We're taking a bit of a breather while the world rearranges its underpants. Meanwhile, the other blog is here.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Patience, fleas, the night is young

"Scoring Points by Ticking Boxes," our corporate action plan, has generated a number of offspring, the latest being a card that came with our payslips. On the card is a summary of the corporate aspirations beginning with "We will work co-operatively in a friendly environment." One that's nice is: "We will work nimbly." In order to prove that we are working nimbly and co-operatively we have to fill in a new generation of forms so that the nimble and co-operative workflow can be monitored (I'm really not making this up). Here's an example...

We've got some money and need some printers to replace some we bought in 1998 (profligate I know, but we've got the money and thought we'd treat ourselves). I contacted support to find out what printers we were allowed to buy, where from and how much. They told me I needed to submit the question by email. (I've got my PC back by the way. Thanks for asking. It came back just after I took the "borrowed" PC over the road.) I emailed the question. A month later I got a reply telling me which model I could buy and how much for, the purchase to be done via support. I asked how I should effect the order. A week later I was emailed a Word Document which turned out to be the order form. I filled it in and then found that because I wasn't the holder of the cost code we were using to buy the printers I had to email the cost code owner so that they could email the order I'd filled in. Five weeks later they were emailed to tell them that the order hadn't been accepted because I hadn't specified to which PCs the printers were to be attached. And each printer required a separate order form. So I filled in multiple copies of the form and emailed them to my colleague to pass on when they got back from leave a week later. The order was emailed to support. A week later I got an order confirmation. The printers arrived the next day. Not bad service, 12 weeks to order the printers and a day to deliver.

On the subject of anally-retentive control freaks, the other day I was comparing notes with a colleague from elsewhere in the damp north-west. They tell me that they are forbidden to throw anything away. Literally. Their chief goes through the waste-paper bins to make sure no contraband is going to the dustbinmen. Apparently, for a couple of weeks there was a broken flipchart in the office lobby. One leg had been snapped off and was propped up against the wall. On it was a post-it note: "I am broken. Please can I be thrown away?" The post-it note was thrown away and the flipchart put into stores.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Relocation, relocation, relocation

You can't make this sort of rubbish up...

One of the very many protracted programmes of reorganisation being visited on us is a sequence of planned relocations/co-locations, each of which is madder than the last. We've had the scout hut (where we re-opened with no network points installed and so "issued" books by scanning barcodes into Wordpad), we've sort-of had the church hall (don't ask!), now we're in the "let's move libraries into schools" phase:

  • Library number one is still in stasis. It's supposed to have moved off the main road, away from the bus routes, up the hill and round the back of the school last summer, and will no doubt be doing so once a decision has been made as to the future of a clock. An added complication is that the headmaster doesn't see why a public library should be open during school holidays.
  • Library number two was supposed to be moving from the shopping precinct to a school that's not been built yet, again up a hill and not on the main road, and well away from any buses, but that's been kiboshed by an unholy row in the local press and the realisation that this would move the library outside the SureStart project area.
  • Library number three may be moving out of a run-down shopping centre well-served by buses in a regeneration area to a school up another hill (I think the Education Department is pathologically scared of flooding and instinctively heads for the high ground), but might not because the organisation the council wants to lease the building to has said it would prefer to have a library there.

We're waiting to hear on all the others. I expect that the next time the gas board digs up a road we'll be reading in the paper that we're moving in there.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More People's Network anecdotes

The hamster story reminds me of a colleague working in one of our more eccentric branch libraries. She rang to say that the computers weren't working. After trying all sorts of things and getting no evidence that anything at all was wrong I ended up nipping over to sort it out. It turns out that she changes the screen colours each morning to match the outfit of the day (busy, busy, busy). That day she changed the screen colour to yellow. With yellow text. Hence blank yellow screen.

Green screen mama blues

I didn't tell you about the member of staff we had who was evading ECDL on the back of a note from her mother, thinking it a bit unbelievable. Well it has now developed into a real saga, and I now have scientific evidence that hamsters and PCs don't mix!

This woman is notable for suggesting she has been as busy as a hamster on a wheel, usually when the library is full with one borrower. Anyway we have paid for an eye test for her as she claimed looking at a PC for more than fifteen minutes gave her a headache (much like listening to her for fifteen minutes gives me one). The optician couldn't find anything wrong. We then sent her to the Council doctor, he too couldn't find anything wrong, so the Health and Safety Officer paid a visit to her place of work. Now I'm not sure how his recommendation is supposed to address the problem, but he decided the first floor of the building needed a fire escape and then scarpered. I was then dispatched to examine the working environment, i.e. shift a few tables and PCs around, and while you are there can you fix the flashing light? I also decided to change the screen colours as light green text on a fractionally darker green background required concentration levels bound to induce a headache even in the best of us. Having set the screen colours to default, I mistakenly asked the hamster if they were better.

"I liked them as they were," she replied.
"Yes but you couldn't look at the screen for more than fifteen minutes, so they can't have been right."
"It isn't always fifteen minutes, sometimes it is twenty."

Hence the conclusion, hamsters and PCs don't mix.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The power of positive thinking

T. Aldous has just come in to badger me about something else. This is the finale:

"I've just seen your email saying about the problem with the new management system. Am I right in thinking that once you've sorted the problems out it'll be ready in a fortnight?"

