David's diary: July 2006
And a très bon weekend so far. Out at the pub with Graham and Nicola last night, breakfasting with Simon, Mali, Avis and Phil this morning, helping out with the OAP party at our old church this afternoon, and relishing in Andy Murray's brilliant straight-sets defeat of Andy Roddick this evening. And there's yet more to come tomorrow, indeed, all being well! Yay for weekends!
The less said about England's dire performance in Germany the better, needless to say. Thank goodness there's some talent north of the border still. Should at least be a few fewer flag-flying (try saying that quickly!) cars around now...
So today we've been to church (which was hot), we've been out for lunch with George and Kit (which was yummy), and we went to Basingstoke to get Windows XP for my mum and dad (which is shrink-wrapped - the CD-ROM, that is, not my parents) and to see Over The Hedge at the cinema (which was cool in every way).
Just spent a nice hour lying in the garden, watching the swifts, spotting the stars come out and dodging the bats. We'd had some not-quite-so-terrific news earlier in the evening, so it was nice just to be reflective for a while...
And it was nice and cool, of course!
Monday morning, and although sat at my desk and probably able to find things to do, I am officially unassigned as far as I know. Looks like quite a few people haven't bothered to come in at all today, judging by how empty the car park was given that I was a bit late in too! Not quite late enough to catch the radio interview with Chesney Hawkes though, thankfully. He's probably the biggest name at a local pop festival in a few days, which must say something... What I want to know though is whether if he does an encore will his set length double?
Given the price we (our department) pay per head for internet access, it would surely be reasonable to expect that access to be via a server somewhat better than a ZX81 hooked up to a 1200/75 acoustic coupler, right? Perhaps if we all chipped in, we could afford a 16K RAM-pack for it? Mind you, the cost of the time wasted sitting around waiting for even simple pages to load far exceeds that per-head charge though... Somewhere, the maths really doesn't add up. And yes, we really do use it for legitimate business purposes - most of the time!
Oh well, I'm writing this off-line as our internet access has now completely collapsed. Whether this has anything to do with Andy Murray's fourth round clash at Wimbledon I wouldn't like to speculate; nor whether it would be because it's struggling under load or is undergoing "preventative maintenance".
Not really too much happening today otherwise though. My line manager popped by a few minutes ago, and confirmed that there's nothing on the horizon here work wise. But I was glad to get back from my lunchtime walk earlier, amazingly - though if only because for once the air-con seems to be working efficiently!
We've just received a general email, pleading with us to power down equipment not being actively used, in the light of the hot weather and the fact that we're reportedly continuing to exceed the total power rating for this building. I guess I could save us a bit by switching off my PC and screen, in that case! Still better, I could further reduce that heat build-up by removing my body from the building altogether. Would it help if they bought us all ice-creams?
Oooh, an hour or more later, internet access appears to be back. How long for? I guess that's not so bad, just unfortunate timing given my limited work...
So far, long enough to read of Murray's England-esque departure from Wimbledon. He can go back to being Scottish now.
This evening I have mainly been doing video file encoding. Amazing how even the simplest tasks end up being substantially more complex than expected... MPEGs were fine, relatively speaking; it was getting the Windows Media versions going that was the problem! I eventually ended up using Windows Movie Maker rather than the "professional" offering, simply because it actually does as it's told!
It was a slightly cooler night last night, and consequently I think we got a bit more sleep than we have been accustomed of late. Still pretty bleary-eyed this morning though, and clutching on to even the vaguest promise of possible storms later today. I'm not entirely sure what I'm supposed to be doing at the moment, but I'm keeping my head down and quietly getting on with documenting all the bits and pieces that I was unable to deliver last week due to others whose input I needed having "more urgent" stuff to do - or plain ignoring me.
I was going to be completely uncharacteristic and write a bit more about the football, having belatedly read yesterday's ludicrous tabloid reaction to the weekend's events, but frankly it's really not worth the bother. Instead, a little light music - or maybe it's a good time to go out for my lunchtime walk.
Oh well, having written a few notes, I have passed my most recent work on to the bloke dealing with the next stage of it. Not had it bounced back yet, so it clearly wasn't obviously rubbish - or he's not in work today. This remains the strangest, most dysfunctional team-working environment I have ever experienced, but on the other hand there is a real concrete genuine likelihood that this code will actually get delivered, so perhaps it's not entirely bad. And as I said to my project manager on this matter, although I haven't been entirely happy for the last month or however long it's been, the stuff he's pushed my way has at least kept me vaguely sane. I can continue to book my time to the project until the end of the week, after which it's really anyone's guess what I'll be doing, for whom, or where... My line manager seems to think she'll be able to find me some things to do, but apologises that it's likely only to be more itty-bitty stuff, marking time to an unknown departure date. The internal vacancies list now hasn't been properly updated for two months, reportedly being considered a low priority - presumably by people happy in their jobs. Thankfully I have an ally who is equally concerned at this, so I am getting a new list every couple of weeks via the back door, but there's not much on it. The truth is that I think business is drying up. There's a big project I'm not currently involved with that is being seen as a bit of a make-or-break thing, and our customer is playing a wait-and-see game as to whether we can deliver the goods on that before they are prepared to commit to anything much else.
