Sunday, August 19, 2007

Travelogue: All on my own...

I learnt some basic cooking from my roommates. A couple of days I got dressed up to go outside with Wreet in the evening but just as we were about to step outside my mobile would start ringing – another production support; there were no major issues but still it meant that I had to monitor the batch jobs and it meant I needed my laptop and that meant I had to stay at home :-(

I enjoyed the ride to office and back everyday – the subway was crowded; hard to get a seat but that was just a 10 minute ride. The bus was quite comfortable, peaceful and quiet. Days sped by quickly and soon it was time for Wreet to bid adieu. We were packing pretty much upto the last minute till the cab arrived! He had a good amount to carry back including two laptops. There were some weird rules in travel – you can carry two cabin bags from US to UK but from UK to India we can carry only one – same airline but different rules for different sectors! Check-in baggage weight limit was more than sufficient – two bags each upto a maximum of 20kg.

After Wreet’s departure I didn’t have a partner to hang out in the city with. My two colleagues were different in nature – one spent most of his time with his friends while the other wasn’t that keen on traveling around the city; and also both of them were long timers in US; we rarely explore areas where we spend most of our time – it is only when we make short trips to places that we really explore places. So I was pretty much on my own from now onwards.

I was eagerly awaiting the weekend to explore the city. Saturday night I researched into areas of interest – made a list of what all I wanted to see and also checked on timings, reviews, ticket rates etc. My colleague wasn’t interested in any of the places on the list except for Atlantic city (the city of casinos!). And I was determined to visit something on Sunday – I didn’t want a weekend to go waste.

Sunday morning he told me not to take the subway. He told me to take the bus, get off at the terminal, visit Madame Tussads (which was just a few minutes walk from the terminal) and return back. No subways today! Ah well, I had to give him my word because otherwise he wouldn’t let me venture out alone in the city. And off I went – having some company would have been good (a girl would have been perfect!) but I had to be content with roaming alone. In a way it was fun; you don’t need to worry about anything, can do whatever you feel like, no one to keep a watch on you, absolute freedom. Sit where you want, go where you feel like, eat what you want. First thing I did was to observe the bus route but I didn’t succeed much in my endeavor – I dozed off as usual!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Travelogue: When at your wits' end have a shower! nIghT becomes day...

Soon I was busy chatting with my offshore team – it was 7am, I had woken up three hours earlier but was yet to brush my teeth or have my breakfast. Ah; the pains of being onsite – the pains of offshoring! I was discovering the downside of working from home; you think that you can work as you please but the reality was like Wreet said, “We end up working for a longer time when we work from home”. And to top it all your eating habits go for a toss – you have a late and hurried breakfast, you don’t have time to make lunch because you will be glued to the laptop screen, and till around 10/11 am the offshore team will be present online and you will spend most of the time discussing the project with them. When we are in offshore we think it is fun to work from home!

The restarted job ran for three hours but never completed; the database administrator came up with the idea or running some jobs on the database to ensure that database access is optimized. That meant pulling down the online regions for a while – it was 9am and the online users were active. But fortunately the lead for the online team was okay with bringing down the region for 10 minutes – he sent a note to all users to log out of the system immediately. Fortunately our online system wasn’t that critical to the business and we could afford a 10 minute halt in operations. Try, try, try again - we reran the same program but again it ran for another three hours without success.

It was now lunch time and there was only one option – skip that particular program and continue with the rest of the jobs (and hope that no other program gets stuck like this again). The rest of the programs completed quickly – much to my relief and the relief of the production support team. But we still had to rerun that particular program to generate the reports before the next end of day (EOD) jobs started. And that meant a gap of roughly four hours – 5pm the batch jobs would get triggered. I had to find the problem, fix it and generate the reports. Fortunately (looking back I think I have been fortunate on a number of things today), I didn’t have any other major tasks for the day and could concentrate fully on this problem. It was 12:30pm and I had just one bowl of cornflakes in the morning, was feeling a bit tired due to lack of sleep (for almost 5 days now), really hungry and had to solve a problem to which I didn’t have any clue in the last eight hours.

I wanted to get out somewhere to forget about everything for a while and relax; the weather wasn’t great with rains lashing the entire state. The only option left was to take a bath! It was one of the longest baths I’ve had – I stayed under the shower for around 40 minutes; felt refreshed and energized. I didn’t succeed in totally forgetting the problem but I felt much better mentally and physically.

With renewed enthusiasm I took a second look at the problem; I analyzed the database, analyzed the queries in the code and the bulb flashed in my head. There are times when you get into a flow where your mind just keeps coming up with ideas and suggestions one after the other; and invariably when in this mood you tend to crack the problem. “Eureka”! The index wasn’t used properly and the SQL query caused each and every record in the database to be read instead of limiting the search using the index. I tried some code snippets to confirm my theory and it was perfect. Now all I had to do was correct the code and get it rerun.

