Gui Castelão

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Feb 28, 2016

Tech Support (DNS)

XKCD just brought me some cool memories. I did experience that, but for real, not in a dream. In the early 2000's I was investing quite some time in web development with Linux, Apache, MySQL & PHP, and building some web projects with a friend at that time.

As far as I remember, the web connection in Brazil was still mostly dial-up until 2000-ish, when the ADSL show up. Keep in mind that technology in Brazil used to be several years behind the USA. A few years later the only phone company operating in São Paulo was offering what they called ADSL-business, which was supposed to provide service for small businesses. The whole technology was too young in Brazil, and they were not ready for that, at least Telefonica didn't set up an experient team initially. The "business" service option was quite more expensive than the residential but the difference was actually a fixed IP, while the reliability and support were far from what a business would require.

At that time I had several servers running at home. There was an old 586 firewall running OpenBSD and behind it web and mail servers. I started creating email lists with majordomo a few years before. The main maillist was called parlatorio (I liked that name), and it was dedicated to brazilian oceanographers. It ran OK but was quite demanding to keep it working fine, so I moved to qmail which was way more intuitive to set up and maintain. The same person who created qmail, created the tiny-dns, which was a joy after one spend some time working with BIND. Well, back to the servers in São Paulo, configuring and then working with tiny-dns I learned a lot about DNS, which is the reason for this story. Once one works with Linux, we just learn to hack everything, and it wasn't different with my ADSL modem at home. With simple tools such as ping, traceroute, host, and telnet, it was easy to find out where was the problem every time I lost connection at home. Oh man, that was a frequent thing. I used to call so much, but so much to tech-support of Telefonica to complain! Paying for a business link made it feel right to demand a fair link. Of course, every time was the same thing following the script. Initially, there was no dedicated support for the business branch, so the person on the phone was following a script for windows desktops. In the first rounds, I tried to explain that I had something different at home, but soon I realized that I was losing my time, so for the first 20 min or so I would just say: yes; I did; restarting; still rebooting; etc while I was actually working on something else and pretending I was following the instructions given, just so we all follow the script. After some time, I would be transferred to someone else in the chain.

Well, I'm not sure when, but one day the magic happened. Probably after talking with some supervisor. Yes, I frequently asked to be transferred to the supervisor, and they would just transfer me to someone else. Maybe the one at the next desk, who knows? But on that day, without informing me, for whatever reason, they transferred me to their core engineers for the network. I spoke with a girl that actually understood my complaint, oh that was a good feeling. Just a few words and she got it and hit me back with questions that made sense. Oh, I can't believe it! I don't remember exactly anymore what was the problem, but I have in my mind that they had a disagreement with their backup DNS server. They were using BIND. I only remember that I thought her a trick that I figured out configuring my DNS at home. Something silly like: "you need to run make again every time you change the config file".

Oh, I never mentioned it. The DNS at home was something. The OpenBSD was a ghost firewall, and the packets would pass transparently between the external and internal ethernet cards while it would do its job. At that time, rules for dynamic blocking in real-time were something new and I was just fascinated by that! Inside the DNS would allow the servers where to find each other, while it would provide for the rest of the world our entry point IP and ports. Yeap, domains wouldn't come with the DNS service included until many years later, and we had to have our own.

Back to the main story. At the time that I helped them, they gave me a password that I could use to reach them every time I called support. Oh, I loved that power so much! After that day it would be almost like a script again, but a different one. I would call the support, we introduce ourselves, the person would ask something about my windows, I would explain that I have a code for special access, and they would acknowledge and explain that they needed to verify a couple of things with me and run another few tests before I could be transferred. Then I would insist once or twice for them to try my authorization code in their terminal and promise that if it didn't work I would do all the tests they wanted, and suddenly the magic words: "Sir, I'm transferring you right now". I'm so curious to know what happened there once they tried my access code. I imagine a red box blinking in their terminal: "TOP LEVEL, ABOVE YOUR CLEARANCE. TRANSFER WITHOUT QUESTIONS!" :)



Mar 16, 2015

The Right Woman

One knows that one was chosen by the right woman every time that one realizes that both share the same values and excitement for the same things.

It was less than two minutes to finish the bidding time on eBay, and Bia entered in my office. I was so excited that couldn't help myself: "Darling! Look at this, we're about to get a replacement for the sonar transducer!" Her answer!?! "Yes, that's fabulous!! Let me see! It's actually a good price." I don't think most of the sailors around experience the same.

The transducer was probably the major weakness in Harmony (our sailboat) today. The last time we could sail together, on the return to Trinidad, we lost the sonar. It showed some numbers but it was completely unreliable. I decided to do not take Scotland's bay channel since it's quite narrow and surrounded by big rock walls. I mean big, way taller than the mast. If you miss the channel, you would have the waves and wind pushing you against those walls. I didn't like that vision, and we went for what would be a safer entrance, a way larger channel few miles west of that. I couldn't remember its name at that time, which partially explained my decision.

Few miles away I was already getting relaxed, with the felling of another safe passage. As we get closer, the waves were getting bigger and bigger. I thought in two possibilities, the waves where converging on the center of the channel, or I was heading for shallow waters.

I knew that there was a nice channel there, but I wasn't sure if I could trust those nautical charts. It could be easy 100m to the side, and I didn't like the idea.

We tried to turn around, but the waves were too big. I drove for few minutes while looking backward, until a smaller wave came, that was the chance to turn around. That wave was smaller, not small, so I was glad to have chosen a good one to turn while hearing everything downstairs flying to the floor and watching Bia holding tight on the deck. I made a big mistake earlier. I lowered the main sail a couple of miles from land and thinking that crossing was done. Sailboats are not meant to move only on the engine, and we barely could make progress banging the waves. Those were respectable waves, with whitecaps on the top that wash the deck. Poor Bia, I don't think she ever experienced that before. Looking back, I don't think there were real chances to roll a 31 ft full keel under those conditions, but the perspective from inside the boat was quite different. At sea, the shit is a blink away, and a slow response can allow keeping going worse. It wouldn't be easy to keep that route to clear deep waters again and then we would still need to make the other narrow channel. We turned it back between sets. Bia got the tiller and I raised the main. One hand to the boat, the other one to avoid flying away. If we hit the bottom, our only chance would be with the main up, and another problem, it should be full, no reef, to have enough power to take us off.

Now we have a big main, big waves, no sonar, and quite tired after a full night sailing. I'm now back driving while Bia was looking the sonar, since I have the hope that if it got too shallow, it would return a solid strong signal, while I surfed the waves. Did I mention how big the waves were? I think that was the moment that I felt most out of control on my boat.

After that, arrive at PowerBoats was a relief. The boat was a big mess, and all that we could do was to clear some space to crash and sleep for several hours. I remember once Eric saying that if he needed to choose, he would take the sonar instead of the GPS. That didn't sound reasonable to me, until I experienced the Dragon's Mouth. Yes, that was the name of the entrance that I chose for an easy and safe arrival!

Mar 04, 2013

It's not what do you think it is!

Today on the radio while I was making some coffee: "Boat blue hull in the Secret Harbor Bay, boat blue hull ..., the buoy that you're trying to pick it up is not a mooring buoy, but a wreck buoy!" O_o

Sometimes we look for comfort and expect safety in the wrong place. I'm finally finding some time to write, cook, and organize the boat. A quite pleasant time.

The view from my "office":


Oct 01, 2011