Anyway, just half an hour at the very most to last out today, and I have been promised a hot chicken salad this evening - plus some cake from our friend Jo!
It's Wednesday - and Wednesdays feel pretty much like Tuesdays, with the sole advantage that they are not Tuesdays. Though this morning there was the bonus of a thunderstorm as we were getting up, and it's still mercifully damp and murky - and I won't mind in the least if that's still the case come lunchtime.
I wasn't sure if the weather would "allow" me to get out at lunchtime today, so made sure I packed my book this morning just in case. OK in the end though. Dry and cool but very humid still, so glad to get back into the air-conditioning back at the office even if there's not really a huge amount to do here. After my success documenting stuff yesterday, today I'm documenting that spreadsheet thing - if only as useful reference notes for people looking at the prototype.
House group was cancelled tonight, but funnily enough both Katy and I had much the same idea of how to spend the evening instead, given that we would normally have been fed at said house group. So we've just got back from walking down to town and partaking of the Balti Hut's finest midweek banquet. Yummy yummy, in our (decidedly stuffed) tummies. And all for just under eight quid a head.
Murky old morning today, so again doubtful whether I'll get out at lunchtime. Still working on documenting the spreadsheet thing, but also finding that there are a few extra features I can add as I go along. Keeps me sane, anyway, and not too long to go until the weekend now - and it should be a pretty good one!
Obviously I was a bit too hasty in giving this latest recruiter a chance to redeem herself. Today she's left an answerphone message, and some time later an email, wondering how the interview went. I have replied saying I don't know because it's not until next week. I'm hoping it's just a momentary mistake and that she meant to get in touch for some other reason, and not that she told either me or the company in question the wrong date in the first place. Having started to get myself psyched up for this one, I'll be most annoyed if it turns out she's jeopardised my chances. We shall see, but my confidence is not high that she won't prove to be just another muppet recruiter who wasted my time.
Friday morning, and really almost the end of the week. It's also the last day here for quite a few people, moving on to projects elsewhere as this particular one officially comes to an end today. Indeed this bay's going to be a man down by the time we go home today. In fact, it's proposed that we'll all be on the move soon; with the team decimated, they can finally accommodate us together, although that's only at the planning stage. Would mean moving upstairs into the "oven", just in time for the worst of the summer, which isn't so great. And where I happen to be physically remains irrelevant if I have no work to do!
Nothing yet back from that recruiter, by the way. Hopeless is too weak a word. Despite all the criticism I've made of recruiters over the years, it has to be said that downright incompetence hasn't often been a big feature. Uselessness, yes. Lack of perception and common sense, yes. Inability to read a CV, yes. But sheer downright incompetence is a real rarity, and I think I've just found it.
This time last year I was having my breakfast at home, when Katy sent me a text message simply urging me to "turn on the television". Details were still very sketchy and confused, but an unknown number of bombs had gone off in London and lots of people were killed and wounded. Today at midday we are encouraged to mark two minutes' silence, and I shall endeavour to, but it would be much more reflective if in the last year we had done anything much to learn from (or even about) what happened that terrible morning or stop inciting the further attacks that the Metropolitan Police sadly now consider inevitable. I will mark the silence, but in memory of having lost so much more than "just" the 52 victims whose death, like those of 3000 four years before, seems to have been in vain.
OK, finally got a reply. The interview's still on as agreed. That's a relief!
Anyway, two-minute silence over - and not that well observed here, considering that we have our country's response to terrorism to thank for keeping us in business - and it's only just drizzling outside so I think I'll risk going out.
The weekend was as good as expected, thankfully! Quiet evening in with a bottle of wine on Friday, then on Saturday out to see Darren, Ceryn and the girls for the day. Lois had bags more energy than all of us put together, so had to be a little disappointed that we weren't going to go out anywhere, but we still all had a nice day of barbecuing and game-playing. We'd decided some time ago to make a proper weekend of it, arranging to go on up to stay the night with my parents when we were done there. In the end that turned out to be a little more of a technical support mission than originally planned, since the main specific purpose was to get Mum and Dad's ailing PC upgraded to Windows XP. But although that took the lion's share of the time (and was eventually successful, with only minor hiccups on the way), we were still able to natter and get out for a pub lunch and a nice walk etc, so we didn't have to go home too square-eyed!
It's now a murky drizzly Monday morning back at work, not officially assigned to any project. I'll give you one rhetorical guess as to how this morning has so far differed from any other for the last few days, given this somewhat dramatic change to my employment status. Yep, you guessed right... Hey ho.
So, what is actually happening? Not a lot really. My line manager is struggling to find any more information about a possible temporary position, but as usual, getting anything more than a one-liner out of the relevant people is like blood from the proverbial stone. I refuse to go on yet another wild goose chase after a position that may or may not be a jot better than anything else from the last nine months, especially when this particular one is indeed only temporary, and would involve what could be a stinky commute. One day perhaps the recruitment industry as a whole (internal and commercial recruiters alike) will realise that if they "sold" their "wares" more openly and honestly, their service level would increase by an order of magnitude. But the trouble is, most recruiters are simply paid a lump sum per placement - and while that happens, they have no incentive to do anything but encourage the wrong people into the wrong jobs, and in the case of internal ones, the guarantee that no matter what their level in the food chain of scum-sucking, both employers and employers have no choice but to return to them, like dogs to their vomit, when it inevitably goes wrong.
