IMR: 1999: August: 10 —  Tuesday, 10:11 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i

The end of the world may or may not come with the eclipse tomorrow (or is it today?), but if it does, the last 48 hours made a very appropriate opening act for armageddon. Or at least an apocalypse localized in the downtown Honolulu area.

Actually, the first bump on the long, wild ride was late Friday.

The day was managable enough. The big reception went well (read: everything was plugged in and I hit play on cue), the boss was in a good mood, and though I was coming home late, I managed to fill two boxes with the Plaza Club's famous "heavy pupus."

(I learned a long time ago that, second to flowers, food is the best peace offering for a grumpy spouse.)

After bidding everyone else a good weekend, I walked Lacene to her car, then hopped into mine. But before I got to the gate, she flagged me down.

Someone had punched her lock.

This despite the building's 24-hour security and the relative plainness of her car (a Nissan Sentra, five stalls away from two Mercedes). And since she always parks on the ground level, always in the stall closest to busy King Street, the crime was especially surprising.

Sighing and moaning appropriately, we trudged over to the security desk in the lobby to file a report, where we discovered that her car was apparently parked in the only blind spot of the building's extensive closed-circuit camera system.

In due course the cops were called, the first on the scene being a young local guy in one of those all-terrain Cushman scooters. He clearly wanted to be someplace else, but did his job with some degree of courtesy. He dusted for prints (and found mostly mine and Lacene's). He collected extensive notes for the official report. And finally, he got to work trying to open the door so Lacene could get home.

See, it turns out her passenger door was also recently messed with, so neither were going to open without a little elbow grease.

After bemoaning the fact that he wasn't issued a slim jim, and poking around for nearly an hour with a straightened hangar, the cop declared it a lost cause and advocated simply yanking the whole thing out. Lacene wouldn't have any of that, so it was clear more help was needed.

Backup was summoned, and soon two blue lights rolled by. A Chevy Blazer and a big, cushy sedan, neither marked. "Reserve officers," grumbled the young cop, flagging them down. "That's why they get the fancy cars."

As luck would have it, both of the new arrivals — big friendly men who could be anyone's uncle — had slim jims. So after surveying the scene and carefully examining the vehicle, they positioned themselves against both doors and furiously attacked their innards.

It was a priceless sight, three cops laying into a little Nissan, shaking and jiggling and rocking the thing, bending their mysterious tools into a dozen different shapes, working up a sweat, pausing only to scratch or smoke. It went on like this for over an hour. I frequently had to stifle a giggle.

"I'll tell you what," I finally said. "The next time I buy a car, I want one like this."

As ten o'clock neared, and after I'd taken a quick trip home to drop off the now-cold food, once again it was declared a lost cause. Just punch it, the cops said, punch it already. And approval was reluctantly given. "I can't watch," Lacene said, hiding behind a pillar.

With a lot of twisting and awful grinding metal noises, the lock came out, the door opened, and everyone finally went home. Fortunately Jen was too tired to make me sleep on the couch.

I don't even remember the weekend. The more recent adventure wiped it out completely.

[ Expansion ]With the office expansion in full swing, basically everything at work is insane. My desk is closest to all the excitement, so I'm subjected to constant pounding, drilling and sawing... punctuated with the occasional belch.

But yesterday? Oh, it was the Mother of all Mondays.

Our router crashed. That was it. Those three words, that little plastic box, represent the most recent tour absolute hell I've experienced. "Service 40" is all the little LED display said, and despite numerous restarts and resets, that was clearly all it was going to say. Meanwhile, no e-mail was coming in or going out, and both our websites — along with our fancy new intranet — were inaccessible.

It didn't take long for everyone to realize just how much we'd come to depend on the internet to do our jobs. And it didn't take long for my blood pressure to peak, and stick there for the next 36 hours.

First I had to hook up my laptop and dial out via modem in order to send a message to our worldwide offices, telling them what was up, why they couldn't get to our site, and to send everything by fax until further notice. Then I had to set about figuring out how to get a router fixed.

