Category Archives: Hacks

o no its ringing o no

How to do a crisis call in technology

This started as an answer on Reddit that someone thought was good enough to gild. So I thought I’d expand it here while Lil Z is sleeping in case it helps more folks. Some tech folks really wanted to know how to talk to business people on troubleshooting conference calls. I’ve seen this done well and done poorly and I have strong opinions on the subject.

The System is down.

It isn’t doing the Thing it does and many, many people are desperate to get the Thing for important money reasons.

You are supposed to bring the System up.

The suits, who are measured on money stuff they can’t do without the Thing, feel terrified. They feel helpless. They can’t bring the System up, they need you to do that. You geeks want to concentrate, think silently, occasionally type things and mutter to each other. That is useless on the big conference call and just inspires anxiety. The day job of a suit usually involves being informed and making decisions – and they can’t do either.

Here is how you do a crisis call right:

1. There is a suit facing call and a geek facing call. Geek talk isn’t the same as suit talk. Perfectly reasonable geek talk (“a reboot will cause us to lose unsaved data”) cause suits to overreact and cause more problems.
2. The talkiest nerd gets to be in charge of communication. That’s their job, not troubleshooting.
3. They go back and forth, figure out status and direction and make real estimates. They give regular updates to suits and give direction to the geeks.

Two Calls

It’s important that you tell people status – if you don’t promise status at regular intervals, they will try their best to go find things out or try to help. They will interrupt the people doing the work so that they can get information they need to deal with their immediate problems.

Geeks get angry when questions interrupt troubleshooting because they think the problem is that the System is down. That isn’t really the problem – no one cares about the System but the geeks. The problem is that the Thing isn’t happening. If they could get the Thing without the System, they would – and that might be a solution you can offer.  The suits may be very happy with you taking a long time to fix the System if you can give them the Thing at regular intervals or on demand until the System is back up.

Folks at Krispy Kreme don’t care about the beautiful donut glazing machine as much as they care about devouring delicious hot donuts.

The Talkiest Nerd does the talking

The talkiest nerd can fulfill a very important role by giving status, information and choices to the suits. Let the suits actually make choices based on good information! They should make those decisions so they can make the money stuff happen! The whole reason suits employ geeks is because they need the Thing to make the money stuff happen – they need to know that they aren’t going to get the Thing for at least 4 hours because then they can tell customers to be calm, they are going to get compensated – or they can tell customers don’t worry – we’ll have the Thing within 4 hours.

Timely Updates

Another important point here is Timely updates. Set a schedule and then keep to it. If you say I’ll give you updates on this conference call every 30 minutes or every 15 minutes, then do it. The talkiest nerd can interrupt everyone 5 minutes before on the geek call and make sure they’ve got a good handle on things so they can give a real status.

The reason you make Timely updates is so that people can deal with silence. The big worry is that no one is working on things or that they are working on the wrong thing. Remember, the suits are feeling an unwelcome sense of helplessness. They can deal with silence if they know that they need to be back on the call at X time to get the next status.

It is important to give them some chill so that they can go and do the very important work of handling the downstream problems of the Thing not happening. They can go work on that knowing what’s happening in the next 30 minutes.

Things To Say

  • We have X people looking at the issue and this is our Y priority.
  • We have an idea what the issue is and we are testing it to make sure we are fixing the right thing.
  • It will take about X minutes to confirm and we’ll next update you with status at 11:45.
  • We were wrong and now we think the problem is X and we’re testing that idea.
  • We think we know what’s wrong. Here is an ELI5 short description and here are two ways we think we can solve the problem. Here are the high level time and danger trade offs in those solutions and here is the one the geeks recommend for the following reasons. (Let them actually make an informed choice here)
  • We don’t have any updates right now. This is tricky and X people are discussing the best next steps. We don’t see how we can get this solved before our next status update at 12:30, but we’ll blast out a message if anything changes drastically.
  • We’re manually handling a certain type of problem – please put a list together of the clients you want ordered by priority and we’ll handle them in that order and let you know when each is done.
  • The problem should be wrapped up in X minutes and we will handle any other issues resulting afterwards.
  • Tomorrow we will be rested and have a thorough look into what went wrong, how it wasn’t caught earlier, what warnings we can put in and how we can handle it better next time.

Why should you believe me?

Since 2003 I’ve worked in finance and technology, often as the face of technology to the business. Things have gone wrong and I’ve seen good communication and bad communication. In places where the business trusts tech to handle a crisis, these kinds of patterns have worked. I’ve also worked in places where there was a terrible relationship between technology and the business: patterns like these helped improve things.

Ginsperiment results


See my initial post on barrel aging/oaking Breukelen Gin.

That was way faster and better than I expected. I tested with friends after only 2 weeks. Decided to remove the oak cubes as they were both very good already.

12g to 9oz is definitely enough for the oak cubes. Might do less but for longer next time. 16g kind of overpowers the gin.

I used Breukelen gin because my pal Tove Hermanson shared a rare-ish bottle of barrel aged Breukelen gin and it was weird and wonderful. It tastes like a really flowery whiskey full of that same caramely smooth warmth. Like looking at butterflies as a summer sun sets.

Now to whip up some more batches!

Quick TV Pillar Mount Project.

early assembly with TV

Now that Maximum Baby is crawling I wanted to get our huge tv off of the rickety cart it was sitting on. Sam had a tv fall on her as a child and one is enough for us.

The tricky thing here is that we wanted to mount the TV on a concrete pillar.

