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I Ran From A Cop This Morning. . .And Got Away

November 22, 2016

I got stopped by a cop on my way to work this morning. Well, I didn’t actually stop. I sort of slowed down to about 5 mph and then once I got past his car, I sped up to 80 mph. The police officer didn’t bother to chase me. He was busy giving a ticket to some guy in a black Nissan Maxima. 

I first discovered the cost of spam 20 years ago when I was working at WordPerfect Corporation. We had just moved to a true enterprise email system. It was about this time of year. (Late Fall.) I sent an email to the entire company with the subject line

‘Tis the season: Fa La La

Okay, now it looks like a stupid thing to do. At the time, in 1990, when I was new in business, it seemed harmless enough. A senior email developer explained it to me. 

Our company has 5,000 employees in it. Let’s say that email took 30 seconds to read and delete. That’s 2,500 minutes or let’s call it 40 hours. That is a full time person for a week doing nothing but deleting your email. In other words, figure out how much you earn in a week and that’s how much you just cost the company with your little joke.

Technically, it was more than I earn in a week because I was one of the lowest paid employees in the company. But, the point was the same. I was stunned. I was so impressed with the lesson that two decades later I still remember the details. 

Years later, I tried to convey the same message to my engineering team when I worked for a large non-profit in Utah. My team owned the email systems. We supported a user base of 30,000 full time employees and 50,000 volunteers who also used our email system. Our systems were well built. We had redundant systems. We had caching and buffering that allowed the email systems to keep working even if the backup went away. With all of that infrastructure, we still needed to occasionally reboot a server, or take a system offline. We were judged by our system availability. 

Our stated goal for the month was 99.7% uptime. Over the course of a month, 99.7% meant we could be down for 2 hours and 11 minutes. If we pushed for 99.9% it meant we could be down for 44 minutes. If we wanted 99.95% we could have 22 minutes of downtime. If we wanted 99.99% uptime we could only be down for 4 minutes per month. And if we tried for “five nines,” or 99.999% system uptime, we could only be down for 26 seconds per month. Here’s a chart

Monthly Downtime Chart

  • 99.999% – 26 sec
  • 99.990% – 4 min
  • 99.950% – 22 min
  • 99.900% – 44 min
  • 99.700% – 2 hr 11 min

Even though my boss held me to 99.7%, I held my team to 99.9% and pushed for 99.95%. Why would I do that? I wasn’t trying to make my team’s job harder. And I really wasn’t doing it so I could show my boss rosy numbers. With 30,000 employees, every minute of downtime was 500 hours, or about 3 months of work for a fulltime person. If we were available for 99.99%, that 0.01% of downtime represented a full year of employement for someone wasted. Put another way, for every four minutes I could avoid being offline, I gave the company an extra year of productivity. 

All of a sudden a 5 minute reboot of an email server looks really expensive. 

Yes, I know the math is a little fuzzy since people don’t use their email system every minute of every day. But, from a system standpoint, we had to assume that they wanted to. We had to have the systems ready to meet their needs all the time. 

Interestingly in that job, my boss never had to worry about my team failing to meet the company standard of 99.7%. If we were down for multiple hours in a month, it was because our datacenter crashed (happened twice in five years.) but, for the day-to-day work, my team was trying to save minutes, they weren’t even looking at hours of downtime.

What does all this have to do with my commute? And how did I manage to run away from the cop and not get chased?

Typically, I take the train to work. But, the rainy and cold season has started in Utah. And given that it’s Thanksgiving week, I knew that traffic would be light. I chose to drive. It’s about 30 miles from my house to my work. the commute is generally about 30-40 minutes depending on traffic. 

I was driving along at 75 mph in the carpool lane when cars in all six lanes of the freeway started hitting their brakes. As we came up over a little hill we saw the flashing lights of a Utah Highway Patrol car about half a mile ahead. There was no crash. Just a cop pulling over a guy who was probably going too fast. And yet, thousands of us we impacted. A half mile slowdown for six lanes? That’s maybe 250 cars per lane, or about 1500 cars. If the traffic stop took 10 minutes, and we were going an average of 30 mph, (meaning it took us a minute to get through the slowdown) that’s 15,000 cars that lost about 2 minutes each. 30,000 minutes is about 3 months of fulltime work. 

So, the cop, or the speeder depending on where you want to place the blame, wasted three months of a person’s time today. I wonder if law enforcement considers the cost of a traffic stop when they are deciding to pull someone over? 

In any case, that was how I ran from a cop this morning and got away with it. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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