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A Problem Not Seen In 101 Years. . .Safe For Another 101

You know those internet memes that say,

This year the month of May has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays in a month.

This only happens only ever 823 years. the Chinese call it “silver pockets full.”

This doesn’t just happen every eight centuries. It actually happens a lot more often than that. In fact, if you’re curious it will happen again in May 2026. Not as often as February 29th, which also happens this year.

Most things that have to do with calendars follow predictable patterns. Just like Christmas or your birthday is on Wednesday last year. And next year, it will be on Friday. (Due to the leap years.) The next year, 2021, Christmas and your birthday will be on Saturday. Then, Sunday and eventually, it will be back on Wednesday in 2024.

So, just about everything in a calendar is a pattern.

This year, 2020, has a unique pattern that has not occurred for over 100 years. And it won’t have this problem for another 100 years.

I worked for Microsoft in 1999. I can tell you with assurity that Y2K was a real problem. Your digital life didn’t blow up because computer people are really good at what we do. . .sometimes.

Y2K was a problem because early programmers, back in the 1960s and 1970s used two digits for the year. So, instead of recording 1964, they only recorded 64. You might think they were just being lazy, or stupid. But, in the early days of computers, memory was expensive. Like super expensive. Literally you would count the bytes. And no one would “waste” two bytes to keep track of the “19.” It was assumed.

Later, of course, memory got cheaper and those old systems stayed around. And programmers had to go back and fix it. And we did. . .sort of. We started using four digits to record the year.

But, we actually left a bug in the system. In the year 9999 they are going to have to go through the process all over again to fix the Y10K bug.

Computers use four digits for the year, but people don’t. We often are “too busy” to write those extra two letters. So, my twin sons were born in 02. Oh sure, it was really 2002, but you know what I mean.

It’s fine. Everyone understand it. And accepts it. But, this year, there’s an actual bug in the system. Our system. Yours. Mine. Everyone’s.

Never use a two digit year this year.

Like me, your probably write the date like 1/14/20. Unless you’re in Britain or the rest of the world where for some strange reason it’s 14/1/20.

You write that when you date a letter, or a sign a check, or sign a contract. (Actually, who am I kidding? No one uses checks any more.)

Anyway, the danger is that 1/14/20 isn’t a very exact date. You think it’s today? It might be. Of course, if it’s signed on a contract and I have a pen the same color as your pen then

1/14/20 == 1/14/2020 == 1/14/2000 or 1/14/2021

You might think it’s silly. So did the programmers who were told in 1970 that they were designing a bug that would show up in 30 years. That was silly.

But, dates, especially written dates in the internet age are vital.

And be aware, your great grandkids are going to have the same issue come up 101 years from now in 2121.

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) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Agile Cars Headed Over The Waterfall

Do you know Waterfall or Agile?

Yeah. I have some experience with both.

Any examples?

Well, I work on cars.

Agile and Waterfall are not car repair terms. They are software terms. But, they track pretty well to cars, too.

Waterfall software development is the way software used to always be developed. It’s how programs like Word and Windows and just about any software purchased before the turn of the century was made.

The idea is you design your software and then you build it. You build it from scratch. And then one day you turn it on and it works.

Okay, it doesn’t work. In fact, it probably doesn’t even start up. Instead, you start working on the compile errors. After you’ve fixed all the errors getting it to compile, it will finally start up. At that point, you now need to start fixing the runtime errors. You know, when you are supposed to put in a number and it only accepts letters? So, you fix the runtime errors. Finally, you move on to the logic errors. Those are where your programmer added 2 instead of 1 to a value.

Eventually, you get the logic errors fixed, at least the ones your testers find. And finally, you’re ready to send it out to real users as a Beta test. They will find a whole bunch more bugs for you.

Finally, you’ll get tired of fixing bugs and decide, like the movie guys say, “We’ll fix it in post.” Microsoft never shipped a program with a known bug. Of course, we had to redefine what the definition of a bug was.

Agile programming is a different approach. In Agile, you design your program, but then you figure out the least amount that you can build and make it run. It won’t have all the features, of course, but it will run.

