Thursday, January 30, 2014

Here Be Dragons

The inside of my head is a terrifying place.

This evening I sat down to bang out a dispassionate reply to a business email, and before I knew it I had as many Powershell sessions open on about as many servers as my wife does tabs in Chrome. I will point out that her idea of browsing the internet typically comprises opening a tab for every page. She commits chromacide on a regular basis.

So there I was, trying to put together a simple checklist for a simple request, when I started wondering the stupidest thing ever to wonder before bed: what if? What if I was wrong about access restrictions? What if I can't manage this step? What if I try these steps in a stable environment?

Seemed simple enough, but invariably those questions lead me to the discovery that the 'stable environment' I intended to test was not quite so stable, and that of course meant more work, diagnostics, testing, querying, ooh-shiny-object-ing, and suddenly I'm migrating file servers in the middle of the night. And demoting domain controllers. And testing attribute-manipulation and export. And by God if I've gone that far, why not migrate DHCP and print servers? Maybe it's time for some overdue patching, too. Wonder if those SQL databases are in production. Why not screw around with those, too? And now I'm remembering why in hell I logged onto a RADIUS server 2 hours ago and abandoned the session.

It's a terrifying thing to be in here with all this crap. There's hardly any room for me. Because in spite of what I may be accomplishing in the middle of the night for my clients, I have yet to suspend my home phone or my satellite service, in spite of the fire having been almost 2 weeks ago.

But that's another part of my brain. One that I truly do not like to access: the one that uses the phone. Phones make me angry on principle. I find it far simpler to convey my thoughts in written form than verbally, even though others tend to disagree after reading one of my technical documents. I can be more specific where I think it's necessary and gloss over the minutiae. When I'm on the phone I tend to blather and over-share (who, me?), and I have trouble hearing people clearly on the other end. And the delay that cell phones impose is enough to make me want to scream., you...sorry...wha...GODDAMMITFUCKALLWHOGETSTOTALKFIRST?

So rather than take care of a few undoubtedly simple phone calls that would make me stop paying for services that I can't currently use, I sit here in the dark banging away at Powershell commands, making incredible discoveries that greatly simplify my job and increase my capacity to service my clients, assuming I remember them in the morning.

And wait...wasn't I working on some sort of checklist?

Dragons, indeed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Le Feu, Part Deux

Today was a flurry of meetings and contractors and business cards and epic unyielding cold. We got to the house promptly at 9:30am to meet the cause & origins expert, who showed us a most startling thing: the fire started not necessarily by original 1973 aluminum wiring, but by a fascinating bundle of totally not-up-to-code wiring that included:

  • At least 2 14-3 in-wall wires, possibly aluminum
  • several low-voltage wires, including at least 2 for the alarm system and one phone line
  • an orange outdoor 10A or 13A extension cord, used as proper wiring
All of this was zip-tied together.

To make things even more interesting, this bundle of bullshit was draped over a joist and rubbing against a nail. Seems it's time to have a talk with both the home inspector and the home warranty folks...

The other fascinating revelation was that the abandoned home security system did not, in fact, save our lives. Of all things, it was the doorbell. That bundle of low-voltage wires also included a line from the side door buzzer, and when the wires all melted into one, what was coming out of the speaker was the 60Hz hum of standard household current. So there ya go, folks: don't bother with fancy smoke detectors, just lay wiring for your doorbell all across the crawlspace of your house (I kid--don't do that).

After the cause & origins guy got started, the electronics cleaners came and cataloged all of my fun toys. They also did me the courtesy of writing off every appliance we weren't in love with in our kitchen, from the dated refrigerator to the slapdash cheap-o dishwasher to the 15-year-old microwave oven I've dragged along on every move since I first paid a rent. Those guys, bless 'em, were there for almost 9 hours. We evidently had a bunch of crap. They even took the washer & dryer.

Then while they were going the structural adjustor showed up with her crew and the fire restoration guy, and they gave me an overview of what will be replaced, what options I have in selecting my new stuff, even telling me that any structural upgrades we want to pursue can be done at the same time. Yay!

Finally the property adjustor showed up and wrote off some damaged furniture and estimated the amount of food we will have lost.

All that's left is for the temporary housing company to find us a home to live in for the next 3 to 4 months, and demo should begin just about immediately.

It's weird to walk into the house now. With all the fabrics and electronics removed, it looks kind of like either we were fleeing Chernobyl, or we're in the process of moving out. Plus it's only about 42 degrees in there, so interesting other things are happening, like the floors are becoming uneven. Crown-molding is separating from the ceiling. It looks really sad. Alastair went in on the first day--it was important for him to see that the house and his stuff were ok--but I don't think I'll take him back in unless he really needs something specific until reconstruction is under way. He misses the house dreadfully, but he's hanging in there.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Fire

Saturday night was as ordinary as they come. The boy was spending the weekend with his grandparents. We went out for a bit of retail therapy and crashed in front of the TV. Around midnight we woke up long enough to go to bed. It ain't exciting, but it's our life. Or at least it was.

At 12:47am I awoke to a horrible incessant noise. It was a very loud 60-cycle hum, like the sound of a florescent fixture with bad ballast. I went out into the hall to see just what the hell had the audacity to wake me up, and my ears led me to the thermostat, which I immediately noticed was not on (it's digital). At that point I figured the heat had failed, so I turned on some lights to make my way to the breaker box.