Otherwise, well as of this morning, one immediate colleague has upped and moved to another of our offices, and another is reportedly on leave for a fortnight, not that that stops the phone calls of course. So, feeling even more alone than ever, and bored witness into the bargain. If I'd known in advance that time was going to run out on the last project and that everything else was going to fall through anyway, we could have booked an early summer holiday or whatever. But by the time that was abundantly clear, everything had hotted up far too much with Katy's work with no chance of her booking anything more than the odd day for a couple of months. OK, so I'm taking a day off later this week for that external interview, but that's really not going to tip the balance, is it? But yes, I am being paid (and quite reasonably) which is a better deal than all too many people have to put up with, and I do count my blessings in that regard.
The plot slightly thickens, opportunity-wise, with another internal possibility coming up - but again, not really where I want to commute to, Winchester being anything up to an hour and quarter's journey (given a clear run) depending which route planning website I believe. Once again I'm finding myself in the situation where my hand is being all but forced to pursue anything that moves, rather than the right opportunities. The classic scenario - given the malaise that underpins certainly this part of the company - for making an unfortunate frying-pan/fire transition, as if I wasn't quite singed enough already...
Trapped, bored and lonely. I'm really not sure how this compares on the greater scale of things with some of the worst jobs I've had. Hmm, repacking mince pies of questionable best-before date, selling used computers "as new", and having to (metaphorically) adjudicate the winner of car-park fist-fights. At least I was able to escape from all those - so no, this one's the worst of them all.
On a somewhat lighter note, it is quite amusing that someone (not sure if it's us or Orange, strictly) has employed the woman from the Solid Gold Chartbusters single to record their "please hold while we connect your call" message. Cool!
My external interview was this morning. Katy kindly drove me over to Godalming, mainly because she could show me the roads and the short-cuts etc, but it was also nice to be chauffeured after a weekend with lots of driving for me! The interview itself went all right. I fell down in a couple of areas, but not necessarily anything terminal, so the news in a couple of weeks could go either way - it's quite hard to call, and I don't want to raise my hopes too high.
Being a day off for Katy too, we decided we'd go for a walk around the Devil's Punchbowl near Hindhead. We'd accidentally almost got there a couple of years ago on a fateful walk from Frensham, but this all went more or less to plan, though we did take a slightly scenic route back from Gibbet Hill. Nice views to be had though, and reasonably tolerable walking conditions. There were a few steep ups and downs that took it out of us a little bit though, and any plans to do much more than a bit of shopping this evening have been quietly shelved.
Just a shame I've got to go back to "work" tomorrow, really.
So, back to the office ("work" is too strong a word, I feel) with the distinct bonus that it's Wednesday rather than Monday. Two more internal opportunity doors closed this morning - one my line manager agreed was too far for a daily commute (so fair enough), but the other they offered the job to someone else before they'd even bothered to talk with me as they said they would. Is it really terribly surprising how jaded I am? Contrary to the accusations made by one of the people I talked to recently, I don't consider the company to "owe me something" - well, not beyond a fair chance. Been spending the morning trawling through the job websites, and found nothing at all relevant, within my existing skills, nor inspiring. I wonder what booking code I'm supposed to be using?
One of the issues that came up at yesterday's interview was a telling one, that of how I would fit in at a small company after being at a huge corporation. I'm not sure I managed to completely convince my interviewer that I should be fine, having worked in smaller companies before. If nine months in this hateful place turn out to have rendered me unemployable in the kind of company I always have and probably always will prefer to work for, I might as well give up. The only alternative is to resign myself to the fact that the only reason this company is so huge is because no-one ever escapes, to grin and bear my condemned life. Perhaps if I invested in an orange jumpsuit, I might begin to fit in better.
I prayed hard for a miracle, and the phone rang under five minutes later. Although hacking together a spreadsheet may not seem that brilliant (and already I am getting confused messages as to what's really required) it's keeping me sane today, and that's all I really ask for. So thank you, God.
And silence reigns, after obliquely raising the evidently thorny issue of what exactly I'm supposed to be doing. The intention (I think) is to make it easier to navigate a rather confusing file-system, but thus far it's only made it even more mind-bogglingly complicated. I'm pretty sure using a spreadsheet isn't a good idea to start with, but I expect these people were trained up by the Open University to believe Excel to be the answer for everything, given stunning similarities to some of the issues I encountered a few years back when I worked there... But hey, yes, it's keeping me some vague approximation of busy, and I'm going home in a minute anyway. Maybe tomorrow a decision will be made?
Well within minutes of getting into work, my hopes were raised as the bloke in charge of the spreadsheet came to explain the outcome of his discussions yesterday - but then promptly dashed as he was incapable of doing so in any comprehensible fashion, and no amount of blank looks or questioning from me was able to elicit anything like a definitive or even consistent idea of what I need to do. But he's just called to say his colleague is now in, and he's had a slightly better track record of putting things across in a manner able to get things done, so methinks I will pick his brains as my next endeavour.
