full of inedible rubber bands
Tuesday, December 20 2005
I spent the entire day at a bank in the small Catskill village of Phoenicia, out to the west some 25 miles from Hurley. I was there to install a Windows 2003 server as a subcontract for a company that occasionally hires me to do bank jobs (no, unfortunately, not that kind). The work was presented as a ten-page list of procedures which I was supposed to follow meticulously.
Interesting, none of the bank personnel had been apprised of the fact that what I would be doing was replacing their server with a new one. All they'd been told was that someone would be coming in today to install whatever mysteries lurked in those big boxes near the printer. This reflected a policy of information compartmentalization that would ultimately lead to headaches and delays, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Soon after I arrived and began unpacking the boxes, one of the bank tellers rushed up to another one who was on the phone and told her that there was an emergency underway. Some whispering ensued but soon they dropped the pretense of secrecy. It seemed that one of the bank's customers, incensed at some fees he'd been charged, had threatened to come to the bank and "shoot it up." Amusingly, they pronounced the customer's name as "Hitman," though it was actually spelled "Heitmann." Such threats are always taken seriously, so the tellers quickly closed the bank and a deputy sheriff from Shandaken (equipped with a both a gun and a bullet-proof vest) showed up to guard the premises. Said one of the tellers, "In all my time of working here, this has never happened." Of course, Mr. Heitmann wasn't really going to come to the bank and shoot it up; he was just pissed off and used the threat as a way of registering his displeasure. Before long he'd turned himself in to authorities in Woodstock and the bank was reopened.
By now I was in the thick of the Server installation, watching DOS windows open and close in quick succession as a script called Robocopy did the many things necessary to copy data from an old branch bank server to a new one. Sometimes dialogue boxes would open that seemed modal, but then they'd close themselves and the script would continue, in violation of the norms of Windows dialogue protocol. Mind you, I hate interruptive modal dialogues, which would make no sense in an automatic script of this sort, particularly when no instructions for interaction had been provided. Though numbingly-rich in certain details (such as the need to press Enter after typing a line in a DOS window), the instructions left out other details completely, such as where to plug in the ethernet cables from the new server. I was wrong in the first place I plugged them and had to figure out where they belonged using a process of trial and error. Meanwhile the tellers were getting antsy about all their computer equipment being offline. They were still able to function using 70s-era teller techniques, but it was awkward and unfamiliar. They kept coming back and asking me when things would be back online, and the distraction probably caused me to screw up one of the steps. But the nature of the installation procedure was such that there was no way to confirm whether or not a particular step had completed successfully. When the new server came up and should have been able to communicate with the teller terminals over a token ring network, something wasn't working. I was forced to call the bank's own tech support, but they didn't actually give me a number with a person at the other end of it. I had to call a pager and then wait for whoever was on the other end of it to call me back.
I suspected that something in the installation had failed and even posited the theory that some essential token ring software hadn't been installed, but the tech guys (first one, then another) weren't having it. They kept telling me to reboot the server or the teller terminals, but none of this did any good. After hours of this nonsense, a more senior tech guy (the first with an Indian accent) quickly diagnosed the problem: the installation hadn't gone through to completion. It amazed me that this hadn't been the very first theory.
So I ran the installation script a second time. Surprisingly, the script was smart enough to skip all the steps it had already completed, but again it failed to do everything it needed to do and again there was no way of knowing this from my perspective. More paging, more waiting, and another running of the script ensued. By now it was past 4pm and I'd eaten nothing all day. The tellers had long since given up on a restoration of computer technology, but now at least there was enough of it for them to enter in the data for the day's worth of transactions. Meanwhile a courier, whose job it is to pick up money from all the branches, was napping as he waited for the tellers to complete their data entry.
Spending a whole day in its only bank gave me an interesting perspective on the small town of Phoenicia. In a town this small, the tellers know virtually everyone with whom they do business. They ask about the wife and the kids or the husband, and conversation almost always circles back to the status of somebody's medical problem.
As the afternoon wore on the tellers did what they could to make things pleasant for me, offering me cookies and juice. One of them pointed at a shelf to indicate the location of a jar of biscotti, but I thought they meant a tin and I opened it only to discover that it was full of inedible rubber bands. Ah, calamari!
By now the tellers' kids were in the bank and they were running around, eating food, coloring things with crayons, and giggling loudly. It made for an unbearable work environment given my low blood sugar and aggravation, but I kept a lid on my feelings. "Do you have any kids?" one of the tellers asked. "No," I said. "Well, you're young yet," she replied. "What do you mean?" I asked, "I'm old enough to be a grandfather!"
On the drive home I learned of the smackdown suffered by Intelligent Design at the hands of a federal judge in Pennsylvania. It's going to be hard to argue that the judge was an activist liberal with an atheist agenda; dude was appointed by none of other than George W. Bush.
Further redeeming what had been a fairly miserable day, I saw a pair of large coyotes happily cavorting in the woods alongside Dug Hill Road only about a mile north of our house.
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