Goodness, August already, where does the time go.
Plenty has been going on. Let me explain. ...No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
The fun part of a garden, of course, is putting things in it. You go to the garden centre, you wander around, and find strange and wonderful plants. There are the usual dahlias and lilies and hostas, but there are also exotic specimens with names like Houttunyia cordata "Chameleon", or Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi "Old Gold". Who could resist? You buy them, bring them home, and stick them in the ground. We have, perhaps unfortunately, turned out to be very good at this part of the process. There are at least 50 empty plant-pots in the side passage, their former occupants now buried neck-deep in dirt, where they are serving as starters and main courses on the slug-and-snail nightly menu. I wouldn't mind so much, except they tend to nibble the base of a plant, thus severing entire stalks and quickly killing it. I thought I was the Slug Stalin when I deployed three beer-baited traps, each of which yields gruesome contents every morning1, but Mike has shown me the error of my ways: he picked up some pellets that do bad things to slugs. Twice now I've sprinkled these pellets in the path of the nightly slug/snail migration, with shocking results.
We have lots of other irons in the fire, including remortgaging, double glazing, and kitchen remodeling. But I'll leave those alone for now and talk about them when they come around, I think.
You may recall that my dad and Verna were coming to visit. That time is nearly upon us--they'll be here this weekend! This of course means a certain amount of frantic preparation to be put off.
Oh yes, and I quit my job...
Things had become more difficult, to put it mildly, since they got rid of Simon. It's not worth delving into the politics, plus it would just make me cranky, so suffice it to say that we had many issues. My biggest problem was that I wasn't able to do anything. The kinds of things I should have been doing were all mired in jurisdictional issues--there were people in US IT who do the same things I supposedly was doing, and because they were in the US they automatically outranked me, so I didn't get to do them. It's very frustrating to work for a company that spends all its time hindering, blocking, and generally preventing you from doing your job.
To add to the fun, the company has been cheerfully self-destructing. There have been four rounds of redundancies since January. In the first one, Simon went; the next two didn't affect UK IT, but in this most recent round we were notified that of the seven of us, three would have to go2. Oh my. Well, I already knew I didn't want to be there any more; the only reason I still was there was because of this stupid RSI, which makes changing jobs difficult--I couldn't very well tell a prospective employer that, well, there's this little problem... But when these redundancies were announced, I had to give matters some serious thought. Of the seven of us, one is a telecoms guy who doesn't really count with the rest of us, so really they meant three out of six. That'd mean only three remaining, and any way it was sliced, the position of those who remained would be untenable. Expectations wouldn't decrease, nor would workload, and half the expertise would be gone. Plus, what if I wasn't one of the three? I knew it was only a matter of time till I left anyway, but in the meantime, someone who really did still want to be there would have lost their job. It didn't seem right to remain under those circumstances. And besides, what a relief it would be to get out!
So you'll never believe what I did...
I called H&A.
My thinking went like this: If I worked for H&A remotely again, I wouldn't have a commute. This would help the hands in their recuperation process. If they were willing to take me on as an hourly employee for a few months, I could work whatever schedule wasn't too much for the hands. Again, good.
As it happens, they are in their usual ever-present need for an extra pair of hands, however dysfunctional. There are always far more projects needing to be done than there are people to do them. So rather than go back to my old job, which because of workload always ended up being mostly operational, I've been taken on specifically to do these projects. Amusingly, one stipulation Steve had that he was afraid would kill the deal was that he wanted a minimum one year commitment from me. And here was me thinking they'd be doing me a favour by taking me on briefly; I wouldn't have wanted to ask for more.
We were notified about the impending redundancies on a Tuesday, it must have been the 2nd of July. We were supposed to submit any offers of Voluntary Redundancy by the following Monday. Well, I wasn't ready by then, because Steve was on holiday that entire first week and although he could give me an indication of being at least interested, he couldn't do the details until he got back.
Redundancies were to be announced on Friday the 12th. On the Wednesday, to my surprise, one of my other co-workers, Dave (the help desk guy who was assigned to me during the GroupWise migration) offered for VR. Rats, I wanted to be first! But by Thursday I still didn't know for sure, but things were looking reasonably promising. So, I took the gamble. On Thursday afternoon I offered for VR.