And that's when I noticed the dining room was full of smoke. Oh. Shit.

Not ready to declare that anything worse than a bad heater was at fault, I made my way through to the den, which was somehow even smokier, to the breaker box. Sadly, whoever wired the breaker box had nothing smaller than a Sharpie to mark the breakers, and evidently couldn't be bothered to label more than 5 or 6 of them. I flipped a few, including the one vaguely legible "heat" breaker.

Nothing improved. I ran out the closest door to see if flames were leaping out of the roof, but they weren't. I came back in through the kitchen, into the foyer, and saw Katelyn coming out of the bedroom as I was heading out the front door to see if the front of the house was on fire. It also wasn't.

She started yelling that the smoke was coming out of the fridge, which we'd suspected of being near death for weeks. Ah! That must be it! Pulling it out revealed huge amounts of smoke billowing out of the back, so we yanked the cord and I congratulated myself for saving the house.

Then she pointed out that smoke was pouring out of the oven. I ran back to the breaker box and flipped a few more of 'em, but nothing was getting better, and the kitchen had become unbreathable. We opened windows to survive and to buy ourselves a few minutes to get the pets out, Katelyn called 911, and we evacuated the pets.

Once the pets were out, I went back to the dining room and pulled our sideboard away from the wall, whereupon I could see fire through the cracks in the floorboards. I grabbed a pot from the kitchen and started pouring water onto the floor. A little got through to the fire, but it was evident it was time to retreat. When I went to step away, I realized my slipper had begun to melt onto the floor.

Katelyn was on the phone with the 911 operator, securing the pets in the garage. I was trying to move a hose from the side of the house to the front, where there's a tap directly under the dining room window. The hose refused to engage the threads on the tap, and when I finally got it attached and opened the tap, hot water came out. It was clear the pipes were routed right through the fire. I called off my efforts to save the house and waited for the sirens.

When the fire department came, they came in force. At first we got 3 trucks, but over the next 45 minutes that number swelled to somewhere between 10 and 12. We had a legitimate 3-alarm fire, but never once did flames actually enter the living space of the house. It appears to have begun as an electrical fire in the crawlspace, but had entered the wall between the dining room and kitchen by the time the firefighters got to it.

The firemen will have my absolute unquestioning respect forever. Every single action they took was explained to us in detail PRIOR to it happening. They apologized in advance for everything they had to do, ensured that we understood what was happening was strategic, and kept us sane throughout. The fire marshal walked us through the house when they were done, and even went so far as to get our electric company to dog-leg power from the house to the garage so we'd have a warm place to sleep on our own property.

They helped us collect our essentials and even offered to run into town for any supplies we would need. They were AMAZING. Not at all the faceless drones who chop your house to pieces and leave a rubbly mess.

Everything was over at 4:15am, and we tried our hardest to get a little sleep.

In the light of the morning, we took our own walk-through. The wall between the kitchen and dining room is functionally gone. Fire had entered 2 sections of the wall, but because of modern construction practices (capped walls), the fire did not enter Alastair's bedroom, which was directly upstairs. Because of where it began, the firemen could not get directly to it through the crawlspace, so they had to chainsaw our floors and put it out from above. At least one floor joist is completely bisected by fire, and the floors in at least the kitchen and dining rooms (and likely the foyer because now it's wiggly) will be written off. There's ash and soot on everything, and the house smells dreadful.

All the registers in the main heating zone have black soot on them, so the heating will need to be replaced. Emergency vendors are working this week to winterize the pipes and prevent further damage. A textiles cleaner came today to collect all fabrics in the house for cleaning, and an electronics company en route to take...well...the electronics.

We're living in a hotel for the moment, but trying to get to another one that will let us have the pup, with the goal of being in a temporary rental house within a week or two. At that point all of our emergency cleaning (clothes, electronics, etc) will be delivered back to us, and we'll have a semi-permanent home for the next 3 to 4 months while our house is rebuilt.

All the wiring will be replaced. Every wall will need to be tested to see if it needs to be replaced. Every wall will be repainted (we get to pick the colors, so...huzzah?). Structural renovations will be necessary to support the kitchen, and all the kitchen appliances except the stove and dishwasher will be replaced. While there is no clear visible damage to the exterior, I watched black smoke pour out of the crawlspace door for 3 hours, so I have a feeling the exterior of the house will get a good cleaning, too. Insulation under the house will be replaced. At least one of the 3 heating zones in the house will likely be replaced in total, and the other two were breathing in the smoke, so they may be damaged, too.

So far everyone we've dealt with has been incredible, and even our blustery snow day has worked out to be an opportunity for me to spend time with Alastair. Incidentally, the kid is taking it REALLY well. He cried when we told him, but we immediately took him to the house and showed him exactly what had happened, and since his birthday plans were all necessarily ruined, we went ahead and gave him his go-kart a couple days early.

We are extremely fortunate to be alive, to have our pets still with us, to have a place on the property where we were able to stay, that is still viable if we need to be on the site during repairs, and above all, we were incredibly fortunate that Alastair was not home and that we still do have a house. These next few months will be a rough ride, but we will be able to face it together, and I know in my heart that will be enough.