There are some folk who don't see the gem inside my rough exterior who might consider me a hot head. To which I say a hearty "bite me". But let this opinion be a caution that within this blog may lurk items of a venting nature or perhaps those which might be considered a rant. So be it. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Technology Fear

I work in an IT capacity for a large financial company. Specifically I write and troubleshoot software as well as training new developers using a proprietary programming language specifically designed for document production and maintenance . We've had this application in place for over six years during which time my department has gradually taken on documents for a variety of business units that formerly had their documents produced and maintained by third party vendors. When you produce many thousands of documents a month, having a third party vendor involved gets enormously expensive. One such vendor recently raised their price to one dollar a document. When a single business unit can easily generate in excess of 30,000 documents a month, dealing with dozens of different business units on a company wide scale gets expensive fast. Naturally the motivation to move these services in house is strong and we add several units a year to those serviced by our department.

With this kind of incentive and a six year track record of producing thousands of accurate documents day after day when an incorrect document has very negative legal consequences you would think that once the decision has been made to move another business unit's documents in house this decision would be embraced by those who stand to benefit most by it. Namely those employees who have had to wrestle with the demands and deadlines of the third party vendors. But not so! These employees, which now need to provide my department with specifications and assistance in saving their department piles of money annually, inevitably dig in their heels and give their assistance only grudgingly and half-heartedly. Some of this is expected because long time employees approaching retirement age grouse that "we've always done it this way and it works, we don't see why we have to learn to do it a new way" and people are just naturally resistant to change. However, the largest component in this resistance, in spite of the fact that computers have been involved in business applications since the sixties, and personal computers since the eighties, is technology fear.

Technology fear should not be confused with technology ignorance. Technology ignorance is responsible for calls to the help desk such as "my cup holder is broken" referring to the CD drawer or "My computer won't turn on" when the electricity in the building is off. These people are perfectly willing to work with new technology and just need a little generalized training. Either that or their IQ is not sufficient for their position (a situation that sadly is becoming more and more prevalent as American education continues the ongoing process of dumbing itself down). Also, technology fear should not be confused with compartmentalization. My wife works for a university where her job requires fairly advanced skills using Excel and Access yet she needs help figuring out how to chat on Facebook. She's not afraid of technology, she just sees no reason to explore applications beyond her immediate need. Instead technology fear is a combination of Arthur C. Clarke's pronouncement that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." and "oh my God what if something goes wrong?" In the first case the fear is that if all things are not in some mystical configuration the technology in question will immediately cease to function. Thus adding a new business unit to a functioning system must be accompanied by great trepidation and perhaps appeasement of some sort. In the second the fear is that should a malfunction occur there will be no one that can fix it. It puzzles me that these same individuals have no qualms in purchasing a new car and expecting it to work reliably when they have no more understanding of how it works than they do the technology that they fear.

It would be easy to dismiss these individuals if they did not present such an enormous cost in time to implement any proposed project. In a large company interested parties in a new project can be widely distributed geographically and a new project demands numerous meetings in the form of conference calls to get all systems involved to coordinate the changes necessary for implementation. This results in conference calls with up to thirty people wasting company time while questions like the following are fielded:

What happens if we can't print our document? (what happens when you can't print an email from Aunt Tillie? You call help desk.)
What happens if there is a power failure? (on your end - you quit working. On our end - the same fail-over plan that the company has used for 10 years applies.)
What happens if the home office is closed?(the servers run 24 hours a day - always have, always will)
Will there be training? (this is particularly annoying when everyone knows that the change will be transparent to the user)
How will we know what icon to click? (same as above. I'm not making these questions up.)
Will the documents fit on our printers? (no, we plan to make them billboard sized)
How do we know the documents are correct? (ever heard of QA testing? We have several hundred people company wide involved in this.)

I am sure you can get the drift by now. What is particularly galling is that the people on these calls asking these questions are invariably middle to upper management who must have an answer before we can proceed. Even more galling is that they ask the same questions on call after call as if expecting the answer to change. The goal of the endless questioning seems to be to postpone putting off any decision making so no one can be held responsible if something goes wrong. On the last call of this nature I was on, the project manager, having waded determinedly through the morass of mindless queries, finally reached a point where he could ask "So who is in favor of moving ahead with what was proposed." Of thirty people on the call, not a sound was heard. The PM then asked "OK so who has objections to moving ahead with the proposal." Again crickets. The entire meeting was paralyzed by fear.

