Tuesday, 31 May 2011

We have the techology

I work in a small building which has been divided in half. One half houses our company's IT department while the other half is a separate company altogether. The two halves are joined through a small hallway leading to, of all places, the washrooms.

Now, the numbers involved are a little rough, but based on the relative sizes of the two halves and the number of employees working on our side, I would estimate the total number of people working in this building at around 40. The men's washroom has one stall and one urinal, the women's, I assume has two stalls and at times I don't feel that is enough. Unfortuantely, those times are usually after a bran muffin and a couple glasses of iced tea, times when you don't want to stand in line.

My days are usually pretty busy and I don't want to waste time standing around in a tiny bathroom waiting for the guy(s) in front of me to finish. Instead I head back to my desk and continue working, getting up on occasion to check if the coast is clear. Some days this means several trips. That's when I started thinking of alternatives:

#1: Now serving...
We post a number dispenser outside the bathroom and several of the 'Now serving' LED signs at key locations. The previous individual is responsible for advancing the number once they have finished washing their hands and exited the room. Each person would then be resonsible for keeping a watch out for their number.

#2: Virtual queue
Utilizing one of our servers we create a small application which allows those of us in need of the facilities to add our name to a virutal queue. We then take one of the old laptops that is destined for the eco-centre  and attach it to the wall outside the washroom. As above, the previous individual is responsbile for clicking on a button which triggers the application notifying the next person in the lineup. Notifications could be sent through email or possibly...

#3: Instant messaging
We already have an instant message application installed on all our computers, so why not use it? Somebody creates a chat room called "Waiting for the bathroom" or something much more clever. Everyone who needs to can log into the chat and see who, if anyone is on line for the throne. Again, the laptop mounted outside the washroom would allow instant notification that the seat is free instead of having to wait for the person to get back to their desk.

#4: Unnecessarily complex
Similar to #2, this option would require an application on a server which keeps track of people that have requested to use the facilities. To make sure each individual gets there fair shake we install an electronic lock on the stall door with a code that is generated randomly each time a person leaves. The next person in line is then emailed the new code ensuring that they and only they will be able to access the stall. If the proper code is not input within a reasonable amoung of time the program assumes that the individual has given up and/or found an alternative and emails the next person in line.

Now that I think about it, we could probably cut the computers out and just use the phone system. Imagine getting a phone call giving you permission to go to the washroom.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Damned postmaster keeps blocking my email...

I was talking with one of my co-workers the other day, swapping tales of strange issues we have had to deal with. We got onto the subject of email and how people never read the error to find out that they spelled the email address wrong, but instead need an IT tech to come point it out. And then he admitted that he had something similar when he was first introduced to computers.

It seems that when he was new to email he had sent a message to a misspelled email address. The message of course bounced back with the error that the user did not exist. After trading messages back and forth with who he thought was an actual person, he finally asked the local IT guy, "Who is this postmaster guy?"

It just goes to show, we were all once newbies making simple mistakes and assumptions.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Next time...aim higher

About a year ago my team had a ticket from a manager of our company that wanted to add a motivational phrase to his email signature. Lots of the managers were doing it and needed to be walked through the process, so this was not a surprise. What was surprising was the choice of phrase: "Today we aim higher."

While I can appreciate the sentiment behind this choice and the ultimate goal of having his team continually improve, the phrase itself just did not inspire anything in me. It struck me as the kind of wimpy phrase you'd use with a little league team, usually followed with "it doesn't matter who wins, let's just have fun out there." If anything, it seems to motivate a person to do the bare minimum to make this day better than the last. That may eventually get you to where you want to go, but it's not in the same league as the 'shoot for the moon' type inspirational phrases you see in other places.

Well, I say it didn't inspire me to do anything, but that is not accurate. It inspired me to make fun of it, no offense intended to the author (in case he one day finds his way to this blog).

Using the Motivator website I came up with the posters found to the right. Most are tame enough for general consumption, but the last may be crass enough to offend some people (as you may expect from a motivational poster featuring a urinal).

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Played the game and won...

My wireless network has been acting up recently, ever since my previous router died and I had to switch to the cheap piece of garbage my ISP provided. I tried eveything I could think of, even mounting it on a wall so it could be as close to the center of the house as possible.  Nothing helped. Even two feet away from it our iPhones and laptops were having problems staying connected. And that's when the fun began...

I knew the first phone call to my ISP would not get me a replacement despite the long list of troubleshooting I had done and the fact that these routers were known to be junk. The agent and I went through the call scripts and I ignored all the dog-dumb suggestions he made ("I notice you're not broadcasting your SSID, you really should"). This is my business, I know how the game is played and if the roles were reversed I wouldn't want to replace equipment on the first phone call either. I looked at this call as laying the groundwork for a second, and hopefully final, call.

A couple days later I braved the long hold-time to make that call and was again stonewalled. I thought we had exhausted the call scripts and their troubleshooting for dummies approach, but that was apparently only volume one. Thankfully the call ended when the agent accidentally hung up on me. I called back, thinking 'third time lucky' and was absolutely astounded when this agent actually had a suggestion for something I hadn't tried.

You see, I figured the router would be intelligent enough to choose the best broadcast channel based on success rate of returned packets, or some similar measure of connectivity. I obviously forgot that it was a piece of junk. Instead, we set the channel manually and I gave it a few days to see if that would improve things. It did not.

Finally, on the fourth call (although the third call was techincally a continuation of the second) I was finally transferred to a tier 2 agent to set up an order for a replacement router. It was like finishing a grand quest, getting past the dragon and absconding with some of its treasure. Treasure which took 3-5 business days to arrive.

In the middle of the day I received a text message from my wife, "the router has arrived." I rushed home from work and spent the next couple hours setting up and conguring things on both the router and the 7 devices that woule be accessing it wirelessly. I even found a USB port on the router so I could connect an external hard drive!

The next day I received a text message from my wife, "the router has arrived." Wait...what? Did she somehow resend a message from the day before or did the Matrix just glitch big? "No," she said, " another router was just delivered." Well, they say you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, expecially when there's order tracking involved. My ISP may still want the extra modem back.

If not, then I guess I won twice.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

We've come a long way, baby

I was a teenager in the eighties, going to school, hanging out with friends and visiting arcades. Recently I have found the arcade hits of my teenage years are available on my home computer. Not versions that have been ported to Windows or one of the consoles, the actual ROM images themselves. There are even companies that will sell you an arcade-style cabinet which can play thousands of the old arcade games all running on a home computer.

It was a bit surprising to learn, at first, although I don't know why it should be. After all, computer technology has come a long way in a short time. For example, consider the 305 Ramac hard drive; 5MB of storage in a 1 ton enclosure. That's roughly the same storage space as 2 double-density floppies! I won't even talk about the amount of storage I carry around in a few flash drives the size of my thumb.

I thought I had come to grips with these changes, enough so to appreciate the scale of them without being flabbergasted. That changed last night when I found a small application for my iPhone - Dragon's Lair.

For those that don't know, Dragon's Lair was one of the first LaserDisc-based arcade games. They were revolutionary, using actual film clips for graphics instead of sprites generated by a computer. They also cost an arm and a leg to play, which is why I was never any good at them. And now I can play them on my iPhone!

Unfortunately, I'm still not very good at it and trying to use a virtual joystick which requires me to cover part of the screen with my thumb doesn't help. Maybe I'll just go back to Fruit Ninja and leave the past where it came from.