"Er, no... Once we get back to where we were last week we could have a ragged-round-the-edges version live in a week or two."

"Is it a very big problem, have you lost much work?"

"We've lost everything. The back-ups we were assured were being done weren't. When the system crashed it all went down the plughole."

"But once it's fixed it'll be a fortnight before we go live?"

"I don't know how long it'll take to get back to where we were last week. Once we're there, then possibly, yes."

"Well that's just a hiccup. It's really good news that we can have it ready so soon."

"It's more than just a hiccup..."

"Well, that's computers for you."

One, other, or both of us has lost it.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The People's Network: the secret service

Get any systems librarians together for more than five minutes and they'll start telling People's Network stories. It's the modern equivalent of the boy scout camp fire yarn...

The department’s Marketing Officer came along and showed the "People’s Network marketing group" some ideas for publicity. A couple of weeks ago she’d been asked to provide an idea for a leaflet taking advantage of the People’s Network to publicise library services at each library. She had to leave after about half an hour and left us with the job of finalising the copy and coming up with a brief for the graphic designers. After half an hour it became apparent that we had deconstructed the leaflet down to literally a blank sheet of paper (they had decided it was too wordy; "didn’t want to include irrelevant services"; didn’t like the premise for the logo; didn’t want any lists; and objected to the number of times the word "free" cropped up). When I suggested that we might want to decide on some copy for the front of the leaflet I was told (really): "That’s what we’re paying the graphic designer for. We don’t want to paint them into a corner."

I remember a conversation I had the week before we went live, all those years ago (it seems like many lifetimes). The Reference & e-Learning Librarian collared me at the photocopier: "I really must get you to tell me something about this People's Network thing some time." I recalled it because she threw a wobbler yesterday because we wouldn't reschedule this meeting so that she could be paid extra for coming in on her day off.

Plans, damned plans and pretending it isn't going to happen

After years of inactivity and apathy there’s suddenly a flurry of groups being set up to make decisions about our library management system. Somehow they can’t seem to grasp that they have just a matter of weeks before the services are going to be made available to the public.

The focus group (a misnomer if ever) was due to meet on Tuesday afternoon to try (yet again) to nail down the policies for children’s loans. It was cancelled because the guy chairing it doesn’t fancy getting bogged down in traffic on the way home by the school buses. (This is the guy who decided that it wasn’t necessary to include technical updates in the agenda for the meetings.) It was postponed to Friday mid-morning, presumably to avoid the school run. I suggested that as the system will have been installed by then they’d be able to have a look at the set up. "Good", he said, "it’ll give us a chance to start thinking about the procedures for issuing books and the way we want it to look." It's way past midnight and the mice and the pumpkin want to go home.

Friday, July 22, 2005

An extremely-thin client: keyboard, mouse & screen

Today I made some progress in getting somewhere towards getting a temporary replacement for the PC that hasn't been on my desk for the past week. On Tuesday I told support that I could "borrow" a new PC which could act as a temporary replacement so all they had to do was come and install the network software and oft we jolly well go. Or words to that effect. Today I found out that it wasn't happening because I had to submit it as a project using a form and project number that had been emailed to me in March but which I couldn't access because my PC had been taken away to the menders. A sequence of 'phone calls have resulted in a solution: I have to take a processor up to their office at the top of the office block across the road, leave it on someone's desk, and hope they'll get round to installing the requisite software some time before the next millenium so that I can traipse back and pick it up, take it back to my office and install the bloody thing.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Cascade management

I got a bollocking from T. Aldous Huxtable, our glorious leader, because I hadn't guessed that Management Team had raised the maximum fine for overdue library books and hadn't told anyone. At the time I was writing the section on the library service's policy on ICT provision for their report-back on the corporate action plan ("Scoring Points By Ticking Boxes," a thrilling yarn, soon to be a major motion picture). I had written "We have a policy vacuum where if you do things off your own bat you get it in the neck and if you wait to be told what to do you get it in the neck". In the circumstances I couldn't argue that I wasn't clairvoyant.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Security: Helminthdale-style

I spent today trying to find out why a colleague was suddenly locked out of the internet. It turned out that the automatic update of the corporate virus scan software, which completely screws every PC in the corporation for a couple of days a month, isn't as automatic as should be and oft times misses some PCs for reasons unbeknownst to PC Support. Knowing this, and being live to the dangers of viruses, they want to stop these PCs' having access to the internet. One strategy could be to do a trawl and find which PCs were affected and fix them. Instead they put a blanket block on all PCs that don't have the most up-to-date version and wait for people to complain. They then manually upgrade the software. Which then takes two days to take affect so that you can have access to the internet. Really.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

W(h)ither Helminthdale?

It would be easy to say that Helminthdale is a shining pearl of a town nestling in the foothills of the Pennines. It would be a damned lie, but easy enough. It's actually a downcast pile of bricks cowering damply as the last clouds of the Atlantic empty their bowels before going to visit Yorkshire. In short, it's a right bog hole.

You might like to say hello to the nice people.

Hello nice people. And the nasty ones. In fact, especially the nasty ones (if you're going to be that unpleasant I'm not going to go out of my way to upset you!)

Would you like to say a few things about yourself?