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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The wonders of technology. Or not.

Being a rant penned by Lady Bracknell's Editor in response to particularly trying circumstances. Readers who are offended by strong language are advised to refrain from reading this post and to look instead at pictures of kittens.

Ok, I have really, really had enough now. On Saturday I will be able to "celebrate" the first anniversary of the order for my latest reasonable adjustment under the DDA. I am considering throwing a small party with cake and balloons. And possibly a magician. Except I'm not, actually. It is considerably more likely that I will be spending the day in a towering rage.

Why the uncharacteristic snarliness? Gather round....

The summary

Back in the halcyon days of January 2006, neither my line manager (the estimable Mr K) nor I could possibly have anticipated the catalogue of delays, disasters and downright bloody ineptitude which would leave me - twelve months on - still unable to do my effing job properly.

It sounded like a relatively straightforward request on the face of things. Since November 2004 (2004 was a bad, bad year for me from an impairment point of view), part of my reasonable adjustment has been to work from home on alternate days. To which end, I was provided with a laptop with "RAS capability". (RAS = Remote Access System. Capability = a massive exaggeration.)

RAS, strangely incapable of piggy-backing itself onto my broadband connection, accesses my work IT systems on a dial-up connection through my phone line. The connection is tricksy, and has to be coddled by expedients such as unplugging my phone before I even attempt to log in. Logging in takes upwards of ten minutes, as does logging off. The connection shuts itself down after two hours. So we're already down to periods of one hour and forty minutes, and that's without the virtually-mandatory connection crashes. (I have known it crash as many as six times in a two hour period.) I have learned to save my work at a feverishly repetitive pace.

However, up until December 2005, the situation was just about tolerable. I had two entirely separate jobs, and one of them (the one which disappeared) lent itself to being mostly accomplished from my own personal PC. I only needed to fire up the laptop once a day to deal with emails. Anything requiring sustained access to documents on shared drives could be left until I was in the office. But things are no longer like that, and I really do need access to those drives now. I need it all the time, and I need it to be reliable.

So, having taken advice on the available alternatives, Mr K and I ordered a desktop computer. Said desktop to have its very own ISDN line. Easy, right? Wrong.

Over the months, it's become apparent that much of the problem lies with the fact that I don't fall into any of the regular boxes which our IT providers feel comfortable with. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to explain to IT people that I have a laptop at home and a desktop in the office. To them, a laptop user carries the laptop into work and plugs it into a docking station at the desk. That is The Law, and their brains just can't process any deviation from that norm.

Am I a "particular needs user"? Well, you'd think so, under any normal definition. Apparently not, though. In our IT provider's eyes, you're only a particular needs user if you need adaptive software or hardware. I don't: I just need not to have to trek into the office every day. Weeks were lost to internal email wranglings over who should "own" my case. I don't fit the standard definition of "homeworker", either. I'm someone who works at home twice a week, not someone who works from home. My capacity to fall between several stools is the stuff of legend....

Anyway, the first job was to get the ISDN line installed. My front door bell rang early one Wednesday morning last April when I was off sick with a particularly disgusting cold in the head. A bright and chirpy BT engineer said he had come to fit a new phone line. I sent him away because I was too ill to deal with him. I don't work at home on a Wednesday, but this issue seemed not to have occurred to the IT bods: they merrily booked him at their own convenience without ever thinking that I might not have been in on the date they chose. And they didn't even think to let me know he was coming. You would not believe the degree of military planning, and the volume of email correspondence, needed to ensure that I was kept informed about the repeat performance.

Another cheery BT chap arrived in May. Apart from the fact that he had to phone a friend because my external walls are made of brick so solid that it blunted his drill, the installation went off without incident. I had an ISDN socket. I still have an ISDN socket. It blinks its little green light at me every day in what I can only interpret as a mocking fashion. It clearly doesn't anticipate that I will ever have anything to plug into it.

Some weeks went by without a peep from our Premises people. I was eventually reduced to sending them a polite reminder. At which point they confessed that they had lost the order, and suggested we might want to submit a new one. Mr K and I began to fashion waxen dolls. We also said that no, thanks, we would really rather not submit a new order, but would they like the copy of the original order which we had cynically hung on to against just such an eventuality? There then ensued a dispiriting and lengthy session of email tag in which they tried to convince us that the work had moved to Telford, and the people from Telford (when eventually goaded into a response) denied all responsibility for my case. Mr K set his jaw, and threatened formal complaints in the Highest Places if Something Was Not Done. Nothing was done.


As if the whole scenario wasn't already complicated enough, LEAP hove into view. LEAP (or something very similar) is an acronym for a rolling programme across my employer's entire estate to upgrade all computers from NT to XP. When we started to receive emails warning that LEAP was imminent, it occurred to me that it wouldn't perhaps be a terribly good idea for me to be provided with an NT desktop to replace the laptop just days before my office desktop was to be LEAPED. On an impulse which I have since had the time and the opportunity to regret very bitterly, I raised the question with the Premises people that it might be wise to delay installing the new desktop at home until I could have a LEAP one. And the corollary question of whether my being LEAPED at work needed to be delayed until I had two machines functioning on the same system.

