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So Old I Was New

Hi, I’m Jason. Are you new here?

No, I’m not.

I attended a dinner last night. It cost me $180. It wasn’t in a fancy restaurant. It was in a room with folding chairs and the food placed out on a folding table. The food was excellent. It was brauts, sauerkraut, and fried potatoes with bacon. We each served ourselves and fished a can of either Diet Coke, or Sprite out of cooler full of ice.

Most of them were unfamiliar faces, but I knew a few of them. I hadn’t been there in over a year.

I attended the monthly business meeting for Story Lodge #4, Free and Accepted Masons of Provo, Utah. This was my lodge.

The $180 were my annual dues for 2017. Yeah, I was pretty late in paying them. And this is the only meeting I will attend all year. There was nothing special about last night’s meeting. It’s just I was really busy earlier this year and I’ll be travelling during November and December’s business meetings.

You might ask, “Why?” And I admit, I asked myself that question. Why continue to pay dues and be a member of an organization if clearly I don’t have time to attend more than once per year? It’s a good question. And if you are not a Mason, or you don’t really know any Masons, the answer probably won’t make sense. In fact, it will probably seem pretty lame.

I started comparing notes with some of the “old” guys. I joined Story Lodge in 2006. I was shocked it’s been so long ago. I realized of the people there last night, there were only a couple of people who’d been in the lodge longer than me. I mentioned it to Kelly.

No. I joined in 2009. What about Cody?

Nope. I joined in 2012.

Rodney, it looks like you have been here the longest of anyone attending tonight.

Yeah, I’m the old guy. Not just in tenure, but I had the edge in physical age as well. Weird, I didn’t feel like the old guy.

But, back to why I continue to be affiliated with “the Fraternity,” as it’s called.

I had not seen Kelly in a year. Same for Cody, and Jeff, and Ephraim, and Blue, and Dave. I hadn’t seen many of the new members ever. And yet, we shared a bond. As we moved from the dinner into the lodge room for the actual business meeting, we went through the opening ceremony for a lodge of Entered Apprentices. It’s the first degree in Masonry and the majority of our members were new.

I looked up at the picture of George Washington. His portrait hangs in every Masonic hall in the United States. I thought of how the ceremony, the ritual, probably even some of the jokes, were the same. as they had been in the 18th Century when George was leading our country. The fraternity goes back hundreds of years. You cannot help but feel a connection to those men so long dead and buried. They sat in the meetings you sit in. They performed the rituals you participated in. they voted on new members just as you did. The feeling of history is strong in a Mason’s lodge.

The discussion turned to the upcoming funeral for a brother in Salt Lake City. A man who had been prominant in Utah Masonry.

Brethern, if you have never been to a Masonic funeral, I encourage you to make the trip. It’s a chance to see one of the imporant aspects of our order.

I looked down at the ring on my right hand. The square and compasses stand out in stark relief against the black onyx stone. The ring lets people know that I am a Master Mason. But, it has special significance to me. It was given to me by my uncle when I was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. He is literally the reason I was sitting in that room last night.

He died last November. Had a heart attack while out on the last ride of the season. I attended his funeral and his lodge allowed me to play a small part in the Masonic ritual for his funeral. Yes, I’ve seen a Mason funeral. And it is a wonderfal opportunity to see an important part of the order.

My position as a Master Mason binds me to men all across the country and back through centuries of time. But, it also binds me to the men who sat in the lodge room last night. I have a place among them. And no amount of time away removes that spot. It’s good to belong to something bigger than yourself. It’s good to be a Mason.

Are you new?

No. No, I’m not. In fact, I’ve been here a long time. I’ve just been away for awhile.

It’s nice to know I belong.

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. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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My Favorite Time Of Year

It’s been a rough summer. Summer has never been my favorite time of year. It might go back to when I was a kid and ended up spending summers away from the lush green forests of Western Washington and instead was consigned to the barren desert of Central Washington.

Whatever the reason, I’m happy to bid the hotter months adieu. More so this year than ever. On the other hand, Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year. The weather starts to turn cooler. We start football season. Baseball playoffs are approaching.

One of the wonderful aspects of living in Utah is the fact that Utah gets four seasons. Summers can be pretty hot and dry. It’s kind of like those summers spent in Othello, Washington. Except that Utah has mountains and valleys, slot canyons and National Parks. We definitely have a Winter season. Our license plates don’t say “Greatest Snow On Earth” for nothing. It’s ironic to think of a desert state having a robust snow season. But, even our snow is dry. Apparently, that “greatest snow” happens because it’s almost all powder. We typically don’t get the wet, heavy snows of the coasts.

