Nononononoooo! Left! Left! Your other left! ...Aiiieeeeeeeeeee!
Oh, just kidding. It wasn't that bad. But it was quite eye-opening and sobering. I have a long hard road (heh) ahead of me if I'm going to be able to pass a driving test here before my grace year is up. The problem isn't the driving itself; it's the extremely different definitions of what constitutes acceptable or safe practices.
These are the major things that are going to kill me (figuratively speaking [at least I certainly hope so]):
I certainly don't want to imply that I think these things are all wrong, or crazy, or dangerous; they're just new and different for me, and feel strange and wrong because I learned a different way, that's all. Given how ingrained these kinds of behaviours are, it's going to be very difficult to learn the necessary new habits. Of course I really only have to learn them long enough to pass the driving test, but given that these are all essentially subconscious behaviours, I will have to be able to do them without thought. Especially when it comes to the emergency stop test. The instructor says that if I depress the clutch first (or possibly at all) during the emergency stop, that'll be an automatic fail. Sadly, my well-ingrained instinct, whenever applying the brakes, is to apply the clutch at the same time.
Matters are complicated by the fact that the driving test isn't the rubber stamp that it tends to be in the US. They're quite serious about it. The road test takes about 35 minutes. Most people fail at least once.
Anyway. Much practice needed, obviously. I have another 2-hour lesson next Tuesday, by which time I'll have hopefully had some more practice (and Mike's hair may have all gone white).
I haven't said much about work lately, which is strange because it's very much occupying centre stage. Rather than do the NetWare-to-NT migration in an orderly, cautious fashion, I'm having to do it much more rushed. This isn't terrible, it just means less time waiting to see if problems will shake out after each change. Since they generally don't, it has worked out OK so far. I'm essentially doing one major change per day, rather than one per week as I'd planned. It's riskier than I like to do things.
I'll probably be working very long days between now and next Friday. Actually I haven't quite knocked off work tonight yet. The time remaining is shortened by the fact that next Monday is another bank holiday, so we'll probably take off somewhere for the long weekend, whereas if there were no holiday I'd probably work all weekend (plus, needless to say, Monday). And then there's the list of errands we want to accomplish while I'm still available at home during the day, which have the potential of taking up some more time.
In the end, though, it doesn't really matter how much time is left; it would never be enough. I was thinking, when I interviewed for the new job, that it would have been better if I'd had time to wrap up some of the major projects I was working on. Yet upon reflection, those projects would just have been replaced by new projects, so there never would have been a good stopping point reached, not naturally anyway. It's just a question of cutting off at some arbitrary point, and saying it stops here.
Created at 23:58
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Long days. Yesterday approached 18 hours and didn't end until 2:00 AM.
Just a quick entry, so nobody thinks we fell off the edge of the earth. It turns out Monday is another bank holiday, and the weather forecast is suspiciously wonderful, so we are gallivanting off into Yorkshire until Monday sometime.
And now, off to field test the camera...
Created at 11:00
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Wehay! I'm gainfully unemployed!
Well, mostly, anyway. Yesterday was my last official day at H&A, and Monday's my first day at the new company, so right now I'm in between. I'd say it was a strange feeling, were it not for the fact that it isn't really.
Meanwhile, it's been an absolutely frantic week, as you might have guessed from the conspicuous lack of diary entries. But, in the end, the migration to NT is finished. There is still the primary NetWare server to be decommissioned, but I've recommended waiting a little while on that just in case of late discovery of problems or missing files.
The staff are gasping for breath at the pace we've sustained. The trouble, of course, is that as I make each change, I can prepare for the problems and side effects that I anticipate, but I may not think of or notice them all. For example, on Thursday when I removed the NetWare client from workstations, the removal unexpectedly took a bunch of completely unrelated GroupWise registry keys with it. Suddenly half the office descends upon the Help Desk to report that they can't run the GroupWise Tools (little apps I wrote. Quite complimentary actually, to have such hell break loose when they're not available. I didn't realise they got that much use) and I have to find a way to fix it for the workstations that have already been damaged, and prevent the client removal process from doing it to future workstations. And quickly, because we're right in the middle of prime login time. Slightly scary thing here too: If it took those unrelated keys, what else might it have taken that nobody has noticed yet? This is why, in an ideal world, I much prefer to do something like this slowly, to give the side effects time to surface before moving on. But a slow pace was not possible in this case; have to make the best of it.
Being, as I must confess I am, something of a NetWare snob, it's also been vindicating in a selfish sort of way to see the dismay as each loss of functionality becomes apparent. We have to enter a password every time we run GroupWise now? No more booting to DOS and logging in? We can see directories we don't actually have rights to? But I'd better not get started on that topic, or I'll never get stopped!