Trying to attach a flat thing to a curved thing is tricky.  My solution was this:

  1. Got a 2×8 of Douglas Fir from my local Home Depot. They usually have crappy wood, but I managed to find a piece that looked quarter-sawn, so that’s good.
  2. Cut it to length based on the height of my TV, the height of my soundbar and allowing room for attaching some shelves later.
  3. At the base trim each side 45°, then angle the saw blade to 45 and make a cross cut. Makes a nice beveled end instead of a dramatic right angle.
  4. Use some of the scrap at the top to increase the depth so the TV mount screws get a lot of purchase depth. I used wood glue and 8 screws.
  5. Prime and paint.
  6. Attach hardware.
  7. For attaching it all to the pillar I decided to go with a friction mount. I ordered 3 endless loop ratchet straps and ratchet them tight against the pillar.

Using a friction mount is a dicey thing. Materials have two kinds of stickiness – or friction coefficients. One is how sticky two things are when they are at rest (static friction coefficient) and the other is how sticky two things are when they are moving (kinetic friction coefficient). Friction works great right up until you overcome the static friction coefficient and then it works very poorly because the kinetic friction coefficient is always lower than the static friction coefficient.

Good news is we can calculate how much force our friction mount should support! Friction is dependent on the pressure between two surfaces (the normal force) and the stickiness between them (the friction coefficient). The frictive force is going to be our normal force times the static friction coefficient.

How much normal force do we have? I’m estimating that I can ratchet around 150lbs of pressure on one of those ratchet straps. Let’s cut that a little bit because I haven’t been working out and I am an optimist. Let’s call it 120lbs. I’m using 3 ratchet straps so that adds up to 360lbs of pressure.

There’s a table on that page with friction coefficients for common materials. Looks like they say the static friction coefficient between wood and concrete is 0.62. 360lbs * 0.62 = 223.2lbs.

I’m around 175lbs – I should be able to do a pullup on this!

me doing a pull up on a ratchet strapped wood.

And I CAN!

My TV weighs 50.8 lbs, the tv mount weighs 8lbsmy shelves weigh 11lbs and they can support 22 lbs per shelf. I forget how much my soundbar weighs. Let’s call it 10 lbs.

50.8 + 8 + 11 + 22 + 22 + 10 = 123.8 lbs. I’ve got around 99 lbs of spare capacity before we hit the limit of  my static coefficient of friction!

I feel like I can trust this not to drop on Max for a while!  How long until Max might hang off of this and make it drop? Hmmm – when is he likely to be around 100lbs? Wolfram Alpha tells me a 10 year old American is around 94lbs. I should be able to teach him not to do it by then or get another ratchet strap.


I was talking about my favorite Lars von Trier movie recently and it put a spark in my head. See, I was playing blocks with Maximum Baby and his job is to make sure that I can’t build a tower. No two blocks shall be on top of each other!

When he gets excited and starts banging on things and knocking over the blocks and squeaking I can’t help but think of him squeaking out “CHAOS REIGNS!”

So I had to make a baby onesie.

CHAOS REIGNS Antichrist Baby Onsie creeper

You should be able to buy it by clicking that image.

If you want to remix the image, I got it from a post on Know Your Meme. I made an SVG from the png file they had, then cleaned it up and removed the rainbow colors in InkScape. Here’s the SVG file for your remixing pleasure!

Secret Project D – a Custom DIY Dresser

Secret Project B has been so on my mind that I totally forgot to write up my Secret Project D!


Sam had been talking about wanting a dresser, but none of the ones we found really fit where we wanted to put one. We liked West Elm’s Hudson dresser. Clean modern style, but it was too deep to fit our space. Sounds like a job for me!

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 5.57.12 AM
I made measurements and decided that the best way for a nerd like me to proceed would be to make a sketchup design. I found a sketchup model of the thin hudson and made my dresser model based on that.
I started working on this last August on nights and weekends.

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 1.26.10 PM

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 1.27.52 PM

Afterwards, I dropped by a West Elm to see how they put theirs together. That’s when I realized that I didn’t have to make the stretchers in the carcass solid – I could make them a frame and they’d be just fine. Also – less weight in the furniture will be helpful when we move it around.

Then life gets in the way – the project was on hold for months. After figuring out what I wanted to do I bought tools, and got started in December.

I decided to go with a furniture grade plywood. Not all plywood is crappy – some looks really nice. I went with Baltic Birch. It’s good looking, the beveled edges on the drawers have a sweet pinstripe on them and I could get it nearby at the Brooklyn Dyke’s Lumber1.


Plywood has a couple of other sweet properties for small apartment woodworking. The cross-grain layering of plywood makes it very stable with regard to moisture. This means I don’t have to have a jointer or planer to flatten the wood. In addition, the sheet of plywood has a continuous grain veneer – so you cutting the drawer fronts from one sheet of plywood preserves that grain across the drawers.


When you buy lumber, you have to know how to order it, and you need to know how much you want. The sales folks are used to dealing with people who order very large amounts, so not knowing makes you an irritant. You won’t get what you need. Fortunately, if you build your model in Sketchup first, there’s a handy plugin that calculates how much lumber to buy and gives you a cutlist based on your model. It even gives you a plan on how to get the most out of the wood with the least waste. That’s so helpful!

Armed with my cutlist, I grabbed a truck from zipcar and brought back three huge 4’x4′ sheets back to my woodshop in the sky.

After many nights and weekends of cutting, swearing, panicking, gluing, screwing, sanding and shellacing I got the dresser done. My woodshop in the sky has turned into a baby room, so I’ll have to find a new place to make any future furniture. If any folks are interested in either how I made it or what I’ve learned about small apartment woodworking, I could write more about that.


  1. I cannot imagine the creepy search terms those folks find in their server logs  (back)