Spring can be a struggle in Utah. The state doesn’t easily throw off the cold blanket of Winter. I’m always surprised by Spring. I’ll be driving through my neighborhood one day and realize that all the trees of started to bud and blossom. All seemingly at the same time.

But, Fall is where Utah shines best. We have lots of leafy trees that turn brilliant shades of red and orange, yellow and brown. It’s spectacular. And the activities around Fall are some of my favorites. We’ll can applesauce and grape juice. We’ll bake pies for the holidays. The kids will dress up in Halloween costumes that are two sizes too big so they will fit over their coats.

We’ll put the finishing touches on the yard. A final dose of fertilizer. Clean out the gutters and flowerbeds.

After a hectic year, I’m ready to ease into Fall.

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. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

A Rose By Any Other Name. . .Is Just Email

I’m an old IT guy. That means that YES, I know what all the commands are that you can use in that C:\ black box. And I use eMail. I use it a lot. Most social media apps have private messaging that encrouch on eMail. I have an msn.com address, a hotmail.com address. Several gmail.com addresses, Facebook’s private messaging, a Twitter account, and a LinkedIn! account that has email. That doesn’t even count my corporate email.

My early career was as an email expert. I wrote training materials for Microsoft and WordPerfect. I even wrote a book, Microsoft Exchange Connectivity Guide. Email was pretty much waht I did. Which is why I hated SPAM. SPAM is unsolicited email. Today, much of it is caught by email firewalls. And the CANSPAM act required that SPAM include an opt out link. But, SPAM itself is a blight on the world. There’s no place for it.

Or so I thought.

I actually have two work emails. They point to the same mailbox, but one address is rbliss the other is rodney.bliss. I picked the rbliss name, the company assigned me rodney.bliss. I never use it for anything. I’ve never once typed it into any web form. I’ve never given it to anyone as my email address.

It recently started to get SPAM. The SPAM is mildly sophisticated. It sends me what it thinks are interesting advertisements for conferences. I delete them without clicking UNSUBSCRIBE. The SPAMMERS “scraped” the email address from a message, or they simply guessed that the address at my company is (firstname).(lastname). Like I said, I hate it.

But, then, I got an unsolicitated email and thought, “That looks interesting.”

The email came to my LinkedIn! email. I had to ask myself why I was okay getting SPAM in my LinkedIn! account, but not my corporate mailbox?

Context.

LinkedIn! is a bunch of business folks exchanging electronic businessness cards. And if I went to a conference and someone approached me and offered their card and a sale pitch, I would listen. I might not buy, but I’d listen and think nothing of it. But, if that same person were to show up at my house? “I’m sorry, we’re not interested. Take us off your list!”

On Facebook, for example, occasionally, I’ll get unsolicited messages. Maybe it’s an old high school buddy wanting to reconnect. maybe it’s a friend of a friend. The point is that I don’t see a problem with it. And yet, if I got a random “request” to my msn.com account, I’d be suspicious.

Each platform has it’s own specific language. LinkedIn! is business. Facebook is social. Twitter and Instagram are celebrity. If you hold the conversation in the right venue, you can get more interest where in the wrong venue, you will get shut down. I thought over my various messaging apps and addresses while writing this and then thought of the one I forgot.

Oh, and I have WordPress private messages, of course.

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. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Vegas

Image result for las vegas

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.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

 

When Failing Gracefully Just Won’t Do

Our computer system was behaving exactly like it was supposed to and it was starting to get annoying.

If you think about it, computers are really good at not dying. I don’t mean your computer or smartphone. Or mine. Those die at the most inoportune times. But, enterprise level systems are pretty good at staying alive.

We have been working on fixing a technical issue at my job for ten days. That’s an eternity in software terms. You figure you can rebuild an entire server in four hours. You can ship new replacement hardware across the country in a single day. You can typically rebuild an entire system in a week.

Ten days is forever. It’s a complex problem, of course. I have four locations and my problem only shows up in one of them. You’d think it was location based. But, if I reclassify one of my Salt Lake City agents and tell the system they are a New Orleans agent, then they have the problem too.

I’ve done my share of troubleshooting over the years. I don’t do much anymore. IT is a young mans game. Not as young as when I was starting fortunately, but still, I’m supposed to provide leadership. We have engineers much smarter than me who do the heavy lifting.

And, of course, we will figure it out. It’s only hardware and software. Replace enough pieces and eventually you’ll find the bit that broken. Our current problem is that we think the bit that’s broken might be in memory of one of our systems. Normally, that wouldn’t be hard to fix. You probably regularly reboot your phone or your computer. Reboot and the stuff in memory is cleared out when the computer reboots.