It occurs to me that my final project at H&A was an unpopular migration from one system to another, in order to comply with after-the-fact corporate standards, and my first project at my new company will be, er, umm, an unpopular migration from one system to another, in order to comply with after-the-fact corporate standards. Hmm.
On Friday Steve sent out an astonishingly sentimental email to the whole company announcing my departure. I got quite a few well-wishes as a result. Generally leaving on a good note, especially because I did finish the migration. There is, finally, the delightful feeling of my entire to-do list suddenly going to zero. Not as intense as it might have been, because of the dragged-out nature of my separation from them; but at long last, it's finally here. Monday is Day One of the new job. I haven't gotten around to being nervous or worried yet. I know full well that the first few days will not be real anyway; there'll be HR forms to deal with, and orientation, and learning about the computer environment, and equipment to be issued.
So, what else? When last you heard from your heroes, we were just setting off into Yorkshire for the long weekend. I did almost all of the driving, for which I submit this photo (taken by Mike, as you might have guessed) as evidence. In fact, there was only one occasion on which Mike drove; I'll get to that in a minute.
The weekend was, to sum up, excellent. The weather was mostly very good; it was sometimes a bit cloudy and occasionally chilly (especially at either end of the day), but there was no rain and the sun was out most of the time. Plus the days are getting to be obscenely long, with full darkness not falling until 9:30 or so, making the days feel endless and the end-of-day driving much easier.
Shrill reassurances from the government that "the countryside is open!" aside, much of it is, in fact, not. Most footpaths, in Yorkshire at least, are still very much closed. Many scenic or natural attractions are reached by walking on public footpaths right through sheep pastures, so obviously it's not safe to open them yet. Consequently, the quaint nearby towns are brimming with baffled tourists, unsure what to do. (Well, not brimming exactly, nowhere we went was crowded.) We did find that a few places we wanted to see were at the end of closed footpaths, but some of those could be seen quite well from the nearby country lanes anyway. Thus we were spared the walk and had more time to stop for tea!
No point in giving a blow-by-blow description, but I'll cover a few highlights of our Grand Day Out:
And now a quiz for you readers: How do you get out of Ilkley on Parade Day?
Ha ha! It was a trick question! You can't get out of Ilkley on Parade Day! Not to imply that we stayed for the parade or anything; no, we had tea and skipped town quickly. Ilkley is built mostly on one side of a river, in a steep valley. We headed across the river to do a scenic drive in the countryside over there. That all went very nicely, and then we were ready to head home. It was now about 12:30.
The main road through town--the A65--was back on the Ilkley side of the river. No problem, head back down to the river, cross a bridge, turn west and we're out. Except for the unexpected snag that the river-paralleling road on our side of the river was completely choked by overflow parking for the parade. Cars had parked along both sides, reducing it to a single lane. It was a fiasco--lines of cars travelling in both directions, meeting head-on, nobody able to pass each other. Well, we said, the heck with this; we'll just take the country lane on this side of the river. So I did a 3-point turn and headed back the way we'd come.
But we immediately found another unexpected snag: Thanks to the parade, traffic in and out of town was much heavier than usual. Country lanes, I'll explain for my American readers, are one lane wide. Not one lane each way. One. Lane. And not usually a very wide one--more like a driveway than a road. There are slightly wider spots every now and then, so the normal system is that when you meet an oncoming car, one of you finds a wide spot (which may involve backing up) and you work your way past each other there.
Did I mention that these country lanes are bordered on both sides by either stone walls or hedges? Neither is a very soft surface. You might think a hedge wouldn't be too bad, but as often as not these hedges are ancient, sometimes older than the US, and have essentially become miniature trees. No little gentle leafy twigs protrude from them; branches as thick as your finger, nice and sharp from pruning, are what you'd hit if you bumped a hedge. So, whatever way you misjudge your passing of another car, you're not going to hit anything remotely yielding.
The find-a-wide-place system works very well for usual levels of country lane traffic, where it's generally just two cars meeting each other. What we found was unthinkable: Long lines of cars, sometimes ten or twenty, meeting each other headfirst. Sure, the first car finds a wide place, but then what? You still have to go past the other nineteen, and they're not in a wide place. Not at all.
I drove about eight miles of this. I couldn't have done it except that I had the good fortune to be the first car in a line, so I could choose my wide place and just wait while the oncoming line negotiated its careful way around me and all the cars behind me. But then I saw a car ahead, stopped. No way was I going to give up my front-car advantage, so I stopped a bit back, in a wide spot, to wait for whatever was ahead to sort itself out.
It was taking a long time, though. After a long while, a line of motorcycles came up from behind and went past us. Then, horribly, a few minutes later they came back. I didn't want to believe it, but by craning my neck a bit I actually saw one, doing a three-point turn up ahead. If a motorcycle can't get by...What the heck was going on up there?
