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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Y2K Tale

In commemoration of the new years observance.

Thirteen years ago I was on duty at my first power company gig, and although there was a lot of hoopla leading up to the rollover from 1999 to 2000, tensions were not really that high.

Some of my readers may not be old enough to remember this night and the lead up to it the way public safety and software people do.  Being at the power company was almost as close to merging all concerns as you could get save perhaps flight controllers.

For the uninitiated, this was the problem:  For the prior half-decade or so, software had largely been written to handle date information with a two-digit year ("87" instead of "1987").  Try to remember that until the 90's, data storage capabilities were far less advanced.  I remember when we got our first computer with a hard drive in 1989, and it was a HUGE one, with a whole 2MB! 

No one writing software in those early days gave much thought to the technology being asked to deal with a centennial rollover, let alone a millennial one.  But people found ways to stretch the life of software through upgrades and such, and these two-digit year legacy systems were everywhere.  The race was on, beginning in the mid 90's when people starting figuring out there was a problem, to update any and all critical software systems to handle the change to the year 2000, so they wouldn't simply roll from 12/31/99 to 01/01/100 and explode in multicolored flames.

People were making riches selling survival gear for the coming Armageddon of massive infrastructure failures (sound familiar?).

And so here it was, December 31, 1999, approaching midnight.  We were pretty confident things would be OK and not really buying into the hype, but just the same we were staffed heavy at the power company.

We watched the seconds count away, and at midnight on the nose eastern time, when the first of the failures would theoretically hit the fan, sure as hell ....our lights went out.

All of the monitoring displays of course continued to function, as they were all on UPS systems, and we spent the next few anxious seconds of stunned disbelief trying to figure out if we had just experienced a large regional blackout or maybe if we're lucky just a local one.  But there were no alarms coming in, all readings were nominal and fluctuating (not static/frozen), no open breakers, no nothing.

Then we heard the snickering.  The dispatch manager had come back without telling any of us, and threw the lights at the appointed time.

Well played.  And with that, Y2K came and went with nary a blip.

Be safe out there, my friends.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Beyond Amusement, to Sympathy

We heard back from the crazy character mentioned in the previous post.

[name, address, phone]. [email name] is my cover email because someon intercepts all emails communications and phones some im constantly isolated from anyone reaching me. I am so sick from harm by meter and poisons entering my apartm I almost am never strong enough to leave. my bank acct has gone done $50,000 since aug 2011 of me living here when I normally spending $12000 per year.
have witness cyber intercept when I do financial online and cant even review bank statements as though someone sees into apartm what I am doing and then poison enters in or high pitched humming sound has stopped me from being able to work or function for 2 years now. everytime I try top review bank statement harm to me by bizarre poison enter to aprt. tonight it was cigarette smoke into kitchen and bedroom when try to sleep ; took 3 hours for smell to leave kitch. and 5 hours bedroom so someone constantly doing something to stop me sleeping or working or finding out who;’s stealing money from bank acct. posionoing me so I cant review the numbers and alarm companies told me someone here rigged spy cams and microphone to see and hear me all day, 3 separate alarm cos females said they know this but I lost their numbers someone cut phone line. im alone so atty advise not to call polic as I have no witness and would be public record if I report polic report. atty said don't do because whoever doing this could do more harm 2me.

It is no longer amusing, this person has some serious issues.  We went out to see what we could do, changed the meter, but the problem - at least having to do with the perception of the meter humming and preventing sleep, etc. - was not resolved.  Of course, we knew from the beginning that this was not the real problem.

We had to hand it over to social services.  From here we won't know where it goes.  I hope this tormented soul is able to get help.

Maybe I should start a sister blog about crazy emails

Got this one shared with us by the customer service friendlies today.

They got this message first.

From: [name] [mailto:[handle]]
Sent: Thursday, December 26, 2013 2:30 AM
To: [custsvc]
Subject: urgent need to stop humming sound in apartment

I have a digital smartmeter and there is loud high pitched screeching humming sound all over my apt causing me to not sleep for days.  I left my apartment for hours and upon return there has been nonstop humming sound. I am reading others are reporting same and my bedroom has 3 large power lines across from it. this humming sound commenced around dec 10 but worsened greatly when I was out.   others have told me locals want this apartment and are doing some secret thing to annoy me so I will flee but cannot confirm this.

need immediate help getting analog meter. reply promptly please. the worst of humming has been since I left apt and returned on dec 24th. thanks [phone number]

The phone number provided is not in our customer database, and the name (nor any of its common variations) is also not in our database.  There was no answer when we called it, and no voice mail.  We have no idea who this is, how to reach them, or where they are.  So, we sent this reply.