That’s where systems are different than computers. Most of my systems are redundant. I have two of everything. I even two of my groups of two. The entire system is designed to NOT DIE. If one computer server crashes, there’s another one to gracefully take over. If a circuit goes down, we automatically reroute to a different carrier. We never want to lose our current data.

And that’s my problem. If I reboot one of my servers, the other server will automatically take over, transfering everything in memory to itself. When the first server reboots, the second one will hand back everything that was in memory. Kind of like saying, “Here, hold my coat while I go lie down for awhile.” When you come back, your coat is fully intact, including the money in the billfold and the stinky tuna sandwhich you forgot from lunch. . .yesterday.

But, what if you want to get rid of that stinky tuna melt? That’s when failing gracefully just won’t do. Next week we will have to reboot both servers at the same time. (We’ll be killing you and the guy that held your coat.) We’ve decided it’s the only way to clear out what’s in active memory.

It is surprisingly hard to do. I didn’t think I would be complaining that the systems don’t crash enough. They fail too gracefully.

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. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Maxim 33: If You’re Leaving Tracks You’re Being Followed

It didn’t snow on us Friday night. During the night, I wish it had. Snow is warm. I know that sounds crazy, but when it’s snowing, it’s not as cold as when it’s not snowing. More specifically, it’s not as cold as when you have no cloud cover. We were prepared for 6-12″ of snow. That’s what was in the forecast. Clouds are like a really fluffy blanket that helps to trap warm air. As the snow goes down and the temperature drops, cloud cover prevents the heat, even if it’s only a little, from dispersing quickly.

And if you actually get white flakes, the snow on your tent acts as an insulating blanket. It’s why snow caves are actually fairly comfortable to sleep in. But, the snow stayed away and we spent a frigid night with the Mercury dipping down to 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, the following morning, as we were breaking camp and desperately trying to warm up, the lack of new snow was a blessing.

I used to write training materials for Microsoft Exchange. I was good at it. When writing a training manual, a reasonable “development ratio” is 40:1. Meaning that it takes fourty hours of development to come up with a single hour so classroom material. I know how crazy that sounds, but trust me 40:1 was considered pretty good. More technical courses might have ratios as high as 60:1.

I created a new product course for Microsoft Exchange 5.0. The course was a two week introductary course. So, I’d been leading the team working on this course for nearly a year. I was the course developer (called the Instructional Designer.) We had dedicated trainers who taught the course. For the first time the course was offered, I travelled to the class. This was typically one of our call centers in North Carolina or Los Colinas, TX. For this course, I was in Charolette, NC. A trainer named Win was pair teaching with another trainer. Win got to portion of the course that was new to 5.0. As he was explaining it, I could tell he was getting it wrong.

Sitting in the back of the room I tried to play “lifeguard.”

Win, don’t you mean that the feature works this other way?

No Rodney. That’s not how it works. It does this and this.

Well, can you explain how it does this other thing?

It doesn’t do that.

Could I talk to you when you complete presenting this module?

I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his class. But, he was training support engineers. I needed to make sure he was teaching the right concepts. As he finished up and handed off to his co-presenter, Win and I stepped out into the hallway.

Win, I didn’t want to press the issue in front of the class, but that feature really works like this.

No, it doesn’t.

Win, I understand this is a new concept. But, it really does this right here.

No, you don’t understand it Rodney.

Win, I’m trying to explain how it works.

Rodney, the book disagrees with you.

Win. . .I wrote the book.

There are times where you end up referencing yourself. This was one of those times. I think about the classic scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Sean Connery is trying to explain to Harrison Ford how to get past the traps or tests that anyone attempting to get the Holy Grail had to pass by.

Well, he who finds the Grail must face the final challenge.

What final challenge?

Three devices of such lethal cunning.

Booby traps?

Oh, yes. But I found the clues that will safely take us through them in the Chronicles of St. Anselm.

Well, what are they? . . .Can’t you remember?

I wrote them down in my diary so that I wouldn’t have to remember.

Even if you know the path you need to take, recording it is important. Later you might need to refer to your own path.

As we got up Saturday morning, the blue sky reflected off of Long Lake.

We were 3.5 miles from the trailhead. Unlike the slot canyons that we often hike, the High Uintas are open, forests with minimal underbrush. In the summer it’s not an issue there are trails and trail markers made from steel with the names of the lakes and trails drilled through the signs.

But, my worry was that we’d wake to a blanket of unbroken snow. We’d broken trail on the way into the lake. Would we be able to find our way out if we had to rely on a path that was buried under a foot of snow? I had a map and a compass and our other leader was very familiar with the area. But, even he admitted, “If we needed to, I can get us out cross country.”