The driver ahead of us had walked up to find out. Apparently the road was blocked ahead. Just plain closed. But that meant...we would have to...*fzzzt* My brain went into immediate denial. Mike mercifully said "Do you want me to drive?" This was obviously also a trick question. A three point turn? In a country lane? Back eight miles past all those cars?
The turn was managed quite well, as it happened. The other driver (far more dismayed than us, because he lived up ahead) gave tight-tolerance directions for exactly how far Mike could back up, and he actually accomplished the turn in very few points. (It might even have been just three.) Then the excitement really began.
I have never seen driving like this. (I can't believe I didn't think to take a picture; I am still kicking myself.) I do not exaggerate when I say the tolerances were smaller than inches. Usually it was just a matter of getting as far left as possible--sometimes accepting a scraping from the hedges--and creeping forward. Everyone who had foldable wing mirrors had long since folded them in. In the really tight spots, we'd inch forward a bit, which would give the other car room to creep forward into the space we'd vacated, angling slightly around each other, checking every six inches or so for how close we were. There were times when we were less than half an inch from various points of the other car. I saw one woman, whose car didn't have a foldable mirror, reach out and just break it off. What else could you do?
You might think we were frozen up in horror at all this, but it tells much worse than it was. We were pretty cheerful through the whole thing. (Not that having a tantrum would have improved things one iota.) I did a lot of wincing as the hedges ground down the side of the car, but I could see that we weren't actually sustaining any visible scrapes. Examining the car later, we can indeed see fine scratches, but they may just be in dirt or the clear-coat. Certainly nothing compared to tearing off your own wing-mirror. And things were worst at the beginning; later, there were fewer cars, and shorter lines. When we finally got back to the beginning of the lane, we were a bit giddy with relief. By this time it was about 2:30. Whew! We made it out!
...Except we were now back into the problem of the parade parking. But surely the parade was over by now and that had cleared up? Wrong. It was actually worse. Ilkley clearly didn't want to let us go. We hit upon the bright idea of retracing the scenic drive we'd done earlier, which would bring us out on the wrong (east) end of town, but would at least take us past the clot of stuck traffic. An excellent plan; one rather hairy reversal of direction later, we were off. Again.
But almost as soon as we got up above town, we came smack against a large truck carrying silage bales, towing a trailer also loaded, trying to make a right turn at a T-junction in tight residential streets that were parked completely up to the corners with cars. Aaaaaah! Much jockeying ensued. I was quite impressed with how the driver of the ill-fated truck did, but it was a long process. In the end, during one of his longer backward jogs, Mike was able to dart past him. For all we know, he's there still.
And then, suddenly, we were out of town! Free! Admittedly heading the wrong way but who cares! Slightly deranged laughter! We headed up to the next town (Otley) and had lunch, as it was by then nearly 3:00. Much restored, we got back onto the road again just after 4:00--me driving again.
All these antics had left us rather low on petrol, so we stopped just outside Ilkley (which we still had to go back through in order to head west--but surely the parade traffic had cleared up by now?) and filled up. While I paid, the clerk said, "Hope you're not planning to drive through Ilkley!" What? "There was a terrible accident on the A65 just west of town. The whole road is closed. They won't even let pedestrians through."
Aaaaauuughhhh!! It's 4:30 and Ilkley still won't let us go!
We knuckled under. We turned back east, went far south to skirt Ilkley entirely before eventually turning west. We finally made it home just before 7:00.
Have you ever seen the movie Trapped in Paradise? It was a lot like that (well, except that we hadn't robbed a bank). Trapped in Ilkley. The town loved us and didn't want to let us go.
All of which segues nicely into the driving topic. You might wonder how I'm doing with that, especially after all this practice. Well, there's bad news and there's bad news. I had another driving lesson on Tuesday, and it turns out that I do everything, absolutely everything, just completely, utterly, and in all other ways dead wrong. I don't brake at the right time. I brake too hard. I don't brake hard enough. I shift at the wrong times. I don't plan far enough ahead. I don't slow down for the right things. And I'm never close enough to the kerb. That's the bad news. The bad news is that I have a lot less time than I thought. My year of foreign license validity is up at the end of November, my provisional licence is good until the beginning of January. Sounds like plenty of time, but I've just found out that there is a seven-week backlog when scheduling driving tests. If I fail my first one, it'll be seven weeks before I can take it again. If I booked one today, that'd give me a maximum of three I could take before my time runs out. (Plus I have to book, take, and pass a theory test before I can even schedule a practical test.) Given the severe standards required to pass, and the fact that most people here fail at least once, I have to expect at least one failure myself.