Due to "unforeseen power problems", one of the air conditioning chiller units has been turned off, and a general plea issued to turn off unused equipment. I assume that since these problems are stated as being unforeseen, it's not the fact - as known for at least the last couple of months - that we're routinely exceeding the power rating for this building, and is something quite different and utterly coincidental. The mind boggles sometimes, it really does... Still, apparently in a little over a year we're moving out of here anyway, which not too many people seem upset at the prospect of. Quite a few of us believe this to be a "sick building" so it will be no sad loss, though of course I really have no intention of still being around by that time, come hell or high water.
Further confirmation that these people don't have a clue what they want, as they argue it out at my desk - and agree something that's worthless. Given that these are presumably the people overseeing everything we do here, it's small wonder we are such a chaotic and dysfunctional company. I've done pretty much all I can now, anyway, so just checking and double checking that it's as it should be (poor though that may be), then I'll hand it back from whence it came - and go and thoroughly wash my hands, in any symbolic way that's appropriate.
But yes, it's kept me out of mischief, even if I came close to giving at least one of the people involved a right good earful. Back to being "unassigned" from Monday I guess, that's to say, back to trawling vacancy lists and the external job websites. Just hope the web access doesn't suck as much as it does today.
How little some people "get it". When I agreed to do the work I handed over today, I was told it was officially two days' work, but would probably take less. So they asked me today how much time I was going to book to it, and I said "two days", given that that was indeed how long I'd spent on it. Except then they made it clear that they considered the time I had spent sitting around waiting for them to get off their backsides and cooperate (and even the time spent discussing and bickering over what I should be doing) not to be included... Hello? Sorry guys - you waste my time, I waste your money. Deal?
And yes, these are almost certainly the same people who recently required us to falsify our timesheets to screw our customers out of as much money as possible.
Nice weekend away from all that though. Friday night we walked out to the pub, where I made the acquaintance of King's Ransom, amongst others. Yesterday at about lunchtime we drove to Basingstoke, parked at the leisure park and caught the park-and-ride into the town centre where we had lunch and did some shopping - main purchases being some new trousers for work and a new plug-in cordless (if that makes sense!) doorbell since we got fed up with buying/recharging batteries for the old one that we inherited with the house. Then back to the leisure park to watch Pirates of the Caribbean, which was a bit disappointing compared with the first, and far too long, but still good fun. Today we've been to church and then out for an oriental buffet lunch with Jo and Ian, picking up a few grocery essentials on the way home. Been chilling this afternoon watching Empire of the Sun as recorded the other day, and now, a good half way through the evening, are just about ready to think about maybe having a bite of tea...
Oh, we needed to watch the film this afternoon to help clear out the hard disk on our Freeview box. We've volunteered to help test the next version of the software for it, so a shiny new 160GB hard disk turned up in the post yesterday since the main thing being tested is whether it will work with big drives!
For anyone wondering, yes the big heathland fire at Thursley Common was indeed very visible for much of the weekend. I first noticed it on the way home from work on Friday afternoon, and there were traffic reports that the A3 was closed as a result. The plume of smoke pretty much filled the southern sky. Saturday, after things appeared to have calmed down, as we drove back from Basingstoke it looked just as bad as it had on Friday, and I gather there are still dozens of firefighters there struggling to keep it under control even on Monday. Scary stuff, especially since we were walking there not so very long ago and it was a truly unspoilt area, and the loss of rare wildlife will be pretty devastating. But fires of this kind do affect heathland from time to time, howsoever caused, and can ultimately bring regeneration, so hopefully all is not completely lost.
Excellent... Someone has apparently taken last week's "cannae give her any more or she'll blow, cap'n" directive a little too literally, and turned off all the lights on the main stairwell. This has rightly been identified as a health and safety risk, though since this is proving to be the building from which few ever really escape even as it is, perhaps it doesn't matter so much after all.
No more comeback about the work I was doing towards the end of last week. I had a phone call late on Friday afternoon querying a couple of things, but needless to say we identified them as not my problem and there have been no more calls today. That's good, but on the other hand it does mean I'm back on the bench - which means back to depressing myself looking at Jobsite and its ilk, seeing just how far the world has moved on while I've been stuck in dead-end jobs. But I'm sure you're more than fed up with my whining so I'll leave it be for now.
I was curious to know whether I had ever let it slip in this writings who it is exactly that I work for, and I found, via a strategic Google search, that I had in fact mentioned it - though just the once. Bizarrely and amusingly though, I see from those search results that I am also linked to my paymasters via the highly oblique connection of hairy MPEG websites. Mind boggling? Yes, mine too. However, I strongly recommend against doing a Google search on that yourself.
A predictably quiet day today, with the main highlight being the fire alarm going off half way through the morning. Over-hot though it may be, there are surely worse days to have to spend a little while outside, though I can think of better surroundings than the company car park. Hopefully it will have cooled off a little by the weekend, when we plan to freeload at Farnborough - as we did so successfully two years ago. The forecast's certainly looking a little more bearable, though Katy said something about it also getting more humid...
We had Cate round for tea last night which was jolly nice as always - civilised dining over scrummy food and fine wine, rounded up with watching our recently acquired DVD of the Wallace and Gromit movie. Cate hadn't seen it before, so was suitably impressed, and there was certainly no harm us watching it again!