And every couple of weeks you make a new build with a few more features. And it runs. You keep doing that cycle until you have enough features to actually ship your product.

Waterfall was the standard for years. Agile has come into vogue in the recent years. I’m not saying one is better than the other. I have my suspicions that there are some operations that cannot be completed in a 2 week sprint.

I work on cars a lot. Generally in the summer. Living in Utah, Winters are strictly an emergency fixes only time of year. I realized that I’ve done both waterfall car projects and Agile projects.

I owned a 1996 Lexus ES300. When I got it, it didn’t run. There was lots wrong with it. I approached it like a waterfall project. We rebuilt the engine. We worked on the fuel pump. We repaired body work. We had to fix almost every aspect of the car. And just when one thing was fixed, another would break. It was a long project.

I don’t have the Lexus anymore. I have a 1996 Toyota Corolla. It’s actually not that different from the 1996 Lexus. They are both Toyota products.

Anyway, the Toyota is more an Agile product. It ran when I got it, but had a lot of issues. The windshield leaked. The radio was missing. One rim was bent. The seats weren’t bolted down. (But only the passenger one. Found that one out when I was teaching my daughter to drive.

Anyway, every repair on the Toyota has had two goals. One, fix the issue. Two, make sure the car still runs. There are still about a dozen things left to do on the Toyota. But, in the mean time, I’ll keep driving it.

Maybe there are some advantages of Agile over Waterfall after all.

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) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Help And Help. . .It’s Not Always the Same

I flew home from Florida today. I like flying, but it’s also stressful. The flight was pretty turbulant. I had the flight data displayed on the seatback monitors. At times we had a 104 MPH tailwind and then a few minutes later we had a 75 MPH headwind. At 36,003 feet, those winds toss around even the largest plane.

At times, it was almost like a rollercoaster. But, that wasn’t the part that was stressful. The turbulance was a known quantity. I was nervous about the unknown.

I didn’t know if our sites might have an outage while I was on the plane. Starting today, we have a full team backing me up. But, that doesn’t mean my job is any less stressful. In fact, in addition to managing outages, I now am responsible to teach my replacements.

But, if there’s an outage, they’ll manage without me. But, then, I’ll spend days filling out the reports. Their “help” would also mean additional work for me. In fact, more work than if I’d simply managed the outage myself.

It’s mid January and time to put away the Christmas lights on our house. My neighbor and I have coordinated our Christmas lights. It’s one of those where you tune your radio to a local station and the lights are synched to the music.

My neighbor did all the hard work. He did the programming. He told me what to buy and he runs the radio broadcast. I just put up the lights the way he tells me. . .exactly the way he tells me. If I get two of the 30 extension cords swapped, the display won’t look right.

We’ve done the Christmas light display for several years. I am just as careful when putting away the display as when putting it up. Because I know that next November, I’m going to need to put it back up the same way. Exactly the same way.

But, not this year. This year, I had help. While I was enjoying the inside of my windowless call center and the 73 degree weather, my lovely wife and family were removing the Christmas decorations ahead of an approaching snow storm.

So, my garage has my Christmas decorations and lights strewn randomly. Like my outages, it will take longer to put them away than it would have taken me to do the work myself. But, they wanted to help.

And while I dread following up after an outage that I wasn’t able to manage, I can’t help smiling at the thought that my family stepped in to help.

Nope, help and help aren’t the same thing.

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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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Breakfast (And Dinner) Of Champions

Salad, yogurt, Quaker granola bars, orange juice, sliced watermelon, popcorn and some fresh fruit. Oh, and some plastic silverware.

I’m not really a foodie.

I like salmon, if it’s fresh and hasn’t ever been frozen. I travel with people who are foodies. At one point my friend Marcus called me from a vacation in Seattle. I grew up in the Seattle area about 40 miles south in Olympia, the capital. We fished for salmon in Puget Sound. My dad’s friends used to drop off whole salmon at our house after they’d spent the day fishing. To say it was fresh doesn’t do justice to the word fresh.

We’d broil salmon steaks with lemon juice. We’d mix the salmon up with mayonaise and eat it on fresh baked bread.

I know the difference between fresh salmon and . . .well, anything else.