The Motorola 6520 MP router. It's a simple box, the same size and shape of a PC tower, but with only one button on the front ("Reset"), two plugs in the back, no monitor, no hard drive, and no off switch. As network setups go, it's just about the most reliable component in the whole system, running entirely on hard RAM and capable of doing its job for years without a single hiccup.

But ours did hiccup. Big time. And we were stuck.

As the thing was donated to our office by the highest corporate offices within Motorola, not only were there no manuals, but there was no record of a sale (or of the unit even existing) in the company's support database. Even more frustrating was the fact that the one person within the company who knew about our setup just happened to be on vacation this week. In Hawai`i.

I spent the entire day on the phone. From Motorola's Global Network Management Center somewhere in the midwest, to their offices in Australia and New Zealand. As hope for getting the thing fixed grew dim, I took on the secondary mission of just finding a new router — any router — somewhere on the island. While technical support staff in three countries tried to track down our contact somewhere in our own backyard, I was discovering just how clueless and incestuous the local computer hardware market was.

The good news? Of the few vendors that actually answered the phone, every one said they'd be happy to sell us a new router. The bad news? We'd have to sign a two-year service contract, and since no one actually keeps routers in stock, one would have to be ordered from the Mainland and wouldn't be in until Friday at the earliest.

Finally, miraculously, our Motorola contact called. "I'll see what I can do, but you know, we don't even use our own routers anymore," he said. "Everyone at Motorola uses Cisco."

The sun set Monday night without a fix. It was looking like we were either going to have to find a replacement somewhere in the bowels of Motorola's surplus inventory, or just go out and order a Cisco through a bloodthirsty local reseller. Neither option was attractive, requiring at least a week of downtime.

I didn't sleep much.

I was back at my desk at 7 a.m. sharp this morning, back making frantic phone calls to random numbers in the phone book. Of course, no self-respecting office in Hawai`i answers its phones before 8:20 a.m., so I spent the first block of my workday getting intimately familiar with various quirky voicemail systems.

I swear, few things annoy me more than puny, backalley, two-person operations that figure they can make themselves seem bigger by making callers navigate through four or more menus before reaching "the operator," especially since you'll usually find the same person at the end of every single "extension."

But my persistence paid off.

The first actual person I spoke to — out of maybe a hundred vendors who I could have ended up hiring — turned out to be the very same guy who installed the router for Motorola more than four years ago. In fact, while not a single one of my coworkers was around back then, it took him sixty seconds to remember our office, our network setup, even our model number.

I swear, if the contractors hadn't been crawling around measuring my desk, I would've done a major dork dance on top of it.

It got better. He checked his backup tapes, and found that he still had an exact 'snapshot' of the router's configuration as it was loaded in April 1994 — a configuration that had apparently never been changed or updated since.

An hour later, he was in the office. He practically got a standing ovation. He hooked his laptop to the router, pressed a few buttons, and 20 minutes later, all was right with the world again.

The website came back online again, my coworkers could get to Yahoo! again, and everyone's inbox was flooded with the last eight hours' worth of queued messages (anything older had already been bounced). I could hear angels singing. As he rode off into the sunset, the guy handed me a modest invoice and a business card, of which I promptly made ten copies and proceeded to stick in every computer-related file in the office.

Fifteen minutes later, the fax machine went kaput.

Lather, rinse, repeat. I basically went through vendor hell all over again.

And wouldn't you know it, the one vendor everyone else told me to avoid at all costs — a greasy little outfit known as "Chip and Wafer Automation" — was the only one that was authorized to service our specific model of fax machine. And the earliest appointment they had was tomorrow morning. No doubt they'll come in, pull out a little piece of paper, miraculously "discover" a badly mangled gear, and charge us $300 to fix it.

Aaaaaaaaugh! Where's a Dateline hidden camera crew when you need one?

I wonder if all those nuts wandering Fort Street started out like this?

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 14 August 1999 · Last Modified: 16 August 1999