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Herd of Zebra


Glorious Twelfth

I was born on the Glorious Twelfth. This is the opening of the hunting season in Scotland where grouse is a common bird that is hunted. The yearly event is immortalized by the Scotch Whisky, The Famous Grouse! Just read the label. 


While growing up my dad would have his own version of the Glorious Twelfth on his farm Oakvilla. All his mates and family would converge on a yearly basis. There would be beers and food and hunting. The magistrate would provide a permit to shoot Reedbuck and Bushbuck in the morning and in the afternoon it would be Guinea fowl. Everyone would have great big grins on their faces. The story of one old gent who had to much beer at lunch and mistook a Hamerkop for a duck would be retold endless to great amusement.

Jet plane to London

Shortly after the start of the new millennium, while I was working at Investec, the dealing room in London was experiencing slow performance problems. Hours of troubleshooting remotely could not identify the problem. Eventually, I climbed on a jet plane to London to try and troubleshoot on site.

The whole day was spent troubleshooting scenario after scenario. Eventually, I discovered a very slow and small error rate on one of the fibre ports. It was the active bridge port from the dealing room vlans. Now enterprise LANs use a simple but frustrating protocol called spanning tree for path protection. I decided to diagnose the port so told the head of the dealing room that I was going to change the path topology. Immediately when I did that he ran in and said the network was back to normal performance.

We went in search of the switch port, which took a while as we had to walk around a bit to find the door. It seems the cabling guy, who was a contractor, was the only guy who ever been into that room, and the sign on the door designated it incorrectly as a broom closet.

After eventually finding the room and consequently the switch and port, I removed the fibre and ejected the GBIC. The problem was obvious, as my hand was covered in dust from a dirty GBIC. We spend a few minutes cleaning all the fibre connectors and then reinserted the GBIC and fibre cable.

The head of the dealing room said he had tickets that evening to a whisky tasting with the master distiller of Chivas Regal at the Reuters building. As a reward he provided David Cripps, a colleague, and me with the tickets for resolving the network problem. 


We went off to the Reuters building. It is a beautiful old sandstone building opposite the iconic Daily Telegraph. The whisky tasting was in the main boardroom. It was a fancy and posh place with several crusty old farts of the financial and trading community present. We were each presented with six single malts and assigned to categorize them into the four whisky regions of Scotland, i.e. Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay/Skye. Sometimes a fifth region is added of Campbelltown, but this time around they did not have it on the map.

I polished the tots and placed the glasses on a map of Scotland. I scored four out of six.

The master distiller then said he was going to do a sample blend with us using the six tots in front of us. Wait a moment, we said, they are empty. The master distiller smiled and said we were meant to taste not drink but he then proceeded to replenish our six single malts.

We then proceeded with making a blend, which was creating a unique taste from the different single malts from the different regions. Each single malt in every region has a flavour associated with the region.

When we were done, we had created a small sample blend to take home. However, we now all had twelve tots of single malt behind us!

The master distiller then invited us over to the Reuters private bar. He then had the barman create whisky cocktails for us. He wanted us to realize that whisky was a drink which you could enjoy in whichever way you desired. It was just as good in a cocktail, as drunk neat or with water.

The night turned into a blur. I recall we went to party in Soho. I vaguely recall being stopped in a police roadblock in the early hours of the morning outside St Paul's. The policeman was admonishing us for getting into a taxi that did not have one of its headlights working. That was now a conversation to have with two people who had drunk enough whisky in one night to dent Chivas Regal's yearly marketing budget.

The next morning, I woke up with a pounding head. It sounded like a jack hammer was going off inside my head. It took me at least ten minutes to determine that my window was wide open and that at the construction site next to our rented flat an actual jack hammer was being used.

I worked at Investec for just under a decade. While I was working there another old Grey known as Eertjies came up with the Zebra as a marketing ploy to promote the bank.  That idea created and made the brand. It was a great place to work but heck, the IT department had its toxic moments especially when irrational input was given into a technical process that was not feasible. Then it would be a question of who shouted the loudest.  Besides that, often there were meetings that were meaningless.


The regularly scheduled weekly meetings were the ones that are forgettable. Somehow every company insists on having them and for the life of me I do not remember any of them or the actions required. The meetings could have had the same outcomes using different types of interactions. However, there is one meeting I remember...

At Investec often the large meetings had insufficient chairs. The people who arrive late must stand. The Information Technology change request meetings at Investec were like that.

One day I was slightly late and took to standing. After about twenty minutes leaning against the wall, I decided to stretch my legs and change position. Unluckily, I plonked my foot in the small dustbin one finds in those meeting rooms.

I tried unsuccessfully to extract my foot by shaking it. I also tried to reach down and dislodge it with my hand, which also did not work.

I thought I would just attempt to stand there with my leg in a dustbin for the rest of the meeting. Unfortunately, my neighbour started sniggering uncontrollably. Finally, the chairman stopped the meeting to reprimand him, which made him break into uncontrollable laughter.

I thought I would try and avoid the embarrassment by trying a manoeuvre to unseat the dustbin by grabbing it with both my hands to pull it off. All I succeeded in doing was ending up on my ass.

The meeting broke up with everyone ROFL.