Anyway, I’d told the story to my friend Marcus. He really was a foodie. He lived in Utah but went on vacation to Seattle. He called me one night,

Rodney, I’m at a place called Anthony’s on the waterfront in Seattle.

Yeah, that’s a nice place.

After all your talk about how fresh salmon tastes so different, I decided to order it.

How was it?

Well, it was good enough that I’m calling you to say, ‘You’re right.’

But, if it’s not fresh salmon, I’m not much of a food guy. If there’s no one to go to dinner with on a trip, I typically don’t want to bother with the hassle. I’d as soon go back to my hotel room and write.

But, I need to eat, of course. And my company reimburses $35 per day for food. My solution is to find a Walmart, or a Kroger’s or a Publix and buy my dinner. The funny thing is that when I buy it at Publix, I typically eat healthier than if I eat at a restaurant, or even at home.

I’ve found I like salads if someone will make them for me. I like fresh fruit. The granola bars I can take on the plane. The yogurt and orange juice are for breakfast the next morning.

I would buy more orange juice or maybe even water except, of course you can’t take that on the plane.

You can get a very nice dinner at most restaurants for $35. Or, you can get several meals worth of salad and fresh fruit at Publix.

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) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

The Sum of Their Fears. . .And Eating Dolphin

Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together – what do you get? The sum of their fears.”

-Winston Churchill

I went to dinner tonight. It was a place called “The Dolphin Bar” in Jensen Beach, Florida. It’s right on the Atlantic ocean. We didn’t see any dolphins. But, it was on the menu. Seriously, grilled dolphin as $27 plate.

I’ve never been to a place that sold dolphin. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Dolphin’s are mammals, they are not fish. Now, we eat plenty of mammals, of course; steak, bacon, lamb. I’m not opposed to eating mammals.

One of the people at dinner had been to the Philippines. He and I were asked about eating balut. It’s a delicacy in the Philippines. I wrote about it here (All Food is Gross.) Balut is duck eggs that have been allowed to develop for about 20 days.

The people at the table were disgusted. (Okay, that might be part of the reason my friend and I were talking about it.) We were all involved in travel and security audits. Two of the five of us were new, but the other three had worked together for years.

These audits happen multiple times per year. We meet at various locations around the country, and occasionally the world. Each audit is both the same as the ones before and uniquely different.

The audits can be a little high stress. If we fail an audit, the auditors could conceivably shut down our call center. We rarely fail. In fact, depending on how you count, we’ve either failed once or never. I count it as a fail, the client decided to count it as a mulligan.

Mulligan: a term used when casually playing golf which allows a player to repeat one stroke per game without penalty.

The best part of the audits, at least with James, the lead auditor, is the dinners afterward. They typically last about 3 hours. The last 90 minutes is spent telling stories and sharing the sum of our fears.

That was my thought tonight as we talked through dessert. We told stories. “Remember the time. . .” The stories ranged from India to Tampa. Stories from our distant past, or our recent past. Tales of success and failure. Close calls and the rare “everything went perfect” times.

Eventually the seperate checks came and we all headed back to our hotels. We will no doubt play out the same dinner at another time in another city. Where we will no doubt add the stories from the night at the Dolphin bar.

Oh, and we didn’t actually order the dolphin, but we did ask about it. Turns out it’s illegal to eat dolphin. (That made us all feel a little better.) What they advertized on their menu as grilled dolphin was grilled mahi-mahi. Because, as our waiter explained it, “Mahi-mahi is in the dolphin family.”

We are all IT security guys, but that didn’t sound right. I mean, dolphin is a mammal and mahi-mahi is a fish. Fortunately, we had our phones. Turns out mahi-mahi is a type of fish called a “dolphinfish.” (All one word.) So, sure, mahi-mahi is part of the dolphinfish family.

You know, like, catfish is part of the cat family.

Oh yeah, that story is going to get told again.

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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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Freezing In Florida

I recently had to factory reset my phone. That means that all my apps were removed and I had to reinstall them. But, sometimes I couldn’t find the original app. For example, I couldn’t find the original weather app. I found a new one. It behaved slightly differently. Instead of waiting for me to open it, the app constantly shows me the current temperature and weather.

