+++*

Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘work’

Undiplomatic

Or, a free-ranging post

Has anything happened so far this month?

Work has been the sort of place when I get irritated, because of people approaching to ask stupid questions when I’m trying to concentrate. It’s at moments like that that I start to answer the questions undiplomatically, if not unprofessionally. No, I don’t know anything about the issue you are asking me about. No, I don’t mind if you rewrite the workflow in the ticketing system, because negotiating the workflow will still be an unhelpful distraction from actual work.

At lunch, a woman at the next table was showing her colleagues pictures of shiba inus she’d favourited on her tumblr.

At home, we have been rearranging the furniture. On Tuesday I bought a couple of safety gates. We had one across the door of the front room; now we have a wide one to go across the archway that separates dining room and kitchen, and a narrow one to go across the stairs. I am not supposed to refer to the stair gate as “SG1″, incidentally. With these gates, and with some rearrangement of the dining room furniture, we’ve been able to take down the front room gate, to give the kids free roam throughout front room and dining room. Of course, their first response was to rearrange furniture themselves, pulling the nappy box in front of the TV so they could climb up and scratch the screen of the TV with a screwdriver I’d forgotten to put away.

Disassembly, Reassembly

In which we try to use metaphor

The past two days at work have largely just been the long slog of writing unit tests for a part of the system which firstly, was one of the hairiest and oldest parts of the system; and secondly, I’ve just rewritten from scratch. In its non-rewritten form it was almost entirely impossible to test, due to its reliance on static code without any sort of injection.

For non-coding people for whom this is all so much “mwah mwah mwah” like the adults in Peanuts: a few weeks ago I was doing some interesting work, to whit, dismantling a creaking horror, putting its parts side by side on the workbench, scraping off the rust and muck and polishing them up, before assembling the important bits back together into a smoother, leaner contraption and throwing away all the spare screws, unidentifiable rusted-up chunks and other bits that didn’t seem to do anything. Now, though, I have the job of going through each of the newly-polished parts of the machine and creating tools to prove that they do what I think they were originally supposed to do. As the old machine was so gummed-up and tangled with spiderwebs and scrags of twine, it was impossible to try to do this before, because trying to poke one part would have, in best Heath Robinson style, accidentally tugged on the next bit and pushed something else that was supposed to be unconnected, setting off a ball rolling down a ramp to trip a lever and drop a counterweight to hit me on the head in the classic slapstick manner. All this testing each aspect of the behaviour of each part of the device is, clearly, a very important task to do, but it’s also a very dull job. Which is why an awful lot of coders don’t like to do it properly, or use it as a “hiding away” job to avoid doing harder work.

Nevertheless, today it did lead me to find one of those bugs which is so ridiculous it made me laugh, so ridiculous that you have a “it can’t really be meant to work like that?” moment and have to dance around the room slightly. I confirmed with the team business analyst that no, the system definitely shouldn’t behave the way the code appeared to. I asked the team maths analyst what he thought, and he said, “actually, that might explain a few things.”

Doubling up

Or, doing more than I should

Yesterday, I did a full day at the office, went home, then an hour later went back to the office and did another 6-7 hours. Bed at 1am.

The office is big and echoing; in the day time it’s always busy, and the chatter of the various contact teams travels between floors and runs around the building. Last night was the first time I’d worked so deep into the evening since I started this job, and it was interesting to see how sound dropped off as the evening progressed. At 8pm the last contact team on my own floor took off their headsets, put their coats on and went home; and the noise from the teams below us dropped off a lot too. At 10pm the last contact sections on the floor below went quiet, and after that it was just me and my colleagues sprawling over our own corner of the building, eating pizza, and doing our various out-of-hours tasks. With nobody else about, I felt free to walk around the desks as I tried to solve problems, the way I always like to when I want to concentrate.

Today, I worked from home; or rather, hid in the kitchen with my laptop whilst the children stayed in the front room. If they see a laptop, they immediately become so excited they insist on getting close to it, climbing on chair, climbing on people, shouting “PUTER! PUTER!” and getting close enough to it to bang their hands on the keyboard as hard as they can. So when I work from home, I have to work out of sight.