Meetings should not be scheduled and used as a boring justification of worth. These types of weekly meetings serve no purpose. Meetings should be ad-hoc and only be there to address a specific topic, problem, or issue. Most meetings are staid and slow, people arrive, the conversation is slow, there are biscuits and coffee. It eventually is no more productive than afternoon tea at the old age home.

I probably was never an Investec person. I was more the ROFL type.

The Investec building in Fox Street is clad in marble. It also used STP token-ring cabling with universal connectors which we called moffie plugs. Investec moved out of Fox Street to Grayston Drive and moth balled the building. About seven years later the building was reopened to house the CIDA City Campus. I was with Taddy Blecher when we first went into the building again and surprisingly enough there was still one plant alive in the atrium of the building! I should have taken that plant home. It was a keeper, surviving seven years. 

White marble

The building in Grayston had also been renovated and clad in marble. While the builders were cladding the building Wimpie Jansen van Rensburg and I installed network switches and RAMs (Token-ring hubs). While on one of the floors mounting a switch, I heard what I thought was the sound of water. I looked over to the source and saw a mini tsunami of dust moving towards me. It took a few moments for the dust to settle and then I heard shouting. I walked over to the edge of the building and looked down. The sight is etched in my memory. The scaffolding had peeled off the building and there were slabs of marble scattered everywhere. Right beneath me was lying a broken body with the blood staining the white marble a crimson red.

Nowadays when I see scaffolding, I give it a wide berth. What had transpired is that the scaffolding had been overloaded with the marble slabs. 


That was not the only time I witnessed a traumatic event at 100 Grayston. One day after work I was at the traffic light exiting the building waiting for it to change. I noticed a taxi approaching with sparks flying from underneath the chassis. I would later learn that the drive shaft had failed and dropped out. In front of me drive shaft dug into the road and catapulted to the side of the road. I look in the direction of where it was heading. Two people scrambled out of the way. The third was reading a paper and the taxi hit him while still traveling at speed. He was thrown into the air and into a tree behind him. I climbed out of my car and walked over to where he was lying. I was the first one there and it looked bad. I thought he was an Indian but was told afterwards that he was white. The impact was so significant that it bruised his skin and darkened it. His life was saved by a doctor who was in the traffic and rushed to his aid. I had walked over to the security guards and told them the guy was dead. He lived but lost his spleen.

I went to visit him in hospital and did not recognize him. There is something in humans that has as a primary identification skin colour. It is confusing and difficult to suppress. I do not feel aligned to any group, yet I instinctively do that.  I am searching about the meaning of identity.

The branches ate Investec had the IT cowboys. Strange and Frankenstein IT systems would make their appearance there. The one day I reached into a cabinet to change a cable and received a shock. One of the local cowboys had installed equipment in a cabinet and did not put the tops on the electrical power plugs. It was a shocking experience.

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In the main head office data centre an HVAC iced up over time, unnoticed it created a small pond underneath the floor. Finding nothing else to use to pump out the water we appropriated the industrial wet and dry vacuum cleaner from the facilities department and sucked it out. We broke the vacuum cleaner but solved the problem. 


That data centre had a number of incidents. The big one being when there was an Eskom power failure and new HVACs were installed. They were not programmed to have delayed starts between themselves so when they attempted to switch on after the generator came online, they caused a trip. They overloaded the circuits. The generator would then cycle and attempt a restart, which again caused a trip. This cycle continued for a few minutes by which time the started battery on the generator decided to give up the ghost in an almighty large bang. I dived to the floor as my Navy training kicked in and I expected incoming munitions. A new battery was borrowed from a building site next door and the HVACs started manually one by one and the data centre and all the servers in it powered back on.

The new HVACs were installed as there was a failure of the previous ones that were of a dubious vintage. There was a major incident when a few failed and the rest failed to cope with the required cooling load. I declared a disaster and kicked off the corporate business continuity plan. The bank had a designated disaster recovery site and in theory all systems could operate from that site. However, the dealing room obviously had different ideas and decided to come remove their servers and run them on their desks in the normal office space. I had to have security stop them from removing equipment. In the mean time the facilities guys had called in an HVAC expert who was immediately available. He found and corrected the problems with the failed units and we were up and running again. We stood down from the declared disaster. Luckily, as I suspect many departments would have taken days to recover instead of hours. The installed HVACs had to be replaced as if more than one failed at anytime we would have a cascading cooling failure as the ones left had insufficient cooling capacity to handle the whole data centre. 

During this period I was living in Hill street in Pretoria, close to the British High Commission.  It was a rather warm night so while I was sleeping, I removed my shirt. I woke to the sight of multi-coloured lights moving around the walls. Initially, I was extremely confused, thinking that I was hallucinating. However, I soon worked out that the lights originated from the bedroom window facing the street.
I walked to the front door and opened it. There in only my shorts I faced a bunch of policemen, firemen and ambulance men. I was gob smacked. I maybe stood there for about a minute, before realizing that their attention was focused upwards. Slowly my eyes turned up. Halfway up the Jacaranda tree on the front pavement was a car!
A drunken driver has taken the corner at high speed and had driven up the stay cable of the electric pole. The car had then come to a rest in the tree.
The multicoloured lights were the revolving lights of the emergency vehicles. I never heard their sirens, or the sound of the initial accident. The next day the scene was cleared and if it wasn't for the broken branches lying on the pavement, I would have indeed believed that I was hallucinating!

This article was originally published over at LinkedIn:  Herd of Zebra


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