plonq: (Usual Silly Mood)
I had a weird, work-related dream last night.

At the start of the dream I wasn't actually working, rather I was just out with my younger brother and we happened to be down by the tracks watching them move cars. In this case, the cars were being moved by somebody who was obviously a contractor, because rather than a locomotive, he was driving a Semi that had been modified to run on rails. He was tied onto about a dozen cars, and was trying to back them around a fairly tight bend into what I assumed was a storage siding. The guy was having trouble getting the cars to move, and finally he floored it and they started to move. I remembered part of my training about the dangers of applying too much throttle when pushing around a corner, and even as I thought that, one of the cars in the middle of the cut jumped the rail with its trailing set of trucks and began bouncing along the ties.

I hopped of the car and ran toward the guy, frantically waving a stop signal at him with both arms. He stared at me for quite awhile, pushing this derailed car up the rails before he finally stopped. When he stopped, the slack ran out and the car hopped back onto the rails. Naturally he did not believe me about the derailment, even when I pointed to the trail of broken ties. He yelled at me about how I was killing his productivity, hopped back into his truck, and floored it again.

This time he managed to jackknife and derail the whole track; cars went everywhere.

He was livid. He started screaming at me about how this was all my fault for putting him behind, and how he was going to kill me and my brother. By this time I was back in the car (because he had at least cleared the crossing) and we both agreed that we should probably report this incident - not the least reason being that he was threatening our lives.

The dream transitioned to the office, where I was looking for somebody who might care about a contractor who had derailed a dozen cars and threatened to kill an employee and his family member. The office was mysteriously empty, but I finally managed to track everybody down in one of the large meeting rooms. One of our project leads was out from the head office, giving a talk about swearing in the workplace. The focus of the talk was not what I'd have expected though, focusing on how swearing has been shown to be good stress-reliever, and is a valuable tool when employed respectfully. She illustrated a respectful use of swearing.

"Our new director is a cunt."

Everybody applauded - well, in fairness I did not. I was a bit appalled, thinking, "That's not really very respectful at all, even if she used a fake Aussie accent when saying it. Our new director is actually very nice."

It was about this time that I began to suspect that it was a dream, and I woke shortly after.
plonq: (Please Sir May I have Some More)
We had a very modest dinner this evening (a small, frozen pizza split between us) and I was in the mood for dessert. I suggested walking up to the corner shop for sundaes, but the other half of "we" in the equation was not interested.

I considered moping about it for awhile, but decided to be more productive and make myself a dessert instead. I've made those microwaved, coffee mug brownies in the past with good success, and that seemed like just the right amount to sate my dessert cravings.

It was a smashing success, right up to the point where the microwave oven died about 1/4 of a second after I hit the power button. At first I assumed I had blown the breaker, but further investigation narrows it down to the microwave oven itself.

I've had this oven for almost thirty years, so it really doesn't owe me anything. I guess we'll be shopping around for a new one this weekend (unless we discover that it's just a blown fuse in the microwave itself - we'll pull it out for a look on the weekend before we start spending money on a new one).

I never did get around to using the meat probe that came with it, though I will admit that the thought of cooking a roast in the microwave oven never crossed my mind in all this time.

In work-related news, my company released a notice to the press that they have signed a one-year contract with the T&E and Teamsters that will take them through to the end of 2018. The plus side for me is that it relieves a bit of the pressure off the company to cram as many people through their awful management conductor/engineer training program to have them in place for strike work next year.

This does not mean that I won't get forced into the program again once my ankle is finally fixed, but it increases the odds that by the time they push me back into it, I'll be so close to retirement as to make it pointless for both of us.

I was chatting with a co-worker last week who is in the management conductor pool, and he mentioned a curiosity that he has noticed on the list of people on call for it. He said, "It's weird, but for all the people the are cramming through the program, the number of people in the call pool is not getting any larger."

Actually, it's not that weird at all. Most of the people they are forcing into the program are older employees who they consider less of a flight risk; that is, people who have enough time invested in their career that they will deal with the hardship rather than throw away 20+ years of pensionable service. The problem is that these are mostly people like me, who have been working sedentary desk jobs for decades. Also, the way they treat qualified people in these positions is abominable, often sending them off to remote locations on same-day notice.

"Hey, pack your bags and fly out tonight for ten days in Cousinlove Saskatchewan, where you get to work in a stressful situation with people who resent you."

"Sure thing. The dog and kids can take care of themselves."

Anyway, it turns out that for everyone who qualifies, another one either gets injured, gets medically disqualified (arthritis flared up, heart condition, bad back - you know, the kinds of things that can happen to older, sedentary people who are suddenly thrust into outdoor manual labour around heavy equipment), goes on stress leave because of the awful conditions, retires, or quits.
plonq: (Crashing Mood)
It has been a little while since I updated here, so I am trying to remember where I left off.

I think I mentioned the email I got that wanted me to show up for 3 1/2 months of intensive training on very short notice. The news on that is currently a holding pattern. The foot that I injured last year had been troubling me, and after pestering my doctor about it for months, he finally sent me off for x-rays. When I booked a follow-up appointment with him (to renew my prescriptions in case I got sent out of town, and to find out the results of the X-ray), he admitted that he is not an expert on feet, but that there was no obvious breaks or bone spurs. On the other hand, there were clear signs of swelling. He instructed his front end staff to refer me to a specialist.

The hemmed and hawed over it before finally recommending that I go to the Pan Am Clinic. It's a walk-in, first-come-first served clinic, though they prioritize by severity. They took down my details and gave me a number. Forty-five minutes later I saw a triage specialist who took down more detailed information, including the name of my family doctor. Then they told me to return in about four hours.

I had another two hour wait before I finally got in to see an actual doctor, though when I saw the condition of people who they were taking ahead of me, I did not begrudge the wait. He poked and prodded my foot and ankle, asked me a few questions, then called up the x-ray. When I described what had happened last year, he said that the x-ray confirmed it, and he then exactly described the symptoms that I would be having now because of it.

In a nutshell, when I pushed off with my left foot to straighten a draw-bar, the strain caused one of the small bones in my foot to dislodge and cross over one of the other bones. When I was flexing the foot a couple of days later, the pop I felt was the bone snapping back into place. In the process, it tore the tendon. I probably should have gone to see a foot specialist at the time, but it happened over the long weekend, and by the Tuesday, it was feeling much better and seemed to be on the mend.

The problem now is that when the tendon has suffered scarring, and it healed too short. As a result, I experience pain from walking, and shooting pains when walking on uneven terrain, navigating stairs/ladders, or otherwise pushing off from that foot. You don't want unexpected, shooting pains in your foot and ankle when you are working around large, industrial equipment.

Now that I have the formal diagnosis, I need to set up an appointment for physiotherapy where they will use ultrasound and lasers to essentially damage the tendon again and stretch it out properly as it heals. Does not sound pleasant. I also need to get some paperwork filled out for work to indicate that I am under a doctor's care until further notice, and will not be available for training in a safety-sensitive position.