From: [custsvc]
Sent: ‎December‎ ‎26‎, ‎2013 ‎7‎:‎16‎ ‎AM
To: [name]
Subject: RE: urgent need to stop humming sound in apartment

Good morning.

Thank you for your e-mail.  Please e-mail us or call us at [phone number] and provide your address so we can follow up with the service department to check out your meter.

Thank you,
Customer Service
[power company]

From there things apparently degraded, as this was the next message we got.

From: [name] [mailto:[handle]]
Sent: Thursday, December 27, 2013 1:39 PM
To: [custsvc]
Subject: RE: urgent need to stop humming sound in apartment

high pitched humming sound so bad haven't slept now 5 days, ringing in my ears even when cut off breakers off electricity running still as I sampled one of those glade plugin scents where liquid all gon e and smell is putting out like its full. if power off no scent should occur. additionally cigarette smoke smell is entering into my kitchen at 7 pm and when I was in my bed at 11 pm cigaretee smoking entering apartment but all windows closed and I don't smoke. I am told people here want this apartment.

digital meters cause these affects.  im being made very sick here, reported to apartment management who maintenac guy says he doesn't hear anything.

sound is making me deaf and will sue if meter not replaced with legacy analog meter. 3 giant high voltage towers are next to my bedrm window . says they are microwave cell towers.

need immediate remedy

We still can't reach this person by phone, no idea who it is or where they are.  I opted to get involved and sent this.

Hi there, my name is [Grumpy Dispatcher], I am the [dispatch boss man] for [my power company]. Our customer service department shared your concerns with me.

We would like to try to help you, but you have not yet told us how to find you so we can assist.  You have emailed us twice, but you have not provided us with your address or your account number, and we do not have anyone in our customer database by the name of [name] or any variations of that name, nor do we have the phone number you provided us anywhere in our customer database.

We have tried to call you several times but no one is answering.  In order to assist you, you MUST call us [phone number] so we can assist.

I'll keep you posted on how this turns out, if I ever find out.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Emails from the Awesome

Counterpoint to our previous post, this gem arrived recently from one of our end users.

I am unsure if this response is automated or not, either way I am going to leave you with a slew of compliments and varying levels of awesome sentences.

Let me begin by saying that this company is the shit (metaphorically speaking of course). If I ever decide to have offspring of my own I am going to name him after your company. I say this because I want him to be as professional and as efficient as you all are. I say I will have a boy because I hate women and they steal all your money (much like my tweaker neighbor).

Next compliment; Pat, your response was both timely and to the point. You deserve a raise. I am not talking about those bullshit 50 cent an hour raises, I am talking about a $30,000 raise. Talk to your boss about this in your review (which will be next week, as I have contacted them for you). 30K may seem a bit extreme but you are the best at your job and you DESERVE THIS RAISE. You could be the king of Amurica' one day. I'd vote for you if I could read.

Next Compliment; You guys are like 7/11, you aren't always doing business but you're always open. If you can tell me where that quote is from I will buy you a pound of coffee and deliver it to your skyscraper headquarters up at the international space station. Sorry, I got off track. Your compliment is as follows: Your facial hair is awesome. If you are a chick named Pat than your facial hair is probably still better than mine. Hats off to you.

The customer service rep was not afraid to send this follow up.

I want to thank you for taking the time to send the slew of compliments and awesome sentences (I felt they were consistently awesome). We agree that Pat (female, no facial hair) is fantastic. Your kind words have been forwarded to her and I’m sure she will appreciate your email. I do have to disagree slightly with the quote from “The Boondock Saints,” in that we are always open and always doing business. No need to waste your postage money on a package to any skyscraper at the international space station, we are located here in (town). Coffee can be delivered to either location:

(Headquarters location)
(Satellite Office location)

Thank you again for your feedback and best of luck with our future namesake.

That was fun.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Emails from the Crazies

At the power company, we responded to a routine outage, about 20 people were out due to the failure of underground cable.

I've always been a little annoyed at the physics involved in faulted cable.  It's like my hot water heater when it sprung a leak.  It was about 15 years old, and it was fine yesterday, but today it is peeing a thin stream onto the basement floor.  What exactly happened to it, physically, (molecularly?), that was the final straw so that it now leaks?  It is like that with distribution cable if no one dug into it.  Yesterday it was fine, today it blows?  What gives?

Anyway, pretty straightforward problem.  About eight padmount transformers are attached to it.  The fault current was enough to blow the cutout at the tap fuse.  My crews located the fault spot, exposed it, and spliced in a new section.  Very routine.

Later, we get this email in dispatch, forwarded by an amused customer service rep.

I live at 1345 S.E. 49 AVE i have a power outage this morning i want you to che3ck if the power grid got hacked by a computer hacker. I have been fighting computer hacker in my computer for a month or so if it was hacked a hit it was (named removed) of (local medium-sized city) check your system over the outage was on 49th Ave.

