From then to now … getting the hang of it


For the first few weeks, I felt a little out of place. All the team I was with, bar one had been office workers since leaving school and most of them had been with a Local Authority, so I was a bit of an oddity. Most of them couldn’t seem to get their heads around why, with the qualifications I had, would I want to work in an office. This was something that had been explained to us on the course and so I was expecting it. They soon got over it within a couple of weeks, and I settled down to become an “Officer of The Council” as we were called.

The briefcase was the first thing to be ditched, quickly followed by the fountain pen and dictionary. I had also bought a Rucksacksuit and I soldiered on with that for a couple of months. We shared our office floor with a couple of other sections of the Council and I soon discovered that literally nobody carried a briefcase. Most of the women had some form of shopping/tote bag to supplement their handbag , but the men didn’t seem to have bags at all. I still had my lunch and calculator to carry, so I needed something. I eventually dug out my old school bag, which was one of those thick canvas army types that we used to be able to get from the Army and Navy stores. Now what ever happened to them?

It had been noted at my interview, that I had an interest in computers and technology. This of course led to me being given a ‘very important job’. Everyday, at 4pm I was to  perform the database back-up. Because IBM Computerthere was two types of parking ticket (on-street and car parks) we had two computer systems. The reason for this was that back in 1986 the on-street parking service (parking meters) merged with the off-street car parks service. Each brought their own systems which were not compatible. So the off-street system (car parks) used Microsoft Windows 2.1 and a software package called DataEase, dBase 2 screenwhereas the on-street part of the team had an old IBM machine that ran a program called dBase. It also ran Wordstar and Supercalc, but we never used them. It was dBase 2 that we had, but it was not like the other system which had it’s own built in back-up routine. No with this one, you first had to ‘drop out’ of the database and jump to a ‘DOS prompt’ Then you had to ‘Setpath’ which basically told the computer where to look and then type the back-up command. This had to be exact and had the location of the file to be backed-up, and the location where it was to be backed-up to. You then had to verify the back-up by following a similar routine.

It took me a couple of months before I realised that I could write a batch file to do all the leg work. When it worked first IT Experttime, I was a hero. I had shaved a good 10 minutes of the time and it was far more accurate.. The only downside to this was that I was now the Parking Departments IT expert! Everything from changing the computer plug filing the back-up discs to replacing the printer toner was now my job. I even got asked to ‘have a quick look’ at the photocopier. Other staff started to come to me with their IT related problems and I came to the attention of the IT Department. I was now the unofficial IT support (more on that later) for Parking. If IT wanted any small work doing, then I got the call and was talked through the problem and solutions. I was loving it.

From then to now … a huge change


It was expected that future ‘outsourcing’ of services (the Council did not like the word ‘Privatisation’) would result in a Steam Boilernumber of job losses. This was especially true for the catering services providing mass produced meals. The same number of people can produce 50 meals or 500 meals. It is just a matter of scale, and the large industrial caterers were more than used to this.

In an attempt to minimise job losses, Leeds City Council came up with a plan to try and train staff in threatened roles, to work as office staff. It was quite a big undertaking, but it was surprising how few ‘manual’ workers took up the option. It was posted in the monthly staff Word Processornewsletter, but the program only lasted 1 year before it was closed down, apparently due to lack of support. The way it worked was this: one day a week for 15 weeks, a trainee would attend a variety of courses. These were, touch typing, business letter construction, Council finances, office etiquette and, although computers were few and far between, word processing. The problem where I worked was the availability of the newsletter. It first went around the 4 Care Officers (managers in a word) who usually had it for a week or so, before it was passed to the Care Assistants. There were 20 of those, so it was often out of date before the kitchen staff got their hands on it. However the newsletter in question that had the advertisement for the course, was left in the kitchen by one of the officers, so it was only by chance that I saw the advert. I applied and much to everyone surprise, I got on the course.