Over the winter I started buying instant decaf coffee to drink in the evenings. I used to buy ground decaf, but it always took me so long to go through a bag of it that it was invariably stale before I got to the end. With the instant decaf, the coffee is bad from the get go, so I can drink it at my leisure.

I have been trying a variety of brands in a quest to find the least awful of them. A couple of them were actually surprisingly drinkable, but the most recent one I bought was a German import that is vile. I had this misguided idea that Europeans know good coffee, so if it was from Germany, it must be good. I conveniently forgot that there are probably still old Soviet factories operating in some of the more remote parts of eastern Germany, and that this horrid product probably came from one of those. It tastes like coffee that was infused with despair and then had all the joy distilled out of it.

When I was out shopping last week, I found a coffee substitute in the organic food section of the store. It was a brand that I had never heard of, made from ingredients that sounded only vaguely familiar. I was both intrigued and repelled at the same time, so naturally I bought it. I made a cup of it the day that I brought it home and it's ... a thing. I tried it again the next day, making it slightly stronger, and adding sugar. It was a ... slightly stronger, moderately sweet .... thing. I can't really come up with adequate words to describe it. It's not what I would call good, but it's not really that bad either. I cannot claim that I enjoyed drinking it, but neither did I dread each sip.

I had a bit of a rough day today (had to spend a few hours dealing with work-related support issues), so this evening I decided to round out the awful with some decaf. I had the German crystals in my hand and briefly considered throwing them in the garbage, but on a whim I brewed up a cup with 60% of the German decaf, and 40% of the coffee substitute.

Oddly enough, the result was actually pretty good. I don't know what weird alchemy happened in my coffee cup, but apparently two wrongs can make a right if mixed properly.
plonq: (Kinda Bleah Mood)
I got an email late Tuesday instructing me to board a plane the following Monday (a holiday up here) to fly out of town for an intensive 3 1/2 month training program on operating locomotives. if you do the maths, you will notice that they were giving me three working days notice for a 14+ week absence from home.

Sure. Fine. I'll just open 14 weeks worth of cat food and let them fend.

I told them to get stuffed - though in politer terms. I said that it was a ridiculously short notification, and left me no time to renew critical prescriptions, nor handle other pending issues. One of the issues being the foot that I injured during training last year that has been giving me increasing grief of late - long before they dropped this last minute bombshell on me. I got the results from my doctor on the x-rays he ordered for it, and though there are no visible fractures, he said there is definitely visible swelling. He has advised me to see a podiatrist, or or somebody who specializes in soft-tissue injuries.

When I advised the training department that there was not a chanced in Hell that I would be on a plane to the training centre on Monday, they responded by sending a passive-aggressive missive to my boss about how they had expected to find me "fit and ready" when the call came. He forwarded that to me, and if I had been angry with them before, I was even more angry with them. It appears that all of their communications have been with him - cutting me entirely out of the loop until they could drop a last-second demand on me to show up for training. The only reason I know about their snot-o-gram is because he forwarded it to me and asked for my comments.

I may have been a little acerbic in my reply, and pointed out that they were making some pretty broad assumptions about my immediate health and availability when the note they sent me last week was their first contact with me at all since October of last year. I have still not been directly advised by either my boss, or the training group that I was not expected out there on Tuesday. The communication in this whole management training program is bad beyond the point of farcical.

Something else I have raised a few times, but seems to be falling on indifferent ears, is the fact that I have about 290 working days left until I reach full pension. This means that if they force me into the 14+ week program, and I come out of it qualified as an engineer, I will still have a few months of familiarization and OJT before I am ready to start running trains. They are looking to spend a bucket load of money training me up for, at best, 150 working days of productivity.

As a shareholder of the company, I am appalled by the waste. Then again, this program is as much a social experiment as anything else. The CEO who brought it in here first set it up at our competition when he was running that company. Their board eventually pushed him out the door, and the company immediately began ramping the program down as an expensive a flop. One of the reasons they are still pushing hard to try and shove managers through this program is because of the alarming attrition rate. I don't know the actual figures, but from the results I've been seeing, for every ten people who they force through the program, two become medically disqualified shortly after they complete it, two go on long term stress leave, and another one quits to find work at a company that sucks less.

Go figure.
plonq: (Somewhat Pleased Mood)
A couple of weeks back the CBC morning show was giving some air time to a young woman who was talking at some length on the topic of cultural appropriation. The concept is not new, as it reflects the natural flow of memes and influences across different cultures when they meet. Our western culture is a result of millennia of intermixed religions, cuisine, traditions and language. English is a bastard child of almost too many different languages to count.

Lately - especially among the Tumblerina crown - there is a growing use of the term Cultural Appropriation in a negative light. The suggestion is that people gain a kind of inherent copyright on their language, style of dress, food, music and other things that fall under the shroud of their cultural aegis. This girl had made it her life goal to publicly shame people - mostly those with a higher profile in the community - whom she considered to be guilty of engaging in cultural appropriation.

I don't know what goal she pursues with her end game, but I imagine it's that she wants every culture carefully socked into isolated silos, with no cross-blending of ideas. While I am pretty sure she presents herself as a champion against racism, she seems to be chasing a means to encouraging the kind of isolation and ignorance that leads directly to it.

I think that the concept of cultural misappropriation is one of the dumbest things to come out of this century so far.

On another front, every time I start to think that maybe I'd like to keep working past my earliest retirement date, my company gives me start reminders of why I want out. I will miss the people, and I will miss the feeling of being part of a larger thing. I love being one of the old timers who has forgotten more than most of the newer folk have learned. I was joking with one of the others in my seniority group about how the top three of us had about 110 years of experience between us. Also, my director has made no secret of the fact that he's a bit scared of losing any of the three of us. We are not as technically skilled as the newer folks who have more schooling, but we have a very deep business knowledge, and we actually understand what the data we work with represents.

I got a call at 4:20 this morning from my immediate manager who had a bit of a panic attack over whether one of our key jobs had run properly (it had). At around 10 this morning I got another call because we'd had some issues with a patch on one of our Linux servers (always give us more grief than the Windows servers) and it caused the revenue numbers on our morning dashboard to be low. I was on and off the phone for the next six hours before they finally released me.

I have to be back on again at 1:30 tomorrow morning for another four hour stretch to monitor everything that runs because they're having fainting spells over the idea that the same problem might recur.

For most of those four hours I'll just be listening to the phone and levelling up my rogue in WoW. Time better spent sleeping, IMO.

On that note, I'm off to bed to see if I can catch a couple of hours nap before the long night begins.

This is something I won't miss after I retire.
plonq: (Entertain Me)
[personal profile] atara made us avocado toast for brunch today - one of the luxuries we afford ourselves when they are in season and (comparatively) inexpensive. We usually don't have it with a fried egg on top; that kind of decadence is reserved for weekends and holidays.

Who knew that homelessness could be so delicious!