Unless computer hackers can access remote strands of underground cable and cause their insulation to fail on demand, I think we're safe from the hacking menace.  This is the reply I sent him, flooding him with so much info he hopefully wouldn't ask any more questions.  He didn't.

Hello _____,

A customer service representative forwarded your concern to me.  I am the dispatch supervisor on duty, and will explain what caused your power outage this morning.

Your home is served by the Pleasant Grove Substation, located on the northwest corner of SE 62nd Avenue and SE 29th Street.  You are on Pleasant Grove #2, which proceeds east from the station on 29th/Boxville before running south on SE 49th Avenue.

At the intersection of 18th and 49th there is what we call a riser pole, where the overhead power lines have a tap with a protective fuse that then runs underground to serve the homes north of that intersection, including yours, and it runs on up to the end of Overlook Drive.  Any faults (short circuits) anywhere in this run of cable from the riser pole to the end of Overlook Drive will cause the fuse at the riser pole to open.

What happened this morning that caused your power outage is that a section of underground power cable went bad near 1109 SE Overlook Drive.  When this occurred and the fuse opened, crews responded and began checking the various transformers and cable sections in your neighborhood before locating the bad cable section.  Underground cable cannot be impacted by computer or hacking activities, it only fails for physical reasons (digging, rocks shifting, etc), or deterioration from age.  Once the failed section was identified, it was isolated from the rest of the area cable, and nearly everyone in your neighborhood was restored before the crews began work to repair the bad section.

This entire incident involved physically-activated equipment and devices, no electronic or computer resources were associated with any part of the event.  I hope this alleviates your concerns, thanks for letting us know.  Let me know if we can be of further assistance.

Still, I have to admit wondering how much it must suck to be convinced an evil hacker is out to get you.  Then again, just because you're paranoid does not automatically mean no one is out to get you, right?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


It has begun.

34 posts reviewed and restored so far.  Still over 200 left to sift through.

Kind of amusing reading over my own stuff from when I was much more of a grump than I am these days.

Stay safe, my friends.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rule Breaking

It was 03-something in the morning when the Minitor chirped.

Engine, Engine, Engine, Tanker, Tanker, etc.... chimney fire being upgraded straight to a full structure response. This could be interesting, but where is it?

Awww snap. Seven blocks away from ol' Grumpy's house, with Station 51 smack in between.

Not too many first due-fires for this run-down volunteer, let's hope we don't screw this up.

Arriving aboard E51 about four minutes later, there's fire showing from the roof of this double-wide mobile home all around the chimney in the center of the roof.

Let's not screw this up.

Dispatchers said everyone is out, but as I pull past the place and park it, all the lights are on but no one is in sight. Walking up to the place, I sure hope they aren't inside trying to get the cat or something. Visibility is actually nearly clear, the haze about like when you start up the fireplace and forget to open the damper. Walking in and calling out, the residents answer from through the open back door where they are in fact dealing with pets - thankfully already outside.

Rescue mitigated, I scope the wood stove in the center of the home on my way out. The ceiling around the pipe has burned away several inches, leaving a clear view into the freely burning attic void. Conveniently, with oxygen drawn from the living area and smoke venting through the roof, it is staying pretty clear inside. I should get out, pull a line, pack up and wait for help.

But we'll lose everything if we wait another ten minutes for next-due Engine 54.

When you choose to break the rules, be darn sure you can articulate why you did it and are positive that it will work.

I stretched a line from 51 and brought it to the door without grabbing a pack, had the guy living there help hump it in behind me from the front door, and put two quick bursts of straight stream into the attic. Knocked that fire right down, but stirred up the crap, so I dropped the tip and bailed out again before it got untenable. Outside, there were no longer flames visible from the roof. Nice.

54 made the scene, and now that we had four guys we went back to work.

We saved the place, still had 3/4 tank on Engine 51 and never used water from any other pieces.  Pretty cool, saving a mobile home and all its furnishings on the fringes of civilization, when the normal configuration for a burning rural mobile home at night is to serve as a navigational aid for aircraft.

Thank you God for helping me not screw that up and sending me excellent help.

Got lightly grilled about it later, but being able to articulate my reasoning and having a saved mobile home to our credit, the end result was our notoriously crusty Deputy Chief of few words simply saying "Super good job, Grumpy".  Whew.

Everything was all fine and dandy after that until the Chief put out a press release with my name in it.  Damn.  Ice cream for three staffed stations is expensive.

Stay safe out there.  And for heaven's sake do as I say, not as I do!

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Still here.  Still in semi-blog-retirement but not ruling out future content that I often have promised but as yet failed to deliver.

Just in case anyone was wondering.

Hope your holidays and new year went well and your resolutions are holding up.  Stay safe out there.