This generated another enormous flurry of emails, many written in IT jargon which I haven't got a hope in hell of understanding. I was soothed and patronised. (Anyone who knows me even in passing will know that I don't respond well to being either soothed or patronised.) I spent countless hours on the phone (hours that I couldn't spare, of course) relating my circumstances to people whose job titles were incomprehensible to me, none of whom seemed to be capable of passing accurate information amongst themselves. Everything would be ok, they said. I'd be able to use the desktop and the laptop, they said. There was nothing to worry about, they said. What an unreasonably cynical woman you are, they implied. They were wrong. On all counts.

My desktop was LEAPED. It promptly sulked and lost the ability to receive emails. My laptop remained on NT. It came out in sympathy with the desktop and also lost the ability to receive emails. Over a four week period, there were only two days on which I was able to access emails received any later than mid-December. I worked on documents in a vacuum, with almost no way of knowing whether my instructions had changed in the interim.

I phoned the IT helpdesk. I got to know several charming young men from Birmingham rather well. They scratched their heads. They said things like, "I'll just try this one last thing". They took remote control of my machine and subjected me to classical music played on a Stylophone, recorded in the same room as somebody frying bacon whilst simultaneously hoovering. That should work now, they said. It didn't.

Modified Rapture

Eventually, one of them had the nous to contact the right man for the job. He did something called regressing my email account to the NT servers. It took him five minutes. I love him. I'm considering having his name and contact number tattooed onto my arm.

By this time, I also had two further allies progressing the desktop order. They are doughty and honourable and they are doing their best against almost insuperable odds. I love them too. One of them managed to establish that my new desktop is in the building. This would be quite exciting, were it not for the fact that it doesn't seem to have occurred to the person who ordered it that a modem to connect it to the ISDN line (yup, still flashing) might also have been in order. Plus, of course, it transpires that the desktop is an NT build. So it has to be re-built to LEAP specifications.

But, you know, I was coping. After a truly ghastly month, I found myself no worse off than I had been in January 2006. (Remember? The point at which it was recognised that I couldn't do my job properly under the existing set up?) My desktop was functioning within normal parameters in the office, and my laptop was continuing in its playful attempts to delete my work before I could save it at home. Sometimes it even stayed connected for the full two hours. I was ever so Zen and calm. Even when a nice young chap came to see me yesterday; told me that the suppliers have never heard of the part number for the modem; but explained that there is a member of staff in Scotland who is giving up homeworking, so I'll be able to have her modem. It's on its way. Honest. Would I lie to you? Etc. (Scotland? Scotland???)

Complacency goeth before a fall

Ok, I admit it: I wasn't concentrating. I took my eye off the ball for a moment. I had allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security. I really should have been Deeply Suspicious about the announcement that something unintelligible was going to be done to my email account last night. Something to do with servers. Something entirely standard and natural and which wouldn't cause any problems. To anyone. At all. Perish the thought.

Care to hazard a guess as to whether I can receive emails today on the laptop? Can I bollocks. Am I still Zen and calm? No, I'm bloody not. I'm absolutely pigging furious. Abject sodding failure to make reasonable adjustment? Oh, yes. Without question. Average life expectancy of any member of IT staff, no matter how senior, foolish enough to imply, however vaguely, that this might, in any way, shape or form, be My Own Fault? Is there a shorter unit of time measurement than the nanosecond?


Anonymous SphinxQueen said...

You go, girl! Perhaps your organisation would consider introducing peer performance appraisals. You could volunteer to fill some out in the time you have to spare as you're not tied up reading emails.

10:25 pm  
Anonymous Boogaloo Dude said...


Acquainted as I am with the editor’s employers and having witnessed the carnage and devastation wrought upon the smaller, previously independent part of the company for whom she worked which followed a recent hostile takeover by a much larger company, it is tempting to look back on the good old days and reminisce that it would all have been much better handled by the previous IT partners of the pre-“merger” employer.

And whilst this is undoubtedly true, even the way they would have managed this case pales into ineptitude when compared with the even earlier situation when the colleagues looking after the company’s IT requirements really were colleagues as opposed to sub-contractors working to the lowest tender. These colleagues were an integral part of the business, knew the business, spoke the language of the business (as opposed to the near unintelligible jargon and scripted bollocks used nowadays) and were largely recruited from elsewhere in the business. They were our friends. We dined and drank and smoked and parked with them; they had faces and they cared about getting it right for us. Apparently they cost more than a lowest-bid external provider and they had to be paid when they were off sick or retired but the service they provided was of an inestimably higher standard.

Regrettably, as is so often the case in both public and private sectors, the Powers That Be appear entirely unable to distinguish between cheapness and economy or between contracts and loyalty. And equally regrettably – although predictably – it is seldom the Powers That Be who reap the disbenefit of what they have sown.
Their IT kit is top of the range, no expense spared and maintained regardless of cost. It works, reliably, or heads roll. They receive same-day support because they are important and the business could not function without them.