There is an Australian millionaire who made a stir when he suggested that millennials cannot afford to buy houses because they squander their money on avocado toast and lattes. I understand the point he is trying to make, but I believe he is conflating cause and effect.

I think that millennials are spending money on luxuries like avocado toast, electronics, and fancy coffees because they've resigned themselves to the fact that they are unlikely to ever own a house in the current market unless they inherit one.

Our house is comparatively cheap compared to the same house in other markets, but even so its value has quadrupled since I bought it back in '95. My wages - heck, our wages combined - are not quadruple what I was earning back then. The truth is that the price of a home in many of the prime markets is rapidly outpacing the growth in wages in those same areas.

To his defense, this guy only started with an inheritance of a few tens of thousands, versus the millions inherited by many millionaires that live in that kind of a bubble. As such, he is largely self-made and has some room to be preachy about it.

Also, there is a good point hiding in his hubris.

If you can afford to regularly treat yourself, you can afford to treat yourself about 30% less and put some of that aside. It may never amount to a house, but emergency savings can be a life saver.

I guess if it came down to pointing fingers on the matter, I'd have to put much of the blame on the parents who never taught their kids how to save. My parents did their part, even if it took nearly 30 years for the lesson to properly sink in.
plonq: (Challenging Mood)
Our CEO toured the office today. Our GM led him and his small entourage past my desk at a brisk walk, waxing poetic about the marketing guys who sit in our little area of the office as they passed. Just as they were about to round the corner she waved generally in our direction and said, "And these are IT people who do some kind of support stuff."

I don't suppose I am really offended by it, as ignorant and dismissive as it was. I am just as happy to fly under the radar of the top brass.

We knew that he was coming, and she reminded us twice last week when she stopped over and implored us to clear our desks of any evidence that they are used for real work. The CEO likes clean desks. I don't know how he'd have been able to spot a messy desk at the speed she was dragging him through the office, but I guess once you get to that pay level you can pick out a zen bamboo from a blur in passing (we're not allowed any kind of plants in the office, and those little bamboos were specifically mentioned). Curiously, they had them in the break room and washrooms when we first moved into the new office, but I guess word must have got back to the top brass.

He was in town to hold a town hall. It was halfway across town, so I did not bother to attend. I had too much work to do, and I figured I could get the condensed version of it from all the folks around me who drove out to hear him. All I know of the meeting so far is that there was a fair contingent of unhappy folks from operations who were directing a lot of very pointed questions at him. Many of the questions centred around the systematic bullying and harrassment happening in the company at the moment, but the guy who was describing the events does not speak English as a first language, so it was hard to get a good description from him. I'll squeeze the others for more details when I see them tomorrow.

One of the marketing guys just got back from a stint of inspecing and repairing railcars (yes, they are forcing managers into doing that as well as being conductors and engineers). Thanks to the deep cuts by our previous CEO, we are desperately short in a lot of departments. He said that while he was out there, he was chatting with one of the mechanical department heads about the situation. They are trying to address the shortage, but word has gotten out about what a wretched place we are to work.

They put out calls to twenty applicants for interviews, with the idea of hiring 5-6 of them.

Only one person actually showed up.

I got curious, so I checked a couple of online listings where people can read about prospective employers. Our company had comments about it like, "The pay is good, but the morale is abysmal."
plonq: (Comparatively Miffed Mood)
I am just waiting for [ profile] atara to finish the last load of wash so that I can begin packing for my latest trip. I am heading off to Calgary again for two more weeks of training in the locomotive simulators. From people who have spent lots of time in them, and then spent time driving a real train, the consensus seems to be that they don't really prepare you for reality. They give you some good basics for handling, but once you get behind the controls of a real engine and feel the torque and forces bouncing you around, it is hard to get a true feel for proper handling. I guess I will find out soon enough because I am going to get scheduled on the Subdivision train at some point as part of my training.

I am not volunteering my time though - I am letting them come to me and tell me where to go next. This is all being done under protest.

At [ profile] atara's suggestion, I went out and fired up the snow blower while the weather is still pleasant. If I can break the seal now, it will make it much easier when I need to start it in -30 weather sometime in the winter. It fired up comparatively easily this time around. I added a bit of fresh gas to it, cleaned the spark plug and primed the heck out of it, and it actually fired up on about the sixth try with nary a backfire. It remains to be seen if we will need it this year. Snow tends to come in small "screw you!" doses in this part of the world - enough to need shovelling, but not quite enough to warrant the pain of fighting with a snow blower.

Not surprisingly, two of the other things that I really miss when I get sent away on business ([ profile] atara is just a given) is our cats. Belladonna always curls up and sleeps on top of me when I go to bed at night, and usually Merry hops up and cuddles with me for the first while after I retire. Having a cat curled up on me while I sleep is actually kind of comforting, and I find that I don't sleep as well when she is not there.


After years of playing her, I have relegated my priest to an alt role in WoW. I was away on training during the critical phase of this expansion when I could be running things with the guild to gear her up and secure a raid spot. We had a healer who quit the guild during Pandaria come back and grab a spot. We've had a couple of other people join the guild with healers, and suddenly there is no room for another. We are literally tripping over healers. Even then, I figured I might keep gearing up so that I could serve as an emergency backup, but that would mean pugging content, and I'm not really a fan of that. Can't get into any guild runs because all of our guild tanks have pocket healers, so there is no room for a slightly under-geared priest.

On the plus side, I am having a lot more fun playing my druid anyway. I could have geared up my priest's shadow gear to get a DPS spot, but I am completely unenamoured with the shadow play this expansion. Part of that is the insulting design that requires you to take a self-destruct button in order to put out competitive damage. I toyed with the spriest until it just became too aggravating to keep going, and then I switched to my druid. I am doing the daily world quests on my priest, and continuing to upgrade her weapon, but I am not going to invest a lot of time in the character this expansion I think.

I was a bit underwhelmed with my druid during Warlords, but they've juggled things around a bit, and she is actually a pleasure to run on world quests. Depending on the quest, I can either grind my way through them as an nigh-indestructible bear, or nuke things with my death chicken. While the chicken does not have the same potential damage maximum as my shadow priest would, she also has no ramp-up time, and wonderfully satisfying burst damage. There is something satisfying about 1-2 shot kills.
plonq: (The Goggles Do Nothing)
The weather was freakishly nice here today, so we put down the top on the convertible and headed up to the park to collect some Poké Balls.

The weather was absurdly nice yesterday too, but I spent the better part of the day on and off the phone, logged into my work machine because they pushed out a new executive dashboard this week. They as in not me. Even though I volunteered to help more than once over the months1 that this thing has been in development, I and my co-worker (who both know the business rules that drive this thing inside and out) were shunted aside so that the star programmers could work on it.

When the report went gold on Thursday, the business immediately complained that one of the key metrics was wrong by almost a factor of two. During all this development time, none of them had thought to run these numbers by the business for validation. Mind you, my co-worker had mentioned to them on many occasions that their numbers were wrong - until they politely told him to stuff a sock in it. They insisted that their numbers came from a different source, and would naturally differ slightly.

