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if you make a mistake

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 3 years, 3 months ago

A page of technology and also of human behaviour


If you make an occasional mistake, don't worry, that just shows you're human.


If you make the same mistake twice, don't be afraid, that just show's you're normal. It's generally better to keep coming up with new ones, because it's less upsetting somehow, but no safer really.


But if you make the same mistake many millions of times per second, be very, very afraid. You are a computer.





Computers are my lifework. If I don't trust them, nobody should.


But... they could and should be more trustworthy. See some of my personal failures and is your techie fooling you badly.


Mind you they are already more trustworthy than many would have you believe.


There are limits to that trustworthiness. In my retirement I often say to people "Computers are my lifework. If I don't trust them, nobody should." I don't add that that the later stages of my career, in EDP Audit and Configuration Management, my job was actually to focus on that reliability. But that just makes the point even more, doesn't it?


As an undergraduate I can remember confidently setting my watch by the computer time-of-day clock. It was like a God to me. So it was with some amusement that when I later entered the workforce, I found that one of my jobs was occasionally to set that computer clock... from my wristwatch.     


Some war stories


the computer stuffed it up again

I was working as a shift leader in the computer room of a large scientific research establishment. I returned from three weeks' leave to find, in my top drawer, a cheque for my pay over the period, which should have been deposited into my cheque account. It meant I was probably overdrawn.


The bank was already closed, so I went immediately down to the Administration Building wth the cheque and a copy of my leave form (always keep them).


The guy on the counter, who didn't know me (he was about to find out) took one look at it and said with a straight face (this is word for word I think) "Oh, it looks like the computer stuffed it up again". 


The universal excuse.


His boss was sitting a few rows of desks back. He dramatically put his head in his hands and then came to the desk and introduced us. You see, that boss and I had a regular time together, once a fortnight, locking the computer room doors (which were in those days normally open for anyone who got past the police at the gate to just walk in) and then running the payroll program


Turned out this guy was going to be running the payroll whenever his boss was away, so it was important we get on (and we did, even after this unpromising start). I personally deposited the cheque at my bank branch the next morning, and they waived the overdrawn account fees, assured me that they hadn't dishonoured anything yet and wouldn't, and we all had a good laugh.


The universal excuse rides again

Years later I was working for a large financial institution, and we had a social club which was optional and cost I think twenty cents a fortnight to belong, and I did. Every payslip showed the deduction. And they published a weekly staff advertisement section in the (paper) Staff News that was published once a week, and which I always read.


So I submitted an ad. But they didn't run it. I rang to ask why not and was told that I wasn't a member. So I went down there at a convenient break in my workflow with my payslip and the carbon copy (always keep them) of the ad application.


They politely if a bit tersely produced an enormous printout on 11x15 fanfold (remember that?) and showed me that I wasn't on it, and said "There's nothing we can do".  And I was supposed to go away.


I didn't.


I did somethig unprofessional (the only time I ever committed this particular sin I must say). I produced my security pass which had a bright red line across it indicating a rather high level of access, and in big letters the words "EDP Audit", and said threateningly "I'm very sorry to hear that there is a problem with your computer. Tell me more."


I actually had absolutely no authority without a letter from my Chief General Manager instructing me to audit that area. And even if I had, my job as an internal auditor was to fix problems, not cause them. I admit that this attitude was not universal mong my collegues, to the point that I later presented a paper to an international conference of EDP Auditors on why it was so important that it should be. But they didn't know any of that.


They ran the ad. 


It's just a glitch

I am currently in discussion with my telco about repeated problems with crossed lines. Twice now. The first time I reported it they said it would take a week to get a technician out to check my line, and meantime I'd have no service, and if the fault was with my equipment I'd be charged for the service call by the technician. I protested that it looked very much like a routing table error, nothing hardware at all, and would take 10 secods to fix if only I could talk to the person who had authority to make such changes.  


I spent more than six hours on a chat session to no avail (I have a satellite data service which they aren't getting their hands on for obvious reasons), then made a personal visit to their office (by appointment only due to COVID19, it was almost a week before the first available appointment). It was their suggestion that I raise a complaint, and a very good one it was. I didn't want to cause trouble. I just wanted the service fixed. 


And a day or two later the line came good, and I even got a follow-up call from the Complaint Manager. She had fixed it in 10 seconds. It was a routing table error. 


So she said "I will now close this complaint as the service is fixed". I said no, the complaint is not about the service, it's about the delay in fixing it. And I said, I want to know how this occcurred. Did someone enter wrong data, or was there a bug somewhere in the program that maintains these tables? She said it's neither, it's just a "glitch". This conversation wet around in circles for more than half an hour (for why I guess see management by obectives).


And the crossed line has since happened again. This time I was offered an appontment in only few days, but when I turned up somehow they had lost it, so there was nobody there to help me, but they gave me a desk and a telephone and three hours later it was fixed. And I did find out (over their 'phone) that my compaint was still open, and that the original fault report has been (righty) closed. The reason for the fault has of course been entered by the person closing the fault (the complaint manager I guess, as she said she fixed it). It was "corrosion".


Or that's the story.


I have now asked for a different complaints manager to be assigned. Discussions are continuing. I still don't want trouble. But I want this to stop. Wish me luck.






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