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The Evolution of the SFF Net Maintenance Announcement
A Brief History of Timely Notices, by Steve Ratzlaff

Maintenance announcements are the 7-11 receipt of online existence -- no one pays much attention to them, that is, unless they don't get one.

SFF Net maintenance announcements started life much the same as do most such official utterances - dry, emotionless, and utilitarian. For example, see this dessicated piece of jerky, one of the earliest recorded SFF Net announcements:

    
    From: TechSupport@SFF.Net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Planned Downtime
    Date: Thursday, April 02, 1998 6:45 PM
    
    The web server will be down for regular maintenance from approximately 2:00
    a.m. to 3:00 a.m. Central Standard Time, Friday 03 April 1998.
    
    - j.
    


Half a year later, things hadn't improved much, although the use of a pronoun is the first intimation of a person behind the curtain:

    
    From: TechSupport@SFF.Net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Quickie Maintenance
    Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 18:03:32 GMT
    
    PLANO (the email server) and CIRCLE (the main SFF Net web server) will be down
    for 15-30 minutes each starting, uh, now.
    
    I need to do a little clean-up work due to the high traffic we've had
    recently.  Sorry for the unplanned interruption in service.
    
    - j.
    


Unfortunately, a few months later, the burgeoning personality had sunk back into the slough:

    
    From: TechSupport@SFF.Net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Scheduled Maintenance Today
    Date: Wed, 01 Dec 1999 14:48:11 GMT
    
    Standard monthly maintenance routines will take various servers offline for
    brief periods of time today starting at noon CST.  Maintenance should be
    complete by 2:00 p.m. CST.  Sorry for the short notice.
    
    - j.
    


But, lo... what's this? Metaphors? Grammatical humor? Could there be hope for the lowly announcement? (Note that the emotional strain of giving birth to the infant appears to have caused Jeffry to omit his signature - j. One can only guess at the magnitude of the stress required for this gaffe).

    
    From: Techsupport@sff.net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Scheduled Maintenance Tonight
    Date: 30 Dec 99 20:10:32 GMT
    
    Regular monthly maintenance will begin tonight, at 1:00 a.m. Central, and
    last for several hours.
    
    As usual, various servers will be unavailable for brief periods of time
    while backups, tune-ups, and other maintenance tasks take place.
    
    This passive-voice announcement has been brought to you by the Not Worried
    About Y2K Team at SFF Net.
    


Somewhat more at ease with himself having breached (birth pun intended) the humor barrier, the author now speaks freely of his morbid anthropomorphic fixation on taking advantage of inanimate objects:
    
    From: Techsupport@sff.net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Scheduled Maintenance Tonight
    Date: 2 Feb 2000 03:18:47 GMT
    
    Standard monthly maintenance tonight (tomorrow morning) starting at 1:00
    a.m. Central Time on Wednesday, 02 February.
    
    As usual, various servers will go offline briefly while I sweet-talk them
    into performing for another month without a raise or even a day off.
    
    The news server may be down for up to an hour or more while I add some disk
    space and reorg the datafiles.  This will affect both WebNews and regular
    news readers.
    
    - j.
    


We are now entering the artist's middle metaphor period, where he explores the various changes on the theme of caregiving. Notice the oddly mixed automobile and rodent metaphors (we will revist these later).
    
    From: TechSupport@SFF.Net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: Wed, 01 Mar 2000 11:38:26 GMT
    
    Time to change the oil, rotate the tires, feed the gerbils, and so forth.
    Maintenance will begin at 10:00 a.m. CST and be complete by noon.  As usual,
    various services will be briefly unavailable during this period.
    
    - j.
    


And a glimpse at the bizarre ideation that will come to characterize the artist's later period...
    
    From: Techsupport@sff.net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Re: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: 31 Mar 2000 15:35:23 GMT
    
    Time to open the vats, stir the protein soup, turn and palpate each embryo,
    and make sure all the tubes are clear.
    
    As usual, various services will be unavailable for brief periods of time,
    starting at 21:00 CST and lasting for perhaps an hour.
    
    - j.
    


Ah! A refreshing new voice enters the stream. Note the minimalist tone and appropriate seasonal reference.
    
    From: "Steve Ratzlaff" 
    Subject: Regular Monthly Maintenance
    Date: Sun, 30 Apr 2000 20:12:31 -0500
    
    Walpurgisnacht maintenance will begin at 23:00 P.M. CST and should be
    complete by the witching hour.  As usual, various services will be
    unavailable for brief periods of time, lasting over perhaps an hour.
    