Or, in this case, by about twofold.

Fortunately, I produce these figures in another dashboard that is related to, but not part of this one. My numbers are right. I spent a good part of yesterday working with the our director and the business to pull the numbers from the back end of my report and feed them to the new one.

Speaking of work, I got an email on Friday instructing me to report to the head office for another two weeks of simulator training, starting on the 14th. I guess I had better book my flights and hotel tomorrow.


1By months I mean close to two years.


There were a bunch of these set up in the woods by the river when we were walking through the park today. I like the slight haze that this shot captured (sunlight off the lens I think) because it adds an air of mystique to the shot.

All of the summer plants are long gone from the Leo Mol gardens, but they've left in the fall vegetation for now.

The years have not been kind to Queen Victoria in this bust. That, or too many years in Winipeg have driven her psychotic. That will happen.

Choo choo

Jul. 31st, 2016 11:46 pm
plonq: (Plonq @ Work)
I spent all of last week working on a yard switcher behind our head office. There were two of us training on it, and they alternated us between operating the locomotive and calling instructions from the ground (I learned that they did not do that with the afternoon shift - they just traded them off at the controls).

In the morning, one of us would work on the ground, calling instructions to the other student in the locomotive. We were responsible for lining switches, hooking up hoses, applying handbrakes and the like. The person in the locomotive would practise following the instructions, and getting a feel for handling more and fewer cars as the day went on. In the afternoon, we would switch roles.

The job of the morning crew was to pull an assembled train out of the storage track, practice a few manoeuvres with it, and then take the train apart and secure it in the four yard tracks. The afternoon shift would gather up the parts and rebuild the train, practice starting and stopping on the main lead, then put it away in the storage track at the end of the shift.

It was both fun and terrifying at the same time - especially operating the locomotive - but by the end of the week my stress level had dropped to nearly normal levels as I grew comfortable with the handling. It is amazing how fast 9mph feels when you are blindly shoving a consist toward the dead end of a track, relying entirely on another trainee on the ground calling, "20 cars ... 10 cars ... 5 cars ..."

The highlight of the week was when the engineer trainer went out ahead of me on Friday morning to sabotage the locomotive, and I managed to find and fix all of his tricks without any prompting.

The lowlight of the week was when I injured myself on Friday afternoon.

I was driving the train in the morning, and then after lunch it was my turn to work on the ground and help put the train back together again. We had already hooked onto the first three tracks, and we were performing a slightly tricky bit where we needed to back the train into track 1 to tie onto some heavy ballast cars. What made the move a bit harder was that the loads were parked about eighteen inches from the stop blocks at the end of the track, and the leading car was on a curve. Worse, the car we were trying to couple to them had one of those long, cushioned drawbars.

I was bringing him back to stop him short of a join, but he came in a bit hot, and instead of stopping six feet short of a join, the cars crossed knuckles and the drawbars got pushed way out of alignment. I had him pull ahead a car length and asked for protection so that I could go in between the cars and visually line up the bars. The plan was to get them mostly lined up and then bring him back about 15 feet so that we could give a final visual check. As I say, that was the plan.

I lined up the short drawbar on the ballast car, then put my back into pushing the cushioned drawbar into place on the boxcar. I got it mostly lined up, then turned and braced it against my upper body so that I could shove it forward for the last couple of inches because I wanted to verify that it was lined right. I tested my footing and gave it a tentative shove. It did not budge. I took a couple of deep breaths, then gave it a much harder shove. The drawbar shifted a bit, but more significantly, I felt an ominous pop in the outside part of my left foot, just below and ahead of the ankle.

It did not hurt, but I decided to change up my plans again and turned to put my back against the drawbar. The moment I tried to push it, the left side of my left foot blazed up in a fire of pain. I gave a yelp of pain, stumbled across the tracks and fell back onto the gravel embankment beside the track.

Long story short: I spent the rest of the shift sitting in the training lab with my foot elevated on a bag of ice. I could stand, and I could walk if I hobbled in such a way as to not flex the foot, but I had to be careful how I moved or I'd end up with pain shooting through my foot. They were going to send me to the hospital, or at least to a walk-in clinic, but I declined because I did not want to miss my flight. My plan was to hit up a clinic if it had not improved by Tuesday.

It did not improve at all over Saturday. It did not bother me as much today, mostly because I had trained how to talk in a manner that would cause it to hurt less. [ profile] atara and I actually did a lot of walking today in spite of that - rather, she walked and I limped along trying to keep up as best I could. After dinner tonight we drove up to the park to look for Pokemon. My foot was aching, and I was resting the sore side against my right foot, flexing it to try and find a comfortable position. At one point while I was flexing, I felt the same ominous pop that I'd felt on Friday, but this time the pain immediately abated somewhat.

When we got out of the car, I discovered that I could walk much more normally without pain, and tonight the pain is all-but gone. I don't know what I displaced on Friday, but I hope that I don't do that again. I'll give them an update when I get to work on Tuesday and let them know that the foot seems to have fixed itself without requiring medical attention. On the on the one hand I am relieved because the pain has stopped, but on the other hand I'd like to have seen a doctor and learned what happened. I may bounce it off my family doctor the next time I see him to see if he had any ideas.

I snapped this one up at Lockport a week or two back. I still don't know what was burning on the far shore, but I thought that it made for a striking picture.

I haven't shot a lot of close-ups with my phone, but I was impressed with how well it handled this one. The phone really gives my Canon a run for the money when it comes to picture quality, but there is no comparison with the Nikon.

This is the test stand in the back of our training lab out in Calgary. This was ripped from an old SD40 that has since been retired, and it is pretty primitive compared to what we have in operation now. Still, if you can learn to drive one of these, you can drive anything. This is the equivalent of being taught to drive stick.

We saw them playing with this out in Gimli harbour this afternoon. It looked like fun, but also looked like it would take way more balance and coordination than I have ever possessed.
Defying Gravity
plonq: (Comparatively Miffed Mood)
I began training as a conductor last week, in spite of my best efforts to use my poor health as a way out of it.

The first week of the course covered basics like safety, brakes, switches, communication (radio and hand signals), basic equipment types, and how to perform simple mechanical inspections. I breezed through most of the material because a lot of it overlapped the mechanical training I took last week. Next week gets more involved as we get into blocks, clearances, signals and the like.

As is usually the case when you get a number of senior railroaders together in the same room, everyone started with the war stories. Most of them involved people dying on the job in spectacular and horrifying ways. In almost every case, somebody could point to a new rule that had been implemented as a result to prevent it from happening to anyone else. The curious part of it is that the employees who were killed were almost all veteran employees. Our instructor mentioned that the statistics bear that out - rookies tend to be very cautious for the first few years on the job, and it is typically the years of experience that breeds the kind of complacency that can lead to serious injuries or death. I guess that's good for me then, because I'll still be a rookie engineer by the time I retire.

