Darmstaedter's Blog

Musings and other random thoughts

Digital Cable Receiver

Was an absolute piece of shit. New one works fine, apparently, apart from the crap that is shown on the television screen. Wonder if an analogue one is better? Probably get rubbish TV from the 80’s though


Driving on the Continet

Well holiday time is coming up and for all those British people who will be touring the mainland with a car this year, here’s some tips for you:

Some things you must know when driving in the Continent:

  1. Your life expectancy is thirty-six minutes
  2. Never look where you are going. The police keep a look out for this sort of thing
  3. Never give way. If you want to turn left against the traffic, stop and get out your travellers checks
  4. Make sure that you are in the wrong gear all the time
  5. Continental law forbids any driver under the influence of teetotalism. Strict measures are taken to ensure this. If the alcohol count in your bloodstream is less than 87%, you may be liable for prosecution
  6. There are many hills and other prominences abroad. Make certain, when going over the brow of a hill or around a corner, that you are on the wrong side of the road and busy talking to the person beside you
  7. You will know if you are on the wrong side of the road when there is oncoming traffic your side of the road
  8. Always steer the car with your little finger and don’t use the windscreen. Since you’ll be overtaking most of the time, drive constantly looking into your rear view mirror
  9. All front seat passengers on the continent are obliged, under the law to be mad
  10. Never stop suddenly for chickens, peasants, donkeys or because your eight week old puppy has shot through the wind screen. You may cause an accident
  11. Accelerate when approaching an going over narrow bridges. This will give you a better chance of getting there before a large truck of inflammable liquid
  12. In dense fog, continental law obliges you to see how fast you can go
  13. Remember 1 km. = 25 mph
  14. Traffic signs don’t exist. Rely on the body gestures of oncoming drivers. If you see a bus driver hitting his chest you know he is     having a heart attack and is going to veer of the road and down a deep gully. If you see a driver looking down at his lap you know he is making himself a sandwich is likely to smash into you with no warning
  15. Using your horn all the time is the key to driving on the continent. If in doubt, honk that horn!
  16. Take with a pinch of salt

Hope that helps!!!

The project from hell (nearly)

I’ve undertaken numerous projects throughout my working career, some good, some bad but I started one early last year which has made me rethink my whole outlook on accepting various contracts. Although it was, to start with, very interesting and would look good in my profile it soon degenerated into one of those ‘I wish it would just die and fade away’ type of projects.

It all started when a company with whom I had done some very good work with and had a good relationship with contacted me about a project which was only part time, so it fitted in with other projects I was working on, and sounded just up my street. Warning bells went off even at this early stage as my profile had been sent to their customer the previous year for an undetermined project and I had been turned down. Anyway it got round to the interview, which was more of a coffee and a chat, with the project leader. He seemed to know what he wanted, primarily that I would do all the work, there would be little or no assistance from the employees there and they wanted no ISV software. Now I knew the basics of what they wanted as I had performed reasonably similar tasks at other sites before, they just wanted a bit more and this would be a challenge for me as well, something I enjoy.

I didn’t hear anything for a while until a phone call came through saying we had the contract even though we weren’t the cheapest. Great, so I started brushing up on the topics in question and started some documentation and rough coding in advance.

The big day came and I started on the analysis of the existing system to see what was eventually going to be needed and how long it would take. Work started progressing and then along came the project manager who told me that they had a new ‘pre-production’ system which needed to use the new hardware now and so that had to be set-up immediately. This was actually fine by me as it gave me a chance to test some of the routines I had already created without hitting any ‘live’ systems. This was when I found out that nothing had been prepared at all. In other words I was also expected to configure the hardware. No problems, I like a challenge.

A guy was called in from the hardware supplier to assist but I could have actually done the job just as well as all he did was read the IBM manual (and Redbook) in front of us and just did what it said with our input for the various parameters.

The ‘pre-production’ system was complete and running fine and I started on the test system which is where things started going wrong. The project manager came in one day saying he had some pain in his leg and would be going to see the doctor later. That was the last I saw of him for around 7 weeks which basically was around the time that the project should be nearing completion. Up to this point I had not seen and project plan nor any real dates for completion and should have started to realise that things were not all that they seemed.

I was not too bothered and continued to analyse data, write programs and put my own plan together. I managed to migrate their test system with no problems and decided, I had to make that decision due to pressure from the management, to go ahead and migrate the production system. Prior to starting I had asked the various teams that we would not be migrating certain data as it was not in various catalogues or databases. They got back to me saying that it needs to be migrated event though we had decided not to, this meant that programs had to be changed and retested.

Migration started and errors started to occur with the migration and pressure was being put on me to speed it up (remember I had about 80TB of data to migrate.) I constantly asked who was meant to be standing in for the project manager so that we could discuss the problems but no-one would take that responsibility. I asked the various teams to test their migrated data but no-one would, basically I was left in the wilderness. I endeavoured to continue migrating data and fixing errors and then the day I was expecting the project manager back I was informed that he was now taking his 3 weeks summer holiday!

Eventually the day came that he returned and I informed him how much data was left to be migrated and he in turn informed me that I had 2 weeks left ass the old hardware was to be removed then. No go was basically my reply. The switch-off date kept getting changed depending upon who you talked to so I just continued in on my merry own. Then came the ‘bad day,’ we discovered that some data had in fact been lost and the hardware supplier would need to come in and recover it which they were able to do. I did get very worried on that day as that was the data where I had been having errors and we eventually found out why these errors were occurring.