I completed everything with one hour to spare; after you solve the problem life definitely becomes a lot better!

And the moral of the story is “when you are at your wits end to solve a problem, relax and have a long shower”!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Travelogue: production nIghT support!


I didn’t want to touch upon anything official in this travelogue but this is one episode that I can’t skip – and I’m sure a lot of IT techies would relate to this easily.

Ever since I took over the onsite support for the application there was some issue or the other every night in the batch jobs – not because of anything I caused but I guess destiny wanted me to be present in the middle of a storm. Or perhaps the application didn’t like the idea of Sini deserting it on vacation. Except for the Saturday and Sunday the three working days so far had problems every night (thankfully we didn’t have programs running on the weekend). On Thursday and Friday Sini was there with me but Monday I was all alone in the battlefield.

It all began with a call at around 3:30am in the night; I had conveniently placed Sini’s mobile phone at night within arm’s reach and in the dark was able to pick it up in one go. The calls come from production jobs monitoring group – if any job fails they would ring up the respective application support person to check on the issue. Our application was fairly stable and before my arrival there was relatively less night support required. But all that would change now. Wreet didn’t stir from his slumber even when I switched on the light for a short while.

It took me a while to get accustomed to the voice at the other end – every night it is a different set of people who monitor the jobs and each person had a different accent. This time it wasn’t a failure – a job was running for too long – for 4 hours or so and they were worried about it. As usual I told them that I’d login within a few minutes to check on the job. We had our own internal messenger application – everyone working in the company used it – something like a private Yahoo messenger service; ah the pains of modern technology - the mobile phone, the laptop, the messenger, virtual private networks, the internet – ah the bane of modern technology; the world was becoming a very small place to live in; I’m sure most people in the IT field would have cursed these technological advances at some point in their career!

There was nothing much I could figure out from the job statistics – the job was running but instead of having completed in 30 minutes it was running for 4 hours tonight! There was no way to determine how long it would take to complete and so we were kind of stuck. The production support team was quite helpful – they did their best to pull up whoever I needed online; database support, database administrator etc. But till 5am we had no clues – the job was running – it wasn’t stuck; it was reading records from a database was the best clue we got. Apparently all my worries began because for the first time our application had a few million records in three or four tables – they were loaded just a few days or so before my arrival and the application had never been tested on large amount of data till now. The main database admin wasn’t available early in the morning – we only had an assistant on call. He checked on a few things but we didn’t figure out the issue. Finally we decided to cancel the job; the call was mine – I didn’t really have any choice – it was just a hope. I checked some intermediate files and came close enough to identify the program where it was stuck. I asked production support to restart from that particular program – hoping that perhaps it was just a case of database being locked during the earlier run. What a wonderful start to the day!

And the worst was yet to come…what do you do when you are at your wits' end?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Travelogue: End of another day...

Saturday night - return from Bronx:

We had some junk food on our return – somehow you kind of liked to have burgers and sip a little coke while in the US. We spent a short while strolling through Bryant park (a decent park) – it was really nice to see a spacious park in the heart of crowded New York. I wish Chennai had such spacious and clean parks. We took a few snaps; saw a few ‘sights’ and strolled over to the famous Times Square. I noticed that a good number of couples displayed their affection towards each other in public places – something that surprised me initially but now I was getting used to it; be it the metro, the streets, the zoo – just about anywhere I would catch a glimpse of them. Was a little irritating at times but you get used to it slowly – perhaps jealousy? :-)

It was rush hour in Times Square and you could catch people of varying nationalities there – a lot of tourists and a fair amount of Indians as well; a square that was bustling with energy.
Since we had our bus timetable we arrived at the right time in the bus terminal to catch our bus. The terminal was different and took some time to get used to – inside it was like a shopping mall – filled with stores and restaurants. And there were a lot of door numbers – with each door number corresponding to a particular bus number. You wait in the queue near the door number and when the bus arrives you can step outside the door and into the bus. It was organized and ensured that the ones who came first got in first into the bus.

The bus ride was great – Wreet was there to wake me up as I dozed away (which I always do!). My body clock needs to get used to the bus ride to automatically alert me when I reach our bus stop. It was chilly at night but fortunately the rain God was away. It was an awesome feeling to stand on top of the overhead bridge used for crossing the highway road; cars flying at high speeds below you and the cool breeze sending shivers through your body even though you are covered by a large leather jacket.

At home we learnt from Anish that bacon was pork and not ham – wow; what a relief – so I had tasted turkey and pork today. Did it taste good? When in hunger anything edible tastes good!
Wreet was instantly onto his laptop to upload the pictures he had taken in the zoo – and there were plenty of them. And another eventful US day came to an end. Would the rain God stay away on Sunday as well? said that the rain God will be in action throughout most of tomorrow!