April 1st, 2004


Trip notes: problems and achievements

So far, this week has been nothing if not eventful...

The installation at Pearl River, NY went smoothly. I was out of there in a few hours, and didn't have to go back to fix anything.

Things were kinda boring until Wednesday morning, when I dialed up to discover that thebrain, the main server at home, had been shut down due to a combination of a persistent reboot failure and a smell of hot motor. The hot motor smell turned out to be a bad exhaust fan in the furnace in the basement, but the system still refused to boot. After being down for most of a day, I was able to get it running late Wednesday night by booting the Gentoo install CD, using it as a rescue disk (which required more work than it should have, dammit), and rewriting the boot loader to the RAID array. Fortunately, the Gentoo install disc has enough smarts to grant access remotely, so once I talked vakkotaur through setting it up, the fix took little time. I'm now copying the contents of the RAID over to a SCSI disk that's still in the machine (it was the disk in the old thebrain) so I can use that as a rescue disk.

I got to spend a lot of time thinking about the problem Wednesday, as that was the day to drive from Pearl River to Scranton. It's about a 3-hour drive. Fortunately, the rent car I have is an Avis Buick LeSabre, which has XM Satellite Radio in it. Whee. That definitely made the drive much more pleasant. On the way, I finally did something I've been wanting to for a while. I can't think of Scranton without hearing the opening lines of Harry Chapin's song:

It was just after dark when the truck started down
The hill that leads into Scranton, Pennsylvania
Carrying thirty thousand pounds of bananas...

It's a long-standing Demento tune, and not that bad a song. The song tells a true story (though it gets some of the details wrong), about an accident in 1965. The hill he's talking about is on Pennsylvania 307 between Interstate 380 and the city. I drove down that hill just to see. It's not that bad, although it is certainly steep enough to cause trouble for an incautious trucker. There are lots of signs saying "REDUCED GEAR ZONE". (Nothing about a $50 fine, with or without the words "my friend".) A trucker who was dumb enough to lose his brakes on that hill today would be much more likely to clobber traffic on the Interstate 81 feeder road than on Moosic Street itself in Scranton, though. PA 307 is even steeper on the other side of Scranton; there's a stretch there where trucks over 21,000 pounds are prohibited entirely, and there's a sign at the beginning of that stretch that says "TRUCKS OVER 21,000 POUNDS STOP HERE - LOCAL DELIVERY EXEMPTION ENDS" and gives a phone number for them to call, presumably for escort.

The Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel in Scranton is a pleasant enough place to stay. It's built into the old Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad station in downtown Scranton, and they did a good job of keeping the old architecture and many of the original fittings used since the station was built in 1908. It also has one great improvement since I was last here: free wireless networking. Yay! Balancing that, for this stay anyway, was the fire alarm that went off at 1:15 this morning. There was a hot ballast or something producing a smell of smoke in a conference room. We all stood outside in the cold until about 2; I got back to sleep about 2:30.

The system install in Scranton went off without a hitch. I took the guys from the customer who'd driven down from Albany out to lunch when we were done.

I expect to have tomorrow completely to myself. I'm planning to spend the day at the Steamtown National Historic Site. After that, an early flight Saturday morning, and I'm home...for about 20 hours before I have to leave again.

I got an email a few minutes ago...looks like HP will loan me two relatively recent Alpha systems to do Gentoo builds and testing on. Just gotta deal with some paperwork.
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