Apparently the PM wanted the migration to use a certain listing which contained the data he wanted migrated but hadn’t told me whereas I was creating my own listing which was doing an exact 1 to 1, 1 to many or many to 1 copy. His listing was just to do a 1 to 1 copy which would have made my life so much easier and I could have been finished with no errors. To cut a long story short, I rewrote the programs, a colleague was called in to run the migration and I worked on programs to run an end of migration check to so what has not been copied. At least with the end of migration check the PM knew what he wanted event though I disagreed with it (the program takes nearly 3 days to run!)

The last time I was there was to fix a small error in the end of migration check program which any novice could have fixed and was told that they had in fact finished the migration of data 10 days previously. Why no-one told me so that I could have come in to do checks is beyond me…

What I learned from this project, keeping it short, was

  • get a clear idea of what they require from the project up front, before event agreeing to do it
  • make sure that there is some kind of project plan, at least something to work to (I found out that there was one in the end, it was one line: Migrate the data!)
  • ensure that there is a reporting structure of some kind
  • make sure that all teams that you impact on know who you are, why you are there and get a promise of their assistance when required

I doubt very much that I will work there again as I don’t particularly want to, not just from my experience but from other consultants who have worked their which is a shame as the people who I did get to interact with were good people and we could have learnt from each other.

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I spend an inordinate amount of time in hotels, around 4 nights a week, and although its not the best of worlds I don’t mind too much but there have been occasions where sometimes it is just too much. I’m talking about when certain things just get to you and you wish that maybe you were at home, or even in another hotel. Some of the things that have recently got to me and hopefully after reading this you won’t do some of these actions.

  • There’s the person in the neighbouring room who for some reason seems to be having a conversation with themselves, loudly, for the last hour or so. They then start again, later, and its always in a language you can’t understand (if you could understand it then it might be interesting.) They’re obviously on the telephone but there is no need to shout otherwise why don’t you just lean out the window!
  • People who have loud sex in hotel rooms, thanks for reminding me that I’m on my own! This has happened to me a number of time but a memorable one was in a small hotel-pub in Yorkshire. Lying in bed late at night reading a book with the television on low, the people in the next room turned the volume of their television up loud and seemingly started re-enacting a porn film. Although the walls were quite thick it just so happened that there was a connecting door between the rooms which wasn’t so all sound came through. Eventually after a while I just lobbed a shoe at the door, hard, and the sound level dramatically decreased.
  • Televisions…don’t turn them on at 3am with the volume on loud. Do you do this at home? Is there anything particularly interesting to watch at this time of night? Are you just stupid?
  • Car parking, particularly underground car parks in hotels tend to be quite cramped so when you park wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a bit of consideration for other people who have to park here. In other words don’t park at an angle so it takes me a 30 point turn to get in to the space next to you. Try and keep between the lines, if possible try to park so that the person next to you can actually get out of their car. And what is it with reversing in to a space? I’ve noticed a lot of people do this and so they park pretty wonky so that they can squeeze between the wall or another car to get their luggage out. Wouldn’t it be simpler to park forwards so your suitcase doesn’t get dragged alongside the car next to it as you squeeze through?
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  • You’re at a conference, sporting event, concert, whatever but there’s a group of you staying in the same hotel. In the evening you go out for a meal, a few drinks and enjoy one another’s company and then make your back to the hotel. Now what have you been doing the whole evening? Probably talking to one another about various subjects but does that mean you have to have a long conversation in the corridor before turning in? Surely you had enough time during the evening to say anything important to each other or is it so important that the other residents of the hotel have to hear you and your friends conversation late at night? Shut up and go to bed.
  • I’m in the lift, have all my luggage with me and have pressed the button for my floor. The lift stops before I reach my floor and there you are, you look in and see me, look at which floor the lift is going to and get in event though you want to go the other direction, why? This means you’re going to have to get out again when it reaches my floor to let me squeeze  out and then get back in again. Look, idiots, its going to come back to your floor again, surely you can wait a few more seconds?
  • This doesn’t happen very often but always happens in one particular hotel in Köln. You enter the room and the TV turns on automatically, loud. A quick rush to the remote control to turn it down as it could be late at night and you don’t want to be one of those annoying people I’m talking about here. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, this particular hotel it doesn’t and every time you change channel or change the volume it shoots up to this pre-programmed wall of noise and of course, many people just leave it at that, cheers. Televisions in hotels should be set to a certain volume, the rooms aren’t large therefore there is not need to have cinema surround sound volumes.
  • Hotel rooms that don’t have carpet floors (wood / parquet is acceptable.) Don’t you know its bloody cold in the morning and I don’t want to put my nice warm feet on a cold stone floor first thing?
  • Hotels that insist on giving you a key with a keying which weighs half a ton and looks like a sex aid. Where the hell am I going to put it when I go out? I know some hotels say leave it at the desk but then they’re the type of hotel who either has no-one on desk duty when I get back or I have to wake up some poor sod.
  • Hotels that give me a no smoking room even though I specifically requested a smoking room on my reservation. What’s the point of having that option on the booking form if you don’t respect it?
  • Hotels that charge as much for the car park (and Internet) as for the room. I’m looking at you – hotels in the UK specifically. Rip-off bastards.
  • Women who chat me up in hotel bars. How am I supposed to know that you’re going to want paying later? If you’re going to do that type of thing then don’t dress up like a respectable business woman

Of course there are lots of other annoyances such as no plug in the sink or a window missing when its the middle of winter but I think the biggest problem seems to be other guests. People seem to do things and act in hotels that they wouldn’t dream of doing at home, why? How about some consideration for those of us who have to stay in hotels and do treat it as if we were at home which to us, it is, home from home.