Tell Me About Yourself

It was my third week on the job, a Wednesday. Up until this point, I had spent a week in training and two doing simple tasks like swapping keyboards and mice, learning the culture, and meeting various people. But on this day, which also happened to be an anniversary with my wife, I got my first major test, a desk swap.

On the surface, a desk swap sounds simple: unplug a bunch of cables, move the hardware, and connect them again. But these workstations were neither simple nor single; each desk had two machines connected with KVM switches; one had four heavy and thick (for LCDs) 21-inch monitors, the other had six. All the monitors were attached with heavy metal arms to rails on the desk. The traders had his or her preferences for which machine displayed on which monitor. These were also SBFI trading desks, which means that the cables are built into the desk, and that if they’re not properly labeled, it’s a trial-and-error process to figure out which cable is which. At the time I didn’t even know what a trading desk was, and I tried to pull out individual cables, which complicated things.

I was given fifteen minutes to do the job, starting at 18:45, with my scheduled off time at 19:00. Of course, knowing what I know now, fifteen minutes is not a realistic time in which to get the job done. Even at my peak, after I had mastered this job after a year, it would have taken at least thirty minutes, barring any unforeseen issues. This was a test from my manager. How would I handle it?

Of course, my manager did not know that it was my anniversary, and that I was planning to have dinner with my wife. We weren’t supposed to do overtime without pre-approval, either. With these looming over my head, I had extra desire to finish quickly, but it was my first time doing this and I couldn’t rush it. And it was the only window in which to get this done: the voice guys had already come and swapped the dealer boards, so there was no going back.

In my innocence, I thought it would be easiest to physically swap all the monitors. Considering the users’ preferences and that even identical model monitors can have variations in color and viewing angles, it seemed like the right thing to do. After all, in the small office environment where I had last worked, I’d do stuff like this all the time. I quickly learned that things were different in this environment.

First, as mentioned before, these motherfuckers were heavy. The monitors were 21-inch professional-grade NEC LCDs, three inches thick. The metal arms, then, had to be just as heavy duty in order to hold up these monitors to the rails. Second, the rails are situated at the back of the desk, furthest away from you. You have to lean forward and extend your arms while holding something that weighs like a couple of bowling balls, and you have to precisely guide the metal arms into the rails, then hold up the weight while you lock them down. And sometimes the locking levers were stripped so you had to manually position them a certain way or the whole thing would come crashing down, or you’d fuck up your fingers getting them caught in the rail. Seriously, I don’t think it was even physically possible for some of my skinnier coworkers to do this.

Third, on some monitors, the cable screws would be frozen in the holes, and no amount of twisting or even using a screwdriver could unfreeze them. This was a blessing in disguise for me though because this is how I learned that moving all the monitors didn’t make sense. In the end, I just moved the two over to the other desk and arranged both to match their originals.

Must have been the Hong Kong humidity
Must have been the Hong Kong humidity

All this time, I’m sweating profusely in my wool slacks, cotton undershirt, and button-down dress shirt, the standard uniform for this company’s IT staff, regardless of the physical demands of the job. On the third day of this job, three weeks prior, my 15-year-old pair of dress shoes gave out right in the middle of training, and I had to run down to the mall to get a new pair. Unfortunately for me, this was a luxury mall, and even the cheapest pair of shoes ran several hundred US dollars. If I was going to spend hundreds of dollars on shoes, I figured I’d at least get a pair that I thought looked good. Somehow, in the end, the shoes I bought cost nine hundred dollars, and I walked out of the store in a daze.

So here I am in my nine-hundred-dollar shoes, crawling and squatting underneath desks, pulling out wheeled trays with sharp metal edges on which 50-pound metal computer towers sat. These shoes were meant for going to a wedding, or a ball, or perhaps wearing to work by those whom I was moving these workstations for, not for physical activity. But I needed to bend my feet to get under the desk, and the leather was hard. Well, I had to do it, and when I finally sold the shoes on eBay last year the crease was still there.

See the crease? Sold for $170.

Now, it was 20:30, and with the workstations physically configured, it was time to test and make sure everything was where they were supposed to be. Fire up each workstation, confirm they are displaying on the correct monitors, confirm the KVM number matches, and confirm they can ping the Exchange server. Yes! Time to go, time to have a nice dinner with my wife, and time to worry about the true test tomorrow morning when the traders come in to work. Welcome to life in frontline IT support, investment-bank style.

Still Smiling
Still smiling after a hard day. Bon appetit!

PC World Instant Reference Card #25 (June 1992)

I finally finished digitizing everything from the blue shoulder bag. Last week, maybe Friday night, I became angry that doing all this was taking so long, and I went on a scanning rampage to get it all in. As I’ve mentioned before, I usually scan and post one thing at a time, but I didn’t want to wait any longer. As a result, I’ve pretty much lost all momentum for posting more items from the bag. I was more interested in posting the video-game-related material anyway, which I’ve done.

So, here’s an instant reference card from the June 1992 issue of PC World magazine, for Windows 3.1. Looking at the card, I’m reminded of the file manager in Windows 3.1 which I had forgotten about. There are also quite a few shortcuts that still work in current versions of Windows, and others that are probably gone forever.

