Thursday, February 15, 2007

My 15 minutes of fame

You may have heard about how Congress changed when Daylight Savings Time takes effect this year, and a lot of people are scrambling to get computers to handle this properly. This is a real trivial thing -- the worst that'd happen is computers may show the wrong time for a few weeks, but it wouldn't even mess up their calculations. Calling it "Y2K lite" (as I've seen in the news) is just the media trying to hype a story out of nothing.

So in a completely humdrum bit of my work one day, I have a slightly older version of Unix for which no official patch has been issued, but that's no big deal. It's not a bunch of coding, just a configuration file, and that is in a common format for many versions of many releases of Unix. I tried to get one from a later version of my flavor of Unix, but couldn't get the archive to unpack, so I found one in a patch for a version of Sun's Solaris Unix which I could get to, and that worked fine.

The whole process probably took me two hours, though not straight through -- it was two hours of doing this and several other things. It was maybe 15 minutes of actual work. And it would have been maybe a minute if I spent more time doing Unix things; it was only unfamiliarity (my Unix system takes such good care of itself that by the time I have to do something on it, I have to remind myself of basics) that made it take that long.

It was a trivial thing of no import. It would be like if an auto mechanic couldn't find the right size wiper blades, so took ones a little too large and cut them to fit.

I happened to mention this in a post somewhere on a forum, I don't even know where, and on a very slow news day, a reporter for ComputerWorld named Patrick Thibodeau happened to see my post and contacted me. He was writing an article about the DST change, one which makes too much of a big deal out of the "threat" (because, of course, big threats sell news), and wanted some information. We talked a few times briefly and my sense was that he was looking to round out an article with "real life" examples from a few people. And furthermore that my story turned out way too uninteresting to be worth even a brief quote.

Skip ahead several weeks to today. At work, out of the blue, I got a call from the secretary of the technology editor of the Boston Globe who wanted to talk to me about the article I was featured in, and the incident behind it. When I agreed, somewhat dumbfounded, I was asked to hold for the editor, and then another person was talking to me. This is someone who is too important to dial his own phone, and he was talking to me about this.

Well, I restated that this was no big deal at all, and then once the call was done, went to look through ComputerWorld. Sure enough, I found this article in which I am prominently featured. I'm glad I come off looking good, not like an idiot, though I'm a little uneasy about being featured as having to administer an "outdated" version of Unix -- it's only one version behind a supported version!

So now my co-workers are making fun about how I'm famous, and I didn't even find out I was in this article until a week after it was printed, and it's about the most trivial thing ever. I hope all the geeks out there are rolling their eyes at the reporter, not at me, for making such a big deal out of nothing. And I'm just a little freaked about being featured in a prominent computer magazine and not even knowing about it. I just don't know how to react. I guess I kind of hope it's all just going to be forgotten tomorrow. But if I get another call from someone who is too important to dial his own phone, I don't know how I am going to react.

I guess it's good to get national exposure for being clever. I just wish it was over something where I actually had been clever. I'm not sure why this is freaking me out at all, but it is.

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