However, because of our frigid night under the stars we didn’t have any new snow. It was a simple process to find our way out. We simply followed the path we’d made when we hiked in. Often when hiking you’ll notice a footprint, and think, “I wonder who the hiker who owns that print is? I wonder where he’s headed?”

It was the first time that I’ve been able to answer those questions. The steps we were following were our own. No one else had braved the elements to get to Long Lake. It was also the first time that I literally marked my own path out of the mountains.

Maxim 33: If you’re leaving tracks you’re being followed
-70 Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries

Sometimes the person following is you.

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. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

September 26 – The Day The World Didn’t Die

Today, September 26 is a very special day. It’s the anniversary of the day the world coud have, possibly should have, died, but didn’t.

In September, 1983 I was just starting my senior year of high school in Olympia, Washington. September 26 was a Monday that year. The start of a new school week. I’d probably gone to a football game the Friday night before. My friends and I went to all the football games. It was probably a fairly normal day. I don’t remember it. But, it was the day the world nearly ended.

Recently there was a crackpot who announced that the world was ending in September of this year. I think he said it would end on September 23. It got a fair amount of coverage in the news. It’s a curiousity piece. One radio host called the “researcher” the week before looking for an interview. The man said he was too busy and would be available the following week. Yes, the week after he was predicting the world would end.

As you undoubtedly noticed, the world didn’t end last weekend. Never fear, the researcher announced that his calculations were off and actually the world is going to be over in October. You can probably set up an appointment for an interview with him for some time in November.

Growing up in Western Washington, during the cold war, we didn’t worry much about the threat of nuclear bombs. Within 100 miles of my house we had

  • Fort Lewis Army Base
  • McCord Air Force Base
  • Bangetor Sub Base
  • Boeing Air Craft company
  • Everett Naval Base
  • Bremerton Navy Ship Yard
  • Hanford Nuclear Facility

Puget Sound was a target rich environment. And we were the closest portion of the US mainland to the Soviet Union. If there was ever a war, we would be the first ones to die. We’d never even know it started.

We didn’t dwell on it, but we also never really forgot it either. In fact, I remember years later after the USSR had collapsed, Russian president Boris Yeltsin gave a speech in Seattle. He announced that for the first time in decades, there were no Russian missiles pointed at Seattle. The Russians had set the default target zone for all their missiles to be the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was like being told that the person with a gun to your head took their finger off the trigger.

But, back in 1983, the USSR was strong and tensions were high. Early in September the Soviets had shot down a Korean air liner. Two hundred and sixty people including a US Congressman died. Europe and the United States were threatening retaliation.

In the early morning of September 26, 1983 it appeared we were going to extract our revenge. At least that’s the way it appeared in a Soviet missile defense center just south of Moscow. Alarms went off indicating that the United States had launched five nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union.

The man in charge, Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant-colonel in Soviet Union’s secret service wasn’t even supposed to work that night. He was filling in for a sick colleague. He was presented with the awesome responsibility of recommending to his superiors if the USSR should retaliate. Petrov literally held the fate of the world in his hand. Training would dictate that he recommend that the USSR launch its missiles. If it had, the world as we know it would have ended. And I would have died in the first minutes.

But, Petrov didn’t fire his missiles. He called his superiors and indicated that the alarm was false. How did he know?

He didn’t. He guessed. Afterward he said he estimated he had a 50/50 chance of getting it right. As the seconds drug into minutes and the minutes drug into eternity, it became clear that Petrov was correct. The alarm was false. High clouds had confused the new Soviet satelite system into thinking it was seeing missiles.

For his part, Petrov said that he had a gut feeling that it wasn’t an attack. Why would the Americans launch only 5 missiles when the had an arsenal of thousands?

It was not unlike the scene in the the movie War Games where Matthew Brodrick inadvertanetly tricked a government computer into thinking the Soviets had launched an attack on Las Vegas and Seattle. We watch the tense moments as the military officials wait to hear if the attacks were false or not.

Except in the case of Petrov, it wasn’t a movie. It was real. He is literally the man that saved the world. He never considered himself a hero, claiming he was just doing his job. However, before his passing away back in May of this year, he did point out,

They are lucky it was me on duty that night.

We were all lucky that Stanislav Petrov was on duty that night. So, as you go through what will hopefully be a normal Tuesday, take a moment to reflect on the significance of September 26, the day the world didn’t end. And say a special prayer of thanks for Stanislav Petrov, the man who saved the world.

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. 

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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