Re: If they want to solve the shortage of staff...
Every place that I've ever worked has complained about the difficulty in recruiting engineers. They're being disingenuous. They have difficulty recruiting for the wages that they want to pay.
173 publicly visible posts • joined 31 Mar 2011
I worked on cheque processors years ago and one of the machines had a device fitted that, if given the wrong value in its command string, would engage all it's solenoids and bust into flames.
It never happened with released code but did a couple of times with beta.
I never really found out why it was beyond the abilities of the writers of the controlware to screen out these problematic commands.
I've experienced the BOFH dynamic from both sides. For years I was in s/w development, then support, and I grew a hatred of users.
Then I threw it all in to be a structures inspector on the trunk road network; an it heavy job but I didn't have God powers over the it any more. I grew to hate the it department.
Then the it department introduced an it problem busting initiative where they went round the offices talking to users and trying to fix problems on the spot.
They fixed a lot of irritations (eg you've got wacom hardware; obviously you need the drivers and not the Microsoft generic crap; we'll sort out the politics later) and got a lot of brownie points and good feelings.
I realised that in a lot of cases the problem was middle management fearful of stuff they didn't understand, not the individuals who in most cases were just trying to do a good job (on both sides).
Yeah, she's got it wrong. Incident investigation in the air industry doesn't assign blame to individuals, and that's fundamental to how it works. It figures out what went wrong and how to fix it so that it doesn't happen again, recommending training, procedural or engineering changes without blame. The lack of blame is what makes it work, allowing people to honestly open up without fear. There may be criminal proceedings after an incident, but it's a totally separate process.
It's such a good process that is repeatedly cited as a way to fix problems in other industries, particularly medicine for which your think it would be a great fit, but it never works. It needs a total culture change so that individuals know that they won't be scapegoated for failure or punished for whistle blowing. It never happens. It always falls apart when someone in authority wants a quick, easy answer and then someone lowly carries the can.
Well, having worked on, not these but similar systems I have a lot of sympathy for the developers.
They are made up of a bunch of obscure peripheral devices like scales, bar code readers, touch screens, line printers, and payment devices. They will have been selected not on suitability or quality but on price or the size of the kickback to the purchasing department. They will have badly specified and conflicting interfaces. Nevertheless the programmers will cobble them together into a somewhat working system.
When finally sold the pain really starts as the system will need changed to comply with some obscure local 18th century banking regulation that has never been repealed plus one of the peripherals will need to be changed to an obsolete one that the buyer has 10,000 of in the basement of their head office for some reason. And it all needs done in a fortnight or a deadline will be missed and the salesman won't be able to afford his second yacht.
It always amazes me that these things work at all.
I used to work somewhere that did a lot of remote support around the world using various remote access technologies. If a special character was needed in a password we tended to use ! as we found that it tended to move around the least on the regional keyboards that we encountered
I've got a roll of little yellow round stickers that I got from a stationary shop years ago. I use them exclusively for sticking over those godawful blue LEDs. It dims them and turns the light a much more pleasant green shade. Really, you'd think that industrial designers would have gotten the message by now.
When I learned to type I was trained to put two spaces after a full stop. Even now I can't help it.
Everyone thought that I was weird.
One day we had a strange thing in the office where the word processor couldn't spot a sentence on anybody's machine but mine. Turns out the word processor (I forget what - the standard one on CTOS I think) defined a sentence as a full stop followed by two spaces. Everyone in the office had to adapt or tolerate that the WP couldn't spot sentences.
I struggled with em client for over a year before abandoning it. It was sluggish, and would periodically hang, sometimes for minutes at a time, doing some sort of mysterious housekeeping. This persisted over multiple installs and multiple versions, and in spite of multiple interventions from support. It was torment.
My suspicion was that the PC was a little underpowered. But, really, how much computer power do you need to talk to a server, download a few files and bung them in a folder structure?
I worked somewhere where there was (IIRC) about 80 volts between the central heating radiators and the cases of the PCs. Not enough to kill you but pretty noticeable.
The building manager refused to believe me but for some reason wouldn't touch the radiators and PCs at the same time either.
I had to get a Fluke to prove it to him.
"Whilst we're on this subject could someone please own up to buying the same thing from Amazon multiple times? Someone must have for that algorithm. I can only use one spatula. Why do I need another?"
I had the same problem when I bought a new toilet seat. I mean, how many arses does Amazon think I have?
Distributing the controllers around the car and allowing them to communicate on the CANbus was such a huge step forward in automotive technology that manufacturers will never go back.
This network-like approach hugely simplifies automotive writing over an old fashioned electrical loom with a dedicated write for each function. There are huge savings in cost (due to quantity of materials and ease of manufacture), and of weight. Reliability is hugely improved. An old fashioned wiring loom designed to support modern automotive technology would be a truly monstrous thing if it was even possible at all.