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The courses went really well and I passed them all without much trouble. I did struggle with the touch-typing, but I had the speed and got away with it. Each course came with a certificate. They wouldn’t be much use to anyone outside the Council as they were not recognisable awards, but it was till nice to get something for the achievement.

Another aspect of the course was interview skills. We all were given a mock 10 minute interview and then we were given an CVassessment on where we went right or wrong. That proved really useful. One of the trainers was in constant touch with various personnel departments and they got the first notification of any suitable jobs coming up. Towards the middle of July, about 4 weeks before the courses were due to finish, a job came up that I was told that I would be suitable for. They arranged an interview and on the 26th July I found myself sat in the Parking Managers office explaining about my computer skills. I have to mention here that I had a personaTexas Instruments TI99 4al computer at the time and was very proud that I had written a game, that had been published in a leading computer magazine. I explained about the need for accuracy whilst at the same time being prepared for boring repetition. I waffled on about being able to work in a team (catering) and being able to work alone (computer). Interview over, I went back to work. I was due to finish at 5pm that day but had been asked to stay until 6:30 to help with some entertainment that was happening that night.

When I finally got home, K**h told me that Car Park Section had rung and could I ring them at around 9am the next morning. I fully believed that I must have failed the interview and that they wanted to give me the feedback I had asked for. So feeling a little dejected, I rang from the phone in the APH kitchen. I’m told, that I changed colour during that call from my Doubtfulnormal flesh colour through white to red. I had got the job, and after discussing the minimum period of notice (only a week surprisingly) I rang back to say I could start the second week of August.

This did not go down too well with the staff at the home. All wished me luck, but I could tell that they thought I was making a mistake. “You’re a cook not a typist” was one of the more often used phrases, along with “You won’t last five minutes sitting at a desk”. All this could have  been true, but I knew that I was going nowhere in the current job, so really had nothing to lose.

So on Tuesday the 6th August 1990, with my expensive scientific calculator, fountain penBriefcase, pocket dictionary and lunchbox packed neatly into my new briefcase, I found myself back in the Parking Managers office having the office rules explained to me.

A new challenge had begun.

Never usually bother …


Not quite the whole story … I never bother for small amounts! I’m talking about eBay purchases that go wrong. If the sum is less than £10.00, I tend to put it down to experience ebayand never use that seller again. I have a personal blacklist that I refer to when I’m buying something, and add new sellers that don’t come up to the mark.

About a month ago, one of my computer mice (or is it mouses?) started to fail. It was only a cheap wireless-mouseone, but it had lasted about two years. I thought at first it was just a bad battery, but it wasn’t and it had to be consigned to the “Tech Bin” for disposal when I next go to the recycling site. I started using a wired one, but it’s not the same after a wireless one so I looked on my favourite selling site … eBay! There were quite a few for sale within my price range, but I spotted an seller offering two for the price of one, or ‘make me an offer’. I made an offer, and it was accepted. I was well pleased with myself.

They arrived after about two weeks, and as they were coming from China, I thought that was an acceptable length of time. Now for the crux of the matter … they did not work. Angry FaceThe computer could not see either mouse. The seller started nattering a bit about feedback for the sale, so I simply put in the feedback box ‘Don’t work’ and gave it a neutral rating. I thought no more about it and left it at that. Meanwhile, my original mouse had been borrowed by a friend who had taken it to pieces and cleaned some part or other, and handed it back in full working order.

Skip forward to this morning, and an eBay message from the seller asking if I could amend the Refundfeedback, and he would issue a refund. After a bit of messing around with eBay, the said feedback was amended to something like ‘issue resolved with seller’. Within ten minutes I received an email from PayPal to say that I had received a full refund from the seller. I was surprised to say the least and there has not been a request to return the faulty goods.

So I have now raised an issue with another seller regarding another piece of IT equipment that I’m having a problem with. We shall see how that goes.