With all that said, I have made some progress. Remember the three major problem areas I listed a few million years ago? I knew that if I tried to work on them all, I'd end up working on none, so I picked one to start with, namely the use of the hand brake. And in fact I have progressed greatly with it. I still don't think to use it every time that I should, and I don't do it as naturally as a plain foot-pedal start, but I can do it smoothly. So that's something. Next I think I'll concentrate on the hand-shuffle steering method.
The weather here this weekend has been absolutely perfect; high seventies, not too hot, bright and sunny, hardly a cloud to be found. (The BBC's headlines today say "UK Basks in Heat Wave". Heh.) Everything that can flower is doing so; the breezes blow small blizzards of flower petals everywhere. We actually did a few hours of garden work today. Verna sent us a very detailed list of plants that would be good for the garden: ones that look terrific but require little or no maintenance and can stand a certain amount of neglect. We went to a garden centre and had a look around. Not much luck with the particular plants on the list (although we did find the hostas), but we also picked up a few others that looked nice, with the full awareness that they may well not make it. But who knows?
A few final bits of trivia, as long as I'm wittering anyway...
My National Insurance number came, early last week; excellent timing, as I need to provide it to my new employer.
Mike, evil heartless creature that he is, has addicted me to snooker. (A bit like pool, in that it uses tables with pockets, cues, and a bunch of coloured balls, but the resemblance ends there.) Last week we watched some of the final rounds of the World Something-or-Other. It's impressive stuff. These guys seem to have some arrangement with physics, that it occasionally suspends various laws for their convenience. Mike got great enjoyment out of my jaw-on-floor reaction to some of the clearly, visibly, self-evidently, absolutely impossible shots that somehow worked anyway.
Remember when we went to Blackpool? I couldn't mention it then, because I didn't want to spoil the surprise, but we finally assembled and sent the long-threatened Tack Pack. That's right, we found some of the cheesiest, silliest things we could, bought 'em all, and shipped them off to Pete & Mel. I'm afraid that Pete has declared war. The War of the Tack. We anxiously await his first salvo.
This has been entirely too long an entry. That's what I get for leaving it for over a week. Off to collapse now, I think. I'd like to post trip pictures from the New Camera, especially of the abbey, but it'll just have to wait.
1Oh! Hey! Tangent! Those of you who went on the Bermuda cruise: Do you remember the after-dinner ice cream, that always came with a wedge-shaped wafer stuck in it? That we looked for those excellent wafers after the cruise but couldn't find them anywhere? Guess what! They're an ordinary part of life here. You can buy them at the supermarket! (They had them, you see. The Italian restaurant. They had those ice cream wafers. That's what brought it to mind.)
Created at 00:18
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This afternoon, I fought the War of the Horrible Carrots.
I don't want to leave anyone in suspense, so I'll state right up front that in the War of the Horrible Carrots, I clearly and definitively have come in a distant second.
Today we spent another long while working on the garden--about four hours in total, I think. Mike carried on with disposing of the various nifty plants we've bought lately. I weeded. I've been weeding the gaps between the flagstones in the back garden. Once they're weeded, we can spray PathClear in them, which in the front yard seems to be doing an effective job of keeping the weeds down thereafter. Every little bit helps--in this climate, the weeds can take over in a matter of days. I've also been doing some weeding in the flower beds.
But there's a problem, you see, with weeding in a garden that you didn't plant, especially if your plant knowledge is basically nil or possibly even negative. Green fronds come up from the ground. Are they weeds? We don't know. I can recognize plants if they're mainstream and obvious (e.g. daffodils, while they're flowering), but otherwise I haven't a hope. And it seems that the person(s) who established this garden had a flair for the unusual; so far the daffodils are the only thing I've recognized. Some of the other plants are quite lovely, but we have no idea to this day what they are. Once they flower, we can say "Aha, that's a flower" and then remember what the plant looks like (in theory anyway) and not pull it in future. But until then, we have to do some guesswork. If it has wide leaves, like a tulip, for example, we assume it's an on-purpose plant and leave it alone. Grass and dandelions, even I can identify. But most plants fall in between, where it's not at all clear whether they are weeds.
The last time we weeded, about two weeks ago, we noticed a few carrot-like delicate ferny fronds. There was nothing obvious to indicate either way whether they were intentional or interlopers. We decided to wait, to see whether they'd flower or otherwise give us a sign.
Ahem. They gave us a sign. The back of the main flower bed, near the garden shed, has, during the interval, become completely choked with them. Now they look like foot-high, extremely menacing carrots. We decided to declare them weeds, so I figured I'd pull 'em out.
It was then that I discovered their horrible secret. For every innocent, delicate little frond that peeks an inch or two above the surface, down below there are dozens of vile, squirming, fat white stalks poking their blind, ravenous way toward the surface, attached to each other by creeper-roots sent out to colonize by the main Horrible Carrots, as much as four feet away. And every Horrible Carrot that manages to gain the surface sends down its own clump of anchoring roots, rendering the whole network impossible to pull out except in small pieces. So, just beneath the surface, we have a vast, incredibly strong mesh of creeper-roots, with a grip like one of the Little Prince's baobabs.