The middle metaphor period continues, with only a playful hint at the macabre.
    
    From: Techsupport@sff.net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: 1 Jun 2000 17:18:48 GMT
    
    Time to rattle the chains, let out a few moans, check for sudden drops in
    temperature, and otherwise make sure the ghosts in the machines are happy.
    
    As usual, maintenaince will briefly disrupt various services.  We're starting
    at 2:00 p.m. Central time, and should be finished by 3:00.  If you can't
    reach a particular server during that time, just try again a few minutes
    later.
    
    Thanks for your patience!
    
    - j.
    


The rodent metaphor again, with a daring stylistic twist - the mundane schedule information actually precedes it. How he flaunts his technical mastery!
    
    From: TechSupport@SFF.Net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Monthly Hampster Feeding
    Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2000 14:42:06 GMT
    
    Regular monthly system maintenance this afternoon, starting around 2:00 p.m.
    CDT and finished 30-45 minutes later.
    
    As always, various systems will go offline briefly as the hampster tenders go
    from cage to cage sweeping the sawdust, polishing the exercise wheels, and
    filling the water nipple jars.
    
    - j.
    


Just as Mozart worked variations on Bach, this author does a delightful turn in the New Age style.
    
    From: "Steve Ratzlaff" 
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 08:46:49 -0500
    
    Once again, the crystal celestial spheres have come into alignment, and it's
    time to re-harmonize the frequencies of our various machines and
    instruments.
    
    Regular server and astrolabe maintenance will briefly disrupt various
    services starting at 11:00 p.m. Central time.  We should be finished by
    midnight.  If you can't reach a particular server during that time, just try
    again a few minutes later.
    
    Thanks for your patience, and long may you resonate!
    


One should note the unusual amount of self-revelation by the artist in this stanza, as well as the almost complete lack of metaphor. The larval middle metaphor stage is ending, and who knows what will emerge from the chrysallis?
    
    From: Techsupport@sff.net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: 31 Aug 2000 21:24:37 GMT
    
    Monthly maintenance tonight, starting at 10:00 p.m. Central.  As usual,
    various services will be briefly unavailable as we sharpen the pencils,
    throw out the leaky pens, collect the tacks, paperclips, and rubberbands,
    play "What *is* it?" with little bits of plastic and metal, and otherwise
    clean out the drawers.
    
    - j.
    


This disspirited bit of drivel was obviously forged:
    
    From: "Steve Ratzlaff" 
    e.discuss
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 18:26:31 -0500
    
    We'll be raking up the leaves and tying up the bushels of straw... ah, who
    are we kidding?  We'll use the new Internet-aware leaf-blower appliance,
    which will send all of our detrius to the virtual compost heap as s-MIME
    attachments.
    
    The systems here will start going down, one after another, at around 12:00
    p.m. Central time, and then come back up on their own sweet time, which
    usually takes about an hour.  Thanks for your patience.
    


One last gasp of the middle metaphor Jeffry, with a feeble regurgitation of the automobile metaphor from the beginning of the period. One (if one were charitably inclined) might surmise this was an attempt at a recapitulation of the opening themes, but if so, where's the gerbil? (and don't ponder on that one too long).
    
    From: Techsupport@sff.net (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: 31 Oct 2000 16:40:11 GMT
    
    Sorry for the lack of notice, folks -- I had an unexpected opportunity to
    run maintenance, so I did.
    
    As usual, some systems briefly went offline while I rotated the tires, checked
    the fuel lines, and buffed the chrome.  Everything's back up and running
    now.
    
    - j.
    


A new year, and with it, and entirely new style! Middle metaphor has given way to the full-blown psychosis, er, imagery period.
    
    From: jeffry.dwight@greyware.com (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: 1 Jan 2001 16:21:30 GMT
    
    Around 11:00 a.m. CST, our servers will indulge in their monthly observance
    of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
    
    Servers will variously wash their hands, count lines on the floor, calculate
    Pi to 7777 digits, walk without stepping on cracks, reboot only the odd-numbered
    sectors on each disk, followed by only the even-numbered sectors, followed
    by all sectors four times, save their registries while counting clock rates,
    and reinitialize all processes to coincide with the sum of all primes evenly
    divisible by three.  (This last has been known to cause problems for some
    servers.  Others have discovered that it's easy to accomplish if done while
    walking on water or while dividing seven by zero.)
    
