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The Ghost in the Machine – A Spooky Short Story About a Sysadmin

Edgar Allan Mooney| October 31 2018

| IT insights

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Once upon a blood moon, there was a sysadmin called Kyle and he almost lost it all to the ghost in the machine...

ghost-in-the-machine-0Kyle was your typical sysadmin who worked for a paper company. Most days were the same. He woke up, kissed his wife and kids goodbye, drove to the office and poured himself a nice cup of joe as he skimmed through the latest list of tickets.

Occasionally, he had to implement a new system or operation for IT or set up a new satellite office. Office setups were his favorite job because it gave him a chance to travel around the country. 

He was the most senior in his department besides the CIO, his boss, so that meant a lot of issues that went unresolved by help desk ended up flowing up to him.

So, like any other day, Kyle sat at his cozy desk in the far corner of the office and rummaged through the tickets assigned to him. Today, there was an urgent task. No big deal, Kyle thought. It was from the CMO at the new office in Bunglewood, two towns away from the HQ he worked at. The ticket read:

Hey Kyle,

We’ve been up and running at the new office in Bunglewood for a few days now and everything has been running smoothly, but recently our WiFi has been going out intermittently. Could you take a look to see if there is anything you can see on your end?

All the best,

Trisha

Kyle, without hesitating, opened up his favorite network monitoring software, WhatsUp Gold 2018, and noticed right away that there had been a WiFi access point in the kitchen that was going out every once in a while. He had actually received a notification via his Slack a day earlier, but didn’t receive any complaints, so just made a note.

However, this was starting to seem strange to him now considering that all the WiFi equipment in Bunglewood was brand new. In either case, Kyle seemed to have pinpointed the issue.  He replied to Trish:

Hey Trish,

Thanks for letting me know. I’ll be over shortly to take a look.

Cheers,

Kyle

It wasn’t too far of a drive to the Bunglewood office and he was feeling a little stir crazy, so off he went to see what the issue was.

Upon arriving, Kyle found the WiFi access point he had installed in the kitchen a few weeks prior. He took a look at it and found it strange that it was getting a signal considering the complaint and alerts. He figured maybe the unit had some kind of defect, so he replaced it with an access point he had tested a few days earlier that he knew worked and brought back the problematic WiFi access point.

The next day, Kyle is going through the regular rounds. Right around lunchtime he gets another alert that the new access point he had just replaced is down again. Weird, Kyle thought. Then the complaints started coming in.

Hey Kyle,

I’m starting to get a little annoyed. I thought you said the issue was fixed yesterday. I can’t get onto the WiFi again! Help!

Thanks!

Trish

Not the type of email you like to see especially considering this should be a simple fix. Now Kyle felt he was starting to look bad, so he packed up his stuff and headed back to Bunglewood. Same thing, he gets to the access point at the new office kitchen that he just replaced and noticed it’s up again. Kyle was beginning to get annoyed. Even though Bunglewood wasn’t that far away, he had essentially wasted a trip for nothing.

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He sees Trish in the hallway and asks her about the issue. “Hey Trish, I see the WiFi is working fine. Did you do something to cause the outage? Is someone messing with me? I just wasted a trip and I see the WiFi is back up again!”

Trish looks confusingly at him, “No, Kyle. It wasn’t working an hour ago when I was trying to look at email during my lunch. I’d like it if you didn’t insinuate that I was wasting your time! Just replace the stupid thing!”

Now Kyle was livid. He pulled another access point out of his car that he knew for sure worked. It was an older model that he had relied on for years. If this doesn’t work then someone really is messing with me, Kyle thought. He then installed the old access point and went on his way.

A few hours go by and it’s just about the end of the day and Kyle starts wrapping up to go home. His phone starts ringing. He picks up. “Hello?”

“Kyle, what the hell!” Trish yells into the phone. “My team has to work late and I am sitting down to eat leftover pizza with my team for dinner and the WiFi is out again! I’m letting Julie know that this has got to get fixed.” Trish was referring to Julie, his boss. Julie had already gone home for the day. He had already debriefed her earlier that the issue was fixed, so if Trish complained to Julie he was in for an ear full.

“Trish, I don’t understand what is going on. I’ve replaced it twice!”

“Well figure it out, Kyle!” exclaimed Trish as she slammed the phone down.

Then his worst nightmare happened. His phone rang again. It was Julie.

“Kyle, I’ve gotten several complaints from the marketing team that the WiFi keeps going out and you keep saying you’ve fixed the issue. I don’t have time to deal with this, so you better go figure out why.”

“I don’t get it, Julie. I’ve replaced the access point that has been giving us issues twice in the kitchen.”

“So, it’s just a stinking access point!? What did I hire you for if you can’t even fix a simple problem like that!? Go over to Bunglewood and fix it tonight or there is going to be issues. Trish has a huge project she needs to finish and these issues are going to get us in trouble!”

Kyle was about to explode. This was the final straw. He had dinner plans he had to call off with his wife and kids. Now his wife was going to be mad at him!

He picks up the phone and calls home.

“Hey, honey! Sorry, I know I promised to bring Mikey out for his birthday, but I’m going to be held up at work tonight.”

His wife replies, “That’s really upsetting, Kyle. What kind of father are you!? You don’t even show up to your kid’s 5th birthday! Ya bum!” She hangs up on him.

Furious, Kyle starts to take some deep breaths. He pictured his life over. His wife would leave him with the kids and he would have to pay child support for the rest of their short childhoods. He would be a dead-beat dad!

There had to be something up that he was missing. He jumped into WhatsUp Gold 2018. The seamless interface and user design of the network monitoring tool put him at ease. “Dang! Those Ipswitch guys make such gorgeous and cutting-edge products!” he whispered to himself. He smiled for the first time all day.

Monitor your resources on-premises and in the cloud for free. Get WhatsUp Gold  Starter!

He began to take a closer look at the access point. Then he noticed something strange on the graphs in WhatsUp Gold. The WiFi was only cutting out between 11am and 1pm each day, but it hadn’t had any issue the weekend before. As for why it was going out on particular days and times, he started to contemplate. Then it dawned on him. Every time he received a complaint, the users were in the kitchen eating.

ghost-in-the-machine-2Kyle jumped in his car and rushed to the Bunglewood office. When he entered the kitchen he saw that the WiFi was down. To his left he could see someone on the marketing team was microwaving some pizza. Sure smells good, Kyle thought.

Kyle stood there watching the access point light blink red, meaning it was down. An employee on the marketing team walked by Kyle, grinned at him, and then grabbed the pizza out of the microwave.

“Any extra pizza?” Kyle asked timidly.

“Yeah, maybe once you fix the Internet!” the employee replied.

Kyle had just about had it with these marketing people. Then he looked up and noticed the green light on the access point was on again. It was just as he thought. The new microwave they had just put into the kitchen last week was knocking the WiFi out!

He did a little research and realized that microwaves operate on the same frequency of 2.4 GHz as WiFi routers and access points. To fix it, he would need to use WiFi routers and access points around the microwave that run at 5 GHz. Turns out those two access points he replaced were completely fine and by changing the settings on them to emit WiFi at 5 GHz and having employees connecting to that WiFi signal instead, he would never see the issue again. His life wasn’t over and he just might make it in time for Mikey’s 5th birthday dinner. Success!

Kyle learned an important lesson that day. Marketing people are extremely annoying, and he should pay more attention to his network monitoring tools.

If he had spent more time thinking the problem over before assuming that the device was broken, he would have saved himself two trips to the Bunglewood office and no one would have been livid with him for not fixing issues fast enough.

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Topics: IT insights

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THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY Edgar Allan Mooney

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