04 May, 2012

Ghost of the Machine

When I started working primarily out of my home, last August, I faced a small dilemma: the ancient Dell desktop machine (1.9Ghz, single processor, 1G RAM, 75G hard drive) I'd been using as a testbed for web technologies couldn't come with me. This troubled me, not because it was a great machine or because officially retiring the hardware meant filling out paperwork, but because I had the development environment set up just so*. Also because I knew from painful past experience that the moment the old workhorse was out of my grasp, someone would send me an impassioned email, wanting me to do some of the C++ mainframe integration work or PHP scripting that it had been set up for.

So, before I turned in my paperwork and turned over my equipment to become part of a plastic-wrapped cube of dead electronics waiting on a pallet for transfer to some Chinese landfill**, I did some reading and figured out how to make a virtual copy of the machine's hard drive, which I could then use something like VirtualPC or VMWare to create a virtual machine, once I found a server on which to do so.

Which I never was able to do, because, apparently, a company the size of the one that employs me makes money by not giving anything away, not even to its own employees. It's never in the budget. So old FOORIDER-D4400 (not its real name any more than FooRider is mine) sat quietly on my external backup drive for the better part of a year, not compiling anything, nor accepting Windows updates, nor serving up documentation from its local IIS server.

That is, until earlier this week, when the dreaded words, "Say, we need you to do some mainframe COBOL work for us." For that, I would need my old terminal emulation software (the installation disks for which I'd pitched when I cleaned out my cubicle, last August, and so couldn't install on my current laptop), so out of storage came the image of FOORIDER-D4400. I had to spend a few minutes with VirtualBox (apparently, the major VM players can all read one another's virtual hard drive formats) to set up the machine, but then it came right up, like the hologram of Arnold Rimmer, minus the chrome "H" on his forehead.

Upon reflection, maybe I should have let old FOORIDER-D4400 rest in pieces.

* Translation: "everything was more or less working together in relative harmony" – a rarity, in my line of work.
** I have some lingering doubts about how the recycling of electronics is really conducted, you see.

Crying Fowl

This morning, at the end of this week's obligatory commute to the office, I turned in to the driveway and was accosted by the biggest ho...