Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sketches of a week

I am due to run out the door in the general direction of Etobicoke soon, to meet a friend for lunch.  In lieu of deep thoughts, here is a quick run-down of the events of my week:

Last Sunday I had the good fortune to have an old friend (temporarily in from the west coast) over for dinner.  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to spend time with her, because another one of her friends went into labour on Sunday morning, and she wanted to stay at the hospital with the mother-to-be until the baby was born.  We didn't know how long that would take.  Fortunately for me, the baby very cooperatively popped out around 5:30 pm.  I could tell that my friend was tired after 5 hours of being a labour coach and holding one of her friend's legs up while she was pushing.  She didn't text me "Oh it was wonderful, and now C. has a beautiful baby girl!"  The text was "I'm done.  I'm leaving now.  I'm done."  (By the way, it was a beautiful baby girl and I saw the requisite photos of her little smooshy infant face pressed up against her mom's boob.  Lovely!)

I have agreed to host my mother's 70th birthday party - at her house.  My home is too small to seat my whole family (in fact my mom's house is almost too small to seat my whole family) so I'm going to handle it kind of like I'm a caterer.  This is going to happen next Sunday, so I'll be cooking and panicking all weekend and there might not be a blog post.  Probably not.  But don't worry, I'm sure it will ALL GO FINE.  Yeah.

Things accomplished at work this week:

1)  Saved one woman's job from the poor judgement of her direct supervisor.  I teamed up with one of the other managers to talk him out of letting her go.  He's a nutty old guy who should have retired a while ago, and she's his administrative assistant/"Girl Friday".  She will do anything to keep him happy, including never taking a lunch break, and running his personal errands on her own time.  She has never or almost never called in sick in the five years she has worked for him.  She's as loyal to him as if he were her own father.  But he's a bit loco in the coconut, and he became paranoid that she was padding her hours to rip him off.  It was the most unjust accusation in the history of unjust accusations.  I'm glad that the other manager and I were able to talk some sense into him and avert disaster.  He'd never in a million years be able to replace her.

2)  Turned a molehill that had turned into a mountain back into a molehill.  Suffice it to say that two of my staffers are in a power struggle, and there was a fuss over a small issue that resulted in one of them dissolving in tears before 7 am and almost walking out and going home for the rest of the day.  Each accuses the other of bullying her.  There is fault on both sides, and they are both hypersensitive when it comes this issue.  I am so used to playing referee that it doesn't bother me much anymore.  It all dies down in a day or two and then we go back to normal.  They're like two quarrelling sisters.

So it has been a busy week, but a good one.  I hope all y'all are enjoying the good weather.  I am off to do the same.  To Etobicoke!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Forbidden City

I went to the Forbidden City exhibit (subtitle: Inside the Court of China's Emperors) at the Royal Ontario Museum today.  Photography in the exhibit was strictly prohibited, so all you get to see are these goofy pandas from the gift shop at the exit.

When China forbids something, you shouldn't take it lightly, or you might find yourself getting run over by a tank or something.  Better safe than sorry.

I had just watched a moderately interesting TV show about the Forbidden City.  It is a huge, walled complex of buildings inside modern Beijing.  It was the Chinese imperial palace from the 1420 to 1912, per Wikipedia.  Apparently a more ancient Chinese capital was further south, but the capital was relocated to Beijing by a Mongol conqueror who wanted to be able to pop back across the border to see his extended family without a lengthy commute.  Later on, Chinese rulers saw the wisdom in remaining there so that they could keep an eye on the Mongols.  Those Khans weren't the type of guys you could just turn your back on and forget about.  They liked conquering too much for that.

The exhibit was a bit underwhelming.  I'm not sure whether to blame this on the curator, or on my own lack of imagination.  Maybe I'm just not a museum type of gal.  I find it difficult to make the mental and emotional leap from a thing in a glass case in a dark room to the real life of actual people. I do better with books (history or historical fiction), and TV shows that feature believable re-enactments.  The truth is that a 300-year-old Qing dynasty cloisonné vase looks remarkably like the cloisonné vases that I could buy for $20 or less just a few blocks away in Chinatown.

There were some items that were truly beautiful, especially some of the silk embroidery/tapestries.  But I have to say that my favourite artifact was the hot pink embroidered silk dog suit.  By this, I mean an actual garment to be worn by a dog.  It was designed to cover the dog from its snout to the tip of its tail.  In other words, my Asian neighbours who take out their chihuahuas dressed in Juicy Couture are not indulging in a purely modern folly.  They can point to their cultural heritage for justification.

Once I finally escaped from the exhibit, which was hot, stuffy, and (by my standards) crowded, I had myself a little sit-down break in the rotunda.  The rotunda has a pretty mosaic ceiling.  

It says: "That all men may know his work."

And that's it!  I went home.  It was raining.  I got a little damp because I didn't have an umbrella with me.  But I'm not made of sugar, so I dried out.  And here I am.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Save As...