Anyway, I think I have now stretched this morning out about as long as I can, so am going to see if the combination of the heat and walking proves bearable.
Another day, another door opened for me then promptly slammed in my face. Still, at least it was promptly this time, which is some modest improvement.
Grrr, just taken the best part of an hour to get into work, thanks to Clancy determining the morning rush-hour to be a great time to dig a dirty great hole in the A287 and set up traffic lights. The line painting people were patiently waiting to finish their job after the recent resurfacing, but it's not looking very likely they'll get a chance for several hours yet at the current rate.
On the bright side, half an hour late into work, with nothing specific to do and no point in making up the time, means half an hour less thumb twiddling.
Making the most of the relative cool of the evening - but still topping thirty celsius - after tea yesterday, we went to check out where we plan to go on Saturday to watch the hairyplanes. We thought at first we'd got a bit lost finding our way back again but turned out to be spot-on, and we managed to find a vantage point at least as good as that which we used two years ago. We expect it will be quite busy up there, but are aiming to be early - though so might a lot of people given that the Red Arrows are opening the show for a change!
A pretty uneventful day, all told - and not really a colossal chance of that changing in the remaining hour or so I plan to hang around. Had a bit of a scare at lunchtime when I went to get some cash out and found our bank balance had fallen way below what we consider prudent. We've checked it out and there's nothing untoward, but it's a timely reminder we do need to keep a close eye on such things especially in the last few days before our salaries get credited!
Not too much joy with the cryptic crossword or killer sudoku today. Given that I finished the crossword on Monday and more or less finished it yesterday I am a little bit disappointed to have barely made any headway at all today!
We do like the killer sudoku though; the "traditional" puzzles hold little interest for us, with hard graft leading to negligible satisfaction, but the killer variant generally addresses that problem, requiring much more than just pretty mechanical logic. However, as one of the Times's columnists commented recently, they're not as good as they used to be: they are graded according to difficulty, with a target completion time plucked out of the air, but more and more the difficult ones in particular have just a couple of tricky sub-problems to solve, with the rest falling into place relatively easily. Before they were computer generated en masse, there was more of a consistent difficulty level of any given puzzle. A lot of twaddle is spouted about the traditional sudoku and the superiority of hand-set puzzles over computer-generated ones, but it's certainly the case with the killers as things stand. The problem is, it's so arbitrary how much effort it will take the puzzler to crack one of these "key" sub-problems; we recently solved a 90-minute "deadly" (the toughest rating in the Times) puzzle in about half an hour, yet sometimes we will scratch our heads over one supposedly simple sub-problem for the same time... But despite all that, we still like them. They still don't quite compete with finishing a good crossword for satisfaction, but they are at least now worthy pretenders.
The Pringles Dream Team promotion is supporting a charity "encouraging the participation in sport by blind and visually impaired people at all levels".
"Not just referees then?" Katy commented.
We heard a strange rustling sound soon after tea. Katy thought it was papers blowing in the breeze, since all the doors and windows are obviously thrown wide open. But no, it was this strange colourless liquid falling in huge blobs, landing on our patio table cover. To celebrate, we stood outside awhile.
Another very quiet day so far, still unassigned. It's a bit frustrating hearing others around me being reasonably involved in stuff I could usefully be doing, but who am I to question management? The cynical side of me suspects that they have now more or less given up with me, and are banking on me getting bored and handing in my notice. Well I am already bored, and much as I would like to hand in my notice, we really can't afford for me to do so at the moment, so I'll be sticking it out for a little longer. But my patience is definitely waning! The more optimistic side of me reassures me that they are in fact actively running around trying to secure work for me, that my annual salary is far more than a drop in the ocean so it's well worth utilising me if they can. OK, I lie. Of course, the truth probably lies somewhere in between - quite where, who knows?
Stupid recruiter enquiry from Reed today, trying to pique my interest for a ColdFusion developer role. I must find a better way to phrase my CV, since it clearly doesn't spell certain things out sufficiently monosyllabically. You see, ColdFusion is one of a number of skills that I tag as "limited exposure and not keen to develop". I leave them on there because they are valid skills, and if a job needed them incidentally they could be useful bargaining chips. But in this day and age where all too many recruiters are obviously sending out their enquiries on the basis of text search and not bothering to actually read the CVs for themselves, perhaps I need to be a little more brutal - even if that means underselling myself. I would say probably 90% of the enquiries I get where the recruiter actually bothers to say what they're offering are, to some extent, inappropriate. I can only assume the hit-rate with those recruiters not intelligent enough to realise the importance of leaving useful information in their emails or telephone messages is going to be even more depressing.
Perhaps the reality as pondered above is actually nearer the optimistic end of the scale. In any case, I've provisionally got some work to do that it is hoped will keep me busy until things are expected to pick up after the summer. For the moment I've got some documentation for the software I'll be using to keep me occupied, though considering that the software in question is for producing training materials, it's really rather embarrassingly poor. You'd have thought a great application of the system would be to demonstrate how to use it, right?
Anyway, just half an hour or so to go today, and only a half day tomorrow.