While Windows 3.1 was nice, I think my favorite windows from that time was 3.0. It was my first version of Windows, and I’ll always remember the big splash screen that took up the entire monitor, versus the little box from Windows 3.1. If I recall correctly, it took only five 1.2-megabyte floppies to install Windows 3.0. Compare that to a multi-gigabyte ISO for Windows 10, twenty-five years later. I’m still traumatized from using and supporting Windows 10 at my last job.

I put the rest of the items from the blue bag that might be worthy of posting in the museum in a queue, and may or may not post them in the coming days. For now, please enjoy this instant reference card from PC World 1992.

PC World Instant Reference Card #25, Windows 3.1 Basics (June 1992)

PC World Instant Reference Card #25, Windows 3.1 Advanced (June 1992)

Sony Walkman Battery Charger Notice (1987)

Here’s a random notice circa 1987 regarding a battery charger that came with a Sony Walkman. I want to say it came with this one, but this came out in 1993, and the charger is definitely different than the one in the illustration. If I remember correctly, my mother actually had another Walkman prior to the WM-GX707, so this notice probably came with that.

Sony Walkman Battery Charger Notice (1987)
Note that the charger in the illustration is different…
Sony BC-8AT Battery Charger
…than this BC-8AT one that has a door, that came with WM-GX707.

Electronics Boutique October 1993 Catalog

Electronics Boutique October 1993 Catalog

Here’s a nice October 1993 “double” catalog from Electronics Boutique featuring video games on one side, and PC software and accessories on the other. The idea was that once you reached the end of one catalog, you flipped it to read the other section. For PDF readability while somewhat preserving historical accuracy, I rotated the software section 180 degrees, and maintained the page order. If you want to read the software section first, start at the end of the PDF and page-up!

Most likely this catalog came with the November 1993 issue of EGM (a gigantic issue), since they were both in the same plastic bag. There is an off chance that I got this catalog from the store and placed it in the bag myself, but the great condition of the catalog suggests that I didn’t.

I was lucky in that the scan didn’t have too many artifacts (usually the first scan of the day is like this, which makes me think that heat is an issue). I enjoyed browsing through the sections as I reviewed it. By this time the Genesis 2 was out and took the first section, followed by the Sega CD. That’s interesting because I would think that the SNES had taken over number one by then. Perhaps this was part of Sega’s aggressive marketing campaign at the time. Jurassic Park seemed to be everywhere, with the game available on SEVEN different platforms (and that’s just in the video game section, didn’t check the PC section). It was also interesting to see that the Sound Blaster 16 was already out in 1993. My first one came in 1996, and I had always thought it was an up-to-date card at the time.

It’s my pleasure to bring you this catalog today. Enjoy.

Electronics Boutique October 1993 Catalog (PDF, 63.1 MB)

Egghead Software October 1993 Catalog

Egghead Software October 1993 Catalog

The second museum post for tonight is this Egghead Software catalog from October of 1993. The reason for the quick turnaround is that there was some server maintenance today, so I scanned this in the afternoon for posting tonight. Usually I scan, review, and post in succession.

This is a really cool catalog showing both the software and hardware that was available at the time. CD-ROM drives were becoming popular, and they were usually bundled with an interface card or sound card. There was one in the catalog listed for almost a thousand dollars! Today, we can get DVD writers for twenty (if we even need one at all).

I miss those geeky days of computing before PCs were commoditized. Yes, prices were expensive, but that also meant that parts and software could support a real store that you could walk into. I’m trying to think of a store today where you can go in and check out expansion cards, CD-ROM drives, and other PC hardware and software. There are probably still some mom and pop stores, but on the most part stores like Egghead Software no longer exist. Maybe this is how some people felt when the general store was replaced by the supermarket. Progress and economics cause some things to change forever, never going back to the way they were.

That’s all for tonight. The scanner is starting to become really unreliable, with vertical lines on some pages no matter how many times I re-scan or clean the sensor. Some pages of this catalog have the vertical lines if you look carefully or zoom in, and it’s because I finally gave up after spending way too much time on this relatively short catalog. In the coming days I may just have to give up entirely and accept the vertical lines lest I spend all my time scanning and re-scanning. We’ll see how it goes.

Egghead Software October 1993 Catalog (PDF, 67.9 MB)

DOS Resource Guide, Number 8 (March 1993)

DOS Resource Guide, Number 8 (March 1993)

This is my last copy of DOS Resource Guide, the March 1993 issue. It has been 24 years, and the pages have yellowed with age. I’ve kept this magazine for nearly two thirds of my life.

Right now, we’re at an age where we’re not exactly young, and not exactly old, yet we often lament “getting old”. The magazine sort of puts things in perspective: there’s still a long way to go, and if you’re “lucky” you’ll get two more 24-years (damn, two more?!). Admittedly, everything seems old because after you’ve lived long enough, it all feels like the same old shit, just dressed differently. Maybe that’s all life is, and maybe that’s why older people yearn for the good old days, and maybe that’s why the fountain of youth is a legend.