Life has been mercifully quiet this week.  The weather is finally feeling spring-y, and leaves are starting to unfurl from buds I thought would never open. Hallelujah.

This week you're getting a work story.

Due to the need for a disc array firmware update (a.k.a. blah-blah-blah-tech-tech to some of you), I had to schedule some downtime on our network.  Last time there was a similar job to be done, "some" translated into "1 hour".  I kicked everyone off the servers at 4 pm; most people were happy for an excuse to leave early; and it was all done by 5 pm.

This time, however, it transpired that we would need 3 hours of downtime.  That's quite a lot.

The technicians who come in to do this work are expensive, and they charge time-and-a-half for off-hours, so I hoped to squeeze it into our regular working schedule without undue inconvenience.  After much in-depth study of various peoples' schedules and computer needs, I determined that I could manage it on a Wednesday afternoon between 3 and 6 pm.  The one fellow who needed to use MS Word could save his documents to his local PC's desktop and print them the following morning.  I didn't discuss this directly with him, but I did go over it with his receptionist.  I was told that this outage would go exactly as the previous (1-hour) outage had, and my colleague had not reported any problems working last time.

All he had to do was click "Save As..." to place the documents on his local desktop.  Simple, right?

Well.  You can see where this is going.  Foolishly assuming that everything was under control, as soon as the network went down and the techs were happily working away in the server room, I went out for a walk.  What the heck else was I going to do?  Sit there for three hours and stare at my blank monitor?  I took my cell phone, turned the ringer all the way up, told the staff to contact me if anything and off I went.

My phone did not ring. I enjoyed a nice, two-hour saunter around a local strip mall, browsing in the stores.  It was lovely!  I was back at work at 5:30 pm on the dot, just as I had promised.

As soon as I walked in, two receptionists converged on me to report that Mr. Uppity-up (the aforementioned colleague) was very upset, and that he'd had to cancel six clients because of the network outage.  My first question was "Why didn't you immediately go to the server room to get help from one of the technicians?"  And then "Why didn't you call me?"  Oh.  Huh.  No one had an answer for me.  Problem solving skills for the win!

Alright, fine, so what happened, exactly?  No one knew.  He said that all his documents were "deleted".  That's impossible.  What did he mean by that?  No one knew.

Then my colleague appeared.  "Oh, Mr. Uppity-up," I said in a voice that I intended to be both concerned and soothing, "I hear you had some computer problems.  What happened?"  He couldn't give me an answer that was any more sensible that those I was getting from my staff.  But the upshot was that he felt it was too much to ask for him to do a Save As in order to keep working.  It was unacceptable!  And unfair!  And he would rather cancel six clients (inconveniencing all of them) than perform a few extra mouse clicks and a few words of typing that would take less than one minute, literally.  

Oh, and in case you're thinking "Maybe he doesn't know how to do a Save As and he's just embarrassed to say anything," I gently offered to show him how to do it if he was uncomfortable with it, and he assured me that he can do it just fine.  He just doesn't want to.  He'd prefer to lose hundreds of dollars' worth of income because on principle asking him to do a few Save As's was unfair.


So that was pretty much the long and the short of the discussion.  He complained as though I had singled him out for ill treatment.  I tried, in vain, to explain that I couldn't possibly have predicted that Save As would be such a problem for him.  In other words, I had not failed to consider his needs.  I only underestimated them.

Anyway, I won't be scheduling any more downtime on Wednesday afternoons, you can bet on that.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Late Bloomer

Maybe I'm a slow learner, but years after Facebook first hit the web I'm finally getting really into it.   I'm at the trailing edge of the trend.  I guess I should get used to the feeling, now that I'm old. 

I've seen some strong opinions about Facebook, and have heard stories of people who've sworn off it entirely.  I'm not sure exactly why.  Maybe some of their so-called "friends" didn't have as much in common with them as they thought.  I can see that being a problem.

I've been pretty selective about who I've created "friend" relationships with.  Not that I've been inundated with requests.  I have 68 "friends", most of whom aren't actually active on Facebook much at all.  For example, my mother-in-law never seems to log in.  (I was kind of counting on that when I accepted her friend request.)  At most there are a dozen or two people whom I regularly see in my feed, and only around 10 people I have marked as "close friends" (meaning I receive all of their updates).

Over the past year, I've become more active on Facebook, mainly interacting with the friends I see every weekend.  It has become a venue for our teasing and in-jokes, so that I feel like I get a little bit of weekend happiness every time I log in.  I've started logging in first thing every morning, and as often as not I'm rewarded with my first smile of the day, when a friend has posted something silly like this:

(Credit for this gem goes to DarcKnyt.)

So, for all the fuss about how technology is making us lonelier, I am a Facebook fan.  I suppose it's because I use it to nurture real relationships that were strong in the first place.  Too bad it's not like that for everyone.