I'm sure glad I have a desk large enough to allow room for head banging.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Eye Surgery Processing - A Poke in the Eye Part 2

Disclaimer: These two posts aren't necessarily meant to be either a rant or humorous (and maybe none of my others are either in spite of intention). Wikipedia states: "In the United States, age-related lenticular changes have been reported in 42% of those between the ages of 52 to 64, 60% of those between the ages 65 and 74, and 91% of those between the ages of 75 and 85." If you manage to live to the age of 52 or better, the chances of your dealing with this problem are better than even. And since age-related cataract is responsible for 48% of world blindness you do definitely want to deal with it. So this topic is by way of alleviating a little stress for anyone facing this in the future.

And now, on with the narrative.

The presurgical physical not having revealed any contraindications I dutifully showed up at the out patient surgical center at the appointed time. Here's where the process could use some improvement. Very like airlines, the outpatient center had me show up two hours early. During that two hours they verified my personal and insurance information (10 minutes) and did a minimal surgical prep (20 minutes). For the other hour and a half I sat around and waited. This is akin to airline practices except there's no stop and grope at the entrance. I don't have a clue why it takes 30 minutes to get you processed and yet you have a 1 1/2 hour wait beyond that. I'm not sure about anyone else, but during this period the thought that someone would soon be shoving a sharp instrument into my eye got my adrenaline going pretty good. After 1/2 hour in the waiting room post sign-in ritual, when I was called back to sit in the little room with the curtain and have my vitals checked, the nurse remarked that my blood pressure was up a bit. You think?! Then I got into a surgical gown (allowed to retain trou but no shirt) an IV started, many eye drops administered and settled in to wait for another hour.

Whenever I'm on the receiving end of an IV I always wonder how people that do this many times a day, day after day for months, maybe years, can still be inept at it. I have great ropy veins that you can see from across the room with one eye closed, yet on this occasion the nurse might as well have been using a 3 penny nail to get the IV going. There was pushing, twisting, withdrawal and skewering before she was finally satisfied. To my credit, although there was tooth grinding and white knuckling of the gurney rails, I managed to refrain from any imprecations or violence. In the aftermath of the entire process the next day the most annoying after effect was a big irritated bruise at the IV site. Yet a week later on the visit for the other eye, I was looking the other way and didn't even notice when a different nurse got the IV on the first try. Different people have differing skills. Let the nurse that has trouble starting IVs specialize in taking histories or something else with no pain potential.

During the hour of waiting I was visited by the surgical nurse, the anesthetist, the anesthetist's assistant and the surgeon. They all looked at my chart and then asked me which eye we were supposed to be doing. Every one of them asked that - and then the surgeon took a marker and scrawled his initials above the right (not left) eye - which was also the right (correct) eye. In my presurgical anxiety state this made me think that they would not take so much time verifying this if at some time someone had in fact performed a procedure on the incorrect eye. A sobering thought. And while we're on the subject of presurgical anxiety, I've got an IV in my arm, how about a few milligrams of valium or something to keep me from pondering everything that could possibly go wrong?

But finally the surgical nurse came for me and I went shuffling down the hall in my paper booties with my IV stand. Once in the operating room the lethargy of the last 2 hours suddenly turned to practiced efficiency. Up on the table, warm blanket applied, arms strapped down (people sometimes involuntarily try to protect their eyes while under anesthesia), EKG monitors leads applied, head taped securely in place and as I feel the onset of warm fuzzies I realize the anesthetic has been administered. Soon I am aware of some activity taking place near my eyes and realize that I am going to be awake for this. Then I realize that I don't care. Next thing I know I can feel some slight pressure in the general area of my eye. Again I don't care. Whatever this anesthetic is, it's very effective in keeping me relaxed and motionless. The combination of the topical anesthetic in the eye drops and whatever is administered by IV combine to keep me perfectly comfortable and relaxed. After reading up on the procedure I realize that a lot is going on up there but subjectively it seems to be over in minutes and soon a perforated metal shield is placed over my eye, I am helped into a wheel chair and rolled out into the recovery area. Half an hour later I am being driven home by my wife who tells me I was in the OR about 30 minutes. I have a minor headache over the eye later but a couple of Ibuprofen knock that right out.