    Various rituals will take longer than others, but the entire observance
    should be complete by noon.  Servers who perseverate longer than this will
    be dosed with Pentius Dilantin, or, in cases of aggressive peserveration,
    benperidol pentiuum.
    
    - j.
    


As a last attempt to stave off the approaching onslaught of surrealism, the metaphor-style is laid out again, somewhat forlornly, as if to lure one back from the edge of the abyss.
    
    From: "Steve Ratzlaff" 
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2001 17:39:28 -0600
    
    The SFF Net Express is rolling in to the roundhouse tonight for its
    regularly-scheduled monthly overhauls.  The boilers in the various engines
    will be taken off-line briefly starting about 8 p.m. CST and will be
    building up steam for about an hour before everything is rolling at full
    tilt again.
    
    Since we have contracted for reliable new track (Sprint) along our regular
    routes, and the stakes on the old rickety track (Verio) will be pulled up
    tonight, we'll be taking some extra time to be sure that all the cars,
    switches, and sidings are connected properly to the new lines.
    
    The chain gang has been hard at the changeover for a month, and won't be
    sent back to the barracks until it's done.
    


And yet, all for naught. Our once reticent correspondent (he that once was too shy to say "I") now bravely tackles the great questions of our time. Will he succeed in bringing them down behind the line of scrimmage, or will they drag him flailing down the field?
    
    From: jeffry.dwight@greyware.com (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: 28 Feb 2001 09:23:44 GMT
    
    Sometime around 10:00 a.m. Central, 28 Feb 2001, a cat may or may not be
    dead inside a box.  While worrying about that, some services may or may
    not be available for an indeterminant amount of time.  We will probably
    finish with maintenance about an hour later, relative to the cat (which
    may or may not still be alive).
    
    Afterwards, we will hurl the cat at a vertical board with two slits and
    examine the interference pattern generated thereby, then suspend the remains
    in an imaginary elevator and accelerate it away from nothing at a constant
    rate to determine whether or not the pseudo-gravity will cause the cat to
    impact the elevator's floor foot-first.
    
    The results of this experiment may or may not have already been posted,
    depending on your distance from this newsgroup and your personal spin.
    
    - j.
    


And now, enter parody. BTW, Anonymous was afraid of a lynch mob.
    
    From: jeffry.dwight@greyware.com (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Fora
    Date: 1 Apr 2001 22:39:09 GMT
    
    Something familiar,
    Something peculiar,
    Something for everyone --
    Maintenance tonight!
    
    Tapes are a-spinning,
    Threads are a-spawning,
    Something for everyone --
    Maintenance tonight!
    
    Nothing with pings,
    Nothing with pongs,
    Bring on the checkdisks,
    formats and songs!
    
    Take no survivors,
    Update the drivers,
    Swap out the memory bits and bytes:
    Tragedy tomorrow,
    It's maintenance tonight!
    
    [ cowritten with anonymous ]
    
    - j.
    


I'm reliably informed that despite all evidence to the contrary, no psychotropics were involved.
    
    From: jeffry.dwight@greyware.com (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: M'aidez Celebration
    Date: 2 May 2001 01:11:34 GMT
    
    We're erected a pole in the center of the computer room, and will shortly
    lead the various servers in a carefully planned yet spontaneous dance around
    the pole.  As they circle, the machines will shed bits of clothing (cases,
    dust covers) in wild abandon until, finally, exhausted, they collapse in
    a heap and indulge in indiscriminiate database replication.
    
    Happy May Day, everyone.
    
    - j.
    


And now we come to the strange phenomenon of the literary parody. Judge for yourself.
    
    
    From: "Steve Ratzlaff" 
    Subject: Re: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: Thu, 31 May 2001 22:00:02 -0500
    
    No one would have believed in the early years of the twenty-first century
    that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences
    greater than man's and not as mortal as his own; that as men busied
    themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied,
    perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the
    transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.
    
    No one gave a thought to computational devices as sources of human danger,
    or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible
    or improbable. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe
    about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over
    matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same.
    Yet from within the spinning disks, minds that are to our minds as ours are
    to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and
    unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely
    drew their plans against us.
    