The CEO has a top of the range PDA whilst (unbeknown to him – because he is isolated and shielded from reality) the staff make do with tin cans and string. All the CEO sees is a row of ticked boxes saying that quantitative targets were met, that the “business partners” who “own the risk” were all up and running. Everyone has an IT kit (which doesn’t work), a phone (but no directory) a building to work in (where the doors don’t work and it takes 4 weeks to get a replacement light-bulb), a chair (with an average life-expectancy of 6 weeks but a rolling “refreshment programme” of 8 years), a parking space (at their own expense and several miles from the building) and a job (at least for now until the next “downsize”).

Many years ago, when I was but a newly qualified chauffeur, I began to question my career choice and to bemoan the way my working conditions appeared to be deteriorating. I was told by an elderly and sage colleague who nearing retirement that whilst I may think that things were getting worse and it wasn’t the job I signed up for, the next generation who were presently but chauffeurs’ apprentices would, one day, look back fondly at this time as the “good old days”. He explained that this was human nature and that every generation’s darkest hour was likely to be recalled by those who followed as halcyon times.

I sincerely hope that this was a sweeping generalisation and that the next generation of employees at the editor’s company will be able to look back on these dreadful times and thank the deity of their choice that things have improved since then. However given the company’s medium-term plans to improve service to customers by replacing several thousand more staff with “strategic, interactive, web-based outlets and services” which, incidentally, customers have demonstrated overwhelmingly that they don’t want, and which don’t work even a fraction as well as the “IT service partners” (yes the same ones who are presently contacted to meet the editor’s IT needs) have said they will, this seems extremely unlikely. After all the company’s motto appears to be “save money - no matter how much it costs”.

Incidentally there is a shorter unit of time measurement than the nanosecond. It does not have a name, but it can be described as the time elapsed between a traffic light turning green and the taxi behind applying its horn.


9:50 am  
Blogger BloggingMone said...

I am certainly not an IT expert and my general technical knowledge is leaving a lot to be desired, but this nightmare seems entirely unnecessary to me. I have a desktop computer at home, another one at my office and I have a laptop as well. All three of them get along very well with each other and all of them do have access to my office mail as well as to the servers at my workplace. However, neither the office, nor my home has an ISDN connection. We have got DSL (Digital Subscriber Line). It even works well with wireless internet access via Airport Stations, meaning that I can do my office work, while staying in bed. Well...if I should wish so. My office and my home are equipped with Apple computers, which seem to be a bit more network friendly and easier to handle. I know from a friend that a DSL connection using a PC is a bit more difficult to set up. But in the end it was no problem. Is DSL (or whatever it is called in Great Britain) available in your area? I hope that some of the IT people will have enough brain to solve that trouble. Good luck!

2:27 pm  
Blogger Charlesdawson said...

Dear Lady B, I am very sorry to hear of your troubles.

Were not my own machine comprehensively f***ed up by trying to transfer to broadband, I would write you a long sympathetic screed, as it is I feel a crash or a dropt connexion coming on, oh !"£$%%^&*(*()@{!

12:50 pm  
Anonymous Dame Honoria Glossop said...

This should be easy to arrange, this is how many people work nowadays.
Dame Honoria is surprised, nay stunned, to hear of these difficulties.
Have these people never heard of VPNs, or Broadband, or even the interwebnet?

(Dial Up, RAS, how quaint!)

11:52 am  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Dame Glossop,

I love you dearly, but pointing out the inadequecies and all-round archaic-ness of my employer's available IT "solutions" does not exactly reduce my level of irritation with the whole farcical scenario.

Particularly given that there are now some slightly better options, but I can't have any of those without going back to the beginning of the ordering process. And I'd rather gouge at my eyes with a teaspoon than attempt that.

The Editor

3:54 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Oh, by the way, toptastic rant there from B Dude, Esq. Loving your work.

The Editor.

3:55 pm  
Blogger Charlesdawson said...

Personally I feel that no satisfactory replacement has ever been found for the quill pen, and transmission via the trusty Royal Mail 4-horse coach.

11:10 am  
Blogger Ben said...

I apologise that this is a little off-topic but I know no other way of approaching Her Ladyship, or perhaps Her Ladyship's Editor.

Her Ladyship recently honoured me by leaving a comment on my own blog. Following the link back via the referrals to my site available through the services of Statcounter, by the simple clicking of links displayed on screen, I was presented with a page belonging to Her Ladyship's own service giving me the most recent 100 referrals to her site. As this is the kind of information the gentlemen of Statcounter are (as far as I know) wont to keep private except to the customer concerned, I wondered if Her Ladyship was aware this information about her own visitors is available to all kinds of tradesmen, artisans and lower orders in general?

11:00 am  
Anonymous Dame Honoria Glossop said...

Apologies, no gloating was intended, merely surprise that suitable reasonable adjustment appears be beyond the editor's employers.

9:50 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Lady Bracknell thanks Ben for his concern.

She is unfamiliar with the Statcounter service. However, her Editor has installed Site Meter on this blog, with the result that anyone who follows the relevant link can amuse him or herself in charting the bizarre search terms which have led persons of low morals - and only a partial mastery of the rules of spelling - to these pages.

It is an education. Of sorts.

10:58 pm  

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