Midway through one of our training days, one of our classmates got a call and then calmly announced that our training train (the one that we will all take turns operating later in the year) just killed a pedestrian. Apparently it was just about as horrifying as you might expect a train-versus-pedestrian accident to be, so I imagine those trainees might have a bit of time off.

For the most part the week of training was uneventful, with the only real excitement happening when the airline apparently blew up my luggage on the flight home:

Fortunately nothing was missing, though much of it looks like it spent some quality time with the tarmac. We stopped by the airport today to file a claim, and the Westjet apologized and replaced the bag with a new one. The replacement is not quite as big, and it is not the fun purple colour, but it's a slightly better brand, so I am hoping it will be a bit more durable.

Last bit about the training. On Friday somebody (who we assume was a disgruntled employee) pulled the fire alarm in the training building at 15:30, forcing us all out of the building until the fire department could come in and give us clearance to go back in. It was very annoying because at the time we were working on a project that none of us wanted to carry forward to the weekend. As we all stood at the muster point, we heard the sound of approaching sirens and saw city emergency vehicles pulling up to the main entrance of the yard ... just in time to be blocked by a very long container train (watching it go past, I would estimate its length at about 10,000ft).

Like any good railroaders, we all burst out laughing at the ludicrousness of the situation. We watched the frustration of the fire crew as they sat there for a minute, obviously assessing the situation before they pulled out and did a complete circle of the yard (the Ogden yard is very big) to another entrance that let them bypass the train. It took them awhile to circle the yard - long enough that the train was just about to finally clear the crossing by the time they got back to the right side of the main roadway in. For some reason we found that funny too.

On a completely different, unrelated note...

I don't usually talk about dreams, but I had one the other night that was too strange not to mention.

In this dream I received what seemed to be an innocuous My Little Pony-themed image macro of some kind in Twitter. I found it moderately droll, so I re-tweeted it and gave it no more thought as I turned my attention to some work-related stuff. A bit later I noticed that my Twitter notification was going crazy, and when I had a look, I saw my in-box blowing up with messages. They were alternately messages like, "Dude, wtf?" or creepy things like, "Me gusta." I noticed too that I had picked up close to 800 new followers.

Puzzled, and a more than a bit concerned, I went back and looked at the picture I had re-Tweeted to see why it was causing such a reaction.

Apparently I had not looked at the picture very closely before I re-tweeted it (or, more likely, my evil little subconscious mind swapped it out for another picture). I have no memory of what the text on the image read, but the picture was as show-accurate (in terms of art, not content) rendition of Big Mac balls deep in Apple Bloom. Eeeeeyup. Keepin' it in the family.

I woke up at that point, and was thoroughly relieved to realize that it was just a dream. Don't expect to see anything like that in my Twitter feed any time soon.

(I'm not even going to bother with an image search because I can guarantee that it would return results.)
plonq: (Contemplative mood)
The weatherman came through on his threat of snow, and our double-digit high on Tuesday turned into a blizzard on Wednesday evening.

Yesterday was still pretty miserable, so we left the shoveling for tonight. My hunch is that "tonight" is going to quickly turn into "tomorrow" because it is much more pleasant to shovel snow by daylight. I'm OK with that, since we no longer have to worry about keeping things clear for mail delivery.

It begins

I had one of those "wtf?" moments today when I went to use the washroom at work. As I was standing there taking care of, er, business I noticed that my face was starting to feel rather flush. In fact my whole head was starting to feel downright hot. That is not normal - at least, it's not normal for me. I don't recall reading or hearing that it's normal for anybody else. Do others get hot flashes when they are relieving themselves?

If I tended more toward hypochondria, I would probably have begun to fret, but I was more bemused than anything else. Given that having my head heat up during that activity was not normal, I concluded that there must be something else at play; something that did not necessarily mean that the homeostasis of my head was malfunctioning. There had to be an exothermic explanation for my hotheadedness.

I did some sleuthing - once I was finished my other chores - and noticed that part of the ceiling had a slightly different finish than the rest. It ran along the long wall of the washroom over the urinals and stalls, and turned left on the far wall to stop just shy of the sinks. This bit of ceiling also differed from the rest in that it was radiating a tremendous amount of heat.

It wasn't hot yesterday, nor even first thing this morning, so I guess they must have activated another part of the heating system sometime after my first visit. I guess somebody involved in the design of this office wanted to ensure that nobody would have to touch an icy seat during the winter.
plonq: (Fark Off)
Every time I have been involved in a work-related move, if I move the stuff myself it all arrives intact, but if I leave it in the hands of the company movers, something invariably ends up broken.

It's like they hire their movers by heading down to the nearest detox centre and grabbing whoever stumbles out first.

Uh Oh

[ profile] atara and I went phone shopping on the weekend. We compared the phones and plans offered by our current carrier, and the independent provincial carrier. They both have pluses and minuses.

Rogers has a pretty competitive rate for a shared 10gb plan, and they have the visual voicemail system that we both like. They have the full selection of current phones, and they have a really shitty data plan for travelling to the US. Still, as shitty as their plan is, it also happens to be about the only one available.

MTS has ridiculously cheap data rates for up here (~$35/Mo would give us both unlimited, Canada-wide data). The three downsides are that they offer no data plan for travelers (the rep admitted that our best bet was to buy a burner when we travel to the US), their monthly rate is too low to qualify for a discount on any of the phones, and they only offer their visual voicemail for iPhones (ugh).

The last time our phones came up for renewal, tower coverage was one of our considerations, but when I checked the coverage map last night, it looks like the playing field is pretty even now. Working under the assumption that we would not get a discount on the phones from MTS, the overall cost difference of the two plans over 24 months would be ~$10.

I had a look at a number of the re-sellers (Koodo, Fido, etc), and while their rates are competitive, their phone selection is very limited, and mostly late models.

Finding a cell plan should not be this complicated.
plonq: (Dubious Mood)
Before I get to the weekend, I need to bitch about this current expansion in WoW. Once I got past the questing, my interest in this expansion has really plummeted. If they had some kind of cataclysmic event that caused all orcs and their stupid, spiky mud huts to vanish into the twisting nether next expansion, I don't think there would be a lot of people complaining. Enough with the orcs.

Crap like this is also one of the reasons why my interest is waning:
I sent these two ships out to knock out a blockade. They had a 96% chance of success, and both ships were levelled up to their maximum, which is supposed to make them harder to sink if they fail. Well, in spite of the odds, they failed, and they both sunk. This means I need to spend a lot of resources, and go through the whole process of levelling up replacement ships.

This is not the first time this has happened to me either. I had two ships sunk in a mission with a 97% chance of success not too long ago. You can buy improvements to make them unsinkable, but that is only good for a single mission, and equipping that skill replaces ones that are critical to actually succeeding at the missions. In short, I could make my ships unsinkable, but only have a 40% chance of actually succeeding at any given time. At least they have shortened up the sortie times though. Before, you might have to wait a couple of days to fail. Now you can fail within 11-12 hours.