This morning I've kindly been loaned a CD-ROM with some stuff we've produced with said system previously, and I think I now "get it". The authoring software is a bit clunky but essentially works, and its output seems to serve purpose. I've even got a working booking code, and indeed at my first attempt - unless you count having to ask two people to get a response. Normally it takes at least two or three attempts to extract a booking code that shares the useful attributes of being at least obliquely relevant to the work involved and still current and able to be booked to... I am assured I will be bored with this in days if not sooner, but it's got to be more interesting than the alternative - and I really should know, being exceptionally experienced in said alternative!
Only a half day today so I'm off home in a few minutes. All being well we've got a friend from Milton Keynes visiting for lunch and for the afternoon, en route to near Southampton. Oh, the hardship of dragging myself away from here!
The booking code may have been the right one, but I wasn't supposed to have used it yet. Although I am now working on this stuff, I am still officially unassigned because exact details of the work have not yet been agreed. Funny, out of contract work on this project's never been a big problem in the past...
Anyway, it's the weekend now and I officially no longer give much of a damn. Sarah made it down this afternoon as planned, after a couple of eventually minor hiccups and was able to spend a couple of hours with us because she had to move on to her next port of call. Then we went out for a nice walk in the coolest woods we could find, and cooked up yummy stir-fry prawns on our return.
Then Friday evening my dad arrived for the weekend, mainly order to join us in freeloading at the Farnborough air show on Saturday, but also to help us scan in a load of old slides for Katy's grandma - the latter done without a hitch.
The air show, however, was - how shall I put it - an experience... Katy's mum and dad joined us for a picnic at a reasonable vantage point not too far from where we had parked, but then just as the Red Arrows were preparing to open the show, what had been simply an overcast sky came over very heavy and there was lightning striking all around. The rumbles of the jets mixed with the rumbles of thunder and the heavens opened like I've never been caught out in before - and what we had brought as sunshades quickly doubled up as umbrellas though we still ended up soaked to the skin. The show went ahead in fits and starts, though the new Airbus in particular was lost in the murk, and eventually only my dad and I decided to brave the rest of the afternoon. We walked for a few minutes, up to where Katy and I had checked out the other day, clutching two camping chairs kindly loaned by Katy's parents, since our picnic blanket was completely saturated. Just as we had settled down there waiting for the next "act", the skies closed in again, the runway lights were ominously turned off and we heard mutterings amongst the crowd that the show was abandoned. We tuned in on the radio, and it seemed about as clear as the mud we were just about avoiding sitting in, but then suddenly the lights were back and one of a number of look-alike fighter jets was warming up for take-off. It never quite stopped raining all afternoon but that was the worst of it over, apparently the worst conditions there for at least ten years. Later in the afternoon we were just about to call it a day when Katy's mum and dad surprised us by turning up quite unexpectedly with a flask of tea, doing quite well to have found us really! So we stayed a little longer than planned, which was just as well because the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (quite a misnomer) did much more than their usual fly-past. Stars of the show were obviously the Red Arrows, but also the MIG and (bizarrely enough) a humble glider doing breathtaking aerobatics.
We suspected that the new Airbus might have been a star had we been able to see it, so after my dad had headed home and we'd been to church, today Katy and I took a light lunch and walked out along the Basingstoke Canal to see what we could see - and found a very good vantage point, as of course had about a hundred others. We intentionally just stayed for the first few minutes, which had of course been those most adversely affected by yesterday's weather, though today's programme started with the Falcons parachute team, not the Red Arrows. But we got to see the Airbus properly, as well as getting a great view of the Osprey - certainly one of the weirdest aircraft around, and one to add to our "stars of the show" list without a doubt. It was nowhere near as comfortable a vantage point as yesterday's, so neither of us was sorry to call it a day when the Osprey was done, and besides, it was starting to rain - what a surprise...
So that was it, really. A good weekend, but somehow not quite convinced by the air show. My dad's had experience of a good many over the years, though not so many recently, and we agreed they have rather lost their sparkle. All the new generation fighter jets are basically the same - some of them so identical you really wonder why they didn't save on research and development costs and just buy "off the shelf". In the past, there were more aerobatic teams from around the world, not just the Red Arrows, and the planes simply put on a better show - I can certainly remember shows where the planes did simulated dogfights and bombing runs. The Americans show their contempt with many of their planes, just flying in, doing a circle of the airfield - sometimes even the right one - and roaring off, all in a matter of a couple of minutes. I expect we'll go again - though there are rumours Farnborough may not host another show - but I can't help feeling that every time we do so, we shall be a little more disappointed.
Well what were the chances of that happening? Friday's little "dispute" over booking codes was a direct result of my project manager being uncommunicative. I asked him for a booking code, and needing it urgently, when he still hadn't furnished me with one an hour later, I asked someone else - and that someone else apparently shouldn't have obliged. It was only when I sent an "OK, I've got one now" message to that project manager that the problem came to light. So, why didn't he simply provide me with the information I needed in a timely manner - or at least apologise if he was stuck in a meeting or something?
But then in his eventual reply he grumbled that I didn't have my telephone extension in my email signature, which had happened because my finely crafted signature got eaten when my PC got rebuilt the other week and I'd never got round to replacing it - mea culpa there. So I went to my Outlook "sent items" folder to find an old email with the signature in question to copy and paste from, and the first message I clicked on was... a message to another colleague asking for important information that this self same aforementioned project manager was unable to communicate in a remotely helpful and timely manner.
