traffic from the virus, both inbound and outbound, at the firewalls.

"Everything was moving as well as could be expected, but we had to give an update to senior leadership on progress.

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