In other news, I got shipped off to Thunder Bay this past weekend to help repair rail cars.

The call actually came on Thursday evening, but they left a message on my company cell phone that I do not check when I am not on call. When I played the message, I considered that they might have called the wrong [ profile] plonq because I have the same first and last name as another person in the company, and we tend to get a lot of each others' calls and email. I checked my voice mail and email at work the next morning, but there was nothing. I was just getting ready to call them back and suggested they had called the wrong guy when two of the people who had been in my car inspection training class last January wandered by and asked if I had been called to report for duty.

I called them back, and I was told that I was to report to Thunder Bay first thing Saturday morning to assist with car repairs because they were very backlogged. I learned the reason for that on the weekend, and I might write up a missive about that at some point. The short of it was that I was told this was an executive order, and not a call for volunteers.

When I brought it up with my director, he was understandably upset since I am working on a project that is already behind schedule. He promised to take it up with his director and give me direction. Then his status, and the status of his director both switched to "in a meeting" for the next couple of hours.

As an added complication, Friday was also the day when I had to power everything down and pack up my desk and computer for our move to the new office. As the morning wore on, and none of my leaders got back to me, I finally made a decision and booked the flight and hotel. There was only one suitable flight to get out there, and with the added crunch of packing up my work station and still having time to get home and pack, I was caught in a squeeze. I booked everything, touched base with the contact I would be working with in Thunder Bay, and then sent an update to my director and managing director.

And my managing director hit the roof. She and my director got together in a meeting room, called me and gave me what could only charitably be called a dressing down. It was brutal to the point that if I had recorded the call, I think a lawyer could have had a case for workplace abuse. She had not communicated it to me, but she had been talking with our department's VP to try and get me out of deployment since IT needed my services more. She let me know that I had put her in a very bad position, and that I had just screwed myself over.
Birds of a feather

She called me back about an hour later to apologize, and said that she understood that I had only been doing what I felt was right for the company, even if it wasn't right for my department. She admitted that she had been advised about the situation right away by my director, but she decided to finish with her long series of meetings rather than stepping away to deal with it right away. She had not understood the pressure and short time-line I had been put under to make a decision and act on it.

Then on the weekend I got an even more contrite note from her. The Chief Operating Officer (#2 guy in the company) went to her and the VP and read them the riot act for trying to get the people in their department out of deployment. He was the one who had ordered us deployed, and it was not their place to contradict his orders under the assumption that the people in their department were more important than the ones in other groups. The spiteful part of me hopes that he seared them as badly as they laid into me on Friday. She told me that I did exactly the right thing in booking my trip on Friday when I had.

The trip was interesting. They did not seem to know what to do with us once we got there. We were not trained in repairs, and barely qualified to do inspections. We spent most of our time hanging around the break room drinking coffee, and awkwardly avoiding the regular staff who, in spite of being friendly and polite, were not happy to have us there. Most of our duties involved driving into town to bring back lunch for the crew, and doing odd errands that came up now and again. Over the course of the three days we were there, we inspected one train, and walked three others to close gates and hook up air hoses.

The highlight of the trip was networking with some of the folks whose names I only knew in passing. All I have to show for the trip today is a big bruise on my left arm where I managed to bang it pretty good while working on one of the cars.

In other news, they managed to destroy one of my monitors during the move. I guess I'll have to see about a replacement for it when I am back in the office on Friday.
Dropped in Transit
plonq: (Plonq @ Work)
I mentioned here the other day that I had dodged a bullet with the "voluntary" conductor training at work. It's not that I don't want to learn the operating rules, or even conduct a train, but they've been using managers to fill vacancies rather than hiring more crews. There are people from my office who have been shipped to remote areas of Northern Saskatchewan for weeks on end.

I remoted into my work machine this afternoon to make sure things were not behaving badly while I am on vacation (they were), and I noticed an email from my boss - who is also on vacation.

He said that they are no longer interested in sending me for conductor training. Huzzah! I mean that could be bad too, since it might mean they are looking at me as being too close to the expendable end of the employment scale to be worth investing more training in.

Oh wait, there was more.

It seems they have decided that I'd be better suited for Engineer training instead. He wanted us to respond by end of day if we had any objections to that.

Hang on - recap time.

1) I am on vacation.
2) My boss (also on vacation) sends an email saying they want to send me for engineering training, but if I have any objections then I should
3) Respond by by email before the end of today.
4) I am on vacation today, and he and the Sr Director know that.
5) This is the same Sr Director who told us in no uncertain terms that we were not to do company work while we are on vacation.

Something about this kinda stinks.

Still, it might be fun to get to play with life-sized trains. Choo Choo!

Reworked images
plonq: (Plonq @ Work)
I dodged a minor bullet at work this week. On Tuesday, our managing director mentioned that there was a conductor training course taking place this coming Monday in my town, and she really wanted to sign me up for it, even if was very short notice. It also happened to coincide with a week of vacation I had planned for the end of the month. Taking vacation has turned into a bit of a chore for me this year because I am in a very small department, and they won't let more than two of us go at any given time. I also have to plan it around the weeks when I am covering support.

The company has been encouraging its management and other non-union staff to take conductor training. Their official reason for it is that we all benefit from a diverse and knowledgeable workforce who have a more holistic understanding of our operations from end to end. Naturally it is a voluntary thing - nobody is going to force you into conductor training.

It's like a build-your-own-adventure, where one page has you taking the training, and the other page has you writing your resume. But the page you turn to is your choice.

It is a bit ironic that I have been avoiding this training for as long as I have, given that it's what I originally hired on for decades ago. I put in an application, specifically stating that I was looking to work as a trainman. They did not have any classes available at the time, but they convinced me to work in the office until one came available. It took almost thirty years, but apparently they have space for me in one of the classes now.

I was supposed to enter the course this coming Monday. I changed around my vacation, and [ profile] atara got ready to start cancelling hotel reservations we'd made.

On Wednesday, I was informed that I was officially signed up for the training class.

On Thursday, they cancelled the class. I like to feel that I am at least partly responsible for that... somehow. Maybe they saw my name on the list and went, "hell no, bitches."

On the one hand, I think I would benefit from the training. I am familiar with a lot of the operating rules anyway - you can't work for a company for this long and not have some of that rub off on you - and I could certainly benefit from some less sedentary work. On the other hand, this is very transparently strike training. They want to have their entire non-union staff up to speed on how to run the trains in the event of a possible future work stoppage.

This would not normally bother me too much. I am actually qualified to do track maintenance, car inspections, and (once they eventually put me through this course), train operations. That said, the unions signed a five year contract the last time out, and I my earliest eligible retirement date is less than three years away, so it is iffy if I would ever be tapped for duty in another work stoppage.

The problem is that they have been utilizing qualified management staff to fill gaps when they are short of bodies due to illness or vacation. I've been hearing horror stories of people being pulled from management posts in finance to sweep switches in remote locations. There have been a few folks in my office who have been ferried off to north Saskatchewan for weeks at a time to run way freights because they were short a crew.

