New Mail Carrier Didn’t Get The Memo

If you lived in an apartment complex for a long time, say, nearly ten years, you get used to how certain things get done. The mail carriers, for example, never deliver the packages to the door. Most people aren’t home during the day and packages left at the door tend to walk. Unlike the apartment complex I previously lived at for a brief period of time (six months), the leasing office doesn’t sign for packages. The mail carriers puts the package inside the lock box or return to the post office, leaving behind a lock box key or pick up slip in the mailbox. This month a new mail carrier who didn’t get the memo.

I’m in the process of rebuilding my FreeNAS file server by replacing parts round robin style. I started off with a NZXT Source 210 case that can hold eight hard drives, moving everything out of the old Dell Inspiron 570 that I inherited from my late father in 2012. This case had a single 120mm fan and mountings for six more 120mm fans. I subsequently ordered a pair of DeepCool 120mm fans for the front mountings to blow air over the existing four hard drives. Despite being in a roomier case with larger fans, the file server was unstable unless I laid the case on its side and took off the side panel for the heat to escape.

Earlier this month I ordered a CompTIA Security+ certification book and a bar of orange hand soap from Amazon. I got a text notification that the package got delivered but it didn’t say which carrier delivered it. After coming home from work that day, I found no lock box key or pickup notice in the mailbox. No package at my apartment door, which was more likely with Amazon and meant that the package had walked. I waited a few days to see if the tracking information was incorrect. Still no package. I notified Amazon early Saturday morning and the replacement package from Las Vegas arrived 12 hours later.

I ordered another pair of 120mm fans from NewEgg. Like the Amazon package the week before, I got a text notification that the package got delivered. Not exactly. The package got sent from the east coast via UPS and transferred to the post office for local delivery. (NewEgg normally ships my orders from their west coast location.) The website tracking showed no movement from the post office. For the next several days, I waited for a lock box key or a pickup notice inside my mailbox. Still no package.

I contacted UPS, who told me that the package was no longer their responsibility after handing off to the post office, and NewEgg, who told me to wait a few more days for the post office to get its act together. A week after UPS handed off the package to the post office, I filed a claimed with NewEgg and requested a refund for the “lost” package. On the day I got the refund from NewEgg, I got a text notification that the post office delivered my package.

Still no lock box key or pick up notice in my mailbox. No package at my door. I noticed a NewEgg box sitting at the door down the hallway. This door typically gets Amazon boxes. I checked the address label on the box—and it was my package. Correct apartment number on the package, but left at the wrong apartment door. Now I had to go through the trouble of returning the refund to NewEgg, as I was keeping the package now that I got it.

Stepping inside my apartment, I noticed a pickup notice stuck to the backside bottom of my door. When I first moved into my apartment, the door had a half-inch gap at the bottom for envelopes and insects to come through. The electric company had an energy efficiency campaign a year later that got the leasing office to install weather-stripping on all the apartment doors. Somehow the mail carrier shoved the pickup notice through the weather-stripping. I came to the conclusion that the mail carrier was new to the job, and filed a complaint with the postmaster general.

As for the file server, I put the new fans into the top mounts to blow hot air out. Five fans didn’t improve things by much. The hard drive at the very bottom of the case was consistently overheating to make the file server unresponsive. This hard drive was also seven-years-old and overdue for replacement, which was the last thing on my to-do list. I moved the fan from the second top mounting to the bottom mounting to blow in cooler air. The hard drive stopped overheating. The CPU temperature ticked up a few degrees from the new flow of hot air. Another fan from NewEgg for the second top mounting should do the trick.

Not sure if the new mail carrier got the memo on delivering packages.

Coaching VTA Bus Drivers On Their Routes

VTAOne of the more curious sights at the start of the New Year was seeing VTA bus drivers studying a small handbook like monks examining scriptures. Whenever the bus pulled into a new stop, and the passengers finished boarding and departing, the driver pulls out the handbook to study the opened page for a moment. What’s the handbook? After several incidents where the passengers coached the drivers on driving their routes, the handbook listed the driving directions for all the bus routes. Some of those printed directions weren’t very accurate.

Since I started my new non-writing tech job six months ago, I liked my new commute of taking a five-minute local bus from my home, taking a 20-minute express bus to Palo Alto, and a five-minute local bus to my job. With 30 minutes of waiting between connections, it takes an hour each way. This is perhaps the most efficient route I have ever taken to work on the public transit.

The express bus had a new driver for Thursday and Friday afternoons. Like many drivers I’ve seen, he had a handbook nearby. He also had several 3×5 cards taped to the dashboard with handwritten directions. Leaving Palo Alto via Page Mill Road to southbound 280 was uneventful. When it came time to take the freeway loop for the Fruitdale Avenue stop, the driver drove past the southbound Meridian Avenue exit and took the northbound Meridian Avenue exit.