I spent about two hours attacking them, and managed to clear about three feet. Three feet! That's it! And it's not as if I've really cleared even that--I know I've missed large segments of the root network, and even some of the white plant stalks.
So. The heck with dandelions, those feeble little pathetic excuses for weeds. I'm declaring all-out war on the Horrible Carrots. Any that are discovered are to be terminated immediately, with extreme prejudice. Meanwhile, we either have a lot to do out there to clean up the foothold they already have, or we really have to find a gardener.
Eventually, exhausted and defeated, I came in to take a quick shower, partly because some PathClear back-sprayed onto me. There I am in the shower when I see this black spot beside the stall door...Hmm, think I, maybe it's long past time to clean the shower. Then, the dreaded moment of myopic squinting realisation...
OK, so it wasn't a terribly big spider, in terms of diameter. But it had a big fat squishy body, which doesn't help, and it was an active one. I find that it's ten times worse when they're moving. Mike's not especially keen on spiders either, unfortunately, but he's better than I am, so he handled it by pouring boiling water on it.
Right. That was today. Now I have a correction from yesterday: Mike tells me that the woman who ripped off her own wing mirror actually didn't. Apparently, mirrors that don't fold in still have a spring mechanism such that they can be pushed in but bounce back immediately.
And tomorrow, of course, is The Big Day. I don't know if I'll manage to do an entry tomorrow night, because chances are I'll be rather drained; we'll see.
Created at 19:58
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Yesterday I was far too wiped to do an entry. Today I'm pretty tired as well, but I'll give it a shot. No promises how far along I'll get, though, or how polished the result will be.
Yesterday didn't start out very promisingly: First thing, I got stuck in traffic and got there far later than I'd have liked. Then the first things I found out upon arrival were as follows: (1) Three people from the home office in the US are here for the next two weeks to do the migration to GW; (2) my laptop isn't here yet; (3) my mobile is, but it has been lent to the Texans while they're here.
Quite soon, though, things began to look up. The Texans are not, in fact, here to perform the migration, merely to begin the setup of the servers and the GW system, whereupon it all gets turned over to me. Also nothing is set in stone yet, so much of this week is taken up with deep discussions about how things should be configured. I also have to be brought up to speed on how the IVB networks and existing GW system are configured, so that I can contribute sensibly to the conversation; that's an ongoing process.
The fact that it's all beginning right now, though, does mean that I've been thrown into the fire (as my new manager is at pains to point out). Rather than having the usual several-week grace period to get up to speed and generally be useless, I'm jumping in with both feet right away. It's strange, because I still know very little about the specifics of their setup, but because what we're talking about is fairly generic GW and NDS stuff, I actually can say useful things already.
So far, the strangest thing is that nobody seems to be a control freak at all. One meeting yesterday was for the purpose of discussing a replacement help desk software; the current version was written by one of the Texans, yet he was right in the thick of discussing why it's inadequate. And they don't know me from Adam, yet listened attentively when I proposed ideas, and asked a lot of questions about my background and seemed quite excited about some of the things I've done with GW that they haven't yet. No one seems to be doing any turf-protecting. Weird. Well, IVB is quite large, and it's already clear that the IT philosophy is completely different from H&A's; IT provides services, which users can use or not as they wish. There is no real control over users' environment at all. This is perhaps not surprising considering the nature of the company--most of the staff are computer geeks themselves, of one flavour or another, and capable of meeting their own basic needs.
I was quite happy with how yesterday turned out; by the end of it, the Texans had told my manager that he had "picked a good one" and had agreed that I was a geek. (The litmus test: They asked how many servers we have at home. As it turned out, the answer was irrelevant; the fact that I said only one was the deciding factor.) They seem quite willing to work with me and to fit me into their existing set of talents.
Today, my manager had planned to bring the Texans to the company's Cambridge office, partly to show them around as long as they're here, and partly to do some politicking to the staff there. He brought me along mostly so we could talk shop on the way. Cambridge is a long way from here, not all on motorways, so there was plenty of time to do that. It probably should be a four-hour drive, but my manager did it in 3, largely by driving like a bat out of hell (the speedometer definitely reached 105 at one point and is alleged to have hit 110 at another). There were, if you've been doing the math as you follow along, five of us in the car. So guess who got to sit in the middle? I was resigned to my fate from the moment I heard the plans yesterday, but it actually turned out quite well--I was able to watch out the front window instead of the sides, which is always nicer. (This means, you realise, that today I got paid for six hours of sitting in a car watching gorgeous scenery going by and watching Americans boggle at it all. That was fun.)
