Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Suck Goes Ever On And On

Unbelievable numbers of outrages were perpetrated at my expense in the last month and a bit, so many that I could not put fingers to keyboard for the angst.

To start with: Another birthday. The less said about that the better, except to note in passing that the high spot was a hibachi dinner avec les In-Laws.

They did not enjoy the experience. Not sure why.

Work then; source of many Outrages Served over the years. I was cornered by my boss, who demanded "Are you going to retire soon?"

After a rather confusing back and forth it turned out I wasn't being fired in an overly circuitous fashion, but seconded to the database department "for half my time" because I already knew a bit about database administration. Training in the finer points of the technology that have happened in the intervening decade since I last took DA seriously will be made available ... later.

Mentoring in the finer points of New Age DBA-ism was promised but has yet to appear in favor of an alternate plan implemented by the middle management of the department in question: I take over the script management duties of a now-retired staff member and don't bother anyone else with questions.

Questions to said staff member on the subject of what, where, how and who (when it isn't working like it should), were met with "dunno" and "I just type yes". He then left a week earlier than planned so I was flung into the deep end of what turned out to be largely manual drudge-work.

I found one task so monumentally pointless I simply rewrote the code1 to make a best-guess stab at whether the task should run and proceed without the need for me to mindlessly wade through it all typing 'y' or occasionally 'n' - because I like to think that if nothing else I at least added informed decisions to the process based on solid knowledge of how the cogs turn.

As for the mentoring - to date it has manifested in a determined and utterly bewildering drive to make getting a proper toolset, defined as "what the bloke who left had", as difficult as possible. I am not joking when I say that the process has born a striking resemblance to that described by Douglas Adams as the SOP of Vogon bureaucrats. I'm eight weeks into this galling nonsense and to date no progress has been made.

So we can all see how this is going to play out. My guess is that I'm being used as a stick for each side of a hidden management struggle to hit the other with. Winner gets to decide whether or not we hire another consultant to replace the retiree.

So anyway, I stayed late off the books a few nights to get educated on my own dime2 and in the fine tradition of no good deed doer being left without his hands being given a good going over with a coal-hammer, by doing so left myself open to further Outrage Perpetration at the hands of the Bloody Long Island Rail Road.

It went like this:

I left work extremely late, much later than I like to do on account of being parked in a known haunt of footpads and tow-trucks after 11pm. On the principle that I do not like to attempt boarding already full trains at Jamaica3 I rode to Penn Station via the Subway's fine A train service, disembarked to find a Ronkonkoma-bound train in-station with he driver nerving himself up to go.

Huzzah! I shouted. "No cooling my heels for half an hour wondering how much time this bloody job has wasted in such manner over the course of my life", and I leaped aboard.

The train pulled out of the station and entered the tunnel under the East River in a businesslike fashion. Passengers were in good spirits. Then the train abruptly ground to a halt and the Air Conditioning quit.

"This not look good" said Mr Brain, and he turned out to be understating the case quite severely.

The crew bustled about, and I overheard conversations that told an ugly tale of either the third rail power being out or the train having completely shorted out something vital for its use of said power. Such was the complete and utter collapse of the train infrastructure that they couldn't tell which situation was pertaining.

And so the air grew warmer and damper and the passengers rather less happy with their lot.

"Never fear!" cried a young voice over the PA. "A rescue train4 is being dispatched which will tow us back into Penn Station. We will keep you informed"

It was bad, then. No-one believed a word of this drivel of course, we were all too long in the commuting tooth for such subterfuges to be accepted at face value. But the chap who had been volunteered to speak to us had used The Phrase.

Any time the Bloody Long Island Rail Road says "we will keep you informed" they are a) lying and 2) sending the clear message that there is no possible way the situation can be remedied by the crew.

No sooner had The Phrase been uttered than a complete collapse of morale overtook the passengers. Widespread moaning of the most pitiful kind was augmented with the clutching of heads and cries of "Why me?"

We sat in the growing damp heat, only the periodic "updates" on "the situation" to raise our spirits, but those of us in the rear car who could clearly see the platform of the station no more than 300 feet behind us were not easily buoyed by tales of "rescue trains". Indeed, we formed an entirely reasonable and workable plan in which a second train be run up behind us and the end doors opened so we could use it as a drawbridge to the station. It took us about five minutes to iron out all objections to it on technical grounds, but the Bloody Long Island Railroad has a long history of "passengers last" and our plan was brutally rejected out of hand.

After about 20 minutes the hot, sweaty air was filled with choking diesel fumes as a "rescue train" was run up to a few feet from us (neatly blocking access so our eminently sensible and extremely workable - and fume-less electric - "bridge train" plan was rendered moot). It sat there for almost an hour.

Eventually something go the various crews moving. I can't say whether it was the end of the tea break, the signing of some vital overtime agreement or what, but they started moving through the train and pretending to do stuff. However, they could only do stuff in sequence. There was no multitasking despite a multitude of boots-on-train.

I finally moved onto the "bunch of incompetents" side of the passenger dialogue when the team stood in the rear car arguing that someone needed to walk 12 cars up to the front of the train and push a switch. Understand, there was no counter argument. Everyone agreed the switch needed pushing. But no-one actually began walking switchward. They just all talked about doing that.

Morale hit a low point when a nice lady walked through the train distributing Emergency Water in what looked like juice boxes. These were apparently issued by the Coastguard, which made about as much sense as anything else that night. Until then I never knew water had an expiration date. I refused to drink any on the grounds that I couldn't see what I was drinking and was by then paranoid anyway from all the diesel fumes I was breathing.

Eventually someone did walk up and push the switch, which was the signal for the driver of the "rescue diesel" to go from standing still while polluting the barely breathable as it was air to Ramming Attack Speed and we were all tossed around while the delicate business of coupling took place. This involved more ramming and a complicated drawbar assembly. One might wonder why a "Rescue Diesel" wasn't fitted with a compatible coupler to start with. One is doomed to wonder forever.

We pulled back into the station to see the next Ronkonkoma train leaving on-time, about half full of passengers. Realizing that there was about to be a riot of indignant passengers who had been promised a rise in ticket prices as a result of an agreement struck only three days before5 and realizing also that no judge in the world would contemplate punitive sentencing under the circumstances, the Bloody Long Island Rail Road fished a new train out of their yards and, an hour and twenty minutes late, we left for home.

I got home sometime around 11:30pm, where I got a good nagging from Mrs Stevie on the subject of not coming home in a timely manner.

  1. That never in a million years originated anywhere but in a browser window in answer to a google query or my name isn't Tarquin J. Fimbletwonk
  2. Literally in this case, as I invested in copies of the Software Vendor publications concerning the relevant parts of the product I've been told I'll be dealing with
  3. Not the good one, the one where you can freeze to death in winter trying to catch a train to Wyandanch that has enough room for one more passenger in it when the doors open.
  4. The unwary reader is probably conjuring visions of some real-world International Rescue-like operation, a model of quiet efficiency and a beacon of hope. That reader is about to be brutally disillusioned
  5. Narrowly avoiding a threatened strike

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