It's always raining on somebody's parade

Flashback to 2004, when this IT pilot fish is deployed with his National Guard unit to Iraq as a communications officer.

"Luckily, the job mainly involved computer networks," says fish. "One of my duties was running an 'Internet cafe' for the troops on our base. This consisted of a large, air-conditioned tent with 20 laptop computers and eight VoIP phones, and it had its own VSAT satellite Internet system."

Fish has been trained in tearing down this whole operation, loading it on a truck and then reassembling it at a new base and pointing the antenna at a satellite to get the Internet connection. And his team has gotten pretty good at it after a few times -- both getting a strong signal and troubleshooting any problems.

Thus it is that one bright sunny desert day a sergeant comes looking for fish with bad news: The Internet cafe is completely down.

Fish goes to the tent and starts running through the troubleshooting checklist. His team reboots the laptops, phones and routers. They connect to the modem in terminal mode to check the signal strength. Everything checks out. Fish is stumped.

But he's not out of options. The unit also has a few standalone satellite phones, and fish collects one and calls the network operations center, which is back in the U.S. He has called the NOC before with specific configuration problems, but this is the first time the whole system has been down.

And the NOC quickly has an answer. "Your downlink in Amsterdam has lost its connection to the satellite because of a severe rainstorm," a tech tells fish.

Fish is incredulous. Can you confirm that I have to tell a hundred waiting soldiers and Marines that because it's raining in Amsterdam, they can't email or phone home? he asks.

"Yes," tech says, "until the rainstorm passes."

Sighs fish, "Passing on that bit of information was one of the harder things I had to do during my time in Iraq."

Wherever you are, Sharky wants your story. Send me your true tale of IT life at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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