Repetition

In which we get annoyed with AWS

The problem with writing a diary entry every day is that most weeks of the year, five days out of seven are work. It’s hard to write about work and make it interesting and different every day; and also not write about anything too confidential.

Writing about work itself would quickly become pretty dull, I fear, however interesting I tried to make it. Today, I wrestled with the Amazon anaconda. Amazon have a product called Elastic Beanstalk, which is a bit like a mini virtual data centre for a single website. You pick a virtual image for your servers, you upload a zip file with your website in it, and it fires up as many virtual servers as you like, balances the load between them, fires up new servers when load is high and shuts down spare ones when load is low. If you’re not careful it’s a good way to let people DDoS your credit card, because you pay for servers by the hour, but all-in-all it works quite well. The settings are simple, but deliberately fairly straightforward: how powerful a server do you want to run on, how many of them do you need at different times of the day, and a few other more esoteric and technical knobs to tweak. Elastic Beanstalk isn’t so much a product in itself, as a wrapper around lots of other Amazon Web Services products that you can use separately: virtual servers, server auto-scaling and inbound load balancing. The whole idea is to make tying those things together in a typical use-case a really easy thing to do, rather than having to roll your own each time and struggling with the hard bits. The only thing that’s specifically Elastic Beanstalk is the control panel and configuration on top of it, which keeps track of what you want installed on your Elastic Beanstalk application and controls all the settings of the individual components. You can still access the individual components too, if you want to, and you can even change their settings directly, but doing so is usually a Bad Idea as then the Elastic Beanstalk control layer will potentially get very confused.

Today, I found I couldn’t update one of our applications. A problem with an invalid configuration. Damn. So I went to fix the configuration - but it was invalid. So I couldn’t open it, to fix it. It was broken, but I couldn’t fix it because it was broken. Oh.

That’s how exciting work is. One line of work held up, whilst I speak to Ops, get the broken Elastic Beanstalk replaced from scratch with a working one. In theory I could have done it myself, but our Ops chap doesn’t really like his part of the world infringed unilaterally.

The woman at the desk opposite me is on a January diet. One of those diets that involves special milkshakes and lots of water all day. Personally, I’d rather have real food.

Milk (redux)

In which we get a reluctant refund

A couple of people have, for reasons best known to themselves, asked how I’m getting on with the office milk lady since we fell out. Well, I don’t think I’m any more popular with her than I was. Fed up of there being no milk, and fed up of the woman in question – Administrator Of The Tea Fund – refusing to accept that tea supplies were anything to do with her, I told her that in that case she could give me back the balance of what I’d put into the fund, and I’d make my own arrangements from now on. Which might have been a bit petty, the balance being only 20p, but there you go.

She said “I’ll give you it later.” A few hours later, she phoned me up.

“Have you stopped chucking your little tantrum yet?” she said. “We’ve got some milk in – are you back in the fund or do you still want your money back?”

“I’ll have my money back, please.”

“You’ll be very thirsty this afternoon then.”

“Er, no I won’t be.”

“Well it’s very silly of you, you’re cutting your nose off to spite your face.”

There was a pause. I wasn’t entirely sure what she expected me to say, other than possibly start begging for her forgiveness.

“So are you back in the tea fund now?” she continued, persistently.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Well, I gave you one last chance. I’ll get some change and bring it down for you in a few minutes. You said you don’t want your 20p back?” A nasty little switch at the end there.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Fine. I’ll see you later.”

So, a few minutes later she came downstairs, slammed 20p on my desk, and went away again. And since then, all has been peace and quiet. I can see why some colleagues, those who have to work with her more, don’t like her very much, though, after that conversation. This is someone whose job is to talk to customers over the phone, take orders, and so on – it makes me wonder if she tries doubling back on herself and making quickly misleading switches when she’s on the phone to customers as well as to colleagues.

Everyday Life

In which the truth is told

The last couple of years, I’ve posted “guess which bits are true” posts on April 1st.

I didn’t particularly feel like trying to fool anyone this year. Things have been a bit too stressful, lately, for me to spend much time writing here; for me to spend much time writing true things, never mind about making things up.