That's all the time I have for tonight, I'm afraid, so I'll have to blither more some other day--maybe tomorrow, with any luck. Although we'd agreed that I'd do a late schedule, the presence of the Texans for the next two weeks makes that difficult; they're staying only two minutes away from the office, so they'll be there and getting started at about 8:00 every morning. I have a feeling the next two weeks are going to be really long days.
Created at 22:32
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Whuff. I'd like to do a sensible diary entry but I probably won't, due to general disinclination to do anything. But I'll take a stab and see how far I get.
So. The rest of the week was interesting. I'm going through a transition in more than one way; not only is it a new company, but I'm also going from being the person who knows everything to the newest person who knows nothing. Very frustrating to be so ignorant. Also I'm used to being the person who does things, but I've spent most of this week sitting on my hands watching other people do things. Again, very frustrating, and nearly impossible to keep my mouth shut.
Lots of trouble getting the servers set up. There will be a total of four NetWare 5.1 servers, but only two have actually showed up so far, which is a problem right away. The others have been definitely going to arrive today since about Tuesday. I begin to wonder whether they will even arrive before the Texans leave.
Anyway, so far it hasn't mattered, because the two we do have still aren't finished. The first one fought for two and a half days. There has been one problem after another, mostly related to disk drivers. Among the various problems that have cropped up, sometimes solutions that I proposed turned out to have been right; sometimes not. Actually this is good for me; all these restarts-from-scratch mean that I've had a chance to observe their standard server-setup process far more times than I otherwise would have.
One unexpected thing already: On Wednesday an email went out to the IT staff inviting everyone to a "traditional English beer and curry" on Thursday night after work. This is exactly the sort of thing I prefer to avoid, and even more so when I don't know anybody. But the invitation included the (apparently cliche) phrase "Failure to attend will offend!" My, how perky. So I rolled my eyes a bit and went. Actually it turned out far better than I expected. It wasn't like going to an H&A christmas party, where I have nothing to say to anyone because we have nothing in common (and thus end up in conversations that start out with "Hey, on Monday could you have a look at my computer?..."); this was all IT staff, so it was at least possible to talk shop. Plus, given the presence of me and the Texans, there was the ever-popular topic of US-UK differences, a topic I'll happily natter on about until someone stuffs a sock in my mouth.
Just before I left the curry house (Indian food restaurant), I borrowed my phone from the Texans to call Mike and tell him I was on my way. Next morning, first thing when I walked into the computer room, they said, "Hey, where's our phone?" Apparently nobody saw it after I used it. Of course I know I gave it back, but... In the end, happily, it turned up at the curry house, which was strange because Greg (a Texan) realised he'd lost it while there were still people there, so he called them and asked him to look around the table, but nobody could find it. And when it was retrieved from the curry house, it turned out that it had been security-locked--it requires a security code to activate it, and locks itself if the wrong code is entered three times. So somebody not only found it, they tried to use it. Hmm. Well, the important thing is that it's back, and I will still eventually get it, and won't have a cloud over my head of everyone wondering whether it really was me who lost it.
Much to my astonishment, the Texans aren't enjoying England. This is a possibility I hadn't even imagined. It's mostly about food, jet lag, and things to do.
They're afraid to try British (or at least unfamiliar) foods, and keep looking for exact equivalents of American food. This is, needless to say, hopeless. Even foods that have the same name are often not the same thing. I was wondering how they'd manage at the curry house (none of them having ever even tried Indian food before), but they actually managed to have their first palatable meal since they'd arrived. Their food situation isn't helped by the fact that they really don't seem to want to believe that there is a difference between foot-and-mouth disease and mad cow disease. They're afraid that if they eat any beef or lamb, their brains will rot. And just to complicate matters, one of them watched a documentary about salmonella on Wednesday night, so now he's afraid of chicken as well!
They're all having an incredibly difficult time getting over their jet lag. I hadn't realised how fortunate I've been with it. Apparently being one of these people who wakes up five minutes before the alarm goes off has its drawbacks. They all have working internal clocks, so they can't get their bodies to reset them. I just make a really long day when I travel, by the end of which I'm exhausted, so I can easily sleep, and the next morning I can easily believe it's morning. They tried to do this, but when it was time to sleep, they couldn't do it because their bodies believed it was time to be awake. Ick.
And of course in the evenings they don't have much to do. They are, amazingly, all afraid to try driving on the wrong side, so they haven't rented a car, and they don't want to take public transport, and of course they don't even know what's available to do. They therefore end up staying in the hotel watching TV, but for an American, British TV is probably a letdown--there aren't many channels, not even on cable, and the programs are mostly not American ones. But the British IVB staff are all trying to help; one of the new guys took them into Manchester on Friday night, and my manager was going to take them to York today. (They want to look at some really old stuff. York definitely fits the bill. York has been a Roman city, a Saxon city, a Viking city...take your pick. And it still has intact city walls. Very photogenic.)