Not very exciting, but as I say, what were the chances of that? Or is this just another indication of how fundamental some of the problems around here are?
We watched Twister yesterday afternoon. I see from IMDb that there are in fact two films of that name: a comedy from 1990 and the more famous one from 1996. Despite the cast and crew apparently having been from the latter, given how much we were rolling around laughing at just about every scene, I'm not sure.
Nothing much happening today, anyway. There is some vague hope a system might be up and running soon so that I can be shown the "current thinking" on what we intend to do, as we wait an indeterminate time for the customer to approve it. So carrying on (slowly) reading the documentation for the software we assume we'll be using to produce these training materials, still mildly fed up with the knowledge that this is unbookable time. Not that it's my problem, exactly, but the longer I am unassigned, the lower my already badly struggling morale will sink, and I guess there still remains the lingering doubt - based on past experience, many times over - whether the work will in fact materialise at all.
We had a nice evening out yesterday, eventually walking down into town to have a drink. At the weekend, we had borrowed my dad's slide scanner for a while, scanning in a handful of old slides (funnily enough) that Katy's grandma had selected as favourites. After tea, we played with the scans in Photoshop for a bit - tidying them up, correcting faded colours, cropping them and so on - and finally burned the end results on to a CD-R. We then planned to walk round to Katy's mum and dad to drop it off and return the originals, but they'd had a long day out, so we'll pop over next week, and we walked to the pub instead.
This morning's been typically uneventful so far. My line manager has emailed a load of job details, but she's fairly clearly under the control of someone else for this (and I think I know who), because they are almost all in locations she knows very well I am not prepared to commute to and requiring skills she knows equally well I don't have. So no, nothing even remotely piquing my interest. At least until now the internal recruiting was done with a bit more intelligence than that in the outside world, but if this is to be the pattern now - and the summer is likely to be leaner than ever - it really doesn't bode at all well.
Here's an example of why recruiters are scum:
Katy kindly forwarded me a job description, which in typical recruiter fashion only said "Hampshire" for a location. I enquired as to where in Hampshire this might be, and the recruiter replied saying "please reply with your CV and I'll call you and personally tell you exactly where the roles are in Hampshire".
Why not just answer the bleeding question? Why should I pass my CV to someone who's not even got the decency to answer a straight question? I don't want to waste his time dealing with my CV if (as is 90% likely) it's not somewhere I can realistically commute to, any more than I want to have my own time wasted! This only adds weight to my theory that when recruiters advertise, they are far more interested in harvesting CVs than actually filling the advertised posts.
Actually, there's a phone number on the original job description. Perhaps I should - adopting his quite delightful and friendly turn of phrase as quoted above - call him and personally tell him exactly where he can stick his role?
Still no sign of any work for me, and external web access has ungracefully collapsed - almost like it knew it's a Tuesday, undoubtedly the worst day of the week. Sometimes I really do wonder if this is in fact the world-leading IT company it claims to be. As I was saying to Katy earlier, it really does feel all too often like it's a huge corporation run with worse organisation than a two-bit small business - and I can't even plot my escape from it, can I?!
Just bumped into one of my former colleagues though, who's recently joined a different project team - in fact the team that recently snubbed me. He's doing OK, though it seems like they're expecting too much out of him too soon. He did have a bit more wisdom to share about our electrical power issues - apparently our rating for the building is something like 500 amps, and we're currently (pun semi-intentional) using more than double that. No wonder alarm bells rang!
Just chatted with my line manager, and as I guessed, the roles she forwarded me details of earlier were in no way selected by her... In perhaps slightly better news, she has hopefully got a few days' work for me, which will take priority over the other stuff I'm waiting for since they can't pull their fingers out. I've looked at what I think is the defect in question, and it looks vaguely OK, and will at least help restore a little bit of sanity for the duration, maybe.
This is being one of those days I seriously suspect I'm not going to be able to get through without putting someone's nose out of joint - whether literally or metaphorically. Not helped in the least by far too hot a night beforehand, with the added bonus of a police chopper visiting again for the second time in the last four nights, but ultimately it's because it's so atrocious here. I'm glad to have been given something to do, but it's like a bad penny coming back, looking once again at code obviously written by a crack addict - and to make it worse, I haven't been able to do anything on it so far today, two hours into the morning, thanks to someone else having abandoned untested code that is for some reason critical to what I'm working on. Perhaps that should make me happy, to have a good excuse not to work on this steaming crock, but even working on steaming crocks is better than twiddling my already over-twiddled thumbs, and it's not going to magically go away so the sooner I can sort it out the better.
Marvellous. The person with about the best chance of sorting this out found himself clutching at straws even more than me. But it's not his fault; someone else has been screwing around with this since he worked on it, and the version management has gone to pot. Indeed, apparently this all used to work fine, and his best advice is to poke around in the version management system and try out old versions until one of them works, because at some point it looks like a merge was bodged, which would partially explain why some things appear twice.
Anyway, it's still fifteen minutes until rightful home time, but I really can't be bothered to stay in this crappy place for even another five of those. Ciao.