The next day I return to the center for a follow up. The surgeon looks into my eye, pronounces it doing well, I am relieved of the eye shield and given directions for anti-inflammatory and antiseptic eyedrops for the next two weeks and told to wear the eye shield at night for the next week and sent home. The following week, after a check up with my regular opthamologist the procedure is repeated on the other eye with much less anxiety now that I know how simple it is. Three weeks later I get my new glasses that tweak my astigmatism and provide close vision correction and I see better than I have in years. In fact my distance vision without glasses, although not perfect, is now better than it was with glasses prior to the procedures.

As with any surgical procedure, complications are possible but I had no complicating factors like glaucoma, my surgeon has a national reputation and has himself developed several advanced procedures and the staff and facility of the out patient surgical center were top quality. In the future there is the possibility that the rear of the lens capsule could become somewhat opaque but this is correctible by laser.

Every once in a while everything comes together and works out right. This was one of those times. Considering that most of my life is filled with annoyances of one kind or another, I felt this experience was worth retelling.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

More Des Moines Shenanigans

I know the second installment of the cataract adventure is due, but I need to vent. Live with it.

rant mode on/

The latest demonstration of complete fail by the Des Moines city administration has to do with snow removal. As I've mentioned elsewhere Des Moines has a long standing tradition of never starting to clear the residential streets until the end of a storm. Considering that snow storms that last for several days are not uncommon this creates ridiculously difficult conditions for residents who simply want to get to work. Complaints to the street department always result in a litany of propaganda insisting that all major streets are cleared every morning of a storm in time for the rush hour. This is completely untrue as the morning rush hour after a storm is always characterized by commuters wallowing through piles of unplowed snow, sometimes actually above their bumpers.

This year, in a new propaganda campaign, the city designated several areas within the city "snow ordinance areas". What this means is that during a storm in these residential areas, residents may not park their cars on the street until snow removal is complete. According to information available on the city government web site snow removal on "snow routes" will be complete within 24 to 36 hours after the storm and residential streets 36 hours later. So home owners and other taxpayers may not park on the streets for a minimum of 72 hours. (Bear in mind that these are the city's figures and the clearing of residential streets within 72 hours after a storm is a wildly optimistic figure rarely achieved.) To add insult to injury there is a city ordinance that residents must clear their sidewalks within 48 hours after a storm - thus requiring the resident to be more efficient than the city street department.

Snow ordinance areas were newly instituted in December and after our first snowfall hundreds of tickets were issued to motorists who dared to park their cars on the street having nowhere else to park them (they could pull them up into their yard if another ordinance with a higher fine did not prohibit that). Des Moines was very diligent in issuing the tickets as police had to drive through snow choked streets to issue them. Naturally a huge outcry from the populace arose following this deluge of penalties and the result was a media blitz intended to sooth irate townspeople by telling them how refraining from parking on the designated streets during a storm would result in faster snow removal. News anchors were actually able to deliver this information with a straight face.

So now we have had our first major snow storm and are into the second 24 hours of continuous snowfall. Of course the residential streets in the snow ordinance areas remain untouched and the only evidence of plowing is on state routes and major highways. As one slides through the piles of snow on the way to work street department trucks are occasionally seen with their blades up and their sand/salt spreaders inactive. Having lived in several other cities in my life, some in areas with much more annual snowfall than Des Moines, I would expect denizens of Des Moines to descend on city hall if not with pitchforks at least with irate demands for some improved return on their inordinately high property taxes. I remember a snowfall some years back where the tardy clearing of streets in Chicago resulted in the ouster of the mayor. Not so in Des Moines. I'm not sure whether the populace of Des Moines believes the BS that the spokespeople for the city are so skilled at disseminating or whether they think that this is the way it is everywhere. Certainly the latter is possible as Iowa is a very insular state with few outsiders immigrating from other states and few inhabitants venturing beyond Iowa's borders to return with tales of far off climes like Colorado where they actually know how to remove snow in a timely manner.

Whatever the case - Des Moines Street Department, you are inefficient, unrepentant, incompetent and hypocritical. Snow ordinance my lily white ass, smoke screen is more like it.

/ end rant

Thanks for reading.