I've been astonished, as I watch the Texans look around and notice differences, at just how much I've adjusted. Half the things they point out as differences, I've just plain forgotten about. Oh yeah, the showers are different! I forgot! Wow. Which is not to say that I'm fully settled in, not by any means; but things that were once strange have definitely become familiar.
Next week I only have two Texans. The third was supposed to be heading on a whirlwind tour of four other IVB offices, but has slipped a disc or something and has to go home this weekend. (It's worth mentioning that among the Texans, there are a NetWare guy, a GroupWise guy, and their manager. It's the manager who is leaving this weekend.)
It's been an exhausting week, even though I haven't done much. Actually probably because I haven't done much. As with any new job, it'll take several weeks before I get fully settled in. (And I probably won't notice when that happens, either. One day I'll just realise that it has all become familiar.)
I definitely needed the weekend to collect myself. So, in a possibly-misguided attempt to rest up, today we enthusiastically dashed off to a garden centre in search of some more stuff to throw at the garden. It was, to put it mildly, a successful trip. If there were headlines, they would say something like "TWO GO MAD IN GARDEN CENTRE". We were looking for more of the particular plants Verna had recommended (and found five of them!), but of course along the way we found some other stuff we liked, so, what the heck, we bought 'em all.1 This all meant more planting, of course, and along the way the lawn needed mowing and the bushes and hedge needed pruning...and the horrible carrots needed more hacking back, so we spent much of the early evening in the garden. We still have more of the plants to put in tomorrow, though.
1Two kinds of hosta (crispula and sieboldiana), three kinds of astilbe (arendsii, bressingham, and just white), an aster (rosenwichtel), pinks (dianthus plumarius), lady's mantle (alchemilla mollis), a dwarf purple rhododendron, coral bells (heuchera palace purple), a holly (ilex aquifolium argentea marginata) and, ahem, catmint (catnip). Heh heh. That ought to make us popular.
Created at 23:47
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Still no proper diary entry yet, I don't think. We meant to laze around the house today but failed miserably, mostly because we still had plants left unplanted from yesterday that really needed to get into the ground before the weekend ended. We got a fairly early start on that, but then took time out to dash off to Homebase to buy some garden-related stuff (not more plants), which was complicated first by the discovery that the driver's-side wing mirror had been broken off during the night (but repairably so), then by traffic due to the Liverpool football team's triumphant return processional, and finally by a side trip to Pizza Hut. But in the end, all the plants did get put into the ground.
I spent nearly another two hours fighting Horrible Carrots. One place where we wanted to put a plant had a few fronds peeking out--maybe ten or twenty--which we wanted to eradicate before trying to put a new plant there. I went at it with a gardening fork and a vengeful attitude. Well. That one small area, maybe eight square feet total, yielded an entire Homebase bag full of Horrible Carrot root systems. It was amazing. I'd brush away the ornamental bark, drive the fork down beside a Horrible Carrot frond, and pry the fork upward. Sometimes just a few fronds and roots would come out, but other times, if gently jiggled and prodded correctly, I could work free an entire root ball and runner system weighing several pounds. Nasty, they are. But they've had a setback in that one infinitesimally small area of the garden, let me tell you!
Tonight, instead of writing a proper diary entry, I've done some updates of other areas of the site. They needed it.
Created at 22:47
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Well. Ah, er, hmm. That is. There seems to have been another diary entry gap. But I have
excuses reasons! It has been an absolutely insane week, with late nights almost every night. Monday night we went out for a curry with Cath, and Thursday and Friday night were both late work nights (as the Texans ran out of trip). Then this weekend was another bank holiday weekend, so we went to York and only got back late this afternoon. I keep waiting for things to slow down, and it keeps not happening.
I'll deal with work first. The remaining two servers showed up early in the week, probably Monday, so the Texans were able to begin setting them up. However, these servers also fought, and then some of the GroupWise components fought, with the result that the components of the GroupWise system were not all finally installed until Friday morning. This left very little time for migrating users--only one person was actually migrated. Fine by me, because in my opinion the proper preparation has not been done. I'd rather have handouts (both generic and geared toward former Outlook users), and on-line support, and trained help desk staff, before migrating much of anyone at all. Also there are a few issues, such as a custom app used by more than half the staff, that requires Outlook. These things have not been addressed properly. Hurtling headlong into a migration at this point would not exactly improve the climate of hostility. So, now I step back, do the preparation we deem necessary, and only then begin serious migration.