Problems might just be gone …


For a few weeks now, I’ve been having performance issues with one of my Windows 10 laptops. I’ve uninstalled software that I rarely use, but the issue seems to have remained. What happens is that I’ll be using for example Microsoft Word and suddenly it hangs with the message “Word is not responding” and this will happen three or four times during the session. I end up having to restart Windows and hope the problem has gone away. Often this fixes the issue, but occasionally it doesn’t.

Today, while I was looking at the Task Manager application, I noticed something called ‘software reporting tool’. I had not seen it before and so I ran an online search and discovered that it is a program that checks to see if any software is going to affect the Google Chrome browser. There were reports that it has a high CPU usage when checking and the check often takes 20 minutes or so to run. The date on the file is 4th October which seems to coincide with the second time I had problems. Things seemed to improve after I removed my other printer, but then problems re-emerged a few days later.

The sites I looked at (and I always check a few to see if they say the same thing) told me that the process is not necessary and can be stopped. They also said that Google may restart the process again whenever the Chrome bowser updates. It gave instructions on how to prevent it running and how to prevent Google from restarting it. The instructions for this can be found at https://www.ghacks.net and searching for ‘how to block the Chrome Software reporter tool’.

It may not fix the problem, but the tool sends scan information back to Google, so there may be privacy issues here.

We shall see if there is any improvement.

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On another point, this was written using the WordPress editor on an iPad Mini. I had not thought of that as an option, but it seems to work quite well. I do need to understand how the HTML style tags work for formatting, but there must be a tutorial out there.

 

Too clever for my own good …


This is a little techy. I have been having a problem all week with the performance of my main laptop. Applications were slow to open and even slower to close. I scoured the internet for answers and did everything, bar re-installing Windows, that was suggested. But the problem remained, and it was getting worse. Some programs were now not even opening. Then today I had an idea. You see, I have two laptops on my home network, both with an attached printer. At the beginning of the week, I thought it would be good if I could print to both printers in an effort to save ink, as the other printer never gets used. After a couple of hours and a fair bit of stress, I got it working. I then installed the other printer on my main laptop so that it could be seen. Then all I had to do was to ensure the other laptop and printer were switched on and I could print to it. Really quite pleased with myself at that point.

I didn’t really want to have the other laptop and printer to be on all the time, so I shut both down. This was on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, I started to notice the performance issues. As Tuesday was the day when Microsoft updates Windows, I put the problems down to that. When there was a second update pushed on Wednesday, I was convinced that everything would now be okay. Not so. The performance had improved slightly, but not so as you would notice. It was getting so bad that I began to think I had a virus or something. I searched the internet for the problem and the answers were as I expected: run an anti-virus; run an anti-malware; run a disk clean-up even reformat hard drive and start again. Well I tried all except the last one, but nothing seemed to work. Then another search, came up with something. I may have a corrupt drive recently installed. Hmmm … the only driver recently installed was the printer driver for the other printer. I thought I would have a look at that. I removed the printer from the device list (an I assume that removed the driver) and did a full reboot, rather than a restart.

Now (touch wood) it seems to be back to as normal as it was before. I had a quick online chat with the printer help desk (free thankfully). It would appear, that when the other laptop and printer were switched off any software that you can print from would be looking for the printers when the software opens. As the printer was off, it was not visible and so the delays. I’m not entirely convinced, but it does seem to have been resolved.

(Written with Word 365 – blog template)

Small steps …


This is going to be a little bit techy/geeky, so feel free to move on.

For a long time now, I’ve been wanting to learn a computer programming language. I have had a free programming environment (Visual Studio Community 2017) on all my computers for many years but simply have not had the inspiration to get on and learn something. The bad weather on Thursday suddenly gave me that inspiration. I found an online tutorial called Home and Learn, that went through the basics in Visual Basic.net, but at a pace that wasn’t either too slow or too fast. Many of these tutorials show you how to create the ubiquitous “Hello World” programme. As much of a novice that I am, I think I was past that phase.