Home group barbecue tonight - hope the weather holds out! Talk of hailstones the size of golf balls isn't too encouraging, but probably won't happen...
Well the barbecue was at least as good as expected, and we only got rained on as we walked home - as indeed we had half hoped we might, to freshen things up a bit! Quite a visually impressive thunderstorm, in fact, with lightning every five or ten seconds, and it rumbled on into the night, though never getting particularly close and certainly not keeping us awake. Back at work now though of course, and not making much progress with this stuff I've been tasked with. Well if the bloke who wrote it can't sort it out, what chance have I got? To add to the fun, yesterday it was confirmed that this code really is suspect - i.e. it's not just me. I queried how it had ever got through a code review or whatever, knowing that's one of the few things we're pretty anal about here, and the simple answer was that it hadn't. It had been delivered on-site as a rush job without any testing, and has been making life hell ever since. At the last proper company I worked for, the software we were forced to polish had been written by a hobby programmer to pay for his honeymoon. Circumstances may be a little different in this case, but it merely adds weight to my sense that although this company is one of the largest software companies in the world, it runs with a level of organisation more befitting a shed-based cowboy outfit.
I've cracked the first of the two tasks I've been given. I still suspect there was a dodgy merge at some point because of duplicated HTML, but the biggest problem was "simply" that Internet Explorer versions 5.5 and 6 behave subtly differently in a key way. The page used to work fine because we used to use version 5.5, and we had no reason to suspect that version 6 would break it! Two days' effort resulted in one line deleted and another modified, but it's always the way with these things that 90% of the effort is in the investigation.
Anyway, that's one task down. So now moving on to the second one, and am almost immediate thwarted for reasons beyond my control. The page displays a list of recently modified documents, and the bug report said that it doesn't scroll at all well. So I created a load of documents, and lo and behold the scrolling was indeed terrible. I went to delete a couple of the documents, to test something else as part of my investigation, and now none of them show up and indeed the search facility generally appears to have collapsed, and no-one knows why.
The 160GB hard disk we received a couple of weeks ago turned out not to work with our Freeview box. We were quite prepared for that, being in the nature of beta testing. However, a replacement disk arrived yesterday, and that seems to be working all right. Anyway, if Katy's recording of the final West Wing fails at the weekend, at least we now have the home address of Inverto's UK rep...
The search stuff seemed to be working again today, for no obvious reason, so at least I could get on with things from the word go. I've solved the most glaring issue, using an evil hack to work around the even eviller hack that the whole page is. However the more aesthetic related issue I don't think is going to get done, having had the news kindly broken to me that the deadline for this build is four o'clock this afternoon and I really don't anticipate being able to code up both the interface and back-end changes needed for that in two hours flat... Of course the irritating thing here is that if there was time to do the latter, the work I was doing this morning probably wouldn't have been necessary, since I'm sure that was only needed because the current version is such an evil hack.
Well I handed over what I did this morning, and was encouraged to press ahead and work on what I could of the other stuff this afternoon, with a view to incorporation in a future release. So that's exactly what I've been doing for the last couple of hours, with a modicum of success, and am now going home.
Nice weekend so far, with Jo and Ian coming round for a barbecue lunch, which the weather kindly held out for, and a pretty chilled day otherwise. We walked into town late this afternoon, and having had mushroom soup accompanied by the left-over rolls from lunchtime and done a little bit of long-promised website stuff, I'm leaving Katy to enjoy her last ever three hours of The West Wing.
Sunday was good too, going into Farnborough after church in the morning. We'd intended to have lunch at Poppins and look for insect-repellant candles in the hardware shop next door, but it turned out both were closed - we're pretty sure they used to open on Sundays, further evidence of Farnborough's sad decline. Poppins' loss was Pizza Hut's gain, and we eventually found the candles in one of the pound shops - I'm sure I don't have to say how much they cost each.
We also bought some rubber feet at Maplins, with which to significantly raise our Freeview PVR. The revised model from Inverto sits quite a bit higher than ours, improving cooling airflow through the vents in its underside, so for the sake of a few pence we thought we might as well do the same - especially since it will probably be running a bit hotter with the new 160GB hard disk fitted.
Back home, we cracked on with some gardening, finding it quite therapeutic if somewhat tiring cutting back and ripping out a load of shrubs that had had their day, and while Katy did a run to the council dump I tackled the lawn's somewhat erratic growth in recent days. All looking a bit tidier outside now anyway, if rather dry, but it's nice having a garden worth bothering about!
In the evening, after getting all nostalgic with the "last ever" (apparently there are plans to keep it going on BBC3 or similar) Top of the Pops, we gave our church's monthly evening More event a try. It was a very different set of people to that with which we are accustomed on a Sunday morning, but it's mission at least partly accomplished if "church done differently" is attracting and reaching people who for whatever reason find a Sunday morning offputting. A decent venue, high quality live music, testimonies, and good beer on tap!
Back at work today, and although it's as grim and pointless as ever, I feel a little more refreshed than normal, like I can maybe see beyond all this now.
Another day, another promise of some work to keep me busy for another few days. Though only as from tomorrow, since said work has already been started by someone else and the person involved who needs to hand it over is off today. So largely twiddling my thumbs again today, but still keeping vaguely cheerful.