I'm still adjusting to the new job, of course, or perhaps that really only begins on Monday now that the Texans are gone. It's been very strange, being a pseudo-babysitter for two weeks. What a useless feeling. Everything they were doing was very much them doing it, so I wasn't usually participating. Nearly everything I was watching them do, I already knew how to do, so I wasn't learning anything. And because I am a new employee, I don't know who anyone is, or how anything is set up, or where to get anything, so I wasn't much use to them for information. I'm sure they didn't appreciate having someone watching over their shoulders any more than I enjoyed doing it. (And late this week I found out that they may not have know about me--didn't know the UK was planning to hire someone to run their end of the Novell/GroupWise system. On my first day when I got the surprise that they were there, they may have gotten the surprise that I was there.)
There was an unpleasant incident on Friday--I found out what is meant by a "hostile work environment" and why the US has laws against it. Laugh all you want and trot out stories of ridiculous cases that never should have made it to court. I don't particularly care to go into details, but on Friday I found myself in the most unpleasant, humiliating, uncomfortable situation I ever hope to be in, and I don't know quite how to handle it. Talking it over with Mike helped a lot, both in dealing with the immediate problem and in considering what to do if there are ever any similar incidents in the future. I'm not worried about it because I think it was a one-off, a combination of an unusual situation and a collection of people who normally wouldn't be together. But the fact is, there are no laws against it in the UK anyway, and I could probably expect such behaviour at any company; so the choices are either to put up with it, or say something about it (which I would expect to have no impact at all, except to make my relations with my new co-workers completely untenable).
Despite the uncomfortable conditions of these first two weeks, overall I'd have to say I'm enjoying the new job. Oh, my laptop finally showed up on Thursday, and it's exactly as high-spec as was promised in my interview (always a good sign). I also got my mobile phone back from the Texans on Friday. Getting new toys never hurts.
So, on to the weekend. We'd had York vaguely in mind as a target anyway, but the Texans' foray there brought it more immediately to our attention. The weather this weekend didn't look very promising, so a destination with lots of indoorsy things to do (museums, etc) seemed a good idea.
Not surprisingly, I fell hopelessly in love with York. It's incredibly ancient, but it's the medieval period that is most evident. There are still twisting narrow streets, some cobble-stoned, with evocative names like "Back Swinegate" and "Jubbergate" and "Grape Lane". There's one street in particular, The Shambles, where houses still exist that were built during the period when upper stories jutted out over lower stories. The street is so narrow to begin with, houses on opposite sides very nearly meet at the top. And the buildings are just so ruinously old that they don't have a straight line left anywhere; they wiggle and wobble and sag most charmingly.
These charming streets are full of equally charming shops, in which I'm afraid we went a little bit wild. There was one shop in particular where we liked just about everything. Showing extreme restraint, we bought a brightly-coloured wooden fish, a decorative wooden box, and a small white face sculpture which is difficult to describe adequately. There was also a market in a little square, where we found a used bookseller, whom we left about fifteen books lighter than he was before. We had cream tea in a little low-ceilinged, crooked-beamed tea shop that was built in about 1310. One doorway was so low that the top of my head nearly brushed it.
Then there was York Minster, an absolutely vast cathedral. I dislike churches in principle, but I'm a sucker for gargoyles and impressive stone architecture. This one had both of those in spades, plus some other redeeming features, including stained-glass windows from the 13th and 15th centuries, and the delightfully morbid practice of using the interior periphery to entomb local notables (e.g. archbishops). Beneath the cathedral, there is also a sort of museum, displaying the Roman and Saxon ruins and artifacts that have been found on the cathedral site during restoration works.
We spent so much time wandering around York that our feet hurt, so yesterday afternoon we selected a random destination in the countryside (Wharram Percy, a deserted medieval village) and went for a drive. The village turned out to be inaccessible due to foot-and-mouth, but along the way we chanced upon a ruined abbey, which was quite nice itself. Our route back happened to take us past the site of the 1066 battle against his brother that caused King Harold to be so badly out of position when William (the Conqueror) finally invaded in the south. (That's what happens here, you see. You're innocently driving along between point A and point B, navigating by map, when you notice a battle symbol on the map. Hmm, the date is 1066! My goodness, that must be...! History is just left scattered all over the countryside here.) So to honour the site, we stopped for Chinese food, including the most lethally hot hot-and-sour soup I've ever even imagined, and in my case a quite nice satay.
This morning we again ventured out into the countryside, this time to find a giant figure of a white horse, made of chalk pebbles on a hillside. We did indeed find it, but along the way we found more picturesque villages, and more excellent tea and scones. Then we made a quick side trip back into York, having realised that we really did want to get another thing at the excellent shop where we had resisted buying everything.
Then we returned home, which brings us pretty much up to the present. Again I'd like to post some pictures, but I'm too tired to bother tonight.
Created at 22:56
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