What Could Possibly Go Wrong

imageLast Wednesday was the kind of day that drives me crazy, the kind where it snows all day. I like snow. I don’t mind clearing the snow from our driveway and making a few paths for the pup, but I prefer the days when the snow falls overnight. I like to get up, face my enemy, do battle and then get on with the day. I don’t like waiting. Nobody likes waiting with me either. I don’t wait patiently, I pace. But, this isn’t a story about snow.

The first thing I have to do on a day like Wednesday is to close the office. The decision to close is usually a group-think, carried out over iPhones via txt messages. We check the weather; not the doom and gloom mongers, the real weather from the folks at NOAA. We check to see what other businesses are doing and we decide whether to suck it up and drive in, delay the opening time or scratch the day. It’s not like we lose much by closing, most of us can work from home. The decision on Wednesday was easy. First off, several of my colleagues were still in Florida for our Annual Meeting (I had flown home on Tuesday). It’s pretty hard for a person in FL to object to closing the office in Connecticut. Second, it was snowing, hard, and the forecast called for the snow to continue until late in the evening. Everyone in CT was closing everything. Everyone in FL was probably thinking “Mimosa or Mohito?”

The process for closing the office is pretty straight forward. I update an “Office Status” message in our voice mail system with the details. If I have details that I actually want people to know, I have to put them first. As soon as people get to the “…the office is clo” part, they probably hang up. I also update our website. We have a small square whose color indicates the office status. Green = open Yellow = delay Red = closed. You can click on the square and get more information (which I have to write) but I’m guessing that nobody ever clicks on the red square. I also have to send a txt message to a coworker who will broadcast the status to people whose cell phones are enrolled in our management program. I also send a direct txt message to a few folks who like to be notified that way. The combination seems like overkill for such a small company, but we don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way.

Most of this requires Internet access.

I just thought I’d point that out in case you hadn’t guessed. I also thought I’d point it out because that’s where my trouble started, I didn’t have Internet access. We have COX Cable TV and Internet, but on Wednesday we only had TV. That’s OK, I’m prepared for that possibility; I also have an Air Card.

For those who aren’t familiar, an Air card is a cellular modem that plugs into a USB slot and provides Internet access for an outrageous monthly fee. I have this device for two reasons. First, for days like Wednesday, days when I need access to our company network or our company website and I don’t have Internet access. The second reason is for days like Tuesday. Tuesday was our Annual Meeting and we wanted Internet access in the conference room of the hotel. When you want Internet access in your hotel room, it will cost you anywhere from $0-12. When you want Internet access in a conference room, look out, you’re in for a big hit, big enough that if we need Internet access two days in any given year, the savings pays for the Air Card.

This particular Air Card is supposed to also let my laptop become a WiFi hotspot. In other words, I connect to the Internet with the Air Card and 10 people can connect to me. We wanted to use that feature on Tuesday because lots of people wanted to check their flights home. Snow was in the forecast in a lot of places and flights were being cancelled. Some people look at the prospect of a cancelled flight home from Florida like a gift from Heaven. Some, like me, want to go home and deal with the snow, face their enemy, do battle and then get on with the day. Anyway, the Air Card gave me access, but the hotspot function didn’t work.

So, on Wednesday, once the office was closed and everyone was notified, I decided to fix that. Now, here’s a tip:

Never attempt to repair a redundant system while the primary system it supports is inoperable!

Don’t take your car apart while your wife’s car is in the shop. Don’t tune-up your generator during a power outage, and don’t call AT&T about your Air Card when your Internet service is not working.

The guy I spoke with at AT&T couldn’t have been nicer. He noticed a problem with my account. He thought the problem might be affecting the HotSpot functionality and he fixed the problem. It wasn’t his fault that once he fixed the problem, my Air Card stopped functioning completely. The story that ensued is enough to fill up another blog post so, I’ll spare you the details today. If you’re in Florida, enjoy that beer. If you’re in CT, don’t touch that snow blower, more snow is coming on Thursday.


  1. Picture – That’s Maddie. I usually clear some paths for her to get around the yard, and for access to the firewood. Wednesday, I blew half the snow into a pile for her. She loves to play Queen of the Hill.


  2. I may be in Florida, but since we’ve been unusually warm this year and I’ve been here 43 years – I want some cooler weather once in awhile. While some dread more snow – I’m dreading that scorching sun. (are we ever happy with weather?)LOL


  3. Very ressourceful! As for the snow and the wait for the snow, it reminded me of my five years in Massachusetts. Snow brings excitement and then comes the plowing part and more snow …
    Take it easy and charge your electronics!


  4. Thanks. We have a storm warning for 8-12″ tomorrow. Already making plans to close the office. At least I have an Internet connection and the AirCard is partially fixed. The best part is that we have a wood stove and enough food to get through so the important bases are covered. On the way home I drove by long lines at gas stations, grocery stores, etc. It’s like these people have never seen snow before – most of them grew up here in New England!


  5. Any good Nuke (at least those that are old enough to have survived a few ‘root cause’ inquisitions), will tell you that you need 4 backups: 2 to provide full functionality (2×50%), assume 1 has an undetected latent failure, and 1 system is in maintenance.

    But we instinctively know that the complexity of 4 backup systems will likely negate any advantage that the math model might suggest. After 40+ years of trying (we’re nukes not brain surgeons) we now tout the “do nothing” safety philosophy: graceful failure modes, natural motive solutions (gravity, density differences, etc)

    Your take-away is correct, but in engineering parlance: Do Nothing


    • Thanks for the comment Stan. I guess between my cell phone, iPad, aircard and PC, I had 4 but three of them rely on AT&T so I guess that’s really only two. It does seem to make sense to rely on things like gravity. I don’t remember the last time gravity failed. It’s interesting and reassuring to know that people continue to study and think about stuff like this. “Do nothing” – I can do that :)


  6. I like your last tip. A lot. :0)

    Just wanted to thank you for dropping by my blog post on bloggy friends– I’m thinking of starting a small community of bloggers for mutual support– blog events, group activities etc. Would you like to join in?


  7. Oh Noes!! Sounds like a bit of a Murphys Law Nightmare!! I noted to 4 backup plan up there and have to agree! It seems for all our brilliance, everything that can go wrong, will totally go wrong and when we MOST need it to work out….

    As for the snow, well, I have to tell you, I would be very happy for you to pack it up and send it my way. It has been sweltering hot here with humidity in the ridiculously ‘swim through the air levels’ – insane! I’ve no doubt my Electricity bill is going to jump from an unhealthy cost of $3300 for 3 months to an almost heart attack inducing $5500 for 3 months!




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