As it turned out, they only did two redundancies among UK IT anyway--the two of us who offered. I don't know if this was because they were planning on getting rid of a particular three people, and we weren't it, and they decided they needed to keep everyone else, or if they had already decided there would only be two. Actually we don't know anything about what they were thinking, or who they planned to get rid of, and we never will.
Anyway, H&A seems happy at the prospect of having me back; Steve has already come up with quite a long list of major projects for me to tackle. They have already sent me a laptop (as the first project requires a server and two workstations, and we don't have room for a third full PC). I had forgotten how good it feels to work for a company that actually wants me to do things... The first project is upgrading WinInstall everywhere--we have skipped three versions and are pretty far behind, and it's getting troublesome because the old WinInstall doesn't handle Windows Installer (MSI) very well. The second project, concurrent with the first, is (ahem) helping with the migration from GroupWise to Exchange. I think I'm trying to collect the whole set.
There is really only one tiny little fly in the ointment: I am sure that I can hear Dave laughing, clear over here...3
And what, I'd like to ask, am I going to do with my Diary About page? I now have ex-coworkers at iVB, and current coworkers who used to be ex-coworkers at H&A but who now are presumably ex-ex-coworkers, and even one ex-ex-ex-ex-coworker (another H&A IT person who left and came back). At iVB I had an ex-manager (Simon), but now that Greg is also an ex-manager, is Simon an ex twice removed? Hopeless. You'll just have to try to muddle through. Maybe I should provide diagrams.
Oh yes, a fun tidbit from when the laptop from H&A arrived: Way back when Eric was very small, I (and sometimes Dave) used to make fairly regular pilgrimages to Babies-R-Us and amuse myself by trying to spoil him as thoroughly as possible. Along the way, we bought ourselves a colourful, fuzzy ball with a rattle inside, for use as an office toy. We could toss it back and forth whilst tossing ideas back and forth, throw it at each other, bounce it off each other's heads, and generally play with it as a fidget toy. When I left, Dave was still there (barely), so I left the ball behind. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box the laptop was shipped in, fished through the top layer of packing peanuts and found...the ball! What thoughtful (ex-ex-)coworkers I have. Had? Will have been having? Is there a verb tense for a past action resumed in the present or future? Oh never mind.
And now, to conclude this epic diary entry, a bit about the car. (Fair warning: If you are at all fond of cars, you should skip everything that follows, as it contains descriptions of car abuse of a graphic and horrifying nature.)
Let me just point out a few facts and let you draw your own conclusions: (1) our street is lined with beautiful sycamore trees, which are lovely and shady but leak sticky sap year-round, which coats the car with sticky gunge; (2) any dust or other crud that comes into contact with the gunge layer is immediately stuck fast, where it dries and becomes permanent; (3) the last time I had the car washed was when my coworker Dave (iVB Dave, not H&A Dave; see what I mean?) essentially forced me to go through a car wash, which was, hmm, must have been, oh, about October.
Oh, the poor car. It's not that we don't like it; we do. It just doesn't get washed enough. I've figured out that I don't like going through car washes and therefore procrastinate indefinitely. It doesn't make a lot of sense; I'm not afraid of them, there's no phobia or anything, I just don't like it and don't do it. But it takes hours to wash by hand, because of the gunge layer. So, since I mostly drive the car, it mostly doesn't get washed. It doesn't help that the very next day after washing, the sticky stuff has already built up again, so it's frustrating and doesn't feel worth bothering.
Well. It turns out that it can get really really bad if you leave it for months on end. I've never seen a car so dirty. I'm not even sure it was still technically dirt at that point. It may well have chemically altered into an entirely new substance, whose properties were almost perfectly opposite to clear-coat. You couldn't even scrape it off with a fingernail. Finally even I had to do something. A couple of weeks ago, I finally took the poor car through a car wash. I was pretty pleased with myself as the soapy things released the car and I drove out of the car wash, leaned forward to look and...Hey! It hardly made any difference! Wow, that's some serious gunge. The sides were much improved, but the roof and bonnet were still terrible! A few days later we did the car wash thing again and--some improvement, but still pretty nasty. At this rate we were going to have to take it through a car wash about a dozen times before we got anywhere. What to do?