So by the end of the day, I had completed a few exercises and had started on a project to build a basic calculator. AndVB Calculator I mean a basic calculator. A calculator that only had a single function … addition. Nothing else … just adding up numbers. By Friday evening, after a few false starts I had successfully built this very simple calculator application. I was feeling very pleased with myself. This self-smugness left me feeling that I could do more. Knowing what I had learnt I felt that it would be not such a difficult task to add another function, such as subtraction. The main issue I had was how to use the coding that I had spent so much time on without losing the initial work. What I needed was a ‘Save as …’ option. But could I find one? It seems that there is no ‘Save as …’ in this version of Visual Studio. I searched the internet but was coming up with various ways that didn’t seem to work for me. I then realised what I needed to do. All that was required was to copy the original project to it’s own backup folder, in another area and then I was free to use the original.

VB Calculator Ver 2Well I won’t bore you with any more details, but after even more false starts than before and a lot of brain-racking I managed to get the subtraction function to work and the calculator now has both an addition and a subtraction button. Can you imagine how much the smugness factor has risen by! I even managed to find out how to make the buttons look like raised buttons instead of the default flat style that seems to be the fashion these days. The next challenge is to add a multiplication and a division button. I’m even thinking ahead for things like a percentage button, but I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself.

At the end of the day though, this not going to get me anywhere. It’s just another hobby that I can enjoy and get satisfaction from.

And on it goes …


So we are on day four of the new bathroom (weekends don’t count) and it seems (?) to be all going to plan. Well someone’s plan anyway. It does seem to be taking a long time. The guys are just on with the grouting of the tiles at the moment, and I understand that the cleaning of the tiles afterwards is a long job, due to the type of tile we have chosen. At the moment, there is the floor to lay, the toilet and sink to fit, the wall unit and under-sink cupboard to install, the lighting to install and fan to remove and finally before the cleanup, a new radiator to fit. They are supposed to finish by Friday … I’m not too sure about that. The main problem is that we can’t do anything. We have had to shut all three bedroom doors to keep the dust down which means that upstairs is out-of-bounds really. K*** has gone to have her nails done and to see her parents, but I have never been comfortable in leaving workmen alone in the house. Even those that we sort of trust. You hear so many stories of break-ins after work has been done. And they do like their tea/coffee breaks, which may account for the time factor.

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I did a silly thing a few weeks ago. It didn’t seem so silly at the time, but I am really regretting it now. You see when I left work, I had taken a copy of all the user guides, help documents and training manuals that I had written over the years.  I thought they would come in useful. Well about six or seven weeks ago, whilst (do you say ‘while’ or ‘whilst’?) doing a clear out of old stuff on my computer I took the random decision to dump them all. Now normally I would have copied them onto a CD just in case, but on this occasion I just deleted them. I now realise that it was a bad idea, as that kind of thing can come in useful when looking for a job.

I know that they were all in a single folder on the works computer network, and I have emailed a colleague a few times and asked if he could look for them, but he has not got back to me about them. He has been on leave, but I kind of get the feeling that he is not too happy with sending me them. I can’t be sure, but he either does not reply to the email or tactfully avoids the question. I think I may have to accept that for me, they have gone forever which is sad.

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More on the eldest lad’s predicament. After a lot of thought and input from others, he has decided that he cannot afford to keep the current house. His ‘ex’ has said that she would take it on under the same terms that she offered him. Basically, he would come off the mortgage and she would pay him a lump sum that equated to the half money that they had put into the property that could not be reasonably divided up. Thinks like carpets, lighting, appliances and the like. He is really up for this and me and K*** went to look at a new build not too much further away than he is now. It looked nice, but when he mentioned the location to his colleague, who knows the area, he was advised to not even consider it. It was a shame because it would have given him a three bedroom, semi-detached house at an affordable price. No amount of talking last night would change his mind. He is now looking at a new two bedroomed property, in an almost city centre location which, with a little help he could afford. This story could run for a long time.