I like to think that my work is valuable enough that my director would not release me for frivolous work assignments like that. I have picked up a skill set that is in pretty high demand at the moment, so even though I am not exactly thrilled to go in to work every day, at least I don't feel surprised every time my pass card works on the front door.

I moved my vacation back to its previous slot. This all went down quickly enough that [ profile] atara had not got around to cancelling our hotels yet, so we are carrying on with our original plans. On the plus side, I earned some good brownie points with my managers for being accommodating enough to move my vacation on very short notice. They do tend to remember things like that over the medium term at least.
plonq: (Dashing  mood)
I am in something of an odd position at work just now. I am fairly qualified with a new reporting tool we started using last year - in fact it is the selfsame tool they dropped in my lap and then handed me a high profile dashboard, declaring they wanted delivery in a matter of days. The dashboard was to be a front end built on top of a SQL back end. There were just two minor problems:

1) I had never seen this tool in my life prior to having it dumped in my lap with no training.
2) I had never programmed in SQL.

Needless to say, it was my first high-profile failure since starting here. Then things got worse.

I was put on a large project with another developer who was also not proficient in SQL, and we were given 6000+ lines of PL/SQL which we needed to convert into about 16 dashboards with circles and arrow and bells and whistles, all in this application that we barely knew. Part of the challenge was figuring out how to fit billions of lines of data into these memory-resident dashboards. He ended up quitting about 3/4 of the way through the project, but I stuck it out to its miserable end.

Since then, I have learned a fair bit about SQL, and even more about this new reporting tool. I don't know enough to write really efficient SQL, but I can bring an otherwise robust database to its knees with a scary number of threads and parallel queries. I have also managed to wrap my head around the set analysis that drives this tool, and I can wring some very good reporting out of it in a very short time.

Naturally this was the point where they split our department in half, putting me in the side that maintains legacy reporting, and moving this new tool into the realm of the other group.

Ah well, I had been meaning to brush up my skills in the legacy reporting side again, and I am in the group that I consider to be more competent and personable all around. I like the people I am working with. The other group consists largely of people being hired off the street for their skills with the new tool.

Last week I discovered that I was being lent out to the other group for a dashboard because they are "tapped out". There are 30ish developers in their group, and 6 in ours. Last Thursday I built a prototype for the project. It only took me a couple of hours, and by the time I was done it was polished and functional enough that they were considering it to be nearly production-ready, pending business sign-off. I've been tweaking it for the course of the week, but had been considering it near complete before I got an email last night.

Our managing director had seen the report, and chastised me (passive-aggressively and indirectly, of course) for not following the proper company style guide for creating reports in this new system.

Today I have been chasing after the style guide. I finally managed to coax its location out of one of the analysts in the other group, and discovered that neither she nor I have access to it since we're not developers in that group. Actually, all of my dealings with that group have - with the exception of some folks with whom I have worked for some time - been an exercise in stonewalling to the point of near hostility. They seem to think that I have a lot of gall for doing work that they refused to take on.

My contact in their group is going to see what she can to about getting us access to the style guides, or at least get copies of them sent to us. For now, it is late enough in the week that I no longer care one way or the other, but next week I am going to have to start shaking some cages and escalating things. I really don't understand what's going on in our IT department.

Though the words "empire building" come to mind.
plonq: (Kinda bleah mood)
I am doing about midway through another week of on-call support for work. When I was doing this last year, it was a two-week stint, but I think it was actually a better gig in some ways.

Last year, we had two support people. When you started your first week of support, you were on the secondary job. You were supposed to handle on-line incidents, and take calls during off-hours. Sometimes this involved going in to the office and spending four hours testing systems when they were migrating applications, but usually secondary support was not terribly stressful.

The next week, a new person would take over the secondary role and you would move to the primary job. The main task of the primary support person was to monitor the production of our daily operations report. This is a dashboard that the executive team uses for measuring the pulse of our company. The main difference between primary and secondary was that you were only on-call during business hours as the primary person, and your hours were set. You started at 4:00MT and worked until 13:00MT (so my shift ran from 5:00 to 14:00). It could be stressful at times, but it was nice being done by early afternoon - especially during the summer.

When they automated the final publishing of the dashboard, and moved it over to a Unix-based scheduling server, they decided that they did not need two support people any more, so they cut it back to a single person who is on 24/7, on-call support for a week at a time.

In my last round, I was dragged out of bed 6 out of the 7 days I was on call. I got so twitchy that I was having trouble sleeping knowing that the phone was by my bed. I would usually wake up around 4 because I was expecting it to ring. Sometimes I would awaken because I had simply dreamt that I heard it ring, only for it to actually ring about an hour later while I was trying to get back to sleep.

I was encouraged somewhat when I was looking over the call logs last week and noted that we had not had a support call since the 2nd. I was not sure if the guy on the desk just hadn't bothered updating the logs, so I asked one of the other guys in the head office about it and he assured me that the logs were accurate.

When my current shift started on Friday afternoon, I set up the phone next to the bed before I retired, but buoyed by the news that things were running pretty well, I actually slept well. I did not get a single call on Saturday. Maybe things were looking up.

Then I got a wake-up call on Sunday, but I was half expecting it. Sunday is the day when our servers spontaneously catch fire. Sunday, bloody Sunday. I ended up fielding three calls that day and spent nearly 11 hours working various support issues. It pretty much shot the entire day to hell. The phone did not wake me on Monday, but I woke several times during the night in anticipation of it. I did get a call shortly after I got up, for something that I had never handled before. It's always fun to get blind-sided with new stuff.

Last night I woke up around 3 because I thought the phone rang. Either I dreamt it rang, or I heard a phantom ring, or the cat farted really loud - the end result was that I was awake. I managed to doze off and on fitfully until my alarm went off at 6, but I've essentially been on the go since 3.

I think the worst part of it is that when the phone goes off, it is usually waking me out of a deep sleep. I am literally stumbling out of the bedroom, all-but naked muttering a slurred salutation into the phone and trying to wrap my addled brain around incident numbers, what system has broken, and if I would even know how to fix it if I was fully awake. It is the very definition of a rude awakening.

[ profile] atara mentioned some time back that she has come to loathe the sound of the ring tone on this phone. So have I. I am torn over whether I should change it though. On the one hand, I have an almost Pavlovian wave of panic hit me every time I hear it and wonder what curve ball they are going to groin me with next. On the other hand, I now have a personal nemesis. OK, phone, I don't like you and you don't like me. Let's just get through three more nights without you going off, and maybe I'll even charge you again on the weekend.

Three more days.

Three more days.

I was about to end on this note, when I remembered one other detail that irks me. We used to have 7-8 people on rotation, and with the two-week on-call rotations, that meant that you actually had a nice break between turns. When they re-orged our group last month, they peeled away half of the group and moved them to other teams, leaving four of us to handle the role. The guy who was handling support last week was a contractor, and his contract ran up the moment he handed in his phone at the end of the week, leaving just three of us. One of the other two is also a contractor, who is only going to be around for another month or so. Then there will be two.