Work has been rather busy lately; a lot of upheaval. I’ve heard it said that when you see people under stress, it can bring out new qualities in them. It hasn’t seemed true, to me. It’s pushed people to become more extreme versions of their ordinary selves. The tetchy people are tetchier, the people who flap around panicking panic more, and the arse-lickers use their tongue ever more often. And, on the other hand, the nice friendly people are just as nice and friendly as ever.

At least everything else is going well. And we didn’t get too snowed-in, camping. I could tell it was a good sign when K – who had never been camping before – started saying “the next time we go camping, we’ll have to…”

Stress and strain

On being unmotivated

Work is wearing me down again. We have several projects on our menu, for different divisions of the company, and of course everybody thinks their own project is urgent. Our manager’s opinion of the most urgent depends on who he had last talked to.

When people ask me: “have you done X? When will Y be ready?” over and over again, I get annoyed and irritated. Unfortunately, most of the other managers in the company seem to think that this is the best way to go about motivating people. Of course, some go further, and lie directly: “I know Z is supposed to be ready by the end of the month. I’m sure someone told me that. I’m not sure who, but I’m sure someone did.”

The Return Of Colleague M

Or, someone has a plan to improve my love live

Colleague M has a cunning plan. A cunning plan to help me get a date.

This cunning plan is based around M’s theory that people suddenly get a lot more attractive when they’re unavailable. Bluntly put, if someone’s already taken, you’re much more likely to start crushing on them.

So, to help me look more attractive, M has invited me out for the day. “It’s not a date,” I was immediately told, “and I’m not going to snog you.” But, once word surreptitiously gets around the office,* however much we say “we’re just friends” noone will actually believe us. Therefore, everyone will think I’m taken, and will therefore be more likely to try to pull me when they get drunk at the Christmas party next month.

I’m not entirely convinced that this is going to work. If it does, though, I’ll keep you posted.

* And, indeed, it already has. It hasn’t even happened yet, and people are already raising eyebrows and saying things like: “have a good weekend, you two“.

Out

In which we’re reminded why we don’t go out much

It’s not often that I go for nights out around here. Sometimes, though, you have to, just to remind yourself why.

There was a good reason for it: a work leaving do. So, we all went off for a meal, before going to one of those horrible crowded town-centre bars that wants to be a nightclub. It doesn’t want to be a nightclub all the time, though, so it ends up being the worst of both worlds: a big, shedlike bar with plenty of tables and chairs so they can serve food in the daytime, a tiny little dancefloor, and loud loud cheesy dance music.

As it was far too loud to talk apart from by shouting right in someone’s ear, I spent some time just standing and watching the crowd. Being Friday, the place was packed, with a strange mixture of college students and 30-somethings. All the men had velvet-short shaved heads;* and all the girls had shoulder-length layers and tiny denim skirts. Everybody in the place had been stamped off the same production-line; everybody in the place had bought their clothes from the same handful of shops in the shopping centre.

A random stranger came up to Big Dave, and spent a good ten minutes chatting to him – well, I mean, they spent ten minutes shouting in each others’ ears. I assumed he was an old friend, or something like that.

“God, some people,” said Big Dave when the man finally left. “The last time I saw that bloke, I beat the shit out of him.” I’m glad Big Dave and I get along, because I’d be quite scared if we didn’t.

* the older men – the fortyish ones – all seemed to have porn moustaches too

Unpopular

In which we annoy someone

I’m not always the most popular person at work, but sometimes I feel less popular than others.

A branch manager called me with a problem. It wasn’t particularly serious, but he seemed to think it was. His computer had been frozen solid for half an hour – or, rather, his computer had frozen solid half an hour ago, and he’d ignored it, so that he could phone up and say how terrible it was that he hadn’t been able to do anything for that long.

I told him to push some keys, and it sprang back into life.

“You have to admit that this isn’t really acceptable,” he said.

I tried to point out that if he, too, had pushed that same keystroke, then he, too, could have had a responsive computer immediately.

He said I was raising my voice at him.

“No, I’m sorry, I wasn’t raising my…”

And with that, he started to shout and swear at me, before slamming the phone down. Lovely. Maybe there’s a reason why he’s managerial material and I’m not.