I leaned forward from my seat. “You missed the exit.”

“For real?” the driver said, dismayed. He glanced at his 3×5 cards. “The handbook says northbound exit.”

“Your handbook has a misprint.”

Everyone else in the bus became backseat driver and shouted directions at the driver. Most of those directions were wildly inconsistent for a confused driver unfamiliar with this part of San Jose. Being the closest person to the driver, I spoke up over the din behind me and directed the driver to take a loop-de-loop around the 280 on local streets to get to Meridian Avenue. The driver became more confident as the backseat drivers agreed with my directions and stopped offering alternative directions..

After the driver stopped at the morning bus stop for the express bus (the afternoon bus stop was across the street in the opposite direction), he crossed out “southbound” and wrote “northbound” for Meridian Avenue on his 3×5 cards. He hasn’t made that mistake again since learning his new route.

The local bus in Palo Alto never has the same bus driver in the morning. My coworkers and I often have to coach the new driver on the route. The location of where I get off from the express bus to pick up the local bus in Palo Alto is at an intersection in the foothills, a middle-of-nowhere place filled with rich joggers and poor jackrabbits. Most drivers don’t expect to find people waiting for a bus out here in the morning, and, if running behind schedule, will bypass this leg of the route to make up time.

One driver tried to drive on without picking me up. After I got into the street with both hands waving (this typically happens during a rainstorm), and my coworkers from inside the bus shouted at the driver to stop, I ran down the block to get on the bus. The driver told me that she didn’t pick up passengers at that stop. I told her to look up the handbook. She discovered that my stop was a time-point stop listed in the schedule—and she was ten minutes late.

Despite each bus having a GPS system that list turn-by-turn directions for each route, the drivers consulted their handbooks at each bus stop for the first two weeks of the New Year. Except for the local bus in Palo Alto which always has a different driver each morning, the drivers know their new routes as coached by the passengers.

The Simpsons Does Star Trek

As a child of the 1970’s, I spent many Saturday afternoons watching “Star Trek: The Original Series” on TV. While each episode with Kirk, Spock and McCoy was fantastic, the end credits with the sweeping music and the iconic still scenes from past episodes made for a perfect ending. A recent episode of “The Simpsons” had an homage to the vintage “Star Trek” end credits, reproducing the still scenes with Simpson characters and adding a few still scenes from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (i.e., daughter Lisa as the Borg queen). Having spent my teenage years with my mother when she became a crazy cat woman with 91 cats (I counted them one summer), the tribbles replaced by cat heads falling out of the bin was very disturbing.

Recycling That Mainframe Computer

The leasing office occasionally sends out a missive that gets taped to the front door of each apartment in the complex. Sometimes this makes for interesting reading. One such missive a few years ago about what can or cannot be flushed down the toilets implied that recreational sex (condoms), having babies (diaper wipes) and being a woman (tampons) will no longer be permissible behavior. (I wrote a 500-word flash story, “Circling The Drain,” around that particular premise.) A recent missive had a list of recyclable items to turn into the leasing office for an e-waste recycling drive. One item popped out on the list: Mainframe computers.

When I worked as a quality assurance software testing intern at Fujitsu in the 1990’s, our virtual world division got a new vice president from Japan who previously worked for the mainframe division. He took our group out to Jade Cathay restaurant on First Street in San Jose to get to know us. When the hostess handed him the menu, he ordered the same stir fry with tofu dish for everyone. Somehow I ended up sitting next to him. Not wanting to offend my host, I ate everything on my plate even though I never had Chinese before. We all suffered a severe case of massive heart burn later on, as that dish was very spicy.

He asked me if I was a mainframe programmer, and became disappointed when I told him that I wasn’t. (I didn’t volunteer that I was only an intern.) He asked around the table if anyone else was a mainframe programmer. No one else was. He informed us that Fujitsu was always looking for mainframe programmers. That statement puzzled everyone, as our group had nothing to do with mainframes. A month later he returned to Japan to lead the mainframe group again and got replaced by a more Westernized vice president who wasn’t looking for mainframe programmers.

Despite the popular misconception that mainframe computers are obsolete and long gone, they’re still around for processing massive amounts of data that can’t fit into the cloud. One of the hottest I.T. job market is for mainframe programmers who know COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language). With the previous generation retiring, and many colleges stopped teaching mainframe computers years ago, there’s an acute shortage of skilled workers.

Unlike other areas of I.T., you can’t simply download a mainframe computer to your desktop and grab a book to learn how to program it. You need the actual room-sized hardware to get any practical experience. Most large companies that depend on mainframe computers are training programmers in-house. There’s no practical way to learn mainframe programming on your own.

Needless to say, no one turned in a mainframe computer at the leasing office.