Technically, there will be three since we just had somebody return from a year-long maternity leave. She is coming in cold, having worked in a completely different area of IT, so this is all alien to her. It is going to take a lot of patience and work to get her up to speed. Potentially we may have a fourth person again soon too because rumour has it one of our guys who bailed on us and went to India is finally returning back to the office. I don't see how living on another continent for the past six months somehow excused him from taking calls, but if they don't put him back into rotation on his return (he designed half of these systems), then I am going to fly out to Calgary and introduce our director's rectum to this cell phone.
plonq: (Plonq @ Work)
One of my co-workers called on Friday afternoon. Partly he was just looking to chat, but he also needed to vent a bit after a trying conversation with our senior director.

She had called him because she had received a complaint from one of our executives over a couple of new line items we recently added to our executive dashboard. The line items in question were part of our cost metrics, giving a breakdown of cost-per-car for yard switching. The formula for this is very straight-forward. All you need to know is the total expenditure in wages that we paid to the crews (their hours times their wages plus any overtime hours and wages), and the number of cars that were handled in by switchers in the yard that day. If you divide the total payroll by the number of cars handled, it will give you an average cost per car.

Obviously this is only approximate, since it does not include the cost of fuel and maintenance, but it is a reasonable metric they can pull out during negotiations with customers to justify charging them a premium when they request custom switches.

"We want the fourth car in from the west end of that track."
"Right. So that would involve handling four cars, including yours, for a total charge of $160."

What this executive was complaining about, and what Fearless Leader was having some trouble wrapping her head around was this:

Cost Per Car (CPC) = Total Wages (TW) / All Cars Handled (ACH). One of our illustrious executives reasoned that if CPC = TW/ACH, then TW*ACH should = CPC. That is actually a reasonable assumption to make, but when he multiplied them together, they came up short. He immediately got on the phone and started flapping his meathole at our senior director about how the numbers were wrong. She, in turn, got on the phone to my co-worker and demanded to know what he could do to fix the numbers.

If our leaders and directors are very good at one thing, it is accepting blame on someone else's behalf. There is some degree of reticence on the part of our middle managers when it comes to talking to people above them in the company. Part of that comes from self-serving spinelessness, but there is also a culture that is oozing down from the top where they are more interested in results than they are in explanations. When one of her masters told her to fix the dashboard, she bent over backward to deliver results, not explanations.

Thus, even though my co-worker spent the next twenty minutes trying to explain the concept of rounding errors to her, she tuned out everything that did not sound like "I'll fix it." He explained that the unit cost number was being truncated to two decimal places at the request of the same executives who were now questioning its accuracy. They asked for it to be truncated because they (reasonably) did not want their dashboard cluttered up with numbers stretching off to five or six decimal places.

She did not get it. Clearly he was just making excuses, rather than changing the fundamental laws of arithmetic.

He walked her slowly through it. If the total cost was, say, $34,126.54 (these numbers are all made up), and the total number of cars handled on that day day was 913, then the cost per car was $37.3784665 (and a few more digits for good measure). Since the executive asked us to truncate it (not round) to two digits, we showed it as $37.37 on the dashboard. Thus, if somebody then multiplied $37.37 * 913, they would only get $34,118.81 and come up short of the actual wage figure. As long as we were truncating to two decimal places, it would always come up short.

She still did not get it.

Obviously the $37.37 figure must be wrong or else when it was multiplied against the total units, it would yield the total cost. He explained it again, showing her the underlying figures, and explaining how the moment we cut it off at two decimal places - whether through rounding or truncation - we were stripping critical data from the number, and unless we happened to luck into figures that divided out evenly, the maths would never work out evenly if the terms were reversed. Given the size of the numbers involved, we would need to publish about six decimal places in order for the equation to work in reverse.

He was not convinced that she entirely understood - or was even willing to understand - but she eventually stopped pressing him for further explanation. My suspicion is that she explained it to the executive as a software limitation. That's a good enough IT answer, I suppose.
plonq: (Enlightened Mood)
I like to think that I am a reasonably credulous person by nature. Barring compelling evidence to the contrary, or when somebody says something that just doesn't pass the smell test for truth, I am usually willing to give people the benefit of doubt.

I have trouble extending that credulity to some of the on-line restaurant reviews I read, though.

[ profile] atara and I are going out for a moderately-fancy sushi feed this evening for our anniversary (we decided to postpone our fancy dinner until today because neither of us have to work tomorrow). While I was checking out the restaurant this morning to see if they take reservations, I got distracted by some of the sites where people can post reviews. I glanced briefly at Yelp, but turned most of my attention to Urban Spoon (which has a much larger presence up here). The majority of the reviews were very positive, and matched my own impressions of the place. Interspersed with those were occasional bad reviews. Not just bad, but so negative that I had trouble resolving them with everything else on the site.

I have a bit of trouble actually believing some of the negative reviews. Mixed sparingly among the positive ones, they just don't pass the smell test of honesty. They read like somebody who was mad about something, and posted a negative critique with as many hot buttons as they could add. That is not to say that I discount all negative reviews - there are credible ones that start with, "I have been coming here a lot, and while I used to like the place a lot, my last couple of visits have been less-than stellar..." Usually reviews of that type tend to be thoughtful and reasoned, describing things that the restaurant needs to improve.

The ones I am sceptical about are the ones where, after two positive reviews by other people, somebody posts a diatribe about how horrible the place is. These reviewers almost invariable went there with their family or their girl/boy friend who they were hoping to impress.

"I heard good things about this place, so I decided to treat my family out for sushi. We made reservations and arrived well in advance but the hostess refused to acknowledge us. When they finally spoke to us after almost forty minutes, they accused us of coming late for our reservation and told us we would have to wait another thirty minutes. An hour later we were finally seated, and then they ignored us for twenty minutes until I chased after one of them for a menu. They got rude when we only ordered water to drink, and we had to chase after them for every refill. I ordered the fugu and my wife ordered the deep fried wagyu beef skewers well-done. The fugu just tasted like puffer fish to me, and my wife's beef skewers were dry. Then they had the gall to charge us a premium for it. When I complained loudly about it, they finally agreed to comp us a desert, but by then we were done with this place. It was the worst food and slowest, rudest service I have ever received in my life. Our lives were DESTROYED. Our children cried all the way home and now they are in therapy. I give this place zero starts out of five for ruining our family outing with the worst, WORST food and service I have ever experienced. This place is TERRIBLE. We are TRAUMATIZED. From now on we will be going to [rival restaurant]."

One review that I took with a large grain of salt was where the reviewer waxed poetic about the poor quality of the chicken in the Indian buffet. Apparently it was dry and chewy, and tasted like it had been left out for hours.

It is, and always has been a vegetarian restaurant.

September 2017

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