I've used mint with cinnamon for a few years now as my main os / desk top. The user experience has been fine.
The brutal fact is that if you are not using 100% conventional hardware then you are in for a world of pain getting it to install
My 3g wan card only works if the wind is blowing in the right direction and my laser printer only works if I install virtual box.
I have no idea why.
It's all stuff that used to work fine under Windows.
You need to be an enthusiast or a zealot to deal with this stuff.
One of our directors went to South America to demo a system that involved a custom keyboard and driver. A new keyboard driver was installed just before he left for the demo.
One key on the keyboard didn't work for some reason.
That key happened to be for a character that contrived to be used for either the userid or password of every single user set up on the demo system, including all the admins.
Colourful language ensued...
I'm going to risk getting downvoted to oblivion here, but here goes.
When a minority language dies I think that we should document it, dance on it's grave and move on.
Why revive it? Why force it on the kids?
Think of the advantage that a young person would have learning Spanish or Mandarin or Russian rather than an obscure extreme minority language that you can only speak to fifty other people in, and fifty people that you could talk more efficiently to in English anyway. And a language whose vocabulary for everything invented since the industrial revolution is English, just badly spelled.
Years ago I was in the computer room of the company where I worked and saw the operator drop her steel bodied pen through a hole in the top of the mainframe situated right beside the operators keyboard.
It was an accident waiting to happen really.
In a truly magnificent display of reflexes she whacked the power off before the pen hit anything inside the CPU.
Amazingly there was no damage and no impact other than the couple of hours it took to bring the mainframe up again.
The next time that I was in the computer room there was a spanking new grommet blocking the hole.
The corrosion resistance of weathering steel is massively over hyped.
When I spent some time as a bridge inspector I had to measure the thickness of the steel used to construct the bridges as an ongoing process to make sure that there was still enough steel left to let the bridges remain standing.
I sometimes had to chip up to an inch of corrosion away from this supposedly corrosion resistant crap before I got down to bare steel to take the measurements.
I still despise the inventors, manufacturers and most particularly the civil engineers that specified the shite.
Ah, yes, CTOS, Convergent Technology Operating System. When sold by Burroughs, BTOS, Burroughs someThing Operating System.
What was the T supposed to stand for? No idea. The supposition always was that Burroughs wasn't confident enough in their customisation skills to change the length of the strings.
I used to use that B2x B3x kit when I worked for Unisys.
It was actually badge engineered Convergent Technology kit sold by Burroughs/Unisys and a few other big names IIRC.
It had an unusual design in that all the peripherals came in uniform grey box design about the size of a thick book; you stacked them beside each other then operated a plastic lever that cranked them together and connected the buses. It took a few seconds to do; it was really easy.
The thing is, it wasn't really something that needed to be easy; saving a few minutes of hardware install time with that mechanism wasn't really cost effective. What it did do, however, was encourage hardware sharing by penny pinching managers. Things like tape drives would wander round the office daily. What ought to have been a one time operation on initial install ended up happening daily.
Aside from that it was good, if expensive, kit. And the OS was way ahead of its time. But when the PC came along, it couldn't complete.
Now that bus clip together design already wasn't quite robust enough; it would flex along with whatever it was sitting on. Repeated operation of the connection mechanism swapping kit around just made things worse. The things ended up becoming really sensitive to the evenness of the surface and how much it flexed. It got to the point where someone sitting on the edge of your desk could cause errors.
I was sure that it would turn out to be that damn bus connector.
I remember a period when I was on pain medication for my bad back. It wasn't anything really strong; just stronger than over-the-counter stuff.
I was a programming god. I could bash out elegant code that worked flawlessly. It seemed to release the imagination and damp down the self doubt.
The dosage was critical, though. To little and I was just my normal level of day to day idiot. Too much and I would turn out a really special class of gibberish.
I remember seeing the error message "Wank" pop up on a customer site.
The post mortem revealed that we were using a customisation tool that insisted on an error message for all conditions, even those that could not throw errors.
At some point someone threw together some test customisation for a purely internal error test, was sick of this requirement and put rude words into all the unused error fields.
Someone else picked up the customisation, tweaked it, didn't notice the rude words, and deployed it on site.
The first time that I saw the BSOD screensaver was on the Microsoft NT 4 roadshow. The two Microsoft guys were doing a demo of the new NT 4 using a massive projector screen (it was in a cinema IIRC) when it BSOD'd on a screen 20ft high.
Everyone laughed then the Microsoft guys grinned and moved the mouse and NT sprang back into life. They got a round of applause.