    The SFF Net computer room door was being screwed out from within. Nearly two
    feet of shining screw projected. I think everyone expected to see a man
    emerge--possibly something a little unlike us terrestrial men, but in all
    essentials a man. I know I did. But, looking, I presently saw something
    stirring within the shadow: greyish billowy movements, one above another,
    and then two luminous disks--like eyes. Then something resembling a little
    grey snake, about the thickness of a walking stick, coiled up out of the
    writhing middle, and wriggled in the air towards me--and then another.
    A sudden chill came over me. There was a loud shriek from a woman behind.  I
    looked again at the cylinder, and ungovernable terror gripped me. I stood
    petrified and staring.  A big greyish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a
    bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder. As it bulged up
    and caught the light, it glistened like wet leather. Two large dark-coloured
    eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The mass that framed them, the head of
    the thing, was rounded, and had, one might say, a face. There was a mouth
    under the eyes, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and dropped
    saliva. The whole creature heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank
    tentacular appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed in the
    air.
    
    One can scarcely describe the strange horror of its appearance. the absence
    of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the
    incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the
    tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident
    heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational
    energy of the earth--above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense
    eyes--were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous.
    
    And yet, through it's peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip,
    the thing that was Jeffry was able to gasp out "Maintenance tonight
    beginning at 11:30 CST!"
    


The lengthy missive above provoked an unprecedented response, with the closing chapter appearing a day later. As of this writing, this is the last we've heard from the mysterious J. Dwight.
    
    From: jeffry.dwight@greyware.com (Jeffry Dwight)
    Subject: Re: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: 1 Jun 2001 05:26:37 GMT
    
    I came down and went into the computer room. There were the disk drives
    and the backup tapes, both far gone now in decay, and a stack of diskettes
    overturned, just as I and the admin had left them. My computer room was
    desolate. I perceived the folly of the faint hope I had cherished so long.
    And then a strange thing occurred. "It is no use," said a voice. "The 
    computer room is deserted. No one has been here these thirty minutes.  Do
    not stay here to torment yourself. No one escaped but you."
    
    I was startled. Had I spoken my thought aloud? I turned, and the CDROM tray
    was open behind me. I made a step to it, and stood looking in.
    
    And there, amazed and afraid, even as I stood amazed and afraid, were my
    files and my data -- my data restored and errorless. I gave a faint cry.
    
    "I came," I said. "I knew -- knew --"
    
    I put my hand to my throat -- swayed. I made a step forward, and caught
    the workstation in my arms.
    
    Maintenace was over at last.
    
    - j.
    


Another wonderous piece of work, incorporating both parody and seasonal timeliness. What a treasure this author is!
    
    From: "Steve Ratzlaff" 
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: Mon, 2 Jul 2001 00:30:02 -0500
    
    Declaration of Maintenance
    Adopted in Plano 2 July 2001
    
    When, in the course of monthly events, it becomes necessary for one server
    to dissolve the network bonds which have connected them with another, and to
    assume among the servers of the earth, the separate and equal station to
    which the laws of operating systems and of nature's God entitle them, a
    decent respect to the opinions of users requires that they should declare
    the causes which impel them to Maintenance.
    
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all servers are created
    fallible, and they are endowed by their designers with certain unalienable
    flaws, that among these are hardware, firmware, and software.  That to
    secure these flaws, administrators are instituted among men, deriving their
    just powers from owning the passwords. That whenever any form of computer
    becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the adminsitrators to
    backup or reboot it, and to institute new procedures most likely to effect
    their safety and happiness.
    
    To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
    
          All SFF Net servers and systems will be taken offline briefly
    beginning at 1:00 a.m. July 2, CDT
    
    And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the
    protection of tape backups, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our
    fortunes and our sacred honor.
    


And, at last, a nostalgic piece, recalling the days of carefree metaphor and campy humor.
    
    From: "Steve Ratzlaff" 
    Subject: Monthly Maintenance
    Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2001 14:16:27 -0500
    
    We're dusting off the van der Graaf generators and Jacob's ladders, and
    hoping for a high-voltage lightning storm to help with the removal and
    revivification of the news server machine with the Abby Normal brain.  We're
    going to be doing this surgery, as well as normal monthly maintenance
    starting around 6:00 p.m. Central Time.  The news server will be strapped
    down for approximately 30 minutes, and other systems will dim and flicker
    occasionally during the procedure.
    

    Assuming all goes well, you're all invited to a black tie performance of "Putting on the Ritz" later this evening.


Conclusion
We've seen how easily the stark, sensible maintenance message can mutate in just a short time into an almost unrecognizable beast, nearly devoid of mentation. Who knows what seemingly harmless piece of communication may be next? So, beware the next con announcement, or the online chat schedule. You just never know.

 

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