The big, small world (and capturing opportunities with an open mind)

cron job

Our business (and this blog) had a serious problem as the weekend approached. Efforts to solve a recurring problem that probably had an innocent cause had cascaded into a crisis. Our weekly e-letters, calibrated and “hardened” for security and to avoid spam risks, would not send.

On the surface, everything seemed okay Friday afternoon. After reviewing the content and proofing for accuracy, I prepared the eletters (in this case, for New York Construction Report and Indiana Construction News). There’s a tool that allows us to send test emails to make sure they look right, providing a final review before publication.

With the “all clear”, I hit the “send” button, and closed the laptop to visit the gym for my routine exercise.

Only later in the evening did I discover something really wrong. The emails were unsent. They were in the pending queue, but not going anywhere.

Ouch. I’ve learned a fair bit of computer stuff in the past few years and know that there is something called a “cron job” that dictates whether the emails would go out properly. And I? knew how the problem originated.

We were trying to understand why there were serious slow-downs and outages of our server in the mid-evening every night. I had suspected (and now it seems I was right, that a major file backup was causing the problem). However, our Internet Service Provider’s technical support perso suggested that there was a repeating function that could explain the problem.

It was the eletter “cron job” in action.

I should have told the ISP, “No, that isn’t the cause” but instead I gave the go-ahead to effectively disable the cron job by setting the rules so that any requests to implement it would go nowhere, fast.

And that is what happened.

My first reaction when I realized my error: Ask the ISP to cancel the cron job deletion. And the response was, “sure”. But that didn’t fix the problem. I asked again and the ISP’s technical support confirmed that the block was indeed removed.

Still no progress.

Time to call for some additional support, this time from a place I would never have imagined a year ago — Nigeria. (If anything, I would put a block on any inquiries from that country, considering the classic scams and problems originating from that west African nation.)

But through the UpWork?job board, Promise Akpan had solved several problems for me, and this time, I figured he was the right person to request help.

He went to work on the issue, initially “refiring” (essentially rebooting) the cron job. But that didn’t solve the issue.

Now I was starting to get very worried. Promise sent an email telling me: “Don’t do anything, I’m on it.”

Eight hours later, he had solved the problem. It seems the ISP representative had sincerely thought he was correcting the issue, but he couldn’t know exactly where the problem could be found. And, in fact, Promise couldn’t either.

But he had another solution. Some months ago, in a process of hardening and building redundancy in our servers, he had split some accounts and moved things around — and stored away in an unused repository was an unused old cron job. With some edits and tweaks and redirects, Promise programmed the system to recognize the old as the new, and the emails started sending again right away.

Now, all of this IT stuff may seem to have little to do with construction marketing, but I think it shows us a lot about the world and where things are going — and provides us lessons to keep an open mind and vision about where we need to look to solve business and marketing challenges.

Promise is paid very well by Nigerian standards, and certainly isn’t as inexpensive as some offshore resources our business uses for administrative and editorial functions. But he is certainly less expensive than most North American IT consultants.

I’m thankful that I’ve been able to learn a fair bit about website building and maintenance, managing email servers, and coordinating offshore technical resources. it is good to conduct a regional business with a global perspective. The big world isn’t that hard to navigate.

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