Well, last week, in the world's best case of unfortunate timing, an enterprising local person put a leaflet through the door advertising a come-to-you valeting service (detailing, for Americans). Heh heh heh. When he laid eyes on the car, all he could say was "Wow." In the end I paid him 250% of the official asking price and still felt like I was getting away with something.
It's shiny and gleaming again now. Except for a few days' worth of sticky tree sap and dust, of course, but it's only a few day's worth, it hardly amounts to anything. Right?
I'd better post this or I never will. I've already been a week and a half in writing it. I've skipped lots of things but they will either have to wait or just go past without comment.
Oh wait, one more thing: Over the last few months I've been doing a lot of work on the Photos section of the site, but since I haven't been doing diary entries, it's only been mentioned on the Changes page. Some of the photos have already appeared in diary entries, but most are new, many from trips we've taken recently. The "UK Day Trips" and "Yorkshire" categories are completely new; most others have had photos added. Whoops, just found an error. Well, I'll fix it later...
1 Note to horrify Americans: In England they get a kind of slug that black, and is as big as your middle finger. And no, it doesn't matter whose middle finger; they get that big.
2 Another note for the benefit of Americans: Redundancies (layoffs) don't work the same way in England as they do in the US. In the US, the company has complete control; they just say "You, you and you", and you're escorted out by Security with your personal effects in a box. End of story. In the UK, employees have a lot more rights and the process reflects this. First, the company has to announce that redundancies will happen, and identify how many people are "at risk". This intention has to be registered with some fair labour practices board whose name I forget. Depending on how many staff may be at risk, they have to give possibly as much as 90 days' notice. In our case, they announced that 28 people would have to go, with specifics about how many from each department. Because it was only 28 people, they only had to give 30 days' notice. But it doesn't have to work like this; I know of a case where a very large company announced that everyone was at risk, although they were only planning to get rid of 800 people in the end. But by saying everyone was at risk, this gave them great flexibility as to who eventually went. On the other hand, it meant they had to give 90 days' notice, as 100% of the staff was at risk. Do you get it?
Then, a complicated process ensued. First, they had to call for voluntary redundancies, although they have the right to refuse anyone who requests it. Each affected department had to appoint a representative to attend meetings and bring information back to their groups. Each department then had to list the skills it felt were important in doing their jobs. (Note that it's the staff who make this list, not the management.) The managers in the department then had to rate each person's proficiency vs each skill. The process requires that those who come out lowest on the skills matrix are those who go. In the case of a tie, other factors, such as seniority or attendance records, can be used.
After you identify the targeted staff, they still aren't walked out by Security. Instead, the company must notify them that their job is at risk of redundancy. They can then, if they choose, make an argument that their job is not redundant. Also, they can look for a new job elsewhere in the company.
Do you see the big difference between US layoffs and UK redundancies? In the UK the management, although it initiates the process, has remarkably little control over who ends up going. You can't easily use it as a mechanism for getting rid of staff you just don't want around any more. If you get rid of someone who can then show that they fared better on the skills matrix than someone who stayed, they have grounds for a lawsuit. The UK IT department is in the unusual situation of having all its management in the US, where they are used to doing things rather differently. It seems safe to assume that they went into the process with particular people in mind to get rid of. They may have learned a painful lesson about how differently it works in the UK.
3 H&A is in a very obscure business. There aren't a whole lot of geotechnical engineering companies out there. If you're a geotechnical engineer and you decide you want to seek career opportunities elsewhere, your choices are rather limited. As a result, the few companies in the field tend to trade staff back and forth. Someone would leave, and a few years later, with monotonous regularity, they'd be back again. It happened so reliably that Dave used to joke that nobody ever really left; they'd be back someday. If we didn't jump right on it, their account might even still be around. This is understandable for the engineering staff, but it seems to happen quite a lot with the overhead departments as well. Now I seem to have joined the ranks of the returners.
Created at 17:56
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