As long as I’m alive, I’ll just keep on, keepin’ on, and as always, I hope you’ve enjoyed these museum posts.

DOS Resource Guide Number 8, March 1993 (PDF, 98.6 MB)

DOS Resource Guide, Number 6 (November 1992)

DOS Resource Guide, Number 6 (November 1992)

Here’s the final magazine scan of the night, the November 1992 issue of DOS Resource Guide. Although I’d like to go on scanning, with each extra glass of Zinfandel I am less able to focus on the artifacts appearing on each page, which is also why I chose DOS Resource Guide for tonight’s last scan: the magazine is mostly uniform in color, resulting in less artifacts, if any. Hopefully, I caught all of them in my current inebriated state.

Although I didn’t have issues 1 through 3, 4 and 5 didn’t have dates so I can reasonably surmise that this is the first issue of DOS Resource Guide that features a date. It’s also the first issue I’ve scanned that contains bound subscription cards – 6 issues for $23.70. Kind of pricey, which probably explains why, despite how much I enjoyed this magazine, I never subscribed to it (I was just a 13 year-old with no income, after all).

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed tonight’s museum posts.

DOS Resource Guide Number 6, November 1992 (PDF, 99.4 MB)

DOS Resource Guide, Number 5 (1992)

DOS Resource Guide, Number 5 (1992)

Another day, another magazine. Tonight’s first magazine scan is DOS Resource Guide, Number 5 (1992). I pretty much summarized my feelings on DRG in the previous post, so I won’t repeat myself here (well, other than saying again that this is a great magazine). Enjoy!

DOS Resource Guide, Number 5 (PDF, 93.9 MB)

DOS Resource Guide, Number 4 (1992)

DOS Resource Guide, Number 4 (1992)

This last museum post of the day is a copy of DOS Resource Guide, Number 4, from 1992.

In the late 80s and early 90s, Apple had a strong hold on the educational sector here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our schools ran Apple IIs, so when the time came for our family to purchase our first computer, I wanted an Apple IIe badly. Of course, my family decided to go with an IBM PC with MS-DOS installed, and I ended up having to learn a whole new system. In retrospect, it was one of the better things to happen to me in my life, as it set me on a path to becoming an IT guy. DOS Resource Guide was an indispensable tool in that endeavor.

This was my first issue, and I probably read it cover to cover, multiple times. It’s where I cut my command-line chops, with many of the skills learned then still in use today. I loved this magazine so much I even signed my name on the first page.

Sadly, it probably has been over two decades since I last looked at it. Like all my other magazines, it was sitting in my closet, and later on my bookshelf. Now that I’ve discovered digitized versions of my old magazines, I’ve noticed that I actually read them a lot more. I look forward to revisiting DOS Resource Guide in the coming days.

As always, hope you’ve enjoyed this museum post.

DOS Resource Guide, Number 4 (PDF, 92.4 MB)

Keeping S/PDIF Alive

My first laptop was an Intel Pentium III 850 MHz VAIO R505 bought in 2003. If you’ll recall, VAIOs were notoriously expensive back then, and somehow I was able to find one on sale for under a thousand dollars. Due to its limited storage, I used it as a secondary machine, transferring files to it from my desktop. I don’t remember whether my desktop at the time was an AMD Athlon 1.4GHz (Thunderbird core) or one of the later Athlon XPs.

Since that time, my laptops have always been secondary machines. The VAIO was in service from 2003 to 2007. From 2007 to 2011 I had a Toshiba U205 (Core 2 Duo Merom), and from 2011 to the present I’ve had an Acer Aspire (Core i5 Sandy Bridge) that has held up amazingly well. You may have seen it in several photos scattered around this website.

In the recent past I finally transitioned to the Acer as my primary machine. Our current lifestyle involves moving back and forth between my parent’s and the in-laws’ places, and it became a chore having to sync up my laptop all the time. It’s much easier having one primary machine to worry about, and backing it up to the appropriate places. Previously, it would be syncing files from the desktop to the laptop and then syncing them back to the desktop once I returned. What a pain!

With the Acer as my new primary machine, I set up a docking station where the desktop was previously. The desktop was using S/PDIF for sound, and luckily the Acer has a 3.5mm S/PDIF jack, so I was able to use a spare adapter from an old sound card to connect the laptop to my receiver. Oddly, once I had it going, music would play but not regular Windows sounds. I started googling around for answers.

It turns out that my Sony receiver will only play sound when it receives a sustained digital signal. Windows beeps and Outlook-new-mail sounds are too short. What to do? Send a continuous silent signal via software. From browsing this forum (I guess Tom’s Hardware Guide is now just Tom’s Guide? Been out of the game for too long), I learned of a piece of software called SPDIF KeepAlive by Rhys Goodwin, who has kindly offered his software for free via his blog. The software works great and has solved this problem perfectly. Thanks Rhys!

With this post, I mainly wanted to give credit where credit was due with the forum thread and Mr. Goodwin’s SPDIF KeepAlive, but once I started it became yet another trip down memory lane. As always, hope you’ve enjoyed it!