My new weather app constantly displays the current weather. And, being security conscious, I didn’t give the weather app access to location services. In fact, I don’t even enable location services. Is Google trying to track me? Yes. Will they use my location data to do anything nefarious? Probably not. Do I even know the definition of nefarious? I’m not sure.

But, I generally also lock my doors while believing a burgler wouldn’t be seriously detered by a lock on my house or car.

Anyway, the point is I told my weather app to show me the weather for Pleasant Grove, UT. And I didn’t give it permission to check my location.

Utah weather in the winter is pretty basic. It’s either cold and clear, or cold and snowy. Oh and it’s often smoggy. Utah has some of the worst winter air quality in the nation. The dangers of living in a high mountain valley.

I’m not in Utah this week. I’m at our call center in Miami. Do you know what brings people to Florida in January? Apparently it’s a destination location. It’s not cold and snowy in Florida in the winter. At least not in Miami.

My hotel is right on the beach. In fact, it’s literally on an island, but you can walk out of the hotel onto the beach. As I was on my way to work this morning, a couple in swimming suits were coming back from the beach. . .in January. Yeah, Florida.

I went skiing a couple of times when I was much younger and first lived in Utah. I wasn’t particularly passionate about it. But, I knew I would live in Utah a long time. And eventually, I would visit locations where people pay thousands of dollars each winter to fly to Utah and go skiing. I didn’t want to tell them I’ve lived in Utah for years and never went skiing.

I didn’t bring a swim suit to Florida.

I’ve flown thousands of miles to Florida in the middle of the winter and probably won’t even put a toe in the water. I will spend a lot of time inside our call center. It used to be a big warehouse store. We’ve carved it up into groups of a few hundred seats in each section.

For whatever reason, the area where my client sits is near some of the industrial sized AC vents. It was a little chilly. In fact, it was downright cold.

Sadly, I’ll spend more time under the overactive AV vents than I will under the sun on the beach. When I get home my lovely wife will ask, “How was Florida?”


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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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

The New York Times Bestseller And The Corporate Trainer

Writing is easy. Your character has a problem. When the problem is solved, the story is over.
– Ben Bova

Ben was a friend and a mentor to me many years ago. He’s a world famous writer. You might not have heard of him if you are not a science fiction fan. He’s brilliant.

Think about your favorite story. Harry Potter, or Percy Jackson. In the Harry Potter series, for example, each book sees Harry, Ron and Hermoine confronted with a new problem. Once the problem is over, so is the book. Of course, JK Rowling also wrapped the entire series into a bigger story. Harry must defeat Voltamort. Once he does, the story is pretty much over.

I don’t write fiction stories. (Well, not that get published.) But, I did spend a good portion of my career writing training courses for Microsoft. As I thought about his simplified version of the basics of a story, I realized his advice didn’t just cover stories. It was a great explanation for training materials.

At one point at Microsoft, we hired a new manager. She came from a traditional corporate background. (Something Microsoft was not known for.) She thought it was a good idea to have our team create a mission statement. I have to say we didn’t take it very seriously. In fact, after an entire hour the best we came up with was,

We’ll learn ya.

To us, our team wasn’t about grand designs, or complex strategies. We were a bunch of instructional designers. We wrote training materials. And we were pretty good at it.

We wrote two types of training. We wrote new-to-product training that had to cover every feature. Have you ever looked at every option in Windows? Or Outlook? The training was affectionately called the Powerpoint slog. At least I think that’s what it was called. I’ve blocked a lot of it out. It was boring to write and boring to teach.

But, there was a second type of training. It was unoriginally called Advanced Topics. And it was written to solve a specific question,

How to read network traces

The course was three days long and focused on how to decypher those 0-9, A-F characters that computers use to talk to each other.

Sounds exciting right?

No, students didn’t think so either. At least not at the start of the class. By the end of the class, they thought it was the greatest course they’d ever been through.

The reason is that the Advanced Topic course had a specific question that it was trying to answer. And when the course was over, the students could answer the question that the course started with.

The best training tells a story and the best stories teach a lesson